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00:00:08From the Center for the Study of Writing at the
00:00:11Ohio State University, this is Writers Talk.
00:00:14I'm Doug Dangler. James B. Stewart is the author
00:00:17of A Guide to Writing Non-Fiction and eight books
00:00:19of journalism from 1983's The Partners: Inside America's
00:00:23Most Powerful Law Firms to 1996's Disney War, to his
00:00:27most recent, 2011's Tangled Webs: How False
00:00:31Statements are Undermining America from Martha
00:00:35Stewart To Bernie Madoff. He joins us as a guest of
00:00:37the always-excellent Thurber House Writers series.
00:00:40Welcome to Writers Talk, James B. Stewart.
00:00:44>>Thank you, nice to be here.
00:00:45>>Great. You got your law degree at Harvard.
00:00:47>>That's true.
00:00:48>>And won a Pulitzer Prize for the Wall Street
00:00:51Journal articles on the 1987 stock market crash.
00:00:53Before that how did you get your start as a
00:00:55writer? What got you into writing?
00:00:57>>You know a lot of people, parents mostly, come
00:00:59up to me and say "oh, how can I get my child to
00:01:03be a writer?" and, or, you know, "My little Johnny
00:01:06just loves to write; he should be a writer" I think
00:01:10that's very unnatural, children who supposedly love
00:01:12to write, I certainly never did as a child, but I loved
00:01:14to read. And at least for me, writing is a way of
00:01:19replicating that experience for other readers and
00:01:23that's really, I think what motivated me. I grew up
00:01:26in the midwest in a small city and the public library
00:01:29was my window, was my magic carpet. I haunted the
00:01:32place. I loved reading. I still love reading really more
00:01:35than any other past time, and I guess that's the main
00:01:39reason I turned to writing.
00:01:41>>Okay, when did that turn to writing start?
00:01:44I mean you go through law school and you're
00:01:46taught to write in a specific way, which is quite
00:01:47a bit different, I think, than the way that
00:01:49you're writing right now.
00:01:50>>You know, that's true, and I think I was
00:01:52chaffing at some of the constraints of legal
00:01:54writing, even though it can effective in the
00:01:57legal system. And I was a defendant in a libel
00:02:00suite over one of my books, Den of Thieves,
00:02:03and it was represented by a big law firm, and I was
00:02:05constantly rewriting the briefs making them more
00:02:08narrative, making them more powerful, more
00:02:10engaging, and they kept saying to me, "No, no,
00:02:13no, no, leave this to us, you know? We realize
00:02:16you went to law school, but the goal here is not
00:02:19to engage and entertain the judge. It's to win
00:02:21this case." And so there are conventions with
00:02:23legal writing that you need to follow. I think as
00:02:25a storyteller I felt constrained by those conventions.
00:02:29>>So tell me about the move then from law school,
00:02:33getting out of law school to starting to write for, say,
00:02:35the Wall Street Journal. That's not a momentary transition.
00:02:37>>No, although there are a surprising number of
00:02:40lawyers who do go into journalism, I think that
00:02:42there are even more journalists who go into law
00:02:44seeking higher salaries. But nevertheless, I went to
00:02:48law school. I was working a big law firm in New York,
00:02:51very competitive environment where a very, very small
00:02:54percentage of the people hired as associates are
00:02:56eventually made partner, and I started to look at
00:02:59the characteristics of the people who succeeded
00:03:01and made partner and the one thing that I was
00:03:03most impressed by was how much they loved their
00:03:06work. They didn't just tolerate it; they weren't just
00:03:09good at it; they were passionate about it and
00:03:12they loved it. And I realized that I didn't share that.
00:03:15It's very hard to compete against people who are
00:03:18that motivated and who are that passionate about
00:03:21what they're doing. So I thought, "Well, what would
00:03:22I be that passionate about?" Because I saw what a
00:03:25tremendous advantage it gives you if you love
00:03:27what you're doing and then I thought I'm gonna
00:03:29shift to journalism and writing.
