1989.06.25: June 25, 1989: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Politics: Booknotes: Kenya RPCV Dr. Elizabeth O. Colton served as press secretary to Jesse Jackson during the 1988 Campaign
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1989.06.25: June 25, 1989: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Politics: Booknotes: Kenya RPCV Dr. Elizabeth O. Colton served as press secretary to Jesse Jackson during the 1988 Campaign
Kenya RPCV Dr. Elizabeth O. Colton served as press secretary to Jesse Jackson during the 1988 Campaign
"I joined the Peace Corps in 1967 and I was in Kenya in'68 and '69. Of course I think people who went in the Peace Corps I mean they had that those kind of inclinations anyway. But I felt that it really molded my life very much. It gave me the interest in the third world the knowledge of the third world the interest in Africa and the problems of emerging nations. And from there I was in graduate English then I went into anthropology and was very interested in that. Then eventually I got back to Journalism."
Kenya RPCV Dr. Elizabeth O. Colton served as press secretary to Jesse Jackson during the 1988 Campaign
The Jackson Phenomenon: The Man, The Power, The Message
by Elizabeth Colton
BRIAN LAMB: Mill Colton, former press secretary to Jesse Jackson during the 1988 Campaign. Do you think he will ever be President of the United States?
ELIZABETH COLTON: I think it's certainly a possibility. He demonstrated in 1988 that there a lot of people out there who would be willing to vote for him and I think more and more are certainly recognizing him as a leading candidate. I think he's the most powerful Democrat in America today.
LAMB: Should he be President?
COLTON: Well I guess it would depend on who else was running. From knowing him privately, I'm not sure if I would want him in the White House. But I think that he is certainly a fantastic great leader extremely charismatic.
LAMB: Knowing him privately -- what do you know that we don't know?
COLTON: I guess mostly just I found that, you know, there's this incredible wonderful public persona that everyone sees. This extremely sensitive person sensitive to so many issues that a lot of us are concerned about. But privately the way he treats the people closest to him doesn't often mesh with that. And that was the frustrating thing for me as his press secretary, because I believe so much in what he was doing. I became very disillusioned with him as a person. But I think that perhaps, maybe, not that he would be president, but what he's done is open the door so that all Americans realize and recognize acknowledge that we can have a black as President.
And maybe Jesse Jackson is the John the Baptist, so to speak, for the first black President.
LAMB: How long did you work for him?
COLTON: Three months as the press secretary.
LAMB: From when to when?
COLTON: From the middle of January to the beginning of April.
LAMB: Show the audience -- in just a second soon as we can get a picture of it here a picture of your book. Why did you write this book?
COLTON: I wrote the book -- actually, all along I thought the campaign was so important, so historically significant, I wanted to do a chronicle of the campaign anyway. And then when I left the campaign probably I was able to write an even more objective account because, you know, I didn't feel that I had to not say everything. I felt what I wanted to do was to write a chronicle of the campaign because it was the most exciting ... I think the most important campaign in the whole 1988 election year. And in so doing, I also wanted to have a portrait or build a portrait of this man -- this extremely complex person -- and show the positive side and the negative side. Sadly, Jesse Jackson and a lot of his people have been -- well they were afraid of the book even before it came out, and when it came out, I don't know that he's read it. I would hope that he will read it someday. I think if he read it he would be please with most of it. But for some reason he became afraid of the idea of any kind of criticism. And I think that's a shame if he wants to be a candidate for all the people.
LAMB: Did that surprise you after being behind the scenes with him?
COLTON: No. He can't take any criticism. Of course it's very difficult for most people to take criticism, and it's difficult for politicians. But I think that Jesse Jackson -- especially when he says constantly that he wants to be treated equally -- then he's going to have to accept criticism. Not accept it in the sense that, Oh yes, I accept the criticism but not to do things to try to suppress any kind of criticism which he'd done in the past. A black woman wrote a biography in 1975 and Jesse Jackson did everything to suppress that book.
LAMB: Barbara Reynolds.
COLTON: Barbara Reynolds. And she still talks about it today and the problems she encountered. The problems that I'm encountering are quite different now because it's not that his people are going around taking the book out of the bookstores but he's trying to suppress it. He first of all said that I only worked for him five weeks. Well, that wasn't correct at all and he knew that. He said I left before Super Tuesday and that wasn't correct. I mean, I was with him after Super Tuesday -- in fact, [I] was very useful to him through Super Tuesday. So I think that rather than trying to ... and now he's also trying to ... you know, I mean, there's sort of a slight hint of intimidation that if certain media people talk about the book that he will cut off access to their reporters and I think this is a real problem.
LAMB: Do you think that we ought to worry at C-SPAN that he wouldn't do our shows in the future because we're talking to you about this book?
COLTON: No. Because I think, of course, the main thing is that Jesse Jackson, like any candidate, really needs the media. And that he's going to keep coming to people. So I think that the threat of cutting off an interviewer or reporters is, you know, not wise.
LAMB: Let me show the audience and James will get a shot of this in the front part of the book an authors note. And we'd like to talk about some of the simple things in the book and get you to tell us why. As soon as we get a close enough shot and I can see it I'll read it. "The direct quotations in this book were taken from either notes I made at the time of the campaign, from actual tape recordings and from press reports. Recreations of incidents were in each case confirmed by more than two sources." Why did you do this? Why did you put this in there?
COLTON: Because there are a lot of accounts of incidents that, you know, if I were questioned about how I had them ... I mean, first of all I'm a journalist. I've been a journalist since I was 8 years old and the way I've always kept journals and I've kept very detailed notes of my whole life and so I had them.
