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Clark: Today is February the 26th, 1994. I just plagiarized Eileen Shanahan.
Shanahan: I've got better stuff than that to steal.
Clark: This is Mary Marshall Clark. I know I don't sound like myself. For once I have a husky, movie-star voice because I have laryngitis. We're meeting at the Columbia Oral History Research Office, actually, to do the next session of Eileen's oral history.
Today we're going to talk about HEW.
Shanahan: One of the things that it seems to me to be worth a little thinking about and talking about is the press that covered HEW and how the press, I came to realize, had changed to some significant degree between the Kennedy years when I was in the Treasury Department and by the time we got—a little more than ten years later—well, more like fifteen years later when I got to HEW. I didn't recognize it as such at the time, that we were on the road already to the "gotcha" days of today and the sleaze days of today. We weren't all the way there, by any means. We were certainly into the early days of the "gotcha" journalism, everybody in government is a bastard, a son-of-a-bitch, a liar, a crook, a womanizer and a thief, and we're going to getcha. The sleaze hadn't come to the fore yet but it had changed.
And I didn't recognize that until several things happened to me—or to us—one of which was the so-called chef story. Now that story is not made up out of whole cloth. There was some fault there and the fault was Califano's to a significant extent. As the story hit—and it was written by a guy named Mike Putzell of the AP.
Clark: Just explain what the story was, for the sake of the—
Shanahan: That's what I'm going to say. When the story hit, they said that Califano had hired a chef and was paying him, I forget what it was. It was not a sum of money that should knock anybody's eyes out. I don't remember what it was. The dollar figure wouldn't mean anything in these inflated days, anyway. And that he had tried to pass him off as a confidential assistant to justify the salary. Well, that is true. The job was written up as confidential assistant and the effort was made to make it sound all right by saying, "Well, of course, you know, he would be serving as well as cooking in the secretary's dining room and the secretary might be having the Speaker of the House to lunch and people like that where confidential things were discussed." That was all true. But not enough of an excuse for calling him a confidential assistant, in my view.
In any event, the story was written, the story went out, and it was an absolute firestorm with everybody calling up wanting to know about the chef. The guy was no chef, he was a cook, he was an Army cook, he was a retired sergeant that I guess Califano had met. People forget Califano was in the Pentagon in the early Kennedy administration as McNamara's top civilian aide. And I guess that's where Califano knew him from.
I tried to respond to the story and I made a big mistake. I should have put poor Wiley, the cook, who was just hiding in the corners by then—I don't remember his last name; we'll get it—I should have put him up before the press and they would have known that he wasn't any chef and he was a cook. The reason Califano had to hire a cook was, at that time, every department had a secretary's dining room and a staff. And the only reason he had to hire one was that the old one had retired. And that point was never made in the original story
and I kept trying to make it. I told a number of people, some of whom put it in the story and some of whom didn't. Some cabinet members took advantage of the situation to get a little publicity on their own. Patricia Harris, Secretary of HUD, was one, I regret to say, who announced rather ostentatiously that she had inherited a secretary's dining room and a kitchen, and she had closed it. She had told her top staff they were going to eat in the cafeteria along with everybody else. There were a couple of others that did that.
It was just absolutely—I didn't handle it well. I learned a lot. Actually, Jody Powell, of whom I may have some unkind things to say later, was the one who called me up after three days and said, "Eileen, you have to respond to this. You have to let the press get at this guy, see him. It doesn't have to be Califano, it shouldn't be Califano. You've got to have a formal thing to explain it all to everybody." He was right. I wish he'd called me three days earlier and it wouldn't have been quite as bad, because there are people in this world to this day and hour that the only thing they remember about Joe Califano is that he hired a chef.
Well, as I say, Califano has to take some of the blame for that. And the guy who leaked it—I know who it is—was a civil servant. It was the civilian version of fragging the officers, for those who remember that term from Vietnam, and the guy just got his kicks doing stuff like that. But this same reporter, Mike Putzell, who is now with the Boston Globe, was an example and the worst one I had to deal with at HEW by far, of this era of reporting that was coming along where the object of the game was to "get" any public official and make them look bad.
It was not true while I was at the Treasury in the Kennedy years, partly because the Treasury beat, the economic policy beat, is more difficult—it takes maybe more work than some other beats, a lot of serious intellectual commitment to read those economists and talk to the financial market people who all have I.Q.'s of 180 and it's hard to keep up. Some beats I think are still the way that I saw the press at Treasury, where these were serious people who really almost all worked very hard, tried to get it right, and checked in with you before they wrote a story to see if you had a side to tell.
I think, for example, that probably the medical and science beats are still pretty much that way today. I have that impression. The economic beat is not, any longer, partly because wire service reporting—people on those wire services getting the economic statistics out at 8:30 in the morning before the markets open. People have been fired for being five seconds late on those stories and it's craziness and it's a recipe for irresponsibility to put that kind of time pressure on people.
But the chef story wasn't the only great attempted "gotcha" story. Putzell pulled off quite a few and a couple of other people did, some of the trade press did. Putzell was always trying to make Califano look bad. And in fact, he got ahead in the AP by doing it.
Califano at that time, in that first year, recognized that HEW was a terrific management problem, and as somebody wrote about him, which was true, as Lyndon Johnson's top domestic staffer, he had generated an awful lot of these programs that were proving so hard to manage that he now had to manage. And that's why he wanted to be secretary of HEW. He probably could have been attorney-general if he'd wanted to be. But HEW was the job he wanted. And he was very fixed on management, in terms that sound very up-to-date today, in the year of Gore's re-inventing government and so on in the first years of the Clinton administration.
One of the things Califano was doing in an attempt to manage HEW better was going around to look at the best-managed of each of the programs we had: the best birth-control clinic, the best welfare office, et cetera. And Putzell asked to go on one of these trips with us. Califano wanted to say no and I said, "No, we've got to do it or he'll write something about how we won't let anybody see him when he goes into these places. Let's just take him on a day-trip, though."
So he was looking at one of the places he went—he had a special assistant that first year who did almost nothing except try to find the best of everything for him to go to. This was a welfare office in
South Philadelphia that we went to, a cheerful place painted a light yellow with posters around and stuff—it had a wonderful feeling.
In any event, we went and Putzell went with us and wasn't allowed to sit in on Joe's conversation with the director and deputy director but did everything else we did. Came back and wrote a story about the trip, the third or fourth paragraph of which said, "When he travels, Califano is unfailingly accompanied by his petite blonde twenty-eight-year-old personal secretary, Katherine Backus." Well, I had had enough of this guy and I called the AP bureau chief, then Walter Mears, who knew me, and I said, "I have a serious problem. Please get such and such a story on your screen," because it had moved on the wire and one of the people who worked for me had brought it to me. And he looked at it and he said, "Well, what's the problem? Is that true?" And I said, "And I demand that you add: 'And his fifty-two-year-old graying, overweight press secretary, Eileen Shanahan.'" [Laughter.]
Clark: Did they add it?
Shanahan: No. Mears said, "How about I kill the paragraph?" I said, "Fine. Mandatory kill," which means nobody can use it. And he said, "You got it, Eileen." And as far as I know, nobody ever used it. But it was an example of the kind of thing that was growing: half-truth, wonderful example of a half-truth.
I've told that story a lot to audiences of state and local government officials and others that I speak to who believe—and a lot of people do believe—that you can't argue with the press. All they'll do is come back and hit you harder. That isn't so. When you're dealing with a respectable news organization and when it's not just a difference of opinion—you can't call up and get somebody to change a story where you think they missed the story, had the wrong emphasis, they left something out that you think should be in.
But where you have a case of egregious misrepresentation like this, you can successfully complain, providing you're dealing with a decent institution, which the AP certainly was then and is now. And I think it's too bad that too many people have been told by lackadaisical public affairs people who don't want to stand up and fight, "Oh, no, don't ever start a fight with somebody who thinks by the barrel." I don't know what they say about television these days, I mean, what the analog is.
But it's not true. You can get retractions. You can get changes. You can sometimes kill a story if you're able to move fast enough. And I do think it's just PR people who don't want to fight who say, "No, no, no. You can't do that. They'll only make it worse."
I had a lot of serious thoughts about journalism while I was at HEW. My opinion of journalists and journalism really didn't change at all from my years at the Treasury. I did learn—I may have said this before—that journalists pretty much get the story right insofar as there's been an action, did at that time, anyway. They didn't always get—in fact, usually didn't get what lay behind that, why was Option B chosen instead of Option A, or even more frequently, when there were Options A, B, C, D, E and F, or pieces of them, why did it come out, you know, Title I was A and Title II was C and so on. That process was not very well covered, I think, and probably still isn't. But in terms of getting the action that was done, more than the process by which it was reached, at that time that was almost always done well in the area where I was, the economic policy area.
Interestingly enough, the press does better now, I think, at finding the process—covering the process of decision-making. You see things that are pending—recently pending, the whole health care thing—partly because the Clinton administration was very sensible about having briefings with the really knowledgeable reporters. The knowledgeable people—and not just the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, but health writers across the country had some considerable access and the more important papers certainly did.
Clark: Was that true from the beginning?
Shanahan: I think so. In the Clinton administration?
Shanahan: It certainly was on health. Other places vary a lot. But we're also seeing that now as we speak two months away from the intended presentation of the welfare reform proposal, that there's a lot of very—you're seeing assistant secretaries of HEW quoted by name in stories about what they're thinking of, as well as leaks, and the leaks are obviously coming—they may not be leaks, they may be just unnamed, authorized information.
So that—it serves several purposes. A lot of people, in government or in business or in any other institution that is trying to get its program across to the people, whether it's a legislature or whomever, whosever approval they have to win. They're afraid that any leak is going to mean trouble, that it just gets the opponents organized to come in and fight you and misrepresent.
Well, that is true. That can happen. But it also prepares the people who will be on your side. And I think people still take too lopsided a view of that. And I do think the Clinton administration so far has pretty well recognized that letting people know about policy in the making can be a plus. We'll have to see where it all winds up. We don't know as we speak here today what kind of health bill they're going to get through, what kind of welfare bill, what kind of a displaced worker bill, the big three as of this hour.
