RH: This book is as much about your being manipulated by
Kimberlin as it is about his life story. What was it like to bring out
that much of yourself to the reader?
MS: I didn't feel that I had a choice about whether or not to
tell the truth. Once I realized that he had misled me and lied to me, it
wasn't as if I was going to abandon the project, because I thought the
truth mattered and that it was important to understand how he had
manipulated me. There is so much cynicism about the way the press
operates that I thought I might make my job easier in the future,
and other journalists' jobs, if I told the truth about how I made a
mistake, why I thought it happened, and what I did once I
discovered that mistake.
RH: Was one of the factors that led to Kimberlin being able to
manipulate you the fullness with which you plunged into writing this
feature? It seems to be an all-consuming process.
MS: Did you happen to read the first piece? I think that that
piece still holds up when it talks about the essential political story.
What it didn't have was a full portrait of Kimberlin's character
and...maybe you're asking me if I think that first piece was a rush to
judgment or that it was too hasty. The answer is that I don't think it
was too hasty. It wasn't hasty; it was done obviously under a lot of
deadline pressure, but it was very thoroughly reported. That piece
was nominated as a finalist for a national magazine award for
reporting. It was not a slipshod reporting job. You can obviously
conclude that journalists should be diligent and not rush to judgment,
and I agree with that. But I was dealing with a huge amount of
material, and I think I had a good handle on it -- and as far as the
Bureau of Prisons episode is concerned, I think that story holds
Looking back on it, should I have known that it was going to take the
turn that it did? I don't know the answer to that. I didn't see him
fully as a person, but I don't know how necessary it was for that
particular piece of journalism to do that. It was only when I started
to write a book about Kimberlin that I needed to see him more fully,
and at this point I think I've come pretty close.
RH: In the first few chapters, you describe your emotional turmoil
as you completed the first piece. I was wondering if there was a
similar process at the moment when you began to realize that you'd
been led astray.
MS: It wasn't as if the scales fell from my eyes all at once.
I've said there was a pivotal moment; I met this guy who told me
that I'd written revisionist history the first time out and now I was
going to have to engage in self-revisionism. But the process from
there on was an incremental process. That's what reporting is about.
You go from one fact to the next to the next. And I love reporting, so
rather than being traumatized, I was motivated. I was happy in some
sense...I didn't really jump up and click my heels, but I was aware
that I was going to have to keep going. It was interesting to me the
whole way. I spent more time on it than I wanted to, and I don't
think that it warped me, but it did become kind of a burden and I
feel unburdened now.
RH: It's a level of self-honesty and openness with the reader about
the behind-the-scenes process of journalism that I think is fairly
uncommon for major journalism of this sort.
MS: When you're a journalist and you go out to do a story and
people don't want to talk to you because of the bad behavior of
another journalist, it's very frustrating. You wonder why you're
paying for that other journalist's sins. If in the future it becomes
easier for me to approach potential subjects and be able to say,
"You're dealing with somebody who's willing to be self-critical and
look at this in a balanced way," I think that will help. The best thing
I can hope for is that this is something people in journalism school
will read and analyze to see what happened here and how we can
avoid this sort of thing in the future.
RH: It might also help reestablish a positive relationship between
journalists and their readers. To say, "I have a certain responsibility
in what I present to you, and when I flub that, I'll be honest with
you and I'll go back and get it right."
MS: I find, though, that not everybody wants to hear that. One
critic wrote in effect that I shouldn't have published this book, that I
should have just buried the original story, which struck me as
outrageous. What purpose would that serve? Supposedly, nobody
would ever have known if I had buried the story... and I guess there
are plenty of people who would say, "What do I care about this guy?
I read this story in 1988, or I read it in 1992, why do I need to read
it now?" But I think it's worth reading because it's an adventure
story about the truth.
I don't think anybody else would have ever gotten as close to
Kimberlin as I did, or had as much invested in Kimberlin as I did, so
I was uniquely positioned to explain him to readers. Nobody else
would have listened to him at that point; once he was released from
prison, he stopped being a compelling fellow. He's still out there
seeking attention and manipulating people, but there's a huge
difference in the compellingness (sic) that a prisoner has versus
somebody who once got locked up. His moment has passed.
RH: Have you heard back from Kimberlin about the book?
MS: I haven't spoken to him.
RH: And he hasn't tried to contact you?
MS: He has not spoken to me directly. I know he's not happy
about it, but I haven't spoken to him about it.
RH: How about Dan Quayle?
MS: I haven't heard from him, either. The book is relatively
speaking not very much about Dan Quayle. When I set out to write it,
I did think that Quayle was going to run for the presidency in 1996,
that I was going to discover that there was more to his DEA file than
there turned out to be and that I would have a scoop. But he really
recedes into the background as the story progresses, and I don't
think there's more to it than what I've reported. I don't assume that
Quayle's unhappy about what I concluded about Kimberlin, but I
can't say that I ever believed Quayle when he said that he has never
used drugs, never attended a party where drugs were used, and
never had friends who used drugs. I thought he had really bad spin-
doctoring there, but that's what he said.
RH: What effect has this story had on the way you'll write from
MS: If I were to become callous because of [Kimberlin], that
would be a mistake. I get phone calls and letters from people in
prison, and they're time-consuming and demanding, but I don't want
to find myself hanging up on everyone and saying, "Absolutely not."
On the other hand, I don't want to end up getting in bed with a
prisoner again...or I don't want to leap into bed again, let's put it that
way. Somebody who knows me pretty well and has read the book
said to me that it reveals the two halves of my personality, the half
that's cynical and the half that wants to believe people. I think that's
an accurate description of how I'm constructed: psychologically,
emotionally, or whatever. When I do stories in the future, I don't
think I'll have to consciously remind myself to have a cold eye and a