LAMB: Here's the dedication page. "And this book is dedicated to my parents Marie and Henry Colton and" -- is it Almonia?
LAMB: "Almoina Thomas, Iona Rhodes and Helen Jackson." Who are those folks?
COLTON: Well my parents of course who live in Asheville, North Carolina and their two black cleaning ladies -- one of whom was with me as a child but once with integration she was able to lift herself up and has become a teaching assistant. These were two ladies that I felt are symbols of how far we've managed to come with integration, and they have, through their own efforts, risen above all the barriers of segregation in the south especially. And Jesse Jackson's mother, for whom I have the greatest respect, who did what she did to raise this son and he is now the first black to run for President of the United States.
LAMB: Tell us the story of going back to your hometown at Asheville, North Carolina.
COLTON: Well, it was my idea that Jesse Jackson and I could go back to my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, which is only 63 miles from his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. I thought it would be a very important symbolic event because both he and I had been working with Civil Rights since we were little. I was a few years younger than he, and I had gone to the all white high school in Asheville and he used to play football against the all black high school. And so 25 years after my graduation from school in 1988, I thought if Jesse Jackson and I went home to this high school which was now integrated Asheville High School that it would be just a wonderful event to show the students and the world how far we had come in 25 years. And Jesse thought this was a great idea. So it was wonderful.
My parents I were talking with them. I was talking to a lot of the people in North Carolina, the Jackson people about organizing the event. Actually, it was towards the end of February and it was one of the first events in the campaign that a number of members of the media were going to come for Jackson. Because the media had been ignoring Jackson up to that point. This was getting closer to Super Tuesday. So we went to Asheville and we got there and, well, first we went to a luncheon. It was very exciting and I was very moved because everyone had come out -- friends of mine -- and it was a completely mixed black and white audience of very enthusiastic, sympathetic people. All of them excited that this great man had come there. And many people whom I knew who were very pleased that, you know, that I was with him. So anyway, I told him when we were leaving from the luncheon, before we went to the high school, that I was going to ride with my parents -- just have a quick little visit with them.
LAMB: You were sick that day weren't you?
COLTON: Yes. I had a very high fever but he didn't know it at the time. I felt I had a very high fever that day. So I rode with my parents and when we got out of the car, we got to the high school and Jesse drove up in his limousine and we smiled -- my mother and I and my little niece. And of course, my mother was excited and my niece, who was 8 years old, and Jesse gave this really hateful stare, which he often does behind the scenes to people on the staff. It's just a very cold ... and I thought, My gosh, I wonder what's happening now. I mean, I couldn't imagine what was the matter. I mean, everything was so wonderful. It was a very moving moment. We had media attention and people were moved. And this was really the symbol of the new south that he kept talking about.
So I thought, My gosh, I don't know what's wrong. So we went into the gymnasium behind the gym and the principal came up and asked if the president of the student body and the student council could meet Jackson before hand. So I said, well, I'm sure it's OK, but I'll just ask him. And I walked up to Jesse and the people were standing behind me and Jesse just glared and said no. And then he lambasted me for riding with my parents and he blamed me that the press bus had been lost. And it was just a moment that the whole thing was completely marred by something that was unwarranted. Then we went out on the stage and I introduced him and said how proud I was and how far we'd come and Jesse made a wonderful speech and there was no sign or anything. But this happened so often during the campaign -- not only for me but for other members of staff, especially when they did something really good. Of course, members of the staff were working hard for him all the time. But it was always at a time as if he wanted to put you down at the moment you had accomplished something very special. And this was such a fantastic moment. It was very discouraging.
LAMB: Did everybody on the staff feel the same way you did about the behind the scenes things that you saw?
COLTON: Well, they certainly complained a lot and many of most of them probably won't say so publicly now because many of them have jobs to depend on and, you know, they would be reluctant because he'll continue running in 1992 and they don't want to you know get his ire against them. But there were complaints. And then many of them who stay with him, they say well, you just get used to this. You just have to deal with it. If he makes up his mind against you on a particular moment you just take it. You never argue, you don't criticize or don't do anything. But I found it very disillusioning. And of course I accept that many members of the staff who complained at the time are not going to admit that now.
LAMB: What's the best thing about Jesse Jackson?
COLTON: I was always so impressed with the way in which he could be in a crowd. Of course, I mean everybody knows his electrical presence and his magnetism. But also that he would just see something and pick up on some poor person out in the crowd and this great sensitivity to all kinds of things. I always use the example of that.
There was this League of Women Voters debate in New Hampshire in February. And of course, all of the candidates were male and the moderator was male also. There wasn't a woman around. The League Of Women Voters president had introduced, but then she disappeared. And so throughout this debate they went through all these questions on major issues in America that day, but at the very end Jackson pointed out this is crazy. We are at a League Of Women Voters debate and you haven't mentioned women's issues. I mean this kind of sensitivity. The problem is that often that type of sensitivity is not played out on the private level with Jackson.
LAMB: We're talking about the Jackson phenomenon and this is the book. The author is Liz Colton. She is a former reporter for Newsweek and National Public Radio and ABC. Where did you go to school?
COLTON: Randolph Macon Women's College in Memphis.
LAMB: Why did you pick journalism?
COLTON: Well, I wanted to be a journalist since I was 8 years old, and be a foreign correspondent since I was nine, so I worked. But when I finished college in 1967 they said girls couldn't be a foreign correspondent, so I went in the Peace Corps instead.