But I learned something very important. I certainly never turned into a press hater. But I am, over the years—including some further changes, further on in my life after HEW—increasingly critical of the press in some ways.
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Shanahan: I came to an understanding of one of the big problems with television news and how it can distort as the result of a specific thing that happened fairly early in my HEW experience which had to do with the regulations implementing the—I forget the title of the bill; it was the handicapped bill, it was the anti-discrimination, you-have-to-treat-the-handicapped-fairly bill, which had been passed in, I think, '75 and the previous administration never got out the regulations, which meant the law might as well not be on the books, for purposes of enforcing it. The law was very, very generally worded, really no specifics at all.
The people in the division of HEW that deals with discrimination, the Office for Civil Rights—it deals with race, sex and handicapped discrimination—had written some draft regulations. But Califano's immediate predecessor, a guy named Matthews, the last Republican secretary before the Carter administration came in, had never actually issued any regulations. They just sat there.
So practically, it may even have been in the first week, it was certainly no later than the second week that the Carter administration was in office, a delegation of the handicapped came to see Carter and those draft regulations that had been done by the OCR staff under the Republicans—mostly the civil servants, I think—had pretty much reflected the views that the handicapped communities wanted in those regulations. And they came in and said to Califano in literal words, "Sign the regulations. Those regulations are good. Sign them." And Califano said, "Well, I think I'd like to read them first" or "I'd like to have one of my people read them, carefully study them, come tell me what he thinks. I will promise you I will put it on a very expedited basis. We're talking probably weeks, not months."
Well, they were furious. They felt they'd been waiting long enough. This legislation had gone through in '75 and here it was '77. And the next thing you know, another delegation came in—sought an appointment, a larger group, and having talked to him, he, in fact, instantly assigned the general counsel of HEW,
our general counsel, a guy named Peter Libassi, to do this—and Peter had been in civil rights in the Johnson administration—to do this very expedited review of these proposed regulations.
Well, the second group came in to see him and they wouldn't leave. They sat in in his outer office, which was huge. And in addition to the ones that were sitting in, there were others who were demonstrating out on the street. And it was a marvelous scene that touched us all. So many of us at the top of HEW had been people—I couldn't be an activist because I was a journalist—but there people who'd sat in or picketed against the war in Vietnam and taken part in all kinds of demonstrations for racial equality. And we had this awful feeling of "Hey, I'm not the demonstrated-against, I'm the demonstrator." And we actually engaged in a little bit of one-upmanship one night in Libassi's office about who had sat in where the longest. I felt déclassé. I had never sat in anywhere.
But I remember watching the group outside on the huge plaza in front of what's now known as the Hubert Humphrey Building, the headquarters building, these wonderful, beautiful young people—young people are always beautiful—from Gallaudet College, the federal college for the deaf, signing to each other in those graceful, wonderful hand movements, and just watching the pure joy on their faces. They were taking control over their own lives.
It was the same joy I had felt as a feminist, the same joy I'd seen in my black friends, that by God, we're going to do something, we're going to make this system respond to us. That was a beautiful sight. The wheelchair people were dramatic. And one of the other leaders of the group was a woman named Eunice Fiorito who was six feet tall, red-haired and blind, and who was also a great visual sight all on her own.
The real organizer, a young, nice-looking deaf man named Frank Bowe—with an "e" on the end—who spoke in the way that people deaf from birth do, with a slightly kind of muffled pronunciation. But he could speak well and read lips well and you could converse with him.
But anyway, the whole thing was just a magnificent sight with the wheelchairs and the kids from Gallaudet and Eunice Fiorito and the whole bit. And TV cameras were recording it all. Newspapers, too, of course.
Clark: Did they have it organized, an organization or any names that they demonstrated—
Shanahan: Well, no. Bowe was actually the head of a group called something like American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities I think is the right name. But no, a lot of the—somebody at Gallaudet probably just scooped up a bunch of classmates and said, "Let's go down there." I guess some of the others like Eunice were part of ACCD—I think that's the right name.
In any event, they sat in over one or two nights and finally left. Libassi gave them coffee and doughnuts the next morning and Califano blew a fuse and said, "You know, if you feed them we'll never get them out of here." He'd left Libassi in the building overnight, just to have a high-ranking person there. And it turned out that one of the people who was sitting in needed, or said they needed, some medication. And Libassi found an all-night drugstore so nobody could write a story saying we threatened the life of somebody—hard-hearted, terrible monster Califano.
They did leave after about two and a half days. And within two weeks or three weeks, Libassi had completed his review, Califano had looked at it, he had made minor changes in the 1975 draft and Califano signed the regulations and invited all the requisite people in to witness the signing of the regulations. And there was nothing but cheering from the handicapped community.
Television never came. This wasn't visual. The newspapers wrote stories. It wasn't on the front pages, like the pictures of the demonstrators. It was in the papers and maybe it was on some front pages;
I'm not sure about that. But most of the American people get their news from television and they never found out that it was that the handicapped communities, literally—I remember Frank Bowe, who was very eloquent, writing a letter to Joe and releasing it to the press about this wonderful, expedited treatment, Califano had driven it to a such a splendid conclusion and so on.
Clark: You mean the act of—because it wasn't a protest it wasn't a visual thing.
Shanahan: Partly because it wasn't a protest but you've got to think of the visual impact of a bunch of people in wheelchairs on that plaza in front of the building. And these wonderful young college students joyfully signing to each other. Those were great pictures. Some handicapped people, including some in wheelchairs and so on, some deaf people, including Frank Bowe himself, were there for the signing of the regulations. You know, that's just one of those stand-around-a-desk-and-shake-hands kind of pictures. It just wasn't dramatically visual. And I don't think the world knows to this day that Califano's regs were greeted with cheers and appreciation.
What happened afterwards was all the criticism came from the other side, the people who then had to live up to these regs. And that was really the first time in my life I found out how scurrilous academics can be, academic administrators. I learned a lot about that at HEW.
Clark: Because universities wouldn't go into compliance.
Shanahan: Well, they wouldn't go into compliance and they exaggerated and told things that weren't true. I think in some cases it was a misunderstanding, but some kept it up even after they knew better. They'd say, "Well, it would cost us $150,000 to put an elevator in that building, for one kid who can't walk up the steps." And we'd say, "Well, you can just move the class." Well, if it was a laboratory, maybe you had some kind of a problem. But even there, even there, I'm not sure there are college buildings that only have laboratories on upper floors. But they wanted to make it sound like it was enormously costly to comply with. And the misrepresentations went from here to there and back again.
One of the worst ones was not academic. It was a little tiny place in Iowa called Rudd, the Rudd, Iowa, library which had a wheelchair-inaccessible building, a tiny, little town. I don't know how much it would cost to have a carpenter build you a ramp up those steps. Not a lot. But they protested and some congressman or somebody made a big fuss about how much this was costing and how outrageous it was and so on. Ultimately—here again, we got the story out that no, they didn't have to do all these things they said they would have to do at great expense for one wheelchair person in the whole town, as I remember, and I think that's right.
But the truth—what is that old saying, a lie circles the globe while the truth is still getting its shoes on? Something like that. Putting on its shoes? Wait till I look it up in Bartlett's. It's something like that. And that can be a serious problem. When you have people who have a vested interest in misrepresentation and are good at it, which is precisely what we faced on the handicapped and it precisely what we faced on the other discrimination issues. The race discrimination issues while we were there were mostly in higher education. And the sex discrimination issues mostly revolved around what's known as Title IX,* Women in Sports.
Clark: You said briefly that Califano had a lot of goals of his own when he came in. If you had to prioritize with the top three or four of those, what would they be, in terms of getting certain programs accomplished?
* Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. "Sec. 901. "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...." Title IX is the basis for gender equality in sports at high schools and universities.
Shanahan: I'm not sure. That's an interesting question because before he started interviewing people for various jobs, he had never thought much about smoking. He had quit smoking—he'd been a heavy smoker—because one of his kids, one of his sons at the age of nine or ten being asked what he wanted for his birthday said, "I want you to stop smoking," and he did it, just a couple of years or so before he came into HEW. But he frequently told the story of how everybody he interviewed for the job of surgeon-general said, "The largest preventive cause of death in this country is smoking. You've got to try and do something about smoking." That obviously wasn't a goal he had until that happened.
I think maybe his basic sense was not so much programmatic—I don't think he knew a lot about welfare or health. I don't think he knew about low birth rate babies and infant mortality and an awful lot of the issues that we dealt with, until he came in—I think he wanted to make it run better. But he discovered substantive issues, I think, as he went along the way. [Tape interruption.]
The academics were pretty terrible. We had any number of court cases about integration of the traditionally black state-supported colleges into the main university systems all through the South, and as far north as Maryland and Pennsylvania. They were substantially still segregated twenty-three years after Brown. There was a case known as the Adams case that went to back to I forget when—it's still in the courts in some respect—about desegregation.
I was not involved directly a lot in that because I had a PR person for the Office of Civil Rights, a young woman named Colleen O'Connor who was just fantastic. She was about twenty-five when I hired her and if I'd known she was that young, I'd have never hired her and was always glad I didn't know. She did most of the work on getting the story out, trying to get the truth out. The concept there was that the way you achieve integration, where you have a bunch of state traditional black colleges and the flagship campus, like in the University of North Carolina, is three or four percent black. Most of the blacks are in these other colleges, of much lower quality and with a much less diverse curriculum.
The concept—I don't where he got it from but the one Califano pushed was: Put some programs only in those black colleges. Put some fancy business administration things that blacks haven't so traditionally been in, wanted to go to but whites also want to go to, some of the real upper-level science courses, in those traditional black colleges, and whites will come because they can't get those courses anywhere else, at least not at any state college anywhere near their homes.
We saw that work in Georgia. And it must be said that Jimmy Carter told his governor of Georgia, Busbee—gave him an order. Here he was resisting, as all the Southern governors were in varying degree, what Califano was trying to do. And Carter told Busbee, "You go do what Joe Califano wants you to do." And that Georgia integration is a great success in exactly that way.
