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Former Gov. McGreevey Tells His Tale

Former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey. His new memoir, The Confession details his life and events leading up to his August 2004 coming-out speech. McGreevey was governor from January 2002 to November 2004, when he resigned. In addition to coming out as a homosexual, McGreevey appointed alleged Israeli lover Golan Cipel to the position of New Jersey's Homeland Security adviser. Since the publication of The Confession, Cipel has stated that he was not McGreevey's lover, as detailed in McGreevey's book.

20:03

Other segments from the episode on September 21, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 21, 2009: Interview with Jeff Whelan and Josh Margolin; Interview with Jim McGreevy; Commentary on docudrama.

Transcript

DATE September 21, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Reporters Jeff Whelan and Josh Margolin, who won the
Pulitzer for covering Governor McGreevey's resignation, talk about
McGreevey's history and their reaction to his resignation
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

As you probably know, Jim McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey, is
talking about his formerly secret gay life. He's written a memoir called "The
Confession," and he's doing media interviews. We'll hear from him a little
later.

But first we're going to talk to two political reporters from the Newark
Star-Ledger, New Jersey's leading newspaper. Josh Margolin and Jeff Whelan
were part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the Star-Ledger's coverage
of McGreevey's resignation. When McGreevey resigned on August 12th, 2004, he
revealed that he is gay, and that although he is married, he'd had an affair
with a man. He said, "Given the circumstances surrounding the affair, it's
likely impact on my family and my ability to govern, I've decided the right
course of action is to resign." He did not mention that the man he now says he
had an affair with, Golan Cipel, was an Israeli who McGreevey helped bring to
New Jersey, appointed to his staff and gave the position of homeland security
adviser.

I asked the two reporters about the questions surrounding McGreevey and
Cipel's professional relationship. Jeff Whelan spoke first.

Mr. JEFF WHELAN: The key question was--and, I mean, the reason why this
exploded so much--when we go back to the day of August 12th and when they were
wrestling, McGreevey and his advisers, with should he resign, should he not
resign, there's one of his advisers who, you know, as they're weighing the
political calculations, `Can you survive this?' They said, you know, a gay
affair, OK, that's--or you had an affair, that's a tough thing to get over.
But they said, you can survive it. A gay affair, you know, is going to make
it more sensational, tougher politically to manage it, but you can survive it
in a state like New Jersey. And then they said, you know, you appointed your
lover as the homeland security adviser a few months after 9/11 and it turns
out the guy didn't have credentials. That was it. Game over. He could not
survive it politically.

And that was the key thing. Josh had done a story, very early on after Golan
was appointed, that, as an Israeli citizen, he could not even get FBI
clearance. So, and in New Jersey, which was so close to the World Trade
Center attacks, you had this heightened awareness about the dangers of
terrorism. And to make that appointment was a fantastic example of bad
judgment, to say the least, I think. And that was a key factor in all this.

GROSS: Now, I'm correct in saying, right, that in his resignation speech,
McGreevey didn't mention that the person he had the affair with had been in
his administration.

Mr. JOSH MARGOLIN: That is correct.

Mr. WHELAN: Right.

GROSS: What were the calculations behind that?

Mr. MARGOLIN: I think that speech will go down as a brilliant piece of
political public relations mastery. I think that they were trying to wrestle
the story away from McGreevey and in the headline and the leads of stories in
the news, the snippet on the 6:00 news, being McGreevey hired his lover as the
homeland security adviser and that's why he was stepping down. And they
brilliantly, you know, that line, "I am a gay American," made that the
headline. In our paper, that was the large-point headline the next day.

And by downplaying the Golan Cipel thing and making that something that wound
up in the third or fourth paragraph about having to explain, you know, who
this figure was, the real thing that grabbed people was his coming out and his
wrestling with his homosexuality and finally being honest about that. And it
put the Golan Cipel piece, I think, a little further down into a story of when
you're explaining that. And to this day, you get outside of the New Jersey
area--if I go out to the Midwest or wherever, people still say, `Well, you
know, I don't understand why he had to resign just because he was gay.'

And I think that that goes to the fact that, you know, they did an excellent
job of framing this story about a--as a coming-out story, as someone who had
betrayed his wife, but it being a very personal matter rather than something
that directly related to his judgment as a public official.