LAMB: Why did you pick Kenya?
COLTON: Well, I had always wanted to go in the Peace Corps every since Kennedy had announced it. And I was really interested at that point in the emerging African nations. I mean Kenya was just recently independent. It was really the greatest experience in my life.
LAMB: What impact did it have on you besides being the greatest experience, when you came out of that experience, and what years did you do that where did you go?
COLTON: Well, I joined the Peace Corps in 1967 and I was in Kenya in'68 and '69. Of course I think people who went in the Peace Corps I mean they had that those kind of inclinations anyway. But I felt that it really molded my life very much. It gave me the interest in the third world the knowledge of the third world the interest in Africa and the problems of emerging nations. And from there I was in graduate English then I went into anthropology and was very interested in that. Then eventually I got back to Journalism.
LAMB: Your first job in journalism?
COLTON: Actually I started freelance out in the Indian Ocean when I was working on my doctorate in anthropology. I was with Reuters News Agency and then other Asia magazines -- Asia Week. Then I got a job, a sort of entry level job at NBC television in London as a chief researcher and assistant to Gerrik Utley.
LAMB: How many years did you live out of this country before you came back to work for Jesse Jackson?
COLTON: Well, that time around I had been abroad for 10 years straight as a reporter. Then I was in Libya for the bombing of Libya and with ABC radio. And, in fact, I was on my way to Manila to be a roving Asia correspondent for ABC radio news. And the morning after the bombing of Libya National Public Radio called and asked me to come back and work for them and I thought I had been abroad 10 years so it was time to come home.
But it was actually during that time while I was overseas that I first met Jesse Jackson. And in 1983 and early '84 Damascus, Syria -- you remember when the American Airman was shot down, President Reagan wasn't able to win his release and Jesse Jackson came over and was able to. And of course people can say that well, the president of Syria wanted to hand him over to Jackson who was outside the American government rather than to the American president. And of course that was true, but it really took Jesse Jackson with his stature and his negotiating skills to win the release. That was when I first met him and was very impressed with him.
LAMB: How did you get to the point where you were even interested in being his Press Secretary?
COLTON: I guess at the time I thought, you know, I was wondering what it would be like to work with someone like that. I always wondered what it would be like. And in 1986, I was home on vacation from the Middle East. I had followed the 1984 campaign while I was overseas -- I wasn't home for that -- and I knew a lot about the problems of the Jackson campaign and organization, but still I was extremely impressed with the man. So he and I talked in 1986 and at the time he said, "How would you like to be press secretary for a presidential candidate? And I said, well, for an interesting one I would like to. Then he turned to the men around him, his aides, and said that would be a real interesting combination a white female press secretary from the south and a black male presidential candidate from the south. He said, "I think that would make a real good combination." But it wasn't until the end of 1987 that I made contact again and then he hired me in the beginning of 1988.
LAMB: Was the job offered to you right then in '86?
COLTON: No, it was sort of a discussion. I mean I was with ABC Radio at the time and then I was with him for a little while just watching him in California. And then suddenly I got sent overseas again and you know it was just dropped then. You know he talked about it but I had to go back overseas.
LAMB: You write about the feeling you had when you came back to this country after basically being out of it for 10 years. How it had changed during the Reagan years. Explain this.
COLTON: I came back and this was in 1986 when I was, as I said, home on vacation and it was really quite sort of shocking because I had left home at the very beginning of -- well, actually, I had left home before Carter was elected that summer of 1976. And this was the winter of 1986 and the Reagan presidency had really changed the face of the nation. And there were, you know, I came home to a country where there were homeless and there hadn't been people there hadn't been beggars on the streets when I left the country. It was like going almost to the third world or something. It was quite a surprise. And yet what amazed me was that people weren't talking a lot about it then. But I went around with Jackson for a couple of days and here was a man here was a leader who was addressing these kinds of issues that were almost being put under the table elsewhere.
In fact I talked to a reporter friends of mine and said it looks like Jesse Jackson is really tapping into something that is of concern to people. Well, nobody wanted to believe that. They said oh he's just fringe. You know he's just nothing. But I felt that this man really had a sense of what was happening in the country. The other side of the country. And I think he's proved that.
LAMB: Is he honest?
COLTON: He certainly believes what he believes. I think he's honest about that. You know again as I've said it's the problem of matching the private with the public. Of course, you can say he sees his opportunities but any politician does that. Again, he has such a sensitivity for seizing issues and as you know he was the leader in the whole discussion of the drug issue in this country. Everybody jumped on the band wagon months or years after he'd been talking about that.
LAMB: When I say honest, and I don't want to imply by this question that I think that this is dishonest, but I do want to ask you about the public posture during the campaign -- was that Jesse Jackson did not want to be a vice president and that's what he would say publicly that he was not interested in that job. When you were around him, did you ever talk about the vice presidency?
COLTON: He was being truthful about that. He didn't want the vice presidency then. When people kept saying, what does he want? Does he really want the vice presidency? No. He always wanted the presidential nomination. But it wasn't until after the California primary when it seemed fate compli that Dukakis would be the nominee then Jackson realized that the second place would be pretty good. But it wasn't that Jackson was working for the vice presidential position.
LAMB: I guess ...
COLTON: So he was, I think that yes, he was always very honest about that. People just couldn't believe it.
LAMB: When did you leave the staff?
COLTON: Just around Michigan.
LAMB: And why did you leave?