I remember Joe telling me a story one night about having been to Constitution Hall or the Kennedy Center or something, and running into a black man he knew slightly professionally and his wife whom he hadn't known and who had gone to one of the traditional black units of the University of Georgia system and who had said, "I couldn't believe it. I went back there and I saw that it's like a third white on that campus. And the whole scene is better, the equipment's better, it's cleaner, the books are newer. You did it. You made that—I never believed that my college would look like that and be like that."
And that was one of the success stories. A lot of that stuff's still around in the courts. And there was tremendous resistance on the part of governors and others, and they had a lot of smart litigators.
There was some good press coverage. I remember in particular a guy who covered the long, drawn-out fight over the University of North Carolina system, Ferrell Gillory, who would come into Califano's press
conference and ask questions that you could tell came right from the head of the university, a guy named Friday who subsequently was governor.
Clark: William Friday.
Shanahan: Bill Friday, right. The first time I saw Gillory, I thought, "Oh, boy, this guy's right in Friday's pocket." Well, he wasn't. He did what good reporters do, he went to one side and then he asked the other side questions about what they'd told him and vice versa. The stuff came out absolutely straight. He was subsequently editorial page editor of his paper.
So there was some very good, honest reporting but it would have to be called a mixed success because the state university people and the governors fought it so hard. With the Georgia situation, I'm not up-to-date as to whether there's been any retrogression in Georgia. There may have been. But once somebody said, "You will do it," it got done. And most places it didn't.
Title IX, women's sports, was a wonderful issue. I enjoyed it a lot because I got acquainted with a lot of the women in the department, most of them young. There were three women assistant secretaries: me; Mary Berry, who's black and who's now the head of the Commission on Civil Rights, who was assistant secretary for education but that whole area of the department was such a screwed-up mess that she never got to do much, to tell you the truth.
There was something Lyndon Johnson had done. There was a Commissioner of Education and an Assistant Secretary of Education and the whole situation was just a set-up for war between the two of them. And that's what happened and not much got accomplished in the education area.
But Title IX sports, the law basically said, "Thou shalt treat men and women equally when it comes to sports." Ah, the good ol' boys who run our institutions of higher education turned blue at the very thought. And some people that we all thought we should respect, like Father—subsequently monsignor, I guess, Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame, Terry Sanford of North Carolina, previously a governor, subsequently a senator, who just acted as if the world would come to an end if they had to give equal scholarships to men and women—there were almost no women's athletic scholarships at that time. Had to spend, God help us, equal amounts of money on men's and women's sports.
The resolution of that was probably not all it should have been. It allowed for the—the resolution involved a regulation that sort of said "consistent with the demand," because these guys were all saying that there would be—"You know, women weren't that interested in sports." And to some degree that was true. They just gradually over the years have gotten more and more interested. There were plenty who were clamoring to be allowed in but not equal numbers with men at that time, that is true.
There was a whole lot of chicanery in that one which I got into because it was an economics story and they wanted my help in threading my way through various assertions about—the people like Hesburgh and Sanford and all the rest of them kept saying, "Well, football makes money for the university, and basketball, in a lot of cases, and therefore we should be allowed to spend more money on it because it's profitable, it makes money."
Somebody whose name I don't remember at Rice University did the study which, boing! I could see it was right and I pursued it. It showed that there were lots of falsehoods underlying that statement, that in most cases at colleges, the salaries of the athletic directors were more or less evenly allocated across all sports for bookkeeping purposes, when they were actually spending ninety percent of their time on football. Or they would evenly allocate the cost of the stadium, exclusively used for football—and maybe a little track, depending. So that an awful lot of that was just really fraudulent. And they knew it.
And I say, the final reg had some exceptions for large teams, football. That's good, because basketball's a small team and in that aspect of it, that wasn't an unrelieved bad. And there was an exception for competitive sports in which there's a lot of travel over long distances, well, that's big-time football, you know; Notre Dame goes to the East Coast, the West Coast and all over the country. While there are regional leagues in the Big Ten and among small colleges that sort of compete in the region, they also compete some out of it. Those were all ways to get to the point where they could spend more money on those sports than on women's sports.
Nonetheless, it was a real change. And scholarships in particular were a substantial change. And as more and more women got into sports, more and more women wanted to get into sports and the demand was there. And today, as we sit here talking, at the end of February 1994, the United States at the Winter Olympics in Norway is on the brink of winning the largest number of gold medals any one country has ever won and the women have won better than two out of three of them. It is our women athletes that have brought us to that record.
Clark: A point well taken.
Shanahan: It thrills me. It absolutely thrills me.
Clark: What was the coverage of Title IX like?
Shanahan: Well, by and large it was pretty good—well, it was mixed—but in a lot of cases women covered it. And that was in the days when there weren't that many women sportswriters, either. There were just beginning to be some. But it was a Washington story so women in Washington bureaus whose regular job may have been covering something else, some of them were very interested in doing it. And the guys weren't that interested and so we got some good coverage from women reporters, many of whom did not regularly cover HEW.
For the men it was kind of mixed. Some of the coverage by men was perfectly straight and fair. There were also the "Ha, ha, ho, ho, what do the girls want now? And wouldn't they look silly in a football uniform and they'd break their dear little legs," or something worse. Of course, the sports columnists back home were having, most of them, a field day ridiculing the whole idea that you had to spend equal amounts on women's sports, you'd give equal scholarships.
One bad thing that came out of that. Women were beginning already to move into coaching jobs as women's sports were already growing, though not fast, before all of this. And women were coaching women's teams. But as women's athletics have—some of them, like women's basketball, college basketball, have become money-makers, some of the women coaches are losing their jobs to men now and have been for some years, in the big-time competitive sports.
It's going to be interesting in a few years—well, we're getting to the point where it will be interesting—to see whether some of the feminist writers like Carol Gilligan who attribute some of women's lesser ability at the kind of team play that's required in corporations and many other jobs to the fact that they didn't play team sports as girls. The girls, she thinks, sort of naturally go off in twos and threes, and the boys form teams. There's more to her theory than that, but we may be on the brink of having a sufficiently large cohort of women who have played team sports to watch their subsequent careers and see the degree to which that seems to have made a difference.
Clark: That's a very, very interesting point, yes.
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Shanahan: Joe Califano was an extremely interesting man and never more so than on issues of discrimination. I came to recognize—and I've tried this out on both some women and some blacks who had become close friends of mine in the department. And everybody agreed that I had it right.
Joe Califano was totally unthreatened by smart women. I mentioned Mary Berry. There was a third woman, an assistant secretary, Arabella Martinez, who was the head of the—what was it called—the Office of Human Development Programs. And then of almost equal rank, a woman in education research. The three assistant secretaries, out of nine or out of eight, which was probably more than most departments, although HEW had always had a fair number of women, given the nature of its programs.
Clark: It was actually first headed by a woman, right?
Shanahan: Oveta Culp Hobby, of whom the great cartoonist Herblock, whenever he attacked her, which was frequently, would always draw a picture of the building and across the architrave inscribe "Department of Not-Too-Much Health, Education and Welfare." [Laughter.]
Califano was—he adored uppity women. I mean, I talked back to him like I've never talked back to any boss I've ever had in my life. I'm pretty good—or bad, depending on your point of view—about talking back to my bosses, anyway. It didn't bother him a bit. But he didn't understand—he liked smart women, always liked smart women, enjoyed, unthreatened—but he really did not understand systemic discrimination against women. He truly didn't get it. He didn't really perceive it was out there.
That was true even though he got very tough with the higher ed community about discrimination against women. I remember a time when he said something that just shocked the education community—he was a main speaker just when all this stuff about Title IX was just coming to the fore at a convention of the American Council on Education, the higher ed gang, in which he wound up by saying, "The law is yours to obey and mine to enforce." I wasn't there but those who were tell me that just stunned silence was the response. But even though somebody had persuaded him to say that—or he may have thought it up on his own, he was a great phrase-maker—he didn't really understand that there really was wide-spread systematic discrimination, pervasive discrimination against women in virtually every field of life.
The exact opposite with blacks. He was totally comfortable with the smartest women you could find. He was never comfortable around any black, especially black men, but he understood systemic discrimination against blacks.
Clark: To what do you attribute these contradictions?
Shanahan: I cannot. I've thought about it. And I really can't give you an answer. His mother was a very smart woman, apparently, was a schoolteacher and always worked. That probably has something to do with his comfort with women with an independent career. He probably grew up without knowing any blacks—although he went all the way through school, including college, in Catholic schools.
Why he wouldn't understand the systemic discrimination about women, I can understand. He went to Catholic schools which were race segregated beginning with sixth or seventh grade. And then he went to Holy Cross College, all men. Then he went to Harvard Law School, all men at that time. Then he went into one of the hot-shot New York law firms, all male lawyers. Went into the Pentagon and then the Johnson White House. There were no women there, either of those places, in real significant jobs. And then after Johnson, between Johnson and HEW, went into what became a very important Washington law firm in which I knew some of the early women associates and they left. The macho atmosphere was just too much, even for women who'd gone to places like Harvard and Yale, to take.
So really, though, if he's the secretary and you're an assistant secretary, he had no women peers at the department. But it was his first experience with women as even near-peers. And most of all with me. There were people who thought I was in the innermost circle, because I saw him a lot. I was not. I was in the second circle, though. There was no woman in the inner circle, the innermost circle which included the undersecretary, Hale Champion, and Fred Bohen with a very important job called the executive secretary. If anybody's interested in how to run a government agency, I'll describe that for you. And Ben Heineman, initially his personal assistant, the executive assistant, a brilliant guy, very brilliant.
That was the inner circle, I guess. And the second circle had maybe eight or ten people in it. And I was certainly part of that second circle. The other two women assistant secretaries were not. Because he understood the importance of PR. He understood the importance of getting it out and getting it out straight.
He lied to me once, took it back, called me in when I raised the question with him, and said to me—I suppose I should explain the story.
Shanahan: It had something to do with smoking and health and a World Health Organization meeting. And he was in a big fight with the Carter White House which was worried about losing North Carolina and Kentucky and other Southern states because of Califano's crusade against smoking. And there was a doctor whose name I have forgotten who was on the White House staff who, despite being a doctor, was playing the political side. And Califano tried to get the United States to vote for some kind of an anti-smoking resolution at the World Health Organization conference in Geneva. The details escape me; the resolution I remember.
