I think I interviewed you when your Bush White House speechwriting memoir came out ten years ago.
I was disappointed to read about your literary agency Javelin in last Sunday's New York Times magazine piece, "How to Leave the Trump White House With a Million Dollar Parachute"?
I'm only writing now, because it has taken me three days to absorb what I had read in that piece.
Am I being reductive—or was The New York Times writer being unfair—to describe your work as: answering the phone for would-be refugees of the Trump administration, who call you at the rate of at least one per week, and telling them how they can write a confessional book that distances themselves from the administration so they can one day work again in respectable society—and possibly collect a six- or seven-figure advance in the process?
"This is the honestly grossest thing I've ever seen in Washington," I finally told a speechwriter friend today. And then I hastened to add, "I mean it's the grossest thing I've ever understood in Washington."
Of course, even if I do understand this right—and I will not publish this without giving you a chance to explain to me that I do not—then the next question is why am I writing to you.
I'm writing to you because you're a former speechwriter, and the writer of a humorous political memoir—which means that you must have at least as well-developed a sensitivity as I do to the self-satirizing absurdity of your clients' standard operating procedure:
- Accept a job in a White House that you had to know was ethically problematic and operationally dysfunctional, to put it charitably.
- Work in that job for long enough to have compiled sufficient war stories to think of filling a memoir.
- Become nervous or unhappy enough that you began to think about an exit strategy.
- Reach out to a literary agency to strategize about shaping and selling a book that could simultaneously scrub your reputation through confession and give you a lucrative start to the rest of your life.
- Reenter the world, cleansed and celebrated.
Matt: Perhaps it's a sentimental and self-serving assumption of mine, as a fellow who makes his living running the Professional Speechwriters Association: But I think of speechwriting as a profession, peopled not by saints, but by intellectual and moral people who want to use rhetoric to shape arguments that they can defend for leaders who are accountable.
But you guys? As a friend of mine in the book business said, "Give those guys their due—they got lucky, right place right time, and milked it wisely."
Your thing seems like a racket.
But perhaps you see some social utility that I'm missing.
I'll run any response you make, at any length.
I sent Latimer the above, telling him I planned to publish this morning, but said I'd hold off a day or two if he wanted to respond to it and needed more time. I added that "I’ll kill it entirely if you can demonstrate that it’s entirely unfair."
His response: "My only comment is that I find your description of a literary agency that you have never visited, whose mode of operation you have never discussed with me, and which has proudly and honorably represented numerous public servants and award-winning journalists, all based on a single news article which you don’t seem to have understood, both malevolent and wondrously bizarre."
Much as I'd like to give Latimer the last word, I feel compelled to add that I did then beseech him: "Please, tell me how I misunderstood the feature article! I acknowledge that I haven’t had a separate conversation with you and that the Times piece is all I’m going on. That’s why I asked if I’d misunderstood the piece. How have I misunderstood it?"
He didn't answer.
Left to do further research on my own, I discovered that Javelin has a larger body of work and a longer history than the Times piece implied. They've handled a number of books that aren't administration memoirs. But my question stands: Is helping Trump administration staffers cleanse themselves a proper way to make a living? —DM