Mr. WHELAN: And then also, it's important to go back to that time because
now we and McGreevey and everybody else involved is a lot freer to talk about
it. But remember the timing of what was going on in August of '04. The
reason this came to a head was because Cipel had been threatening a lawsuit
and the statute of limitations was running out. At that point, and I don't
know what's in Jim McGreevey's mind, because I have yet to ask him a single
question that he's willing to answer about this, but there may well have been
a legal calculation that he did not want to confirm an affair with this man
who was threatening a lawsuit at that point, because it may have opened him up
to an exposure that no longer exists because the statute of limitations ran
out shortly after the August 12th. And it was up to Golan Cipel himself and
his lawyers to go public with the first statement that, `I am Golan Cipel. I
am the one he's referring to he had an affair with,' or whatever the wording
was.

GROSS: What're some of the things that you think were inappropriate in the
professional relationship between Governor McGreevey and his aide, Golan
Cipel? Things in terms of how he brought him here to the United States, the
positions he appointed him to, the qualifications he had for those positions.

Mr. MARGOLIN: It's not so much what we think as much as what people were
questioning. And McGreevey actually delves into this quite significantly in
the book. He pretty much didn't have any qualifications to be special
counselor to the governor for homeland security. He didn't have the
qualifications for it before 9/11, certainly not after 9/11. And it doesn't
seem that anybody even quarrels with that any longer.

The whole thing took on a life of its own because as soon as Cipel's identity
and position got into the public domain, questions started being raised by
very significant political players: people close to McGreevey, people not
close to McGreevey, they were going public, they were asking questions.
`Please explain this man's qualifications.' McGreevey reacted, you know, the
way that the...(unintelligible)...and the operatives always talk about. He
got into the bunker, he wouldn't answer a question. We referred to him
throwing up a protective wall around Cipel. They wouldn't allow him to go to
the state Senate. It became a huge sort of burning issue in Trenton.

So there was never any question. Golan never had qualifications for that job.
There's a little bit in the book where McGreevey tries to explain that that
was only one portfolio he had, but he was introduced to the world through that
portfolio, and that basically defined the issue all the way through.

Mr. WHELAN: And it didn't stop with his resignation from state government,
with Golan Cipel's resignation from state government. Directly after that
resignation, the governor helped him land a job with a prominent,
politically-connected lobbying firm in Trenton. And that raises questions, as
well. I mean, you have the governor helping what he says is his boyfriend get
a job with a lobbying firm, it raises questions about indebtedness the
administration has to a favor, you know, that a lobbying firm is helping them
get.

And he proceeded to help him get other jobs with entities that had business
before state government and needed things from state government. And that
raises ethical questions, some of which I don't think he addresses very
extensively in the book. I think there's a cursory talk about that, but he
doesn't grapple with those questions and what they meant for him.

GROSS: Meanwhile, Golan Cipel is saying that he and McGreevey never had an
affair, that it was actually sexual harassment, that Cipel was sexually
harassed by McGreevey. And I'm wondering how serious you take what Cipel is
saying now.

Mr. MARGOLIN: I take it very seriously. We're at exactly the same point
with what McGreevey and Cipel say today as we were with the rumors about
McGreevey's sexuality going back. We're in the very messiest of places to be,
both in terms of human behavior and in terms of covering people and covering
politicians. You have a situation where there was some sort of activity that
went on behind closed doors between two people, and those two people have
differing recollections or tales to tell from those encounters. And neither
one has proven his case, neither one has gone into any kind of situation where
they're compelled by law to tell the truth. And so who do you believe?

GROSS: You questions the ethics of appointing Golan Cipel to the McGreevey
administration. Were there other people in the administration whose
qualifications were questioned, or other controversies similar to this but not
revolving around homosexuality in the administration?

Mr. WHELAN: There definitely were. There were a lot of appointments that
McGreevey had made that had come under scrutiny and had been viewed as either
just bad appointments or politically-tainted appointments. He mentions one in
the book, which was a man by the names of Charles Kushner, who was a major
developer who he appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Kushner'd contributed over $1 million to his campaigns, and there was a lot of
criticism from Republicans and others that this had been some sort of payback.

