Cramer had plenty to say (none good) about the gotcha reporters, the "Karacter Kops" who instead of trying to understand the people they cover, are simply on the lookout for scandal. Joe Biden plagiarized the speech of a British politician. Gary Hart had a woman problem.
When Miami Herald reporters, following a tip, caught Hart with a woman not his wife in his home in D.C.:
"It was like God Himself had thrust this juicy pork chop into their mouths! ... Hart was in there, in his house with this, this … this cutlet! From MIAMI! … She was young, she was blond … she was … Who was she?" (She was Donna Rice.)
"It was feral. It was without thought. Hart was catching the dread and fatal affliction — he was ridiculous. Even callow wannabe-big-feet (reporters) could smell blood on the forest floor. Someone was gonna … take Hart down.Why not them?"
A few days later Hart dropped out of the race.
Cramer took heat for the size of his book ("What It Weighs"), the three-dot style, exclamation points and italics reminiscent of Tom Wolfe. But that's what made it … so readable!!
Critics also nailed him for lack of attribution of the stories and quotes — even though Cramer had obsessively checked their accuracy from every angle imaginable and explained his reporting techniques in a lengthy author's note.
Most of all, the Washington pundits were affronted that the book had no index. They couldn't go to the back, look for their names and read only the parts that pertained to them — and then put the book back on the bookstore shelf.
Like everything else about "What It Takes," Cramer agonized about whether there should be an index. But he decided against it because he wanted the D.C. players and know-it-alls to read the whole thing.
If you want to understand the race for the White House, what it takes to run for president — and the toll it takes — you can't do better than to read the whole thing too.
Ellen Warren is a Tribune senior correspondent who has covered seven presidential campaigns.
What It Takes
By Richard Ben Cramer, Random House, 1,047 pages