I got a call from the Washington Post saying, "We understand that such-and-such happened at Geneva that had to do with a fight between the HEW person there and this doctor who was on Carter's staff." And I asked Califano about it and he said, "No such thing." Actually, the reporter who called me on the story had already been told by somebody else in public affairs, lower down, that the story wasn't true, also based on information directly or indirectly from Califano.
The next person who called me was the managing editor of the Washington Post, Howard Simons, now dead, somebody I knew and who was a close personal friend of Califano's. Howard Simons called me and said, "Eileen, we're really sure of this story. Why don't you go back and without reference to this call, tell Califano that you know the reporter"—which I did—"you know the circumstances, and is he really sure he's gotten this right?"
So I did that. Califano had a way of looking out the window for a long moment when he was thinking hard. And he looked out the window and he turned back to me and he said, "Shanahan," which he always called me, "your reputation for truth-telling is one of the great assets this department has. Let me call Howard Simons." He didn't know I'd talked to Howard Simons. "Let me call Howard Simons and see if I can get this straightened out." And Howard told me subsequently that Califano called and he said, "Well, I spoke too fast and yes, it's true, and go ahead and print the story." But Califano wouldn't say that to me.
But he understood that lying to the press can be counter-productive in the long run. He understood—and as far as I know, it's the only time he ever lied to me. One of his subordinates lied to me once and when I found out—and I had told a lie to the press without knowing I was doing it. And I went charging in to Califano and said, "Goddamn it, don't you ever tell me to talk to him again! I will not talk to him! I'm going to come to you when it's in his bailiwick." And he said, "Yes, you will, too, talk to him, Shanahan." But I never talked to that guy again, and I went to Califano about stuff that guy was involved in, and he answered my questions.
Now, I never told a lie knowingly in that job except what I call nonsubstantive lies, that is, "Gee, I don't know anything about that." I did that on only one subject, I think, which was our response to congressional pressure for a voucher system that would let parents put their kids in any school and the government would pay for the additional kid.
Being as independent a spirit as I am, and which a reporter can be, there were a lot of people who thought I would really chafe having to peddle a party line. I didn't chafe at all—or hardly ever—because almost always what we were doing was what I considered a step in the right direction. I often wished it had gone farther. But there were budget constraints or we considered them budget constraints at the time.
Clark: Give me an example of what you're talking about.
Shanahan: Oh, let me think what I'm talking about. Well, the welfare reform would be such a case, for example, where Carter said it couldn't cost any additional money. And you really couldn't get there from here, which the Clinton administration is in the process of finding out now. I'm convinced there's long-term savings out there, just as they say today, and we thought so then, but in the early years it costs a lot more because you've got to give child care and education and health care and all these things to get women off of welfare. So the long-term pay-off is terrific, in societal and money terms but the short-term cost is humongous.
But the one nonsubstantive lie, the one time Califano ever did something I profoundly disagreed with, was when somebody—it strikes me it might have been Senator Pat Moynihan—had a kind of a voucher plan for private schools. A terrible thing to anybody who believes in public education as the great unifier and equalizer— and we don't have to detour into talking about whether the schools are equal because of course, they're not. Anyway, Califano thought he couldn't defeat it without offering what I thought was a great deal too much of a compromise. I really was upset about it. And so when people called me about that, I would say, "You know, I really haven't kept up to speed on that one. Why don't you call so-and-so, the operating official?" And that's the only kind of lie I ever told. I don't consider that a lie. Others might. A cop-out, yes. But not a lie. [Tape interruption.]
Clark: Okay. You described a little bit about the innermost circle of Califano and who was in it, and then the second circle that you were in. What I don't necessarily get is a sense of how those circles worked in terms of getting things done there, and who was in charge of what, and how did the structure work?
Shanahan: Several things. Some of this is in Califano's book, called, modestly entitled, Governing America, which he really basically wrote himself. He had the great Alice Mayhew as his editor but he was a very good writer. I have several anecdotes about that.
He had something I understand originated in the State Department as a management idea which worked brilliantly, something called the executive secretariat through which all paper flowed to him, which sounds like a bore. It isn't. Califano could be a monster and a tyrant and unfeeling and all sorts of terrible things, and a lot of people detested him, including a lot of people who worked for him. But he had a good understanding of his own weaknesses, an extraordinary understanding of his own weaknesses, one of which was that he could decide he didn't like somebody and just kind of cast that person out forever.
He established the executive secretariat and gave the man who initially had the job the first couple of years, named Fred Bohen, who had worked for him in the Johnson White House—that his job was to make sure that nobody who had a legitimate reason for access was frozen out, even if he, Califano, issued orders to freeze him out. So that Fred Bohen went through the pieces of paper and saw who had what point of view on a given issue and what things he thought Califano ought to read.
I heard someone else in the department describe Bohen—and I absolutely agree—as the fairest person he had ever seen with the use of power. And Califano plainly understood that characteristic in him, so that even if he was mad at somebody, if they had a legitimate "in" on that discussion, that issue, they had it. And he saw that. He saw that he needed that.
In fact, I can backtrack a little in terms of understanding his own defects. This is in his book, too. He wanted me for that HEW job, the PR job—we had known each other somewhat. I covered him a little bit when he was in the Johnson White House and then he had also done several cases pro bono when he was in private law practice for an organization I was on the board of. [Tape interruption.]
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press which litigated cases when officials were subpoenaing reporters' notes or commanding their testimony or things like that. But from a particular episode when he was in the Johnson White House where I had confronted him with something, he knew that I was not afraid to speak truth to power—wherever that phrase comes from, it's a wonderful phrase. And when he got me to take that job, he told his friend Dan Schorr—whom I also knew and whom he had defended in a press freedom case—that he wanted me in there because he knew that he could be a bully, that he could overpower and intimidate people, even when it wasn't in his own best interest. And he wanted somebody in that press job who could tell him, "No, you can't." And that's why he chose me.
Clark: That's interesting.
Shanahan: I think it's fascinating. And when Schorr first told me that story, I didn't quite believe it that anybody would say something like that to somebody, even though he and Schorr, whom he defended in a famous case, had obviously become very close in the process of that lawsuit. It's in Califano's book, though.
Clark: That's so interesting.
Shanahan: He says that in his book. So there was a lot of self-knowledge there. But there was also a lot of observation. After all, he came to Washington as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's top civilian aide, as a young man in his thirties at the beginning of the Kennedy administration, and then went into the Johnson White House and stayed in Washington and practiced law and all that. He'd seen a lot of government. And he had seen what failed.
And he said very early on, I think maybe at the very time he was hiring Hale Champion as his undersecretary—Carter let people hire their own people, which in terms of running a government isn't a brilliant idea but it's wonderful for the Cabinet members. He said one of the worst things that happens is when the secretary and the undersecretary get at odds with each other and the principal reason is they don't communicate enough.
So he and Champion had lunch together every single day, with rare exceptions. Maybe if the Speaker of the House wanted to have lunch with Joe, he would cancel Champion and have Tip O'Neill in. And that, in fact, literally happened once that I remember. But I think in the whole close to three years, two and two-thirds years that they were there, I'll bet you on weekdays they didn't miss twenty days when they didn't have lunch together. And here again there was this wisdom about how Washington worked, or maybe any institution.
As for me, there's an interesting story there that I became aware of the very first day of the Carter administration, the first working day, the day after the inauguration, January the 21st, 1977. Califano almost had his whole team put together. The only top office he hadn't yet filled was the surgeon-general's job. And he assembled us all around the big conference table and introduced us all, one by one, with no notes, and said what we'd done before and why we were chosen and told great lies about how we all walked on water.
And he saved two people for the very end. There were maybe fifteen, eighteen of us in that first group. He saved me and the assistant secretary for legislation, the lobbyist, in effect, for the department, a wonderful guy named Dick Warden who came out of the United Auto Workers. He saved us for the end and kind of treated us together, though he described our backgrounds separately. He said it had been his observation that the agencies and administrations that failed were those who didn't get their public affairs people and their legislative people on board early enough.
"I will not ever hand Dick Warden a draft piece of legislation and say, 'Here, get this through Congress.' I will not hand Eileen a major policy and say, 'Here, get me some favorable publicity on this.' They have to be in on the beginning, first of all because they are our contact with the outside world. We will get inside this building and we will be so busy devising our policy and trying to figure out how to manage this place that we're going to lose touch even with our old friends that we really liked who are out there in the broader world. They have to face those people from the broader world every day. And they are the people who can bring us that news from the broader world."
Clark: So there was a two-way expectation.
Clark: So what kind of time did you have with Califano in order to accomplish that goal?
Shanahan: You mean "face time," as they say in Washington today?
Shanahan: I basically had access to him any time I needed him. I didn't abuse it. But if I ever left a message with his secretary that I've got to see him in the next five minutes or the next half an hour, I got in.
Clark: How frequently would you see him?
Shanahan: Oh, that kind of urgency, maybe a half a dozen times, or maybe a dozen times in the whole two-and-a-half years. But there were other times when—many, many, many, many hundreds, or scores, anyway, when I would say, "I've got to talk to him today." No, I had no access problem. And what was even better, when we had the original interview, when I get squared away with him about abortion, once we got that out of the way, I said in the language of the era just past, "Well, I have another non-negotiable demand." "What's that?" I said, "You've got to issue an order that nobody in this department can refuse to answer any question I ask them."
Well, he kind of blanched. And after a moment's thought, he said, "I can't do that." And then he digressed about something that had happened at the Pentagon when he was out there with McNamara in the early days of the Kennedy administration, a story that had to do with McNamara's PR guy unwittingly telling a lie because nobody would answer questions, and that came back to bite them. He said, "I can't do that but I tell you what I will do. Any time you have a conflict of that sort, you will have immediate access to me and I will resolve it on the spot."
Well, it only happened once and it only had to happen once. It had to do with those drizzle-heads in education. That was the most—everything bad you've ever heard about bloated sleep-walking bureaucracies was mostly true of the ed side of HEW. I ran into an impasse with the top career guy in ed. And Califano, as promised, summoned a meeting—my whole staff knew about it. I told them what was up, or my top people, anyway.