McGreevey defends that appointment in the book very, you know, very
aggressively. Kushner wound up eventually being caught up in an investigation
about donations he had made to Democrats, including McGreevey, and then got
caught up in a bizarre--which, there was a lot of, you know, McGreevey himself
said in the book that he--it's amazing the number of people around him who had
crazy meltdowns. Charlie Kushner was one of them. He was convicted in a
bizarre scheme that stemmed from this investigation, where he had videotaped
or had his brother-in-law videotaped having sex with a hooker, and he used
that to blackmail him and eventually went down. And that happened in the
weeks before McGreevey's resignation announcement. But that's one example.

There were other examples. The thing about the Cipel one is it seemed, in
addition--if you take away the homosexuality aspect out of it, which at that
point of it was speculation, for most of the time--I mean, for the entire time
until McGreevey made his announcement. But what took that into a different
realm, I think, was the homeland security piece of it, where it didn't seem
like routine, mundane political patronage appointments to various things. It
seemed something that resonated with the public, I think, and grabbed their
attention a little more. Because it was an issue where people were not
willing to tolerate favoritism or cronyism or, you know, patronage. And then,
you got in the other aspect of it, which was this backdrop of suspicion about
their relationship, and that is what brought it to the fore even more so..

Mr. MARGOLIN: And then, even beyond that, you ended up having a situation
where, when we started doing research into what Cipel was actually doing, it
turned out that the was basically doing nothing. I mean, I wouldn't go so far
as to say it's a no-show job, because that's a characterization I'm
uncomfortable making. But we ended up filing a freedom of information request
to get all of his work product, and there was pretty minimal product to be had
for $110,000 a year, for somebody who was a homeland security adviser.

GROSS: My guests are Josh Margolin and Jeff Whelan, political reporters for
the Newark Star-Ledger. We'll talk more about covering Jim McGreevey after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guests are Josh Margolin and Jeff Whelan, political reporters for
the Newark Star-Ledger. They were part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize
for coverage of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's resignation.

Would you describe what it was like in your newsroom after he made--after
McGreevey made his resignation speech? You guys won a Pulitzer Prize for your
coverage of his resignation and its aftermath, so what was it like right after
that speech was finished?

Mr. WHELAN: You know, it started--let me take you back a little bit to
before the speech...

Mr. MARGOLIN: But we do want to say that neither one of us was actually in
the newsroom at the time because we were both out on the street trying to
report the story. So we only have heard secondhand what it was like.

GROSS: Good point.

Mr. WHELAN: That day, Josh and I both take the Jersey Turnpike down to work,
down to Trenton in the morning. And leading up to this day, you know, you had
had, I mentioned Charlie Kushner, one of his biggest campaign contributor
involved in this bizarre blackmail scheme, intimidating an FBI witness. You
had his other biggest fundraiser--or one of his biggest fundraisers--a man by
the name of D'Amiano, a trash hauler, who had been indicted, and McGreevey was
involved in that because he had uttered the word Machiavelli, which federal
prosecutors said was a code word for a bribery scheme. So the governor
himself--never charged, never--but was somehow involved in this.

You had all these really bizarre political plot twists running out there, and
as we're driving down to work that day--and his commerce secretary also had
resigned under an ethics investigation a few days before. Josh calls me up as
we're running down and he said, `Have you heard anything weird in the last 24
hours?"

Mr. MARGOLIN: Last 12 hours.

Mr. WHELAN: Last twel--and I thought to myself, well, you know, my standards
for what is weird in this state have, you know, have really taken a turn, so I
said, `No.' And Josh had heard the first tip about what was going to happen
that day. And for some reason--and we'd heard these rumors for years--for
some reason, this felt real immediately. And it felt possible. And we
immediately put some calls out and started to realize that this was going to
happen that afternoon. Although, right up until that moment--and I was in the
governor's office when he made his announcement--but we had a pretty good
idea. You know, we were 95 percent sure of what he was going to say when he
made that announcement. And it still took my breath away and I think took
everyone in the governors' office breath away when he actually said that.

And, as Josh said, we were not in the newsroom, but everyone was gathered
around the TV.

Mr. MARGOLIN: Apparently it was dead silence, everyone was gathered around
the various TVs around the newsroom, and then he said the words, `The truth
is, I'm a gay American,' and apparently one reporter who wrote one of the
stories that was also part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning package, she went
sort of like, `Oh my God!'