COLTON: Well, I left because he and I didn't get along. And he didn't want me with him and I didn't want to be with him anymore. It was a mutual situation. I was quite relieved then. I mean, as I said in the book by the middle of March when I kept feeling these situations where I just -- I couldn't keep saying that here was this wonderful person. It was very difficult. I really wanted out. And Jackson didn't want me around. I think I had served my purpose with him as well.
LAMB: When your time was up, did you did you tell them that you didn't want to stay any longer or did they tell you they didn't want you any longer?
COLTON: No, they told me that Jackson didn't want me on the road as press secretary and that I should work as a media consultant. It was with great relief.
LAMB: How do they handle things like that?
COLTON: Jackson never spoke to me. Jackson doesn't deal about these things. He never said thank you. He never spoke to me. I called him in June to tell him I was going to do the book. And he said, "Well, we'll talk about it later, my dear." Then he's never returned a call since then. There are many people who've worked with him that feel they've just spilt their whole lives for him and there's never any thanks. I mean, one of his top aides has constantly said, "Well, I've learned to accept the fact that I'll never be thanked and that I accept that he says."
LAMB: That was your predecessor as press secretary -- Frank Washburn who said that.
LAMB: And he worked for him for 19 years.
COLTON: Yes. Well he's been with him all along. He's his alter ego.
LAMB: Where does that come from?
COLTON: What do you mean?
LAMB: The alter ego role. And is he still with him?
COLTON: Yes he's with him and they met in seminary and they've been involved since the early Civil Rights days. They are extremely close. Frank Watkins keeps his finger on all kinds of things and talks to Jackson and Jackson has, you know, total respect for him. But even as I said, Frank Watkins ... but you know, that's Frank Watkins. He's learned to live with the fact that he would never be thanked. Not that everybody has to be thanked all the time. But for example, after the California primary, many of the staff members -- and I've talked to staff members white and black who felt so crushed afterwards because they never even heard of thanks from Jackson. Now the campaign manager, Jerry Austin, sent a very nice letter to people and I mean, you know, he thought to do these things. I guess it depends on whether one expects that sometimes. I think that a leader and a boss at least should give some kind of positive re-enforcement to staff members.
LAMB: What was the genesis of this book? How did it start? Who thought of it first? Did you go to a publisher?
COLTON: Yes. No. Well, I had been thinking about it and I had talked to an agent and went to several publishers about it. And the interesting thing was, I mean, people call it a kiss and tell. I don't consider it a kiss and tell book. I went to a number of publishers and some of them wanted, you know, a real dirt sensational book. And I said that's not what it is. What I want to write is a serious chronicle of this very important campaign and in it I will be giving a portrait. And there won't be, you know as they said, this came out at the time of the book about the astrologer with Nancy Reagan. I said there's no astrologer. That's what they wanted. So Doubleday, my publisher, accepted and a couple of other publishers were interested in the kind of book I wanted to do which I considered a serious book. And which I consider if people read it all the way through they would find very balanced.
LAMB: Did you take notes during the time you worked for him?
COLTON: Yes. I've always taken notes of everything in my life.
LAMB: Did you think during the time that you worked for him that you'd eventually write a book?
COLTON: Sure. I thought that, but as I said almost everything I do I'm always thinking that it could be a possibility of a story. I mean I'm just that kind of journalist as I said since I was eight I've always kept journals.
LAMB: If I read right your Doubleday editor was Nan Talese.
LAMB: Is that Gay Taleses' wife?
COLTON: Yes. She's the most fantastic editor. I think I'm really lucky that she's been my editor.
LAMB: Let me read a sentence that I think I've read in a story that came out a couple weeks ago. "As I began walking in to check the scene to report back to him, I suddenly felt my breath being knocked out of me from behind. It was Jesse's fist smashing into my back. He was pushing me aside and snarling in my ear." Why did we read that a couple of weeks ago? And am I just as guilty as all the rest in a book this big going right for that in the book and asking you about it?
COLTON: Well I think so in a sense. But the problem is it's just like what the publishers who talked to me in the first place. And, I mean, I'm a journalist. I know what's happening. But the publishers wanted dirt. They wanted me to talk about womanizing or astrologers or something. And I said this is not what the book's about. I didn't put these sad incidents of ... you know, I could have put a lot more incidents in. But I had these as examples of what happened that lead to my disillusionment. But as you say in the case of journalists like yourself, or as you said it's been in the newspapers. Naturally, the journalists try to pull out the negative so that they can say something because as someone said, who's going to write a story about a book and say this is a balanced book? Because then they say, well, that's boring. Who wants to read that? So they pull out the two or three you know unpleasant events.
LAMB: What was that event?
COLTON: It was one of these incidents. Ths was in Atlanta just before the Super Tuesday and the debate was over -- the Atlanta Constitution. The debate was just over and we were in the back -- Jesse and I and some other staff members. And Jesse told me to go out and check and see who was out in the room with the press meaning which other candidates were out there. Literally it was just a second. I just stepped forward and at that very moment Jackson must have seen some cameras and suddenly went a little wild and I felt this slug in my back and I felt my breath knocked out of me. And ... out of the way. And I moved out of the way but even then I must say that I sort of gave him the benefit of the doubt. I thought maybe he just, you know, went sort of wild. But there were other things like that that over time I thought this is not the kind of person that I want to be around.
LAMB: How many negative books have been written about Jesse Jackson that you know of?
COLTON: Well there was the Barbara Reynolds book. But you see, to say a negative book, I mean, again, I think her book was balanced. But she's received all kinds of abuse really for having written it.