00:03:31>>Okay, so you started writing for the Wall
00:03:33Street Journal, you now have a column called
00:03:34"Common Sense."
00:03:39>>Tell me about writing a column versus a long
00:03:41form like the books. What's the shift you have to make?
00:03:44>>Well at this point in my career, I sort of have
00:03:46the advantage of several worlds. I write short-term things
00:03:48in the weekly column for the Wall Street Journal.
00:03:50I write long magazine articles in The New Yorker,
00:03:52and then of course I write books like Tangled
00:03:53Webs. And one aspect of that is you get a different
00:03:57kind of gratification. On the work weekly column
00:04:00you get feedback right away, and for a law magazine
00:04:02article maybe you'll work on it three, or four, five,
00:04:05six months even, and then a book like this is years
00:04:09in the making. And they match different parts of
00:04:14my personality. I'm not a solitary hermit, so only
00:04:20doing books I think I would find not quite social
00:04:23enough for my personality. On the other hand
00:04:26sinking that much work and time into something
00:04:29in the end is by far most gratifying I think of the
00:04:33projects that I do.
00:04:35>>Because it's intellectually gratifying, or when you
00:04:36go on tour you get more response to it than the instant
00:04:39gratification of, say the "Common Sense" column?
00:04:42>>Well, no, it has nothing to do with the tours,
00:04:44which as much as I enjoy them, like this interview,
00:04:50but it's books have a profound impact on people's
00:04:55thoughts. I mean occasionally I get a front page
00:04:59story for the WSJ that someone would say changed
00:05:02their lives, but with books you really, people engage
00:05:06on a very, very deep level, and it's so moving to
00:05:09me as a writer that you. It's not like that's my goal,
00:05:12but then if that is the effect sometimes, it's very
00:05:15gratifying. I think weekly columns are great,
00:05:18they serve to educate, they help people I hope.
00:05:23I get a lot of positive feedback from them but
00:05:26I've never had anyone come up and say,
00:05:28"Oh, that column changed by life."
00:05:30That is a completely different experience.
00:05:32>>Okay, well then let's turn to the book, and
00:05:34start talking about Tangled Webs, which is an
00:05:36examination of perjury, false statements under
00:05:39oath. From four different people, Martha Stewart,
00:05:43Barry Bonds, Scooter Libby, and Bernie Madoff.
00:05:44I assume that you covered these in your column
00:05:48before you wrote the book?
00:05:50>>No I did not, actually.
00:05:52>>No? Okay.
00:05:53>>This is all original material.
00:05:55>>None of these stories appeared in magazines
00:05:57or columns before, although I did talk maybe in
00:05:58passing about some of these, but...
00:06:01>>Right, I mean these are such big stories, I'd think
00:06:02you would have to sort of glance off them at some point.
00:06:04>>Yes, I had written a few columns, I think about
00:06:05the Martha Stewart case, Bernie Madoff fraud when
00:06:09it was uncovered, so maybe I spoke too quickly.
00:06:11I at least glanced upon it, but essentially I
00:06:14started afresh and I had an array of possible
00:06:18cases to write about. I mean once I recognized the
00:06:22problem, I started seeing perjury everywhere, and
00:06:24I rattle off about 20, 25 examples in the opening
00:06:28pages of the book, but I narrowed it down to these
00:06:31four for a variety of reasons. One was to show the
00:06:34breadth of perjury in American society today: they're
00:06:37all from different aspects of life. Secondly, I chose
00:06:41people who were at the pinnacle of their fields because
00:06:45I was so mystified by why people who are so successful,
00:06:49well-educated role models would risk everything,
00:06:51would risk so much by committing the crime of
00:06:56making false statements. And then I chose them
00:06:58because they each illustrate distinctively different
00:07:00dimensions of the consequence of perjury in our
00:07:03society from both the very micro level and
00:07:06individualized to the very broad level of investors
00:07:09who lose billions of dollars or a democracy that
00:07:13essentially cannot function or a judicial system
00:07:15that cannot function because people are lying.