Mr. WHELAN: Let out a gasp.

Mr. MARGOLIN: Some sort of gasp, but it was so loud and the room was so
quiet that everybody across the whole newsroom heard and it was a pretty
dramatic moment from the way people described it to us, although we actually
didn't have much of a chance to process anything until maybe midnight or 1:00
in the morning, eight, nine hours after the announcement, because it was just
that kind of pace that day.

GROSS: Before McGreevey came out, you both had decided not to pursue rumors
that McGreevey was gay. But after he came out and made his resignation
address and being gay was kind of on the table, how did you draw the line at
that point between what was public and what was private? What was just kind
of like personal stuff that you didn't need to investigate? And what was
really relevant that the public should know?

Mr. MARGOLIN: In all honesty, after he made his announcement, in terms of
our reporting and questions that we would ask, there was nothing that was off
limits.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MARGOLIN: Now that's not to say that everything that we learned or
suspected or somebody suggested to us would wind up in the paper. But we
embarked on a three-month investigation to find out everything we could--good,
bad, indifferent--that led up to that moment when he resigned and at the
ultimate end of his career. And that's when we came upon the information
about the strip clubs and the go-go bars and the visits to the gay clubs in
Atlantic City and other kinds of information, because at that point, there was
no longer the response that you typically would have to a newspaper, where
people would say, `No, you have no right to ask that question.' The gloves
were off, literally.

Mr. WHELAN: Not to--I mean, his sex life seemed to be so wound up in his
political career. That's what was amazing about it. There's the anecdote
that he tells about the prostitute who had claimed that she'd had sex with him
back in 1997. That's one of the things that we uncovered in this
investigation Josh is talking about. And in the story there, he says that it
never happened. It was a lie, he never even met her. But his political
handlers did take it seriously enough, as he was running for governor, that
they took this prostitute and they ferried her down to Florida to hide her out
and keep her away from newspaper reporters before the campaign.

So that's the other factor here, is that it was, you know, his sex life was
completely intertwined with his political career. So those questions had to
be asked.

GROSS: Let me quote something that McGreevey writes in the acknowledgements
of his book. He says, "For chronicling my political life so closely and not
always with rancor, I'd like to thank members of New Jersey Press Corps, whose
work I consulted in creating this account." And he includes your names in that
list of members of the New Jersey Press Corps that he wants to thank. So did
it please you to know that he was rereading your articles about him to write
this book?

Mr. WHELAN: You know, reading the book, actually, there was a lot that was
familiar in it, I'll say that. I was actually surprised by that line. I
mean, he did have a very troubled relationship with most of the press corps,
and I think that stems from what he acknowledges himself was the secrecy that
drove him. And because he had, you know, the larger secret that he was trying
to keep about his alleged affair with Golan and his homosexuality, that
informed every decision that he made. Everything became a major secret. You
could not ask his administration, you know, you couldn't get them to confirm
that the sky was blue. Everything was a major investigation.

And that affected the relationship with him, and I think he did feel beat up a
lot by the press. So I was surprised that he, you know, that he did
acknowledge not just us, but other members of the press corps. You know, I
think, maybe looking back now, he feels that a lot of the scrutiny he looks at
a little differently.

Mr. MARGOLIN: Yeah, you know, if I--not having had his experiences, I guess
in one way, we can sort of understand it. I mean, what is the biggest hazard
to somebody who was living his double life and had his secret at the time? It
was an investigative reporter with a pad and a pen and licensed to ask
questions. So you can understand that. And it certainly was pleasant to get
the acknowledgement in the book, and we've actually had occasion to run into
him since them and people close to him, and he's remarked about how he bears
no ill will towards us and some other reporters because he felt that we were
largely just doing our jobs.

And in all honesty, it was a very hard job to do for the time that he was
governor, so, you know, I guess it feels good. Better than him criticizing us
right now.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both for talking with us.