LAMB: Let me re-ask the question. How many books have been written about Jesse Jackson in which you consider them to be balanced?
COLTON: There are not many books about Jesse Jackson.
COLTON: Well after Barbara Reynold's book in 1975 I think a lot of people realized if they wanted to write one she came under a lot of threats. There was a book about his campaign in 1984 which didn't get very wide distribution. But I think what we have to do if ... for Jesse Jackson to be running for the presidency, then we have to look openly and clearly at him. I mean you may come away from this -- some people have come away from this book and say there are a lot of positive things. He should still be president. And others might think differently.
LAMB: Why do we keep hearing -- and when this is being taped it's during a time when a lot of rumors are floating around, so who knows what will happen between now and the time this is aired. Why do we keep hearing that he might run for governor of the District -- I mean the mayor -- of the District of Columbia?
COLTON: Well Jesse Jackson has -- one of the major criticisms in terms of his qualifications for the presidency is that he hasn't held an elected office. And, therefore, it would be extremely useful for him since now that after 1988 when he's really established a national base a huge national power base to say, "OK, I've run for an elected office. I've held an elected office. Now don't criticize me on that anymore."
And the mayorship of Washington would be very useful. It would give him a place a wonderful place to be right in the center of the media spotlight. I don't think that he would come under a whole lot of scrutiny in the first couple of years. He would be in a perfect position to run again in 1992 after a lot of fanfare about his being the mayor.
Also as the mayor he could probably because of his inspirational skills would probably do a lot of good for the city. He could probably change the image of the city, at least in terms of the image. And he would also be able to inspire a lot of people against drugs which is a major problem here. I think it would be a very good step for him to take. I would involve some risk of course but I don't think it involves risk for him in the first couple of years. It might if he were in office for you know years. Then people may scrutinize his management of the city but I don't think in the beginning.
LAMB: Does the press treat him with kid gloves?
COLTON: Still of course, yes.
COLTON: Well in the past it was always that they said they were afraid of being called racist. But now really I think they're really just afraid of him.
LAMB: Why are they afraid of him?
COLTON: Because he's so powerful. He's also a great intimidator. He's able to, you know, intimidate people and to bully people and to threaten to cut off access. It sounds funny, but I think it's very true in his case. So we've got two things now with him. We've got the double standard for fear of being called racist plus we've got the Jesse Jackson phenomenon which everybody wants to cover.
LAMB: Based on what you've seen and based on what you know today, where do you expect him to go from here? What do you think will happen to Jesse Jackson?
COLTON: Well I think that he will have -- he will hold an elected office in the very near future and show that he can do that. And then he will continue running for President. I think the interesting thing is he won't be willing, I'm sure, to let other blacks come into the top part of the arena with him like Bill Gray. I'm sure he's quite nervous about Bill Gray's growing power in Congress ...
COLTON: ... and Bill Gray's growing image nationally. Because Jesse Jackson feels that he wants to be the only black rather than one of the candidates. And I think that his greatest contribution would be to open up the presidential campaign not only to several white candidates but to several black candidates. But I don't think he'll be able to tolerate it very easily.
LAMB: Here I go again. "Ms. Colton, you should understand that I don't appreciate being called Jackie by someone like yourself. You are to call me Mrs. Jackson in public. If we get to know each other then what you call me in private may be different but never in a public meeting like this. We have worked a long time and hard to get to the point that we were addressed properly as Mrs. Jackson, not by our first name. That's all, but I hope you understand." What's that?
COLTON: That was an incident in Chicago when we went to the Jackson house and I had met Mrs. Jackson before, but I walked into the house and I assumed that since it seems the American custom for people to be on first name basis and everybody else was saying that, I was trying to, you know, treat people equally that way that she ... I said somebody walked in front of me and said, "Hello, Jackie." And so I said, "Hello, Jackie" to her since I had met her before and then I went into the room and she called me back and said this. It was really kind of a shock to me because, you know, I didn't ... I thought that we would be friendly with each other and she just seemed to want to establish this. But I must say that I was very pleased that later I was with her privately and spent several days with her and we got on very well as I thought we would. I mean I had been expecting that we would get on well. I also think actually in her case, you know, a new woman comes on to the staff and she's weary. You know she doesn't want to act very friendly till she knows who or what this woman is. But I have to say that I have the greatest respect for Mrs. Jackson. She's really, you know, she's a remarkable lady who has raised these five children who are as outstanding privately as they are publicly as people thought when they saw them at the convention.
LAMB: You spent you life in the media most of the time and now you've been inside for awhile. What do you think of the media now after you've had a chance to see what it looks like working for a candidate?
COLTON: Of course, I knew what was happening with them. I can just see how often -- like in the case of Jackson -- we had to work to try to change the conventional wisdom, the established image, and that it always takes some little thing and suddenly everything will turn around and everybody is on an ... Someone else is promoting Jesse Jackson whereas before they were completely ignoring him.
LAMB: What's it like to be around him. What is the entourage like?
COLTON: What do you mean?
LAMB: Around Jesse Jackson -- how many people does he travel with. How many people does he rely on? Let me just read you a quote from your book. "Jesse Jackson always liked to appear to the only one running his show." Is that true?
COLTON: Well, that is true. That's true. I mean, he is a one man show. The problem that happened in 1988 was that he was really running a big presidential campaign, but he had to get a campaign manager. And yet he is never able fully to trust the campaign manager to manage the show and let Jesse be the star in the sense that Jesse should be the star and he can have his manager organizing. Jesse's often very hands on in trying to oversee every little detail. And it presents problems when you're trying to run a much bigger campaign than the smaller one of 1984.