And the education people had no more than presented their side of the case first, as to "why we couldn't let" me in on such things, when Califano said, "I hired her to manage public affairs—I told her I wanted her to manage public affairs throughout this department." See, technically on the boxes, I didn't have authority over those people. They had their own PR people and the authority went from the assistant secretary to their PR person. But de facto, Califano gave it to me. And he literally threw them out of his office. [Laughter.]
What is marvelous about that story is, as I say, I had told my people what was up. It was just about a city block inside a big building from Califano's office to my office. By the time I got back to my office, my telephone was ringing and the PR person for the Food & Drug Administration out in Rockville, Maryland, a forty-minute drive away, was on the phone, having heard that Califano had tossed the education people out of his office.
Clark: Oh, my God!
Shanahan: He pretty much lived up to that. I wouldn't say a hundred percent. But he pretty much lived up to that. And it didn't need too much living up to after he did that and the word got out that "Watch out for that broad. She's got the secretary's backing."
Clark: I want to make a comment, it seems a little anomalous, almost, that this man is operating with such a supreme understanding of the importance of communication in the Carter administration which failed in many ways due to a lack of communication with Washington insiders. Or is that a fair judgment?
Shanahan: That is a perfectly fair judgment. And I remember once saying to Califano—Carter's first budget director got involved in a financial scandal of sorts, a real—he probably should have gone to jail, in my opinion. Maybe that's libelous since he wasn't convicted. But anyway, the guy that Carter then put into the budget job next was genuinely not very bright. And I remember saying to Califano one time, "You know, I will know that Jimmy Carter understands something about the federal government or maybe any government when he recognizes that he can't have a none-too-bright guy at the head of the Office of Management and Budget," which isn't just a number agency, it's the central policy coordinating and influencing arm of the government for the president. It's part of the executive office of the president. They aren't just number crunchers. That's a relatively minor part of what they do. They clear all legislative proposals, a whole raft of stuff that they do.
And Carter never did learn that. And Carter never did learn that there were certain senators whose calls he ought to return or at least get his legislative guy and make sure he returned them, which didn't happen. Carter was, for a man with an obvious high I.Q. and all that, really wasn't bright about a lot of things. And that was one. He campaigned against the government and stayed in that mode. Reagan, for all of his absent-mindedness and absent mind, maybe, who came in also campaigning against the government—well, Clinton did, too, in a different way.
But a lot of Reagan's people understood a lot. I mean people like Jim Baker and David Stockman and the despicable Richard Darman—very, very smart—two budget directors, those last two names. They understood a lot. Stockman came out of Congress. I forget where Darman came from. But these were people who understood a lot better than most of Carter's people did.
It's very hard to figure out how smart people could have failed to learn as much as they failed to learn. All presidents blunder in the early years, I think, whether it's Kennedy's Bay of Pigs* or—I don't know what a
* Bay of Pigs (April 17, 1961). The ill-planned invasion of Cuba suggested to President Kennedy by Allen Dulles. Over one hundred anti-Castro Cuban invaders and four U.S. fliers are killed and U.S. prestige suffers in the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime.
historian would say about that. I have an impression from presidents of my lifetime that all presidents blunder in their early years. But they learn. They learn. Maybe Lyndon Johnson didn't but he'd been around for so long and he got his big stuff done in the first several years. The blunders came afterwards when he blundered into foreign policy, a field he'd never paid any attention to.
That was part of how Califano operated. But your point is well taken. Califano had a level of savvy that the rest of the Carter administration did not. I remember one time when I predicted disaster for them and I turned out to be wrong. Very early in the administration, week two or week three, Jody Powell, the press secretary, instituted what was a good idea. It started out weekly—it became bi-weekly, meaning correctly every other week—meeting with the agency public affairs chiefs, a very good idea. After the first few weeks, his deputy took over, a guy named Walt Wurfel, and it was a useful exchange of information and kept us all up to speed about White House priorities. That made good sense.
But in, I think, the very first of those meetings, Jody Powell—there was something called "The Promises Book," somebody had actually compiled all the campaign promises that—nobody's ever written this story, as far as I know, I'm giving historians here a brand-new history.
Clark: Listen up!
Shanahan: If anybody gets that far into this interview. There was something called "The Promises Book," it was a loose-leaf—I think it was loose-leaf. Anyway, it was a big notebook that ran pages and pages of all the promises Carter had made in the campaign and every Cabinet officer was given one. And at that meeting, Powell said, "We are recalling 'The Promises Book' and we will—tell your secretary somebody—meaning the secretary of the department—that somebody will be around to pick them up, I forget when, soon. And a new one will be issued."
Well, it was perfectly clear what had to be happening. They had thought better of some of those promises and, yes, they could just pretend those promises had never been made. Well, I looked around the room in blank amazement at all of my peers, some of whom I knew, some of whom were quite sophisticated. And nobody said a word so Shanahan belled the cat. And I said, "You'll never get away with it. Someday somebody's going to remember that in Atlanta, Georgia, on the 19th of July Carter said X and it's not going to be in there."
Jody Powell just about decapitated me, for the first but not the last time. The only other person who spoke up was a guy, a nice guy, named Ernie Lotito, who was the Commerce P.R.
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Shanahan: Lotito spoke up. Nobody else did. Well, the meeting was over in due course and going back to my office, I realized that Powell probably thought I meant, "You'll never get away with it because I'm going to tell somebody."
Clark: Yes, because you're a journalist.
Shanahan: Because I was a journalist and I was not one who kowtowed. So I immediately went in to Califano and told him what had happened and said, "I think this minute you'd better get that thing in a car and have so-and-so drive over to the White House and give it back to Jody Powell, in an amount of time so short that we could not conceivably have xeroxed it. So that if it leaks, they will know it could not have come from here." I remember Califano saying, "Shanahan, when you drop the ball, you do pick it up fast." [Laughter.] And that's what we did. But nothing ever happened. A new one was substituted, nobody ever apparently looked through to see if a certain promise was in there. It was just a compendium that lay sleeping on a shelf forever.
Clark: What a fascinating story.
Shanahan: Of course, that's not my real Jody Powell story and I'm getting away from management but you can pull me back to it.
Clark: Just an interim question. What kind of contact did you have with your old contacts in the press at that time, with your old contacts in the government? How did that change, shift at all?
Shanahan: With my old contacts in the government?
Clark: Well, and—
Shanahan: And the press. Well, all right, two things. One, I dealt with a lot of reporters I knew quite well. And for the most part—and with a whole lot that I was acquainted with. And I had very little difficulty. I tried to get answers. I did get answers. The only day I ever failed to get somebody—it wasn't always me—to return every press call was the day I got eighty-four press calls. You try that!
I had a reputation for shooting straight and really moving fast, as needed. And there were some people who got nasty with me but not more than I could stand. Not a lot. And I have discovered that there are people who still say good things about what I did in that job. I was criticized for snapping at people, which I did. I have a short fuse, have had, all my life. I've gotten better. I'm now about where most sensible people are by the age of thirty, in terms of controlling my short fuse.
I never have bawled anybody out for a dumb question, unlike what some people have said about me, because journalists have to cover a lot of different things. So, if they don't happen to know about a given thing, well, why should they? Well, sometimes somebody who's been covering the department ought to. But I sometimes snapped at people for putting spin on the question, or for acting like they—saying things that were in effect saying, "Well, I don't believe you." I just didn't bother to be polite or anything but show my honest anger.
And that happened not rarely; I'd say, I don't know, once a month, maybe. Not rare. Most of the time they'd kind of back down and then I'd say, "Okay, now let me tell you what the real story is," or whatever. And most of the time it came out in the paper okay.
I remember thinking, back to your question of a few minutes ago, about Califano and what he was like and the business about how he wanted me there because he couldn't bully me. My old friend Nancy Hicks Maynard, who had been in the Times Washington bureau with me—close friend, was covering HEW, and she came in and she got an interview with Califano at a time when affirmative action in race cases was a fairly hot issue. And in the course of that interview, Califano said the word "quotas." He was not sensitized enough to realize how the opposition was focusing on the idea—a false idea—that you had to meet a numerical quota or you'd be in trouble with the feds.
Clark: We should say for the sake of the tape that Nancy Hicks Maynard is African-American.
Shanahan: Yes. But that isn't even all that relevant. She was a good reporter. She was the New York Times reporter in Washington. She may have had a special interest in it. A white reporter might just as well have been conducting this interview, really.
Anyway, she wrote a story which I believe was on page one. And Califano called me in and said, "Oh, this is a terrible story and it's awful and we've got to correct it and so on. And I never said that." I said, "Oops, Joe. Sorry, you did." "No, I didn't!"
One of the things he had me do—I've recommended it to everybody who's ever talked to me before taking such a job again—"Don't just let the reporters tape. You tape. First of all it gives you a reference when another reporter calls so you can get the secretary's words exactly right. But it's also a safeguard for you."
So I told Joe, I said, "Joe, I know you said quotas. I've got it on tape." And he said, "Burn the tape!"—which of course, was a joking reference to what many people said Nixon should have done. He knew that he couldn't claim he hadn't said it. But a different kind of person than me might not have confronted him with it.
Now I've lost my train of thought. Where was I when I was going into that digression about Nancy Hicks? [Tape interruption.]
There's another Jody Powell story. He's one of these people who was very, very smart, but not very good in an ethical sense. It's also a wonderful and terrible feminist story.
Of course, Carter had made clear very early in the game that he was very vehemently anti-choice on abortion. And I think that's why he picked Joe for HEW. Since HEW had to administer Medicaid, he wanted someone who was also not for choice there. There were a lot of other good reasons to pick Joe but I think—it is my guess, that's just a guess—that that was one of the reasons.
Anyway, not many months into the administration, I got a call, I can't even remember from whom, but from one of the other women appointees at the assistant or undersecretary level saying, "Some of us have been thinking about having a meeting to sit down and devise some kind of a strategy whereby we can make known to Carter in a quiet and certainly courteous and deferential way how wrong we think he is about abortion and how we really wish he would hear our views and see why the whole business about poor women under Medicaid is so important. Middle-class women could get an abortion, they could afford to pay for it, poor women can't, if they can't get it on Medicaid. There were a lot fewer clinics then than there are now.