Mr. MARGOLIN: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Mr. WHELAN: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Josh Margolin and Jeff Whelan are political reporters for the Newark
Star-Ledger. They were part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for
coverage of Governor McGreevey's resignation. We'll talk with Jim McGreevey
in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey tells his story.
And what makes a docudrama different from other movies that borrow from
historical sources? Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has some thoughts on the
genre.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey discusses
his life leading up to his resignation and how he has integrated
himself in the years since, his memoir "The Confession"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

After I spoke with political reporters Jeff Whelan and Josh Margolin about
covering New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey and his resignation, I spoke with
McGreevey. He resigned and came out in his speech of August 12th, 2004.
McGreevey has written about his formerly secret gay life in his new memoir,
"The Confession," and he writes about Golan Cipel, the man McGreevey says he
had an affair with while serving as governor. McGreevey had appointed Cipel
homeland security adviser.

Jim McGreevey, welcome to FRESH AIR. Your new book tells about your
relationship with Golan Cipel, but you didn't mention him in your resignation.
In the resignation, you said, "Given the circumstances surrounding the affair
and its likely impact on my family and my ability to govern, I've decided the
right course of action is to resign." Maybe at the risk of asking the obvious,
how come you didn't mention him and your relationship with him when you
resigned?

Mr. JIM McGREEVEY: Well, at the time, Terry, we were facing the prospect of
potential civil litigation, and that was the advice of counsel. But why I
resigned is that I needed to take ownership of my bad judgment, my failed
decisions. And also the prospect of trying to manage the state of New Jersey
as governor and continue to be involved in the prospect of civil litigation
would've just been untenable.

GROSS: Were you blackmailed by him?

Mr. McGREEVEY: As I saw it, yes. Yes. I mean, his attorney asked for, as I
describe in the book, for $50 million. And that number came significantly
down, but, yeah, it was a request for dollars. And obviously, I was intent
upon hiding a secret that I'd held with me the entirety of my life, namely
that I was gay, and I had entered into this ridiculous relationship by virtue
of my own error in judgment. But that was a truth, that was a reality that I
didn't want to be exposed.

GROSS: Do you think that had it not been for the fact that you had this
relationship with somebody who you'd given a job to, a homeland security job,
no less, that if it wasn't for that relationship--if you had come out and
said, `I am a gay American,' do you think you would've had to resign?

Mr. McGREEVEY: No. If I had done it quote-unquote "right," if I had sort of
come to terms with myself, sort of addressed my wife in a generous spirit and
sought her understanding, I, you know, the citizens of the state of New
Jersey, Terry, when I came out, were incredibly kind and overwhelmingly
positive--not in terms of the imbroglio or the incident, but in sort of
affirming me as a human being.

But the sad reality is, but for Golan, I think I still would've been in the
closet. I would not have been able to muster the courage to deal with that
essential truth, and ironically, Golan became a blessing, which coerced me,
which required me, to set forth a major life correction.

GROSS: The person who you now describe as having been a blessing is now
saying that you're a liar, that you never had an affair with him, you never
had a sexual relationship with him. What's your reaction to what he's saying
now?

Mr. McGREEVEY: Well, again, the book is painfully true. I set forth my
reality. And the purpose of the book, Terry, is to talk about the dangers of
leading a double life, the dangers of leading a divided life. And for me, a
closeted life. So what I've said is entirely true. Golan's remarks are his.
They're false. But the purpose of the book is to talk about my reality, and
it's not to be condemnatory of anyone else, but to move forward on this
journey, to take responsibility for my actions, and to move forward, and
hopefully to share this narration and to start a clean slate.

GROSS: You met Golan Cipel in Israel and brought him over to New Jersey and
then made him your homeland security adviser. Now you say in your book that
you fantasized about him from the moment that you locked eyes on him. Did you
bring him here because you had, you know, these feelings for him? Did you
appoint him to your staff because of the feelings that you had for him?

Mr. McGREEVEY: I think, Terry, it was more of a progression. I mean, when I
met Golan Cipel for the first time, I mean, it was an immediate attraction,
both physically, intellectually--if you will, psychologically. I brought him
over, actually, to work on the campaign and to work with the various Jewish
organizations throughout the state of New Jersey. And New Jersey is the most
wonderfully diverse state in the nation, but I was dealing with orthodox
communities, reformed, conservative, secular communities. And Golan, as an
Israeli, I mean, he had a unique skill set, he was bright, and I brought him
over to work on the campaign.

And then, you know, subsequently, a relationship developed.

GROSS: And then you made him your homeland security adviser. And a lot of
people have wondered, of all the positions to appoint him to...