LAMB: "Jerry Austin took over as campaign manager in November and immediately began to put some order into the Jackson Organization. The chaos prior to his arrival had existed largely because Jackson never sat still long enough to deal with it and no one else had dared."
COLTON: Well, that's true. And Jackson doesn't like to delegate and he, as I said, he often doesn't realize that people are working behind the scenes for him. If he doesn't see what you're doing, you know actually see you doing something ... For instance, I made calls constantly to people in the media talking to them and this was in the early days when I was talking to them about how important Jesse would become as a candidate. But since Jesse didn't hear my conversations, he had no idea what I was doing. He just assumed that I wasn't doing anything if I wasn't right in front of him doing whatever I was to be doing.
LAMB: When I said the entourage around him -- you talk a lot in here about your routine on a daily basis. You'd go to his hotel room brief him on the news. Tell us how that worked.
COLTON: Well the amazing thing about Jesse Jackson is that he's really a person who doesn't need much sleep. He is absolutely driven by adrenalin. I don't know, nobody knows how he gets it. So he stays up very late at night and when he gets into a hotel which could be after ... in contrast to other candidates he might go through six cities in a day and give eight to 10 speeches in one day then we arrive at a hotel. It could be 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning and Jackson would always get on the telephone and call somebody or several people and talk with them about the day -- tell them what's happened get advise tell people to do things. Jesse Jackson has an incredible network that I also think is nationally -- it's certainly bigger than any other Democrats. And then again throughout the day he never stops. He takes cat naps and I guess that's how he keeps his energy going. But the second he gives a speech he gets all his energy back again. And then late at night he'll come in and early in the morning he talks to people and goes off and then again late at night.
LAMB: Here's a picture of Jesse Jackson with Martin Luther King and you write about the story of -- it's been written many times -- at the time that Martin Luther King was shot and the blood on Jesse Jackson's shirt. Do you have any idea which story is true today?
COLTON: The main story that's been accepted is this did happen. That Jesse took advantage of the situation to propel himself into the limelight at that point. And the people with him in the SELC of course became very distrustful of him because of this including the widow Mrs. King. Jesse Jackson himself I believe regrets that and he considers that something that he wants to go beyond. He doesn't want to keep talking about it. He thinks that he has demonstrated that he's matured. Jesse Jackson I believe has matured in that sense. But there is that egomania which still remains. I think he mostly regrets that incident because he knows that it alienated him from a lot of those people with whom he had worked.
LAMB: You tell the story about appearing on the Sunday Today show with Gerrik Utley and you were together after they had talked about this incident again and that he was not very happy about it. Did he have a tendency to blame you when things didn't go well with the media.
COLTON: Right, I mean it was the fact was that the Sunday Today had done a story and they were interviewing Jackson and Gerrik Utley had done an advance piece which was telling about Jackson's life and in it Gerrik Utley went over the old story about the questions after Martin Luther King's assignation. Jackson just doesn't even want this mentioned anymore. I remember a time when we were at USA Today and Barbara Reynolds, his biographer, was there and he became furious when she asked him once again. And this was 1988 and she wrote the book in 1975. She asked him again about it and he said, "Barbara, I don't want to discuss that anymore. It's finished." So anytime these things were brought up in the media and when I was press secretary, I would be blamed for somehow not preventing it from coming up.
LAMB: You work for Newsweek?
LAMB: You tell the story about taking Jesse Jackson to Newsweek to meet with the editors. There was some conflict in the organization. Some people didn't think it was worth the time. Some of the people who worked for Jesse Jackson. Why?
COLTON: Well, for a long time up until 1988 the feeling of the people closest to Jackson was that if he went before such editorial boards -- establishment media boards like Newsweek, Time, US. News, the New York Times. He had appeared before them from time to time but not very often and every time he did his closest advisors in the past had always told him not to because they felt that no matter what he did or said they would write bad things about him. But I believed that it would be very important for him to appear and to establish some kind of collegiality with these people. And so we did go there and it was a couple of weeks later Newsweek made a choice after Super Tuesday of whether to run the cover picture of Jackson or cover picture of Senator Gore and they chose Jackson. And Jackson was very pleased and of course many of his advisors were saying but look what they've written. Look at all of the terrible things they've written about him inside the magazine. But Jesse knew that what was important was that the cover had his picture on it. That most people don't really read the details anyway and the details wouldn't be left in peoples minds it would be the picture that's left in the minds. I mean Jackson certainly had a feeling and a sense of the importance of these kinds of media symbols.
LAMB: What does he know about working with the press or dealing with the press that most politicians don't? Anything special that he has?
COLTON: Well he knows that he has a magnetism that no other candidate has. So he knows that he attracts people. Especially now that he's such a star. He knows that he can -- he's very good at one liners for example or repeating over and over. And of course people say well he says the same thing over and over. But it's very clever on his part because ultimately somebody hears. And ultimately it's didactic. Ultimately his message gets out to where he wants it.
LAMB: Because you deal with it I want to ask you a question. Is Jesse Jackson at all in any way shape or form a racist?
COLTON: I think that Jesse Jackson has spent his lifetime quite naturally trying to get over the pain of having been a black growing up in the south at a time of legal segregation. I think he's done quite a remarkable job. His whole Rainbow Coalition is trying to overcome racism. So you know, if whatever the problems are I think that you can look and say look, and see what he's come from. "What he's come from" as he himself says. And actually better than a lot of candidates, he certainly makes an effort to establish a campaign that's supposed to resemble the face of America and not just be representative of just one or two groups.