00:07:18>>And you say that perjury is damaging to the
00:07:22U.S. and that's one of the points of the book and I'm
00:07:26assuming why you're writing it. Let's look at a flip side
00:07:29of that. Now that you've done this investigation of the
00:07:33people involved, how has that affected your view
00:07:36of the third part of the legal system, the rehabilitation,
00:07:38the corrections system? Several of these people are out:
00:07:42Martha is out, doing some of the same things that she-
00:07:46I'm sorry, Martha, before I get sued, you know, she's
00:07:50gone back to Martha Stewart Living and some of
00:07:54that kind of stuff. Do you think that, if the judicial
00:07:56system was having trouble with lying, has the
00:07:58rehabilitation affected the people? Have you seen change?
00:08:02Do you follow them after you've written about them?
00:08:04>>Well, all four of these characters, from my
00:08:10perspective are still lying. The fact that they were charged,
00:08:14prosecuted, convicted or admitted guilt has not changed
00:08:18that. I mean Martha Stewart in one of her recent comments
00:08:23said that she doesn't even remember why she was charged.
00:08:25>>I read that. Thought that was interesting.
00:08:28>>Now does that pass the common sense test for
00:08:32credibility? I don't think so. But Martha Stewart still
00:08:33maintains that she was innocent and she claims that
00:08:37she was being persecuted for being a successful woman.
00:08:40She is doing further damage to public trust in
00:08:42our institutions trust by continuing, in my view,
00:08:45to make false public statements; not under oath,
00:08:48but nevertheless, they're false statements.
00:08:50Scooter Libby still claims he was improperly
00:08:52charged and that he was innocent. Barry Bonds
00:08:55still maintains his innocence. There was a hung
00:08:57jury on three of the perjury counts but he was
00:08:59convicted of obstruction and making misleading
00:09:01statements. Bernie Madoff admitted perjury.
00:09:04He pled guilty to perjury, and clearly he lied
00:09:07over a 20 year period under oath, but he's still
00:09:10lying from his prison cell. So I don't think any of
00:09:13these characters have been rehabilitated.
00:09:15Why is that? It's obvious that they feel it's more
00:09:20important for them to keep lying for their reputations
00:09:23than it is to finally tell the truth. There are two
00:09:25elements of law enforcement, one is to deter
00:09:28others and I believe you could say there has been
00:09:31modest success in some of these cases and the
00:09:33second is rehabilitation and that has been a failure.
00:09:36>>What do you think of the modest successes on
00:09:39the first part of deterring others? Where do you see
00:09:41that deterrent working after you've done this?
00:09:42>>Well there hasn't been nearly enough deterrence
00:09:44in my view, as exemplified by how many people
00:09:46think they can get away with it, but nevertheless,
00:09:49prosecutors certainly told me that as visible a figure
00:09:51as Martha Stewart being charged with perjury had an
00:09:53effect, at least a short term affect day to day on the
00:09:55amount of lying that they saw every day.
00:09:59But what we're up against is a culture and a
00:10:02climate where we've had two recent presidents,
00:10:05the highest law enforcement officer in the United
00:10:08States, an important role model both here and for
00:10:11the world, and Bill Clinton committed perjury and
00:10:14only grudgingly acknowledged it and has never
00:10:18really issued a heart-felt apology for it. And then
00:10:21his successor, I can be bipartisan here since he's
00:10:24a Republican, George Bush commuted the sentence
00:10:27of Scooter Libby. He never had to go to jail.
00:10:30He didn't really have to pay the penalty for
00:10:32flagrant perjury. And that essentially condoned
00:10:34perjury. So we've had two presidents in a row
00:10:37either committing perjury or condoning it.
00:10:39And then you know the prosecutors are left
00:10:42holding up their hands saying, no wonder that, as
00:10:44they've told me, every single day they come into
00:10:46work and people lie to them.
00:10:48>>Okay, so how do you think that this can be
00:10:49changed? You say perjury is no longer a serious
00:10:52crime. It seems like it's happening quite frequently.