Mr. McGREEVEY: Yeah, I mean...

GROSS: ...given how covert your relationship had to be, why make him homeland
security adviser, particularly since, as an Israeli, he wouldn't even have
security clearance in the United States, he wasn't a citizen.

Mr. McGREEVEY: Sure. If I could just clarify. I mean, putting Golan Cipel
on the payroll was a humongous exercise in bad judgment. But I just want to
also clarify, I mean, he was not homeland security czar. That responsibility
belongs to the attorney general in the state of New Jersey and something
called the Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force, of which Golan was not a
member. He was on the governor's staff, he advised me on homeland security
and other issues. And it was just an incredible lapse in bad judgment. And I
ought not have done it. If I could redo it, I would have.

GROSS: Now you write in your book "The Confession," even though you made up
your mind to behave in public as though you were straight, you carried on
sexually with men--scores of men--in seedy bookstores, public parks. Can you
talk a little bit about why--I mean, do you think that the scores of men and
the seedy bookstores and public parks, did that have to do with being
closeted? I mean, do you think if you weren't closeted that you would've
had--that you wouldn't have had those kinds of relationships?

Mr. McGREEVEY: Yeah. I think, you know, being open and accepting oneself
and in an honest, committed relationship, I mean, the bright light of day
changes all of that. And the irony is, what was public, in terms of, you
know, perceptions of my wife and my heterosexuality was grossly inauthentic.
And what was authentic was the fact that I was gay. But because I thought
that I couldn't celebrate and accept my sexuality in the bright light of day
was something relegated to shadows and to dark alleys. And it became such a
corrosive, shameful place. And, you know, if there's a larger message in the
book besides me attempting to, you know, set the record straight and
establishing a new baseline of truthfulness in my own life, it's also sort of
sharing how, you know, the closet and how my inability to be open results in
corrosive acting out, which was, for me, unhealthy, ungodly, and destructive.

GROSS: Let me ask you, in terms of remaining closeted, how much of it do you
think was, `Coming out would be really bad for my career; I couldn't really
function in American politics'? And how much of it was that you just
didn't--you were brought up in such a way to think like, `This isn't good;
it's shameful to be gay; I can't be gay; therefore I will remain closeted.' So
in other words, how much of it was just like kind of political, and how much
of it was more personal?

Mr. McGREEVEY: I think some of the positions that I took were political,
sort of, you know, I was against gay marriage. I mean, we moved forward on
domestic partnership, which was a great thing in the state of New Jersey. I

think we were the third state in the nation to do so. But from political
positions, I think some of that was political because, you know, I didn't want
to appear gay. I wanted to go after this, you know, what I perceived to be
this middle stream.

But I think what drove me personally was all the former. I mean, were the
impressions I sort of garnered as a young person, you know, the impressions
that I'd heard or that I'd read as to the church's theology as to the
intellectual or the academic thinking of the time. And those were deeply
imprinted upon me. And also my actions, Terry, after that imprint, only
exacerbated that shame. I mean, because when people tell you it's perverted,
it's an abomination, and you're acting in anonymous trysts, and that you know
that it's not a committed, monogamous, healthy relationships, it just
substantiates the premise upon which you accept that shame. And it became a
self-fulfilling prophecy.

So I think, at its core, I viewed it as something terribly unhealthy and
damnable.

GROSS: You describe in your book having gone to what you describe as go-go
bars, strip clubs. And this was a period in which there were rumors
circulating that you were gay. And were you hoping to be recognized or not be
recognized? Like, you describe this as a part of a play, you know, part of
the theater of...

Mr. McGREEVEY: Sure. Yeah.

GROSS: ...looking straight, but you were probably with colleagues who didn't
want to be seen there, right? Because...

Mr. McGREEVEY: Yeah.

GROSS: ...who in politics really wants to be seen at a strip club. So what
went through your mind?