LAMB: Here's a picture of Jesse Jackson with what appears to be at least one white child and the reason I mention that is that you suggest that he always likes to get a picture if he can with a white child. Is that correct? And why would he want that?
COLTON: Well again it's a good idea for the media. I mean what a perfect picture. Jesse Jackson kissing a white child. It's a great picture.
LAMB: What are you going to do after the book tour?
COLTON: Well, work as a journalist. Maybe write another book.
LAMB: Do you have another book in mind?
COLTON: I have several books in mind from my adventures covering stories for a long time.
LAMB: Not just Jesse Jackson.
LAMB: What kind of things did you leave out in this book?
COLTON: Well probably some more incidents that would have just been more of the same kinds of things of problems that would happen with the staff. But I didn't see any sense -- there was no point in going into it. I felt that those few incidents were enough. I mean what I was trying to do was to give a total picture. And my intention was not just to talk about negative aspects.
LAMB: How much touring have you done so far? How many interviews have you done since the book has been put out?
COLTON: Just this week in New York and Cleveland and Washington.
LAMB: What kind of questions do you find everybody ask you?
COLTON: A lot of the same kinds of questions you're asking. But the frustration is I would say is really that a lot of people are afraid to deal with the book. And I think that you know for us in America to reach the point where racism where we go beyond racism then we have to deal with it.
LAMB: What kind of questions are not asked? I mean, do you find yourself going out of an interview saying once again they don't ask the serious question or the important question that I would be expected to be asked or are too afraid to ask it?
COLTON: No. I think that I mean -- you've asked quite a lot of questions. So maybe some interviews aren't as broad as yours but there..
LAMB: Well, I guess what I'm getting at is that you find -- are people nervous about talking about this? Are people not accepting you for a book review or interview because of this topic?
COLTON: Well, right but those are the people that are not talking to me anyway. The people who are talking are asking questions. And most of them -- I've been pleased -- the people who have talked to me about it. I've realized that they have read the book and feel that and they know that I was trying to give a balanced account and although journalistically they want to ask about the negative aspects. They also talk about, you know, the implications of the book actually.
LAMB: Do you think in any way after writing a book like this -- and I say like this; I mean a book on a sensitive subject is the best way to put it -- that you will be persona nongrada at any media organizations? Are you worried about that?
COLTON: Sure I am, but I think that I've done a service actually. I really do believe that. I think that what I've done is a service in that maybe people aren't ready for it yet. I also think that because I worked for Jesse Jackson that I might have more trouble with the media establishment. I mean, at first I worked for him, then I wrote a book that's critical, so either way it could hurt me. But I feel that if I had worked for a conservative candidate or a regular middle of the road candidate then I could easily jump into jobs at various news organizations.
LAMB: Let me ask it another way. Let's say you're back out as a reporter and you're assigned to cover Jesse Jackson for the 1992 Presidential Campaign what do you know now that would if you approached him and covered him like you did in the past what would you do differently?
COLTON: Well, I mean I would certainly know how to cover him because I know how he operates. I think I'd probably be very good at covering him.
LAMB: What would you do, though? What would be the first thing you'd do if you were in an open news conference? Would you ask a question that you wouldn't ordinarily ask based on what you learned.
COLTON: I guess it would depend on the thing. I think that there should be a lot more questions about his policy. A lot more questions about his experience. I just think that he should be questioned in the same way that other candidates are questioned.
LAMB: When he goes out and makes a pronouncement on a policy, is it something that comes out of his head or is it done after a lot of study and position papers and staff work?
COLTON: Jackson is the idea man in his campaign. Of course there are other people feeding ideas and information to him and he needs them, but he is so brilliant he'll pick up a piece of information and then take it and suddenly weave it into whatever. So I would say certainly his main policy views and everything are are are his.
LAMB: Who writes his speeches?
COLTON: He does really. There are people who give him some speeches but he may not pay attention to them. And he doesn't even write them that much. He might have an outline but once he gets before the crowd the whole thing it's like he's moved. He feels it. It all comes out.
LAMB: Back to your past. Where in your life did you become first become interested in Civil Rights and why?
COLTON: I guess as a child growing up in the south. I remember as a child when I was about six walking home from school and of course I went to an all white elementary school and there was a young black boy who must have been six also walking the same way. So he and I became friends and I remember being upset. I asked my mother why didn't this boy and I go to the same school he was so nice. And I didn't understand why he lived somewhere else and I lived somewhere so I guess from a very early age I was concerned. And then I remember when the 1954 Education ...
LAMB: Brown vs. the Board of Education ...
COLTON: Yeah, right.
LAMB: ... decision in the courts.
COLTON: Yes and it came down and it was reported in North Carolina on the radio. I remember hearing it on the radio and they reported it in some very frightening way and I thought that this was very frightening and I remember asking my mother and my grandmother would there be another Civil War and they said no there wouldn't be another Civil War. My parents of course were always encouraging me -- they talked about this that it was very important to try to bring about some kind of integration that the segregation wasn't right.
LAMB: How are we doing in this country?
COLTON: Well we're doing a lot better I must say. And I agree with Jesse Jackson. I think that the laws have been extremely important. Now I'm a great believer that often revolutions, which is what's happened, don't come about if you don't enforce laws. So without laws and enforcing them there was no way that all these things could have happened.
LAMB: In your lifetime, do you expect that we will have a black President?