Anyway, the meeting was called and I attended. I don't know how many women were there—twenty plus, I would say. And it was decided that we would try to draft a letter to Carter, because one, he would read it, and two, you don't run the risk of being interrupted and having the president argue with point one so you never get to point four. I was picked to write it, partly, I think, because I was a journalist and it was assumed I could write, but probably more importantly, because as a journalist, I knew more of the others than anybody in that room. There was no reason why somebody from Interior would know somebody from Justice or Commerce, and I knew a lot of those people because journalists move around a lot. Anyway, I was given the task of drafting a letter.
And the story leaked. I've never found out who leaked it, although I have a suspicion. And the very next day it was in the Washington Post. The reporter is a friend of mine—I ought to ask her, she'd probably tell me now—Myra McPherson. A very accurate account of what happened at the meeting. That was a Saturday and I was in the office Saturday. We worked at least until about four o'clock most Saturdays, which was early. I was working from 9:30 or so in the morning until ten or eleven at night an awful lot of days.
Jody Powell called me up. I was listed as one of the ones at the meeting. They had a good list, not complete, but quite accurate as far as it went. And Powell said, "What do you mean, thinking you can go to a meeting like that right there in the White House?" Well, it wasn't in the White House, it was in the Executive Office Building. But that's across the street and more or less symbolically part of the White House, I guess. Minor point. "Well, you had no right to have a meeting like that in the White House, to scheme and plot as to how you are going to attack the president."
So I tried to say it wasn't an attack, it was an attempt to reach the president on a subject we felt strongly about. Much was said. The conversation went on for about half an hour. One of Califano's young assistants was sitting in my office at the time and she said she just turned pale listening to what I was saying. She didn't know who was on the other end of the phone but she knew it was big trouble. And at one point in the conversation he said something like, "Well, those turkeys," meaning the women who were there, "most of those turkeys wouldn't even have a job if it weren't for the president. Not you, Eileen. Not you, Eileen."
And there was a general named Singlauh at that time who had just resigned in protest of our policy toward Korea. Don't ask me what it was. I can't tell you. But anyway, that was recently in the news. "Well, I could have some respect for General Singlauh. He went public with his protest of the president's policies but at least he resigned. That adds some honor and integrity to it." And then he went back on "Most of these turkeys wouldn't have a job," and so on. I defended our right to meet and speak about something we felt so strongly about and I said, "I'm sorry it leaked. I have no idea who leaked it. But leaks are, in fact, a hazard of life in this town. In any event, it was certainly our intent to do this absolutely quietly and with no publicity."
I was shaking when I hung up the phone. And after thinking about it for not long, fifteen, twenty minutes, half an hour. That was one of the times I called Califano and said, "I've got to see you in a very few minutes." I went in, told him about the conversation, and told him that if he felt I should resign, I would resign. He said, "No, Shanahan! You're doing a great job," and whatever. That's in his book, too. He's got quite an accurate account of that in his book.
Well, after some consternation about the leak and a whole lot of telephoning around, first one, two people, you know, at the end of the phone line, then some conference calls, we decided to go ahead with the letter. And so I resumed work on it. And I was determined there should be no leak.
And there was a woman—I won't tell you who it was, who was an assistant secretary in another department who had a young woman who was a recent college graduate or law school graduate as her executive assistant. And she said—I'll call her Marie, that wasn't her name—"We want to keep this secret, right? Well, just make sure there are only two copies, one in your desk drawer under lock and key, and one that Marie is taking around to each one of us, one at a time, to read and sign." Right. That's what I did.
And then, I will name names now because I'll never forgive the person who did it. There was a woman in the White House named Midge Costanza who was supposed to be the liaison with minority groups and some other interest groups. She was asked by some reporter about what had happened to the letter to Carter on abortion. She knew, because she was in that original group that had met. And she said, "Oh, no, they realized that was a terrible idea and they've dropped that."
Well, at that point the consensus was to drop it. And so we did. And I believe, if I remember right, that Carter was asked about it at a press conference. So that was the end of that. But I'll never forgive Jody Powell. Not a man of great integrity.
Clark: Was that typical of the way he operated, would you say?
Shanahan: I would say. And I think also the business about, you know, pulling back "The Promises Book." I never saw any particular signs of integrity. There was one leak about me by name in one of these meetings, much later on, that Powell attended, after he had long since stopped attending all of them. He was issuing some orders and passing out some paper about how everybody's—you know, pass this around to all of your secretaries, undersecretaries, political appointees that every single speech is supposed to have a segment like this one, you can use your own words. And it had to do with how great the economy was.
Well, the economy wasn't that great and I spoke right up about the dangers I saw in having all the administration's top people out speaking and claiming it was great. There were still—I had the current numbers
right in my head X million people unemployed. And the next thing I know, there is a David Broder column—David's a great guy, it's no criticism of David, he's one of the reporters I admire beyond measure and most people do—about how the administration has got a lot of problems and, for example, at a recent meeting, "an assistant secretary"—my name wasn't in it—tried to stop the administration—I don't remember now what the charge was.
I forget how it got distorted, as to what I was doing instead of doing what I was doing, which was warning them, "Watch out, people are going to come right"—AFL/CIO, minority representatives, because minorities always have a disproportionate share of unemployment, and they're going to come right back at you and if you try this full-court press about how great the economy is, they're going to come back and smush you, because it's not that great. I was warning him, "Don't do this. It's only going to backfire," which it did.
But I was—the word "disloyal" was in Broder's column, quoting his source as saying there was this assistant secretary who was disloyal enough to—I don't know, it was "attempt to sabotage" or some phrase like that.
Clark: Was there kind of a paranoid relation between the press and the government by that time, more paranoid, say, than during the LBJ years? How could you be more paranoid than LBJ, I guess?
Shanahan: No, with the exception of the kinds of things, the stories I told you about Mike Putzell of the AP, a bad guy to have out to play "gotcha" games, we had a pretty fair press. We had some trade press people, especially in the health field there's a lot of trade press. The trade press I think generically tends to be the best and the worst. They really understand their subject, they're deeply knowledgeable, and when they have an intent to be honorable, there's nobody better. But when they don't have an intent to be honorable, when they're trying to rev up their circulation by scaring the readers in their industry and so on, they are awful.
We had both kinds in the health field. We had some really terrible industry newsletters in the health field. And you could get a little paranoid about them. But as far as the mainstream press goes, I don't think there was a fear. There was not any feeling of paranoia. First of all, Califano having been around town all those years, he knew a lot of reporters personally. In fact, it used to drive me nuts. He had a few favorites that he would let in to see him without going through me, which was okay except that I had to handle the static when one of them, like Joe Kraft came out with something in his column on something that I had never heard of.
But no, the paranoia inside the government, which certainly from time to time has existed in a lot of departments—I have to stop and think. The trajectory of paranoia—it's not a straight line in terms of the way "gotcha" journalism and sleaze journalism has been just kind of—the pitch of the "gotcha" line has been more and less steep at various times but it's kind of gone straight up over the years, or going up always over the years.
On the inside, I think the paranoia about the press has varied a lot. And it's not just Republicans and Democrats. Jerry Ford, one of the nicest men ever to occupy the White House—and the people around him were nice, and honorable. They were conservative, extremely, many of them, but not the hate-filled kind of conservative of today, mainly economic conservatives who really thought the free market would produce the best results and you shouldn't have too much regulation and various other conservative articles of faith. They weren't paranoid at all. And Ford knew a zillion reporters, having been in the House of Representatives for all those years, and having been Republican leader for a number of years before he became president.
So that while I would say overall there might have been less of a tendency in Democratic administrations to be paranoid, it's not an absolute. And different departments were different. Even at the worst of the Nixon administration, I didn't have a lot of trouble with the economic policy people.
Treasury, yes, under both John Connally and Bill Simon, but there were tax policy people under even those two who were accessible and helpful.
Clark: Was that because of you or because of—
Shanahan: It was because of the whole nature of economic reporting and the fact that a Republican chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors just like the Democratic chairmen liked the reporters who knew enough to understand what he was doing and get it straight, and so on. And assistant Treasury secretaries, too. Not all of them even at the CEA. There was one of whom that wasn't so, but in general.
And the White House press corps has always been so—it gets pickier and pettier over the years, much too much on process rather than substance. "He missed his deadline on the health reform." Well, so what? Is it a good plan or isn't it?
Certainly at HEW we did not have—paranoia about the press, basically, was essentially absent in that time. And a lot of it came from—Califano was used to dealing with the press, Hale Champion who started life as a journalist and then became a government PR person. And then he was Jerry and Kathleen Brown's father, Pat Brown's budget director, which he regarded as one of the toughest and best jobs he ever had. He obviously dealt with the press in that job. And then he'd been in and out of academe. And he managed the Boston transit system and I forget what all Hale Champion has done. But he had had a lot of dealings with the press.
And Dick Warden was the UAW's chief lobbyist before he came into HEW and had a lot of dealings with the press. I knew Dick Warden quite well before we were in HEW because he used to sit around the same tax bills I sat around. So a lot of us had had a lot of dealings with the press and sort of understood, you know, what the press was supposed to be about, and knew a good reporter from a bad reporter rather than having generic feelings.
Clark: Was Califano successful in achieving the goals of better management that he set up for himself?
Shanahan: My instinctive answer is minimally, and let me think about it. What did he manage better?
I don't think ed got a bit better. I don't know why he fought to keep it in the department. It was a loser. It may be better now as a separate department. The health side, I think, was pretty well managed to begin with, the National Institutes of Health is certainly a sterling organization and apparently always has been and the same with the Public Health Service, which leaves the whole social program area. I think he improved the management of Social Security, which was a catastrophe waiting to happen when we came in. It needed some capital investment, new computers and stuff, which was made.
I don't know. Managing social programs is the problem that faces this country today in increasing complexity as the demands get more serious—and one of my favorite subjects. I think my instinct answer to you was reasonably sound. There were probably some improvements. It improved the spirit of the place. People were kind of revved up to see an activist secretary after some inactive ones—his immediate predecessor—and before that some people who just didn't believe in those programs. And there were people who kind of hid in corners during some of the Republican secretaries.