00:10:55It's not being taken seriously. After writing this book
00:11:02what would be your suggestions for rehabilitating perjury?
00:11:04>>Well let me stress that I believe it is a very
00:11:07serious crime and the book demonstrates that.
00:11:09But to tackle the problem, I think has to be done
00:11:15on a continuum. At the top I really feel President
00:11:16Obama ought to be very visible and public about this.
00:11:19The Justice Department ought to bring some very
00:11:21visible prosecutions and underscore the fact that
00:11:23perjury is going to be taken seriously and will
00:11:24not be tolerated. And then on an everyday level
00:11:27one thing you see in this book is how other people
00:11:30who didn't commit perjury themselves nevertheless,
00:11:33in various ways, condoned it, ignored it, covered it
00:11:35up, got dragged into the scandals themselves and
00:11:38didn't want to make waves. We all have to look
00:11:40around us and stop condoning it.
00:11:42We have to stop applauding people who cheat
00:11:44and lie their way to the top and pretending like
00:11:47it doesn't matter, and we need to teach our
00:11:49children, the judicial system rests on an honor
00:11:52code. People will hold up their hands, swear to
00:11:54tell the truth and then, in fact, actually tell the
00:11:57truth. And if they stop doing this on a broad
00:12:00basis the system collapses.
00:12:04>>I was really taken by, I think that you do a
00:12:06great job of relaying the stories, but also that
00:12:08you hone in on the characters, and I think for
00:12:12you, I'm guessing that the characters are what
00:12:14moves you and motivates you through the story,
00:12:16and doing the character descriptions. And there's
00:12:18a character in the Martha B. Stewart, Doug, and
00:12:23I'm not sure how to pronounce his last-
00:12:29>>Faneuil. That clearly comes through as the person
00:12:30who was the most damaged by all of this and his life is
00:12:32destroyed, I think more than anybody else's.
00:12:34>>And as a writer when you walk into that and you
00:12:36start seeing how this stuff functions for these
00:12:38people, how do you, especially for something
00:12:41that's supposed to be a little bit more pulled
00:12:43back, a little bit more journalistic, how do you
00:12:44deal with that aspect? Seeing the destruction
00:12:47and not letting that sort of overly influence your
00:12:51writing? How do you pull back from that?
00:12:53>>Well that's a good question. I mean you clearly
00:12:56you need to maintain a certain distance and objectivity,
00:12:59and the Doug Faneuil story to me is a vivid illustration
00:13:02of how individual lives can be destroyed by other
00:13:07people's lying. You know Martha Stewart may still
00:13:09be a celebrity, but she gives no sign of caring about
00:13:14how other people may have been affected but I see
00:13:16a Doug Faneuil and his life was essentially destroyed.
00:13:19And yet in the book he's one of the most courageous
00:13:21people. He was drawn into the scheme and he lied
00:13:23and then he had the courage to admit it. He held up
00:13:25his hand and he swore to tell the truth and then he
00:13:26found he had to tell the truth, he couldn't keep lying.
00:13:28It took tremendous courage and integrity to do
00:13:31that and yet he suffered immense consequences.
00:13:34I have a lot of feelings towards him, but I find
00:13:38that as a writer, this is partly I guess my experiences
00:13:42in reading, maybe this is just my personality, but if
00:13:46readers reach this conclusion, if they feel for him,
00:13:51the message is going to be so much more powerful
00:13:55than if I am there telling them how I feel.
00:13:58In other words I want to be the invisible hand in
00:14:00the narrative. I want to tell the story but I don't want
00:14:04to tilt the deck. I want to be scrupulously fair so
00:14:07that readers will draw their own conclusions, and by
00:14:10the way, I'm always interested to see that some people
00:14:12will have a reaction that's completely unexpected.
00:14:15>>For example?
00:14:20>>Well recently, someone after reading Disney
00:14:22War, which in my view is a pretty, in my view,
00:14:24scathing portrait of life at the top of the
00:14:28entertainment industry, came to me and said how
00:14:30much they admired Michael Eisner, the chief
00:14:33executive at Disney after reading my book and I
00:14:35just said, "Hmm.. isn't that interesting?"