COLTON: I think it's quite possible.
LAMB: What's it going to take?
COLTON: I think it's going to take the kind of candidate. I think that perhaps Jesse Jackson won't be that candidate because people will ultimately decide that they don't want Jesse Jackson. I think that -- you know, I named Bill Gray right now because he's doing so well in Congress and people are beginning to look at him. I mean it may be somebody like that who's come in a quieter establishment way. But it took Jesse Jackson to blaze the trail to make it happen.
LAMB: We're talking with Liz Colton and the book is right here in front of you "The Jackson Phenomenon." By the way, who -- just for the fun of it -- who named the book?
COLTON: Well, I did with my editor and my agent. You know we were talking about different ... we had sort of parts of those parts of that title were there and then we changed words.
LAMB: Why did you choose that title? And why did you choose this photograph?
COLTON: Well I chose the title because to me it is a phenomenon. He's a phenomenal person and what he's done is phenomenal. I chose the photograph because that is a very characteristic picture of Jesse. He's always thumbs up and smiling. This is his public persona. And he's always looking positive.
LAMB: Does he change instantly when he gets behind closed doors?
LAMB: And he turns it on and turns it off?
LAMB: Does he know he does that?
COLTON: I guess he does.
LAMB: Did a staff folks around him say well here he goes he's on stage and now he's behind the scenes and we can..is he dour behind the scenes.
COLTON: Often yes. Well it just sort of puts a you know a pall over the -- you know people get a bit nervous. But people who work with him and want to stay with him and can put up with it -- you realize that this is his personality that's the way he is.
LAMB: If he's that way behind the scenes and he's as you describe him, why do so many people work for him in his campaign?
COLTON: Well, there are a lot of people who have left over time. Because most people are very taken by the charisma. I mean the charisma is still there even if even if certain things are turned off privately. I mean he is a leader you feel it all the time. So he's got this power over people.
LAMB: Is there a chance that in order to be powerful or in order to be charismatic that you have to be the way he is behind the scenes?
COLTON: That's certainly possible but -- and we could say of some former presidents for instance that very powerful people who probably were like this. I guess that's the you know the voters decision of what kind of person they want there.
LAMB: What kind of a relationship did he have with Michael Dukakis behind the scenes?
COLTON: They never got along. I mean, the two men were like oil and water together. Their personalities are so different and really from the beginning I don't think either one of them respected each other. Certainly in the Jackson Camp we never thought Dukakis would go so far. We never thought of him as the possible nominee really. We knew that he had the largest war chest and the most money. He could come into the south with millions of dollars and get name recognition that Jackson did without any money. But I don't think there was a lot of respect between the two people.
LAMB: Here's a photograph of most of the candidates and we're just about out of time. You write about a column written by A. Rosenthal for the New York Times about the way Jesse Jackson was treated during the debates. Why did you put that in the book?
COLTON: Because what Rosenthal said was that that the other candidates almost acted as if Jackson didn't exist even though he certainly was -- any viewer of most of the debates would say that Jesse Jackson won the debates hands down. But rather than their even treating the candidates, they wouldn't ask him questions they wouldn't bring him into it. They treated him as a non-candidate, as if he didn't exist. And what Rosenthal's point was is that first of all he needed to be treated as a real candidate, as electible. This was all before Super Tuesday and before Michigan. But also Rosenthal was pointing out and they should go further that he had to be questioned. He was a candidate and he needed to come under the same scrutiny that they were under. So it was sort of a double situation where he wasn't being treated that way he needed to be treated that way and so it worked to his advantage in some ways and it worked against him in others.
LAMB: Did Jesse Jackson follow closely the press, the personalities and what was written about him?
COLTON: Oh yes, definitely.
LAMB: You alluded to this a couple of times during the hour. Would he be selective as to where he would go for an interview based on the way he had been treated the last time he was there?
COLTON: Oh, sure. But he also I mean and there are certain people that he would call all the time that he knew would ... or either he could, if he was angry, that there had been some sort of criticism, he could just call them and tell them off. Or there would be people he would call and give stories to. But this is true of a lot of politicians anyway.
LAMB: From your experience -- and we only have about a minute and a half left -- who has the most clout in the press? Who are the most important members of the press or the media in political campaigns?
COLTON: Well on one level of course it's the networks the TV networks because they're getting the image out to the most people. And in that sense of course when you're talking about the image -- I know from television of how for the quick sound bites the cut the picture. They always give the stereotypical picture for example of Jackson. Screaming or ranting or raving and they make it look that's all he does. Or as it's changed some the pictures of showing just Jesse doing something like hugging a baby. So that's the image that gets over. Of course the major newspapers are very important you know for influencing the influence makers.
LAMB: Name somebody who's the most influential in that -- who would you go to?
COLTON: Well I think there are a number of different people. It would just depend I think.
LAMB: Anybody -- one or two. I mean is it obvious would you go to David Broder of the Washington Post or ...
COLTON: Well I think it would depend on what -- you know in the case of Jackson or whoever, it would depend on what your goal was at a particular time. What message you wanted to get out, whether you would go to a top columnist at the Washington Post or the New York Times or top political reporter at one of those major newspapers or to a top reporter or an anchor person at a network.
LAMB: Liz Colton has been our guest. This is the book. There is a lot that we didn't talk about in this book. It's called "The Jackson Phenomena" published by Doubleday in you bookstores now. Thank you very much Elizabeth Colton for your time.
COLTON: Thanks very much.
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The Jackson Phenomenon: The Man, The Power, The Message
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