Paying “Too High A Price for Access” When Writing A Book

May 1st, 2014

The Times has a rather critical review of “Forcing the Spring,” the new book (which I have not read) that tells the story of the legal challenge against same-sex marriage.

But Ms. Becker paid too high a price for access. “Forcing the Spring” is riddled with the telltale signs of a reporter becoming too close to her sources. She does herself (and her subjects) no favors with fawning descriptions of Mr. Griffin’s inner circle: one has “a face Botticelli might have painted”; another is “the kind of girl who might have once graced a 1950s pinup calendar.”

More troubling, she suggests that earlier advocates of marriage equality had toiled in fruitless obscurity until this glamorous dream team swept in. It’s a bizarre premise, since by the time the Perry case went to court, same-sex marriage had been fought for successfully in six states and the District of Columbia.

After having written Unprecedented, I can understand both sides of this argument, quite well. To put it simply, access is not easy. I was fortunate to have been able to talk to virtually all of the top decisionmakers on both sides of the constitutional challenge to Obamacare. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of networking, pleading, and sucking up.

But, I recognized before I started the cost of this access. The version of the story I was receiving was the version of the story these people wanted to record for posterity. As I spoke to these people, I could hear them drafting their own autobiographies.

After all my interviews, I had to sift through all of the stories to try to figure out what was accurate, what was puffery, and what would make for good background material.

The next phase was even more fun. After I circulated drafts of my manuscript, I received a host of calls from those I spoke with, and those I didn’t speak with. Invariably the message was the same–you didn’t give me enough credit. One of the more pathetic calls began, “You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but…”

In true Washington fashion, one person called to tell me he didn’t get enough credit, but he didn’t want credit.In other words, he wanted me to know what he did, but not make it public. What’s even funnier is that I learned about this person’s role, but also knew about his preference for working behind the scenes, and deliberately omitted it. The price for access, as they say.