Mr. McGREEVEY: It was an interesting, you know, psychological perspective,
insofar, sort of, I know early on, you know, who and what I am as a gay
person. But then you almost have to create this image consciously in the
minds of others, as well as in your own mind, so that you can flicker that
perspective on the screen of being straight, of being heterosexual. And so I
was intent, and this was political as opposed to, you know, personal or
sexual. I was intent on being quote-unquote "masculine, machismo." And, you
know, the sort of sad, sick irony is, as opposed to reflecting, you know, the
sort of loving, balanced healthy relationship of my parents, who just
celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, you know, you run to stereotype.
You run to, you know, that flagrant philanderer. And so that's what I wanted
the boys to know. That's what I wanted the political culture to know: that I
was as masculine, I was as irresponsibly heterosexual as, ironically, I was
secretly in terms of my gay life.

GROSS: So what was it like to be in strip clubs with, you know, women dancing
on the poles or whatever they were doing, when you were really gay and not
interested in this at all?

Mr. McGREEVEY: Terry, it was just so ridiculous. I mean, there was no--I
mean, I had no basic interest in what was happening. And it's all a facade.
It was all pretend. It was acting in the worst way. And it was--and again,
what was so disingenuous about it was not only did I not have an interest
there, and I had to feign an interest so that my colleagues would see that I
was sort of robust and quote-unquote "red-blooded American." But it became
corrosive to me, that the more you act distinct from who you are, it just
divides, you know, the moral quality of that, you know, of my identity.

GROSS: My guest is former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. His new book
about his formerly secret gay life is called "The Confession." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Jim McGreevey. He resigned as governor of New Jersey and
came out in August 2004. His new memoir is called "The Confession."

One of the things you write about in the book that's gotten a lot of attention
is the night you first had an intimate physical relationship with Golan Cipel
was the night when your wife was in the hospital recovering from a Cesarean
section. Your baby had just been born. And people think that the timing of
that was--you know, a lot of readers, I think, think that the timing of that
was so...

Mr. McGREEVEY: (Unintelligible).

GROSS: ...awful. Yeah.

Mr. McGREEVEY: And it, you know, and it was. It was unforgivable. But,
Terry, I just saw the need, you know, in the book to be rigorously truthful,
to be honest and not to cut myself any slack. And I fully, you know, take
responsibility for the--I almost can't find words for the inhumanity or the
lack of compassion in that action.

And it's also, you know, a product of the divided self. I mean, in a strange,
warped way, I mean, I just was over here in terms of my sexuality and then
over here as a husband and father. And two different places. And I think it
speaks to what happens when somebody isn't integrated, you know. As my friend
Curtis--and I sort of narrate this in the book, that the root of the words for
integrity and integrated, you know, have a common root. And that lack of
integration, that lack of healthy spirituality, created this false division
that allowed me to compartmentalize in a warped manner.

GROSS: You know, it's awkward doing this interview, in a way, because I feel
like on the one hand, it's not my job here to be sitting in judgment of you.
On the other hand, just like being here and reacting to the book and what
you're saying, I find myself going through what probably a lot of people are
going through, which is trying to decide how much do we kind of forgive the
ill judgment that you had as governor in appointing Golan Cipel to the
positions that you did and in having that affair with him. How much do we
forgive because, hey, society is the way it is and that kind of, you know,
forced you in the closet? And how much do you not get off the hook because
you were in the closet? How much, like, closet or no closet, there's a
level...

Mr. McGREEVEY: Yeah. Of responsibility. Sure.

GROSS: ...of accountability and responsibility as governor that there's just,
you know, nothing gets you off the hook on that?

Mr. McGREEVEY: Well, I'm in the latter camp. I mean, I don't think I ought
to get off the hook. I mean, being gay, there might have bad images and
reflections that I internalized, but that doesn't get you off the hook for bad
judgment. But being that divided self denies one--denies me, and I should
speak in the first person--denied me any sense of happiness. Because that, if
I wasn't going to be truthful, if I wasn't going to accept who and what I am,
if I wasn't going to be totally honest, I couldn't be godly--as I said, with a
small G, in the sense of being, having a relationship that was based in
goodness. I could never get to happiness.

And so the purpose of the book is to show the narration from the truth to
godliness, with that small G, to happiness. And to show how that was not only
denied, but just the exact happened. In the bifurcated self, you know, the
ego thing said, `I could've managed it. Based in shame, my sexuality's
relegated to dark shadows. I act out inappropriately, unethically.' And the
entirety of what I think I could falsely manage collapses.