Not Elliott Richardson, whom I remember—any number of times I asked my career people who were the finest secretaries they'd had. And two of the names that surfaced, oddly enough, were Elliott Richardson—not oddly for Elliott Richardson's case—but Caspar Weinberger, too, who certainly came a-cropper in the Iran-contra and some other things. I covered him as budget director later on and I could see why he was esteemed by people.
I'm not sure it was quite as bad as they said. But there were things like the Health Care Financing Administration, which handles Medicare and Medicaid, to this day is an absolute nightmare agency. He put a real tough guy in there to try and fix it up and I don't know that he achieved much. So the management stuff, not so much.
There were other things that—did you have some more questions? I've just got in my mind at the moment a kind of a little miscellany of five or six items that may be worth mentioning.
Clark: I wanted to know why you left but other than that, I think that—
Shanahan: That's very simple. I can tell you right now.
Clark: Tell me right now.
Shanahan: I had wanted to be an editor for—how many years? And people who wouldn't give me a job as an editor always said, "But you have no management experience." When I found out that there were four hundred eighty people in public affairs in HEW and a budget of $58 million, in 1977 dollars, more than probably any newspaper, with the probable exception of the New York Times had on their editorial payroll, I said to myself, "Aha! They'll never again be able to tell me I don't have any management experience."
I got about four digressions on that one. Say "volunteerism" to me when I get done.
All of my many friends in journalism and especially my women friends knew that I wanted to be an editor. Time, Incorporated, bought the Washington Star sometime in 1979 or possibly late '78. And two or three of my good friends on the Washington Star called me and said, "You better get over here. They're hiring people. I think you might just get the kind of job you always wanted." Well, so that's what I did, and became assistant managing editor of the Washington Star.
And I did not want to leave HEW. I did not want to leave. But you had to take the opportunity when it came. I was very sorry. I never left a place with more reluctance. But that was the reason. And it was the right decision because if I'd waited—as it turned out, Califano got fired not very many weeks after that. And a lot of people to this day believe I knew something and that's why I left. Not so. I saw the chance to become an editor and I grabbed it.
[End Tape 2, Side B; Begin Tape 3, Side A]
Shanahan: One of the most amazing things to me, though, is, in a way, that I took the job at all, having never managed much more than a special section of the New York Times and a staff of three or four, at the peak, in the Treasury Department. I don't know, for some reason I thought I could do it, just like later on I thought I could create a magazine and guess what? I did. I was particularly deluded about what that would involve.
What I discovered at HEW was that I really had learned a lot about managing people from work in volunteer organizations, most particularly the former Women's National Press Club, which I was on the board of for something like eleven straight years and directed various undertakings. If you can get people to do things for you when you can't give or deny a raise or fire them or whatever, you learn some leadership skills.
And women's movement was beginning to recognize that at the same time and talked about—there began to be some writing and talking among feminists about how when women, especially the woman who'd been a homemaker for twenty years and wanted to come back into the labor force and on paper she didn't have any experience. Well, she'd managed a household, which anybody who's done it knows is a fairly complicated managerial job, even if it's just a couple of kids, maybe, and who had also, in many cases, done major volunteer things. I was once the district chairman for the Girl Scout cookie drive and I've got to tell you—
Clark: I haven't known you that long but just knowing that fact is wonderful.
Shanahan: Anybody who does it twice is crazy. Talk about managerial "jump into twelve feet of water and see if you can swim."
It was what I had learned working as an unpaid volunteer in various kinds of organizations that really got me through about the first twelve or fifteen months in HEW. And I started to say, the women's movement was starting to talk about that, to say, you know, these people have talents and no personnel directors recognize it, and any kind of a job application should have a question on it saying, "Please enter any volunteer work you have done, if relevant to your qualifications for this job."
And somebody, I don't know who, somehow approached what was then called the Civil Service Commission, now the Office of Personnel Management in the government, with that proposal. And the guy who ran that in the early Carter years, known as Scotty Campbell, I forget his first name, Alan, I think—I was working with him on something else and he brought up this subject with me. He said, "Hey, I had some woman come in and tell me that we ought to put this on the form." He was too smart to say, "Isn't that a damn fool idea?" but I think that's what he thought. And I told him, absolutely, he ought to do it.
Now, I don't know whether my input and my arguments put him over the top on that or not. The fact is, it was done, and I think to this day federal civil service job application forms do have a place for you to put down any voluntary activities that you think demonstrate some qualifications for whatever job you're applying for. That was very important for women. It's less important now when so many women go back to work much earlier in their lives after they have children. But it's still important.
I might add that I was not too great a manager initially, even so, because like a lot of women I was so used to doing it all myself because you couldn't ask for help. If you were trying to be a professional woman in a hostile world like that, taking "a man's job," you were held to a different standard from men about asking for help. [Tape interruption.]
—do too much myself until I finally—it took me quite a while, six months or so, hired a deputy because I didn't know what I needed, what I wanted. A wonderful guy who had been a journalist for a long time, Cliff Sessions, who had been then the head of public affairs for the American Bankers Association, who really taught me a lot about management. He had run the American Bankers Association PR which was a big operation, twenty or thirty people, and they published magazines and newspapers, and from time to time were in some firestorms of publicity and criticism and so on. And he really knew his stuff.
I was and remain to this day very much of an open-door manager—a lot of journalists are. Anybody can walk into my office, except maybe if I was writing something, and I was very open with my staff about what was going on and what was coming down the pike, even though you risk some leaks. We never had really bad leaks. And I thought that was enough. And it was Sessions who taught me or pushed me for a little while until I finally agreed to do certain things just because he wanted me to. He told me, and I finally understood that you really need to have regular staff meetings. It's not the same to just answer questions of people.
The newspapers basically don't—very few, top editors have staff meetings, even top editors didn't have a lot of them when I left the business, at that time, temporarily in '77 to go into HEW. And I began having staff meetings, every other Tuesday. Not just for the immediate office of the assistant secretary but all the top PR people, the PR guy for the Food & Drug Administration and Office for Civil Rights and so on. Speaking of "guy," there were eleven large units in the department like that with their own PR staff. And by the time I was done, I had six women in those top jobs, out of the eleven and three blacks, one of whom was a two-fer.
And no diminishing in quality, I just kept looking and was open, and that's what you can do if you care to, try to work at it.
They loved the staff meeting. I used to have them—Califano had an every-other-week staff meeting of his top people on Tuesdays and then I would have mine right behind it so I could transmit whatever Califano had said. They felt piped in, they felt wonderful, they felt important. Sharing information makes people feel good. I didn't know that before I became a manager there. And then I'd go around the table—the meetings were long, they took a couple hours—and just had everybody talk about what was coming down the pike in their area in the next two weeks. And sometimes Education really needed to know what Health was doing, and so on.
But it made everybody feel like they were part of the department and not just part of their piece of it. The other thing it did was—and I didn't intend this consciously when I started out but if I were doing it again, I would intend it consciously. My keeping them informed about what was going on in the department cemented their loyalty to me. There was an inherent built-in conflict. Those people didn't report to me. I had an office staff which ranged from twenty-eight to thirty-two; they reported to me. But the PR person for the Food & Drug Administration, the Public Health Service, the Office of Education, whatever, Agency on Children and Families reported to the head of that agency.
There was one person who actually had to lie to her boss about where she was going every other Tuesday. This was the Health Care Financing Administration. And she told him she was having this humongous dental work done, that—he was the guy who wrote her check—and that it had to be done, she had to go every other week—she had this whole long list about the swelling had to go down, and so forth, because he was so—he didn't want her to have anything to do with me. He was her boss and who was I?
And there were other places where—there were some places where I had a good relationship with the head of the agency and not so good with the PR person and vice versa. The one place I had perfect, heavenly relations with both was the Office for Civil Rights. The head of it was this incredible blind lawyer, David Tatel, white, who had been picked by Califano, who got caught in the middle between blacks and women trying to find a head of the Office for Civil Rights. He actually offered the job to a couple of black women who for one reason or another didn't want to take it, and he just absolutely didn't know what the heck to do.
David Tatel had been the head of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and was widely known and respected in the minority communities, and blind. And here we are for the first time having to enforce this handicapped legislation. And I remember when Califano told me he was on the brink of deciding to give David Tatel the job. I said, "A white man?" And he could just see the smoke coming out of my ears, probably. And he said, "Shanahan, I want you to talk to him. I think you're going to love him. If you don't, I won't appoint him."
Now, I don't think he meant that. To tell you the truth, I don't think he meant that. I don't think he would have done it. But I fell in love with the guy on the spot and fifteen years later, I'm still in love. He's just the most wonderful, one of the most wonderful people I ever met. And he also hired this young woman, Colleen O'Connor, whom I mentioned, as his PR person. The three of us had just a wonderful time trying to enforce the nation's anti-discrimination laws, all of them, often against some pretty serious heel-dragging right within the department.
It's interesting, too. There were so many controversies in that area which I alluded to earlier. And it occurred to me while I was talking earlier about Title IX and the handicapped and all the rest of it, and the race problems in higher education. Why don't you have those controversies today? I am sorry to say the reason is because nobody's enforcing the law.
Clark: Columbia University has just come into compliance this year.
Shanahan: On what?
Clark: Because of the passage of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. [Tape interruption.]
Shanahan: About a year ago, Califano had a lovely dinner party in New York for Hale Champion who was retiring as dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard and had that whole coterie, about eighteen of us or so, from the top of the department at this glorious, elegant dinner in New York, in which Hale Champion, ever the realist and "don't hand me any bullshit" kind of guy, stood up. And among the things he said was that he felt—I guess he said he was sorry that he felt that way—that the real epitaph for our time at HEW, though we all had a wonderful time and we all worked like hell, was there were no lasting achievements.
