Interview transcript: Historian Taylor Branch on the 'Clinton Tapes'





JEFFREY BROWN: It's an intimate look at the modern presidency compiled from late-night conversations at the White House between Bill Clinton and his friend, journalist and historian Taylor Branch.

The talks recorded from 1993 to 2001 range from personal observations, to domestic politics, and international flash points, and became the basis for a new book,"The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President."

Taylor Branch is Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a three-volume biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and his times. He joins me now.

Welcome to you.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Thank you, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let's establish first what this is and what it's -- it's not. It's not a direct transcript of these tapes. You would have a conversation, and then hand the tapes to the president.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Handed them to him.

It was designed, at my advice, to build his confidence that he could control them, and that he could put as much material unguarded and candid for the future record as possible. And, to do that, he -- he needed to have control over them. So, he actually took the tapes that I recorded on my machines.

I had two, in case one malfunctioned. He took them and hid them away. I didn't find out for years where he was hiding them himself. But, in the second term, he started having to leave and asking me to put them away in his little -- in his closet up in a drawer where his socks were.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you -- you were then -- on your drive away, you would record your thoughts and take notes later on. And that became the basis of this book.

TAYLOR BRANCH: That's right. I had to drive home to Baltimore, so I would pop another tape in there, and because I believe in presidential history and -- so much, I wanted to record everything I could remember about those contacts. And that became the basis for the book.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you describe this in the book as -- quote --"somewhere between politics, journalism and history."

Now, what does that -- what does that mean? How -- how should we read this?

Adventure into the White House

TAYLOR BRANCH: If -- if we were a really mature country that could agree that we would record all the president's business lives, so that you could actually see the president acting, and leave it alone for 10 years, you wouldn't need to do what we did.

But we decided that that was in a make-believe world. This was the next best thing we could do. This is -- this is two things. It's the best record that he could leave of an oral history that would show the arguments that really went on behind the scenes.

And, from my point of view, it's trying to take you there with me, because it was an adventure to -- to make these recordings in the White House...



comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list