And the ultimate reward for me--and I have that quote from Seneca in the
beginning of the book--is that I needed a radical correction. I would've
continued down this godless amoral path, but for this collapse. And, you
know, whether I was acting in a wrongful way, an unspiritual way, outside the
laws of god and man or whatever caused this collapse, you know, in retrospect,
it was great. Because it forced me to confront the painful reality of who I
am.

GROSS: Listening to you describe your experiences, it sounds like maybe
you've been in therapy?

Mr. McGREEVEY: Yes. Yeah. And it's been healthy. I mean, I had sort of an
experience--I've done three things. I mean, I had the experience at a
hospital called The Meadows in Arizona. I also participate in the 12-step
program. I don't have a substance abuse addiction, but I think it's a
wonderful spiritual journey in the sense of acknowledging one's dependance,
acknowledging the importance of being truthful, sharing that truth with
others. And I'm also blessed to work with a great doctor in the city of New
York, Byram Karasu, who if I can plug one book today, it would be his, "The
Art of Serenity." And he talks--and we talk--about the importance of that
truthfulness, about godliness with a small G, and that effort to seek
happiness.

GROSS: When I listen to you talk, it's almost as if you're talking about
somebody else. That you're looking at this story and describing the shape of
the story, almost as if it was somebody else's story.

Mr. McGREEVEY: No. Maybe that's just how I'm telling it now, but no, it's
been personal. It's been very searing, and, no, I'm--it's very much my story,
as imperfect as it is.

GROSS: Jim McGreevey, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. McGREEVEY: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Jim McGreevey is the former governor of New Jersey. His new memoir is
called "The Confession."

Coming up, our linguist Geoff Nunberg considers docudramas and their
relationship to fact and fiction. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Linguist Geoff Nunberg discusses the difference
between a docudrama and a historical movie, and what we expect
from a docudrama
TERRY GROSS, host:

How do you draw the line between dramatic license and historical accuracy?
That was the essence of the controversy over the recent ABC docudrama "The
Path to 9/11," just as it was a few years ago with the CBS miniseries that put
words in Ronald Reagan's mouth that he never uttered. As our linguist Geoff
Nunberg points out, docudrama may be a new word, but it raises old questions
about truth and fiction.

Mr. GEOFF NUNBERG: I have a friend who started his publishing career many
years ago in The New Yorker's legendary fact-checking department. After about
a year or so at the job, he told me at lunch that he'd just gotten a
promotion. From now on, he'd be the fiction checker. `Gee,' I said, `what
exactly does a fiction checker do?'

`Well, there're really two things,' he said. `On the one hand, if somebody
writes a short story about a dentist in Cleveland called Diego Minsky, you
have to make sure that there isn't actually a dentist in Cleveland by that
name. And on the other hand, you want to make sure that nobody gets on a 5th
Avenue bus and goes uptown.' That's how things are supposed to work in
fiction: you make up the people and you leave the rest of the world as it is.
Or if real people do show up under their own names, it's only in cameo
appearances like Napoleon in "War and Peace" or Pauly Shore in an "Entourage"
episode. But things get more complicated and controversial when real people
move to center stage in the narrative, particularly when they're depicted
doing things that never happened, as they were in the 2003 docudrama about
Ronald Reagan, or the recent ABC docudrama "The Path to 9/11."

Docudramas make literary theorists of us all. In an editorial about the 9/11
miniseries, The New York Times laid down its view categorically: "When
attempting to recreate real events on screen," it said, "you do not show real
people doing things they never did." Meanwhile, defenders of the miniseries
were mining literary history to demonstrate that that's exactly what writers
have always done. The columnist Victor Davis Hanson argued that the script
took no liberties that you couldn't find in the works of Bob Woodward, Michael
Moore, or Herodotus.

Dramatists have been blending fact and fiction since Aeschylus, and some
people like to say it's just docudramas all the way back. True, the term
didn't actually enter the language until the 1970s, along with other
genre-bending portmanteau words like infotainment and advertorial, but that
hasn't stopped some people from using docudrama retroactively, to refer to
Elizabethean political pamphlets or Shakespeare's histories. Indeed, if there
really were nothing more to docudrama than rifling the headlines for dramatic
subjects, then the word would apply to movies like "Quiz Show," "Ali,"
"Malcolm X," or just about every picture Oliver Stone ever made. Not to
mention old biopics like