And I thought about it at the time and my quick reaction was, "Oh, dear, I guess Hale's right." With more time to think hard about it, I think there were some. Not monumental. The time wasn't ripe. I believe that the nation was ready to elect a Republican, a conservative president, by then, and Watergate aborted that. And so, Ford with the Nixon pardon got defeated and Carter came in at a time when the country was ready to go more conservative. And you could see that by the numbers but also—not just the party numbers but the ideological numbers in Congress. We were up against a very conservative Congress, one of the reasons why there were not a lot of achievements.
That's just my thesis. I don't know whether any historian, past, present or future, would agree with that assessment, that Carter, in the sense of what the public was ready for, really shouldn't have been elected. And Watergate elected him.
But I think there were some achievements. One I look back on that hardly anybody remembers is the childhood immunization program. Califano set a goal very early in the game when Julius Richmond, who was the surgeon-general—a wonderful guy. Califano describes him in this book as "the only soft-spoken member of my team," true—had told him that kids were having terrible things happen to them from measles, which is not a minor disease. People die of kidney and heart and other side effects of measles, it used to be in the tens of thousands a year, I believe. Don't hold me to the number, and it's something that young parents were just getting lackadaisical about, about getting their kids immunized.
So in due course, Califano announced the Childhood Immunization Program. He set a pretty realistic goal—ninety percent of all kids under the age of fourteen immunized against the five or six basic immunizable childhood diseases by October 1, 1979.
Well, dammit, we made it, except for mumps. And nobody knows it because by that time Califano was out of the department, Patricia Harris was there, not aware or didn't care about her predecessor's priorities. And I don't think they even announced it. I knew we were going to make it, before I left in April of '79. And I knew what I was going to do to get some ink on it, which was—the press basically doesn't love success stories a lot. They take some selling. And I never discussed it with Califano. I figured in due course I would but I figured it out, which was you announce a new child health initiative. You say, "We did this. We missed a little bit on mumps. But basically, we said we were going to do it, we did it, it's wonderful. Kids will not die. Kids will not have heart murmurs that threaten their activity through all their lives, they won't have the kind of kidney stuff you get from measles. They won't have this, they won't have that, because we got these kids immunized. And then we'd announce our next initiative on children's health. Actually, the country has fallen
back again on immunization, but there's an achievement. Some tens of thousands of kids have grown up healthy.
Clark: Pretty significant.
Shanahan: I think so. I think so. I call—that's a lasting accomplishment. I was awfully sorry that I didn't get the chance to use my PR skills. I think it would have worked to tell the country, "Hey, folks, sometimes the government does what it says it's going to do, and furthermore, it does it right," because there is too much belief that the government never gets anything right.
I think one of the significant achievements was putting some things into the political agenda even though they were abject failures in terms of getting anything done. And welfare reform and health care reform are two that were really first surfaced by Califano. I never knew, as a pretty well-informed person who read three good newspapers a day most of my adult life—didn't know that health care at that time was taking eleven percent of the gross national product—it's now up to fourteen—and what the cost control problems were and how hospital costs in particular were just absolutely runaway.
We didn't get anywhere on it. We had hearings in one subcommittee—there were about five subcommittees that were involved, which is a problem that's happening today with health care reform. And it got killed in the House Ways and Means Committee and that was the end of it. But I think that was the first putting of it on the agenda, that there were some seeds sown then, probably not in the broad community but in a narrower community. But that matters.
Welfare reform. It was very difficult to devise a program because Carter had decreed, as we were well launched on figuring out what really ought to be done, that there could be no net new cost. The Clinton administration hasn't quite admitted it yet but they now realize they can't do welfare reform without earlier year costs and late year savings. We made a big mistake on welfare reform, though, partly because we had to deal with this zero-additional-cost ceiling.
But it was so complicated that it died without any hearings, I think, in Congress. And I found out early on how complicated it was because with my executive assistant, who's probably got an I.Q. of 160 or a good bit more than me, and I took all this stuff from the unit of the department that had devised it, the planning people. And she and I struggled and struggled and struggled to understand it. And even as we were writing the last piece of the fact sheets that Califano was going to take down to Plains—it was announced by Carter down there—we were writing things and saying to each other, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Is that exactly right, because if A, then B, and if B, then X. And wait a minute, I think that's wrong." Terrible stuff. And I'm afraid that's not a lesson that was learned by maybe anybody but Judy Bekelman and me.
Of course, Califano, he was not the first to put smoking on the agenda. The original surgeon-general's report came out in the mid-sixties and there's been several since. So Califano was not the first. But he did come up with a new surgeon-general's report which because his surgeon-general, Dr. Julius Richmond was a pediatric surgeon, a pediatrician, focused an awful lot on pregnancy and smoking, and the harm done to the fetus by smoking. Low birth-weight babies, and maybe even possibly—it's hard to tell because lower income people are the heavier smokers—but maybe even some diminution in median I.Q. from smoking, from the lack of oxygen that smoking does.
Califano was fired over that, of course, when Carter was under so much pressure from North Carolina, Kentucky and other places that he thought it was going to cost them the election. Carter always denied that was the reason but there's quite a lot of evidence that it was. And he got it on the agenda. In fact, he got it so far back on the agenda that if you say the name "Joe Califano" to a lot of people today or even ten years ago, almost the only thing they know about him was his crusade against smoking.
So I think some of those "puttings on the agenda" had some lasting effect on public policy, they laid some groundwork for public policy.
There are a few other things—I look through my notes here and find a little hodge-podge. One doesn't come under the heading of lasting accomplishments but I wanted to mention it. I did adopt a rule which I'm sure others did, before and since, but I had to invent it for myself, as to what the right public affairs response was when someone in your agency, company, whatever, is accused of real wrongdoing, financial wrongdoing. In the cases I had to cover, we didn't have sexual harassment. It didn't even have a name in those days. As Gloria Steinem said, we just called it life. She used that in a speech I heard: Displaced homemakers, sexual harassment, date rape—we just called it life.
My rule was that if somebody had been internally accused of wrongdoing and you had taken any action whatever, including the least action, which would be suspension with pay, you had to announce it. If an investigation had been launched without any other action, my rule was: You had to respond to questions.
After a lot of years, I still think that was a sound rule. Did it mean that some people might be unjustly accused and tarnished? Yes. But I think this is the taxpayers' money and the citizens' business and a somewhat different standard applies and you do have to announce it.
Clark: Did you have a case like that?
Shanahan: Sure did. A guy who, failing to follow clearly spelled-out procedures, awarded a huge computer contract to his old company. And that case was ultimately referred to Justice and Justice decided not to prosecute. I don't mean to suggest in any corrupt way. They just decided there wasn't adequate evidence to prosecute, which may or may not mean that they thought he was guilty. I don't happen to know. I was out of the government by then. But that was the biggest of such cases.
There were a couple of other small ones. That's the one I remember. I got a phone call one day from Jack Anderson, who struck terror into the hearts of a lot of government people. And he said he understood so-and-so had given this contract, and the breach of standard procedures went from here to there and back again. I didn't know; I'd never heard of it. But I made a quick phone call and had a little trouble getting answers, but got them and called him back and said, "Yes. There is such a charge and it's being investigated. And don't forget, Jack, people are innocent until proved guilty in this country."
I mentioned earlier in terms of lasting achievements, women's athletics. That has been proved a lasting achievement. We really did that. We really put that on a different trajectory. It was coming along before we were in. If different people had been in the department, if a different administration had been in, I'm confident it would have happened. But it happened a whole lot faster, probably a good, I don't know, ten years or more faster than it otherwise would have happened without the push that we gave it.
[End Tape 3, Side A; Begin Tape 3, Side B]
Clark: What did you get out of being at HEW?
Shanahan: I got a lot. I learned how to be a manager. I got a lot of confidence out of it. It was a successful experience, took away any terrible doubts I might have had about myself based on the New York Times, you know, maybe I really wasn't any good, like they said or wasn't really up to snuff and deserved not to get paid what the men were paid. Inevitably when you face stuff like that, you ask yourself, "Aren't they maybe right? Maybe it's true I'm not really up to snuff?"
It was quite a triumphal experience. Not that I did everything right. But it gave me a lot of confidence to move on, do other things. I didn't have any doubt that I could be a good assistant managing editor
of the Washington Star. And when I look back on it, I got tremendous understanding of government. I had seen Treasury from the inside, I had seen major legislation, tax legislation, from the inside, written speeches for members of the House, one of which was so good the New Republic printed it as an article, "Why a Liberal Should Be for the Investment Tax Credit." He's dead now, for Dick Bolling. He was a particular favorite of mine, congressman from Missouri.
But more so because I saw closer at hand in HEW, what Carter, in one of his great insights, called the iron triangle of politics: the bureaucrats in the executive branch; the bureaucrats of the congressional branch, a very under-recognized phenomenon, the committee staff people who come and stay forever and who would have even more power if we ever get term limitations in Congress; and the outside interests. We saw that up close. I saw it up much closer at HEW than I had at Treasury, which aside from taxation didn't have a lot of legislation. We had legislation all over the place, which I mentioned.
I just learned a whole lot more about—I learned about a large, a gigantic organization—45,000 employees. And I may have learned a little about the internal politics of getting an organization to respond to you—and maybe a little about working with people I disagree with, which is something I still don't do extra well. You might say do badly. Hard for me.
The other great thing I got out of it was some of the greatest friends of my life whom I'm still in touch with. It's incredible. I left HEW fifteen years ago, as of a couple of months from now, and I'm still in touch with probably fifteen people, after thirty months there. I spent fourteen years at the New York Times and I'm not still in touch with that many people.
There is something I came to recognize about what I call the "cement of mutual undertaking." You find out what other people are made of in a way that you don't in a newsroom because very seldom do you work with anybody very closely as a reporter. Sometimes you do a little team reporting. But it's being in a situation where you are relying on other people to do their tasks well that creates the lasting bonds. The best friendships of my adult life I formed in HEW and in the old Women's National Press Club where we fought all those fights of access, and the role of women in the press corps in Washington and across the country and relied on each other to get things done timely and right. It's a level of friendship that I've had with a very few people in newsrooms. I have it with the women co-plaintiffs in the New York Times lawsuit. But the political appointees and the best civil servants were so remarkable, the most brilliant gang of people I've ever been associated with. There are a couple I'd be delighted never to see again and a good dozen or more I would be delighted to see every day if I could.
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