00:14:36>>Why? Why did they admire him?
00:14:38>>Well, I didn't get into too much detail but
00:14:39they said it's, you know, it's such an impossible
00:14:41business. How can anyone run that sort of thing
00:14:42and, you know, he was so successful. I said, "Well,
00:14:46that's interesting." I was taken aback.
00:14:49And then in my book Den of Thieves which is, you
00:14:52know, the main character is Michael Milken, the
00:14:54junk bond king, who admitted to, you know,
00:14:56multiple felonies in the 80s. I've actually had,
00:14:58like, students and business school students come
00:15:02up to me and say, after reading that book, how much
00:15:05they admire him and want to emulate him.
00:15:08>>The success? Or the uh...
00:15:09>>I don't want to cross examine them, but I'm
00:15:13nonetheless startled. At the same time I feel,
00:15:16"Well, I've done a good job in a way, if you see,
00:15:20if people bring their own experiences and then
00:15:23have different reactions to the material
00:15:25that I've given them."
00:15:27>>Ok. Well I guess a follow up to that is,
00:15:30following all of these stories, you're focusing,
00:15:32I think, 8 books of journalism or non-fiction
00:15:35on various scandals, on various problems. And,
00:15:38do you, does that have an effect on you as writer
00:15:42after a while? I mean, the news is always, sort of,
00:15:45negative. You know, you're always, "See here are
00:15:47the bad things." And when you look at the end of
00:15:49this Martha is back, Sam Waksal is- to me, incredibly-
00:15:53He's the chairman and CEO of Kadmon Chemicals,
00:15:56uh, Pharmaceuticals, so he's back doing, you
00:15:58know, whatever. And how do you sit back at the
00:16:01end of that and say, "Writers are important."
00:16:04And in some ways, you expect the guy to be a
00:16:07janitor or, not that that's a bad thing, or not to
00:16:10be given a position of authority and yet after all
00:16:12of these, after all of this writing, after all of this,
00:16:16he's now the CEO of something.
00:16:18How does that impact you as a writer?
00:16:20>>Well, I'm a writer. I'm not a prosecutor or a judge.
00:16:23I don't make those decisions. And I feel, as writers,
00:16:28essentially we're educating. We're entertaining.
00:16:34And I think human beings have always communicated
00:16:36deep truths through story telling. And that's what I
00:16:40hope to accomplish here. To me the message is, I don't
00:16:42want to put myself in the same league as Shakespeare
00:16:46but I admire Shakespeare tremendously and all of his
00:16:49stories transcend their era, they transcend the immediate
00:16:51characters, they survive the era in which they're were
00:16:54written. I would like to think that some of these stories
00:16:57will survive my life, the lives of these characters.
00:17:01Whether Sam Waksal gets his just desserts here on
00:17:04this earth is kind of neither here nor there. The truths
00:17:07embedded in these stories, to me, are timeless.
00:17:10And that's what draws me to the stories. To me what
00:17:12would be troublesome is if no one told the stories.
00:17:16And we would never learn from them.
00:17:19Then there would be truly no accountability for
00:17:21the rich and the powerful who, you know, sweep
00:17:23their way through lives and, you know, damage
00:17:25others and pillage and cause billions of dollars
00:17:27in losses and then they would just get away with.
00:17:31To me a written record means that the stories are
00:17:34going to be there for others to learn from.
00:17:36>>Okay. Now when you did the book you've got
00:17:39a lot of interviews with people. I'm assuming.
00:17:42But I'm assuming, you didn't usually talk to the
00:17:45primary characters: Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart,
00:17:48Scooter Libby, and Bernie Madoff.
00:17:50>>That's correct. I did approach them all.
00:17:51I was negotiating with Madoff and he was putting
00:17:53all kinds of conditions and things and I finally
00:17:59just decided, "Really, I don't believe him anyway
00:18:02so, you know, what's the point?" I mean, I will
00:18:03say, I always want to hear from anyone I mention
00:18:06in any of my stories. Because it's, no matter what
00:18:08you think, there are always surprising things to be
00:18:11gained. Nevertheless, given that I'd reached the-
00:18:13By the way, I started with an open mind but very
00:18:15quickly reached the conclusion that they were all
00:18:17major liars. If I had to give up having sources,
00:18:20then I was willing to let that go.
00:18:23>>Okay, what's interesting in that is of those
00:18:26four people, which one would you most want to
00:18:28actually have a direct conversation with?
00:18:31For-to check the things in your book or just a
00:18:34writer having delineated this character. Having
00:18:36looked at the profile as you do, who would you
00:18:39most like to sit down and just actually talk to?
00:18:42>>I think Scooter Libby because I think he's
00:18:46probably the most self-aware of these four
00:18:50characters. I mean, Bernie Madoff is a sociopath.
00:18:54And having interviewed a number of them in the
00:18:57past, they're not self-aware. They're constantly
00:19:00manipulative. They're very frustrating to have a
00:19:02conversation with, though they certainly can be
00:19:04interesting. So I think Scooter Libby is taking a lot
00:19:07of secrets, or what he thinks are secrets, with him.
00:19:10And I would like to have talked to him because I
00:19:14think he's rational and I think he would have found
00:19:16it very therapeutic to unburden himself and we all
00:19:17would have learned something more from him.
00:19:19>>Okay. What surprised you most in your research
00:19:21for this? What really, just, floored you?
00:19:23>>Well, I started out with this sort of central
00:19:26mystery. As I mentioned, was why would people so
00:19:30successful and well educated and role models, why
00:19:32would they risk everything by lying.
00:19:36I came away with the conclusion, which was
00:19:37completely surprising to me, that it's actually
00:19:39people like that who are probably more prone to
00:19:41lie. There are a number of reasons for that.
00:19:42One is that they are surrounded by people who
00:19:44never challenge them. I would call them enablers.
00:19:47They can tell these whoppers and no one says "Oh
00:19:50come on", you know. "Who's gonna believe that?"
00:19:53I mean, they never get questioned essentially.
00:19:55Including their lawyers. I mean it's dismaying
00:19:57to me that most of them, when they lie, they're
00:20:00sitting there with a lawyer at their side who didn't
00:20:02interrupt or say anything or try to stop, you know,
00:20:04this barrel from going over Niagara falls when,
00:20:07frankly, I thought it would've been pretty obvious
00:20:09that these things weren't true. They're also, you know,
00:20:11let's, let's don't be naive here: I don't think this the first
00:20:13time they did something like this. They have succeeded.
00:20:15They've gotten away with things, in the past.
00:20:20If you look at somebody like Barry Bonds, I mean,
00:20:24these people don't think the rules apply to them
00:20:26and, by the way, the rules never have applied to
00:20:28them for most of their careers or at least once
00:20:30they've gotten very successful. And then I think
00:20:32the simple answer is that they think that they're
00:20:35going to get away with it and that given the, you
00:20:37know, the rate of prosecution, the success of
00:20:38prosecution, that's really not an irrational conclusions.
00:20:42>>Okay, how do you start off with a character
00:20:46sketch on somebody. You say, "Okay, this story
00:20:48interests me." What're your techniques for getting
00:20:51into learning about that person and learning about
00:20:53the story? What's your first line of questioning?
00:20:56>>Well, this is really an important point and I
00:21:00stress this to my students is that the questioning,
00:21:05to me, is less important than listening.
00:21:09An ideal interview for me, especially an initial
00:21:12interview, if someone is willing to talk, is to
00:21:16kind of say, "Hello" and say, "So look, how did
00:21:19you get involved in this?" And then, basically, I
00:21:21never have to say much more. In fact, I actually
00:21:24interviewed former US Treasury Secretary
00:21:26Hank Paulson for a big story we did on the
00:21:29financial crisis. And I believe I said, "Hello,"
00:21:32and we sat down and he started talking and
00:21:34two hours later I don't think I'd said anything
00:21:36except an occasional murmur to keep him going.
00:21:40He just narrated. Well that's a great interview
00:21:43in my book. Well that doesn't mean it isn't
00:21:46work or it's easy. You have to listen, listen,
00:21:48listen, and the art of listening is a whole other
00:21:51subject that we could talk about. But I learn so
00:21:54much by listening very attentively and seeing
00:21:56where they want to take this narrative. What's
00:21:58important to them? What stands out? Then,
00:21:59in subsequent interviews, I'll often come back
00:22:01with probing questions, ask for details in certain
00:22:04things that interest me, but I learn so much from
00:22:07just letting them go with a cooperative witness.
00:22:10And I also, since I didn't get to interview the
00:22:13main characters I also stress to my students that
00:22:15you can, I've written all my books about characters
00:22:17who either wouldn't talk to me or couldn't talk to me,
00:22:20some because they were dead. That doesn't mean
00:22:24that you can't get a very detailed portrait.
00:22:26In fact, sometimes having someone cooperate too
00:22:28much gets in the way because all you hear is
00:22:30their version of what they want to hear and it
00:22:32spares you the need to circle around and the
00:22:37people who know them well, to get their impressions.
00:22:38To get the anecdotes that really, you see them in action.
00:22:41>>And there was something you said on Charlie
00:22:43Rose that you're really interested in that moment
00:22:45where you see the person go over the edge.
00:22:49Where you see the person. And how is it that you
00:22:53identify that? I mean that comes up through your
00:22:56research but are there moments where you go,
00:22:58"Okay, finally, I've got it. This is it: this is the moment."
00:23:00And then that becomes the nexus around everything
00:23:02that you build all the way around that.
00:23:04Is that how it works?
00:23:05>>Well in this case, the moment was when they
00:23:07lied under oath for the first time. So what was the
00:23:10key question? And then you can sort of see the
00:23:12wheels turning. And in the reporting for this,
00:23:14I was able to discover those moments and be
00:23:21able to recreate them because these are all cases
00:23:25that are quite unusual in that many transcripts of
00:23:29grand jury proceedings were made public, they're
00:23:31usually secret. There was courtroom testimony in
00:23:34a few cases. So I was able to get transcripts of the
00:23:37dialogue and the questions when the lie was
00:23:41committed. Now I did, initially, when I was in
00:23:44my own mind thinking of how to structure these
00:23:46stories, I thought of beginning with that critical
00:23:48moment, because I thought, "This was so dramatic:
00:23:49this was what sets everything in motion." And I
00:23:52tried writing those scenes as the opening of the
00:23:56stories and it didn't work. Because without context,
00:23:59the reader didn't understand that these were lies.
00:24:05They just seemed implausible.
00:24:08>>It seems hard to also imagine opening on the
00:24:10deposition or, I'm not a lawyer, I think the
00:24:12place where Martha Stewart starts to tell her
00:24:17lies or Bernie Madoff starts. I'm sure you had a
00:24:20harder time with that. But where exactly? That was
00:24:22in the court room because, as you said, there's no context.
00:24:26But there"s also this sort of sense of "Well, is
00:24:27that what it is?" To me, what I kept thinking
00:24:30back on this, especially in the Martha Stewart
00:24:33one, is the moment where it actually occurred.
00:24:35And that's where I thought, sorry, where the lies
00:24:40began, where Doug Faneuil is being told.
00:24:43>>Yes. Oh I see, not the lying under oath but
00:24:46when they're hatching the plot.
00:24:47>>Because what really surprised me was how bad
00:24:49the attempts were later to make up for it. You would think...
00:24:51>>Yes, you would.
00:24:53>>That they would have a better story.
00:24:55But they turn out to be actually very bad
00:24:57storytellers, very bad writers. Apparently that's
00:24:58the problem with them. And they didn't come up
00:25:00with any better way of doing it and they kept
00:25:02switching stories. At least for the Stewart.
00:25:03>>They were terrible, but, you know, all four of
00:25:07the main characters turned out to be terrible
00:25:10liars. A lot of people ask me who was the best
00:25:12liar of the group? And I've come to the conclusion,
00:25:15"No, the relevant question is who was the worst liar
00:25:19in the group?" because they were all bad.
00:25:20>>And who was the worst?
00:25:22>>Oh, well, in some ways I would have to say
00:25:23Madoff even though I started out thinking surely
00:25:26he must be a genius liar because survived four
00:25:29SEC investigations over 20 years. His lies are
00:25:31preposterous. One of the worst is that he, clearly
00:25:35from his trading if you believe it, he had cracked,
00:25:37you know, the holy grail of investing which is only
00:25:41to invest when the market is going up and be out
00:25:43of the market when its going down, so the SEC
00:25:45investigator said, "Well, what's your secret
00:25:47formula here?" He said it's like putting oranges
00:25:50and carrots in a blender. That was his answer,
00:25:53oranges and carrots in a blender.
00:25:55I mean, that is preposterous. That made no sense.
00:25:59And then if you turn the speed on one level, you
00:26:02get one consistency and if you turn it on another
00:26:03it's another consistency and the investigators
00:26:05were just like kind of sitting there absorbing
00:26:07this drivel. I was just stunned by that.
00:26:09But you know they were all quite bad and I could
00:26:12go through more details about how bad these
00:26:16alibis were but you're absolutely right that
00:26:20Martha Stewart and her stock broker, Peter
00:26:23Buchanan, could not get their stories straight.
00:26:25They're trying to get Doug to lie along with them
00:26:27and they did give him two different stories right
00:26:30from the beginning. But I think that from the drama
00:26:33of it and telling the narrative, that was part of my
00:26:37goal that you first you saw the crimes unfolding
00:26:39and then you saw the efforts to hold them
00:26:41accountable, to pin them down, to prosecute
00:26:43them and bring them to justice.
00:26:45So the reader is a fly on the wall and sees very
00:26:49early on where they're committing this crime.
00:26:51>>Right, and you do a lot of foreshadowing,
00:26:54dramatic, I think, moments where you stop and
00:26:56then you move on with a different part of the
00:26:59story to bring the reader along which I was
00:27:02really taken with. One final question: you've got
00:27:03a 1984 book Follow the Story: How to Write
00:27:05Successful Non-fiction, and if you were writing
00:27:08this book 27 years later, what would you, with
00:27:10the advent of the Internet and apparently the invention
00:27:13of lying, what would you change about it now?
00:27:15I mean, looking back on that particular piece.
00:27:20>>Well, I"ve been wondering if I should go back
00:27:24and update it but I honestly think that the
00:27:28technique of effective storytelling transcends
00:27:33any genre. I mean, radio, television, digital, the Internet.
00:27:36The Internet may take us back to Dickensian installment
00:27:40series. I don't think you're going to, you're not going to
00:27:45print, you know, 800 pages of Bleak House
00:27:49in one installment on the Internet.
00:27:50>>One hopes not.
00:27:52>>So I probably would go back and look at,
00:27:53particularly, short form writing and how you need
00:27:57to adapt that for the Internet but my fundamental
00:28:01hunch is that things have not changed that much.
00:28:05In fact, they haven"t changed that much since
00:28:08people were putting pictures on caves. The elements
00:28:10of a good story have remained constant.
00:28:11>>So cave writing and Internet writing-
00:28:14you're equating them, right here?
00:28:15>>Well, cave writing was a very succinct way of
00:28:17telling a story. Let's face it: all you had was charcoal
00:28:19scratching and a candle. You couldn't write Bleak House.
00:28:22>>Right. And you probably wouldn't, given my feeling
00:28:26towards Dickens but that's a story for another
00:28:30day. Well, James B. Stewart, I thank you very much for
00:28:33being here today on Writers Talk.
00:28:34And from the Center for the Study and Teaching of
00:28:36Writing. This is Doug Dangler saying, "Keep Writing."
Note : Transcripts are compiled from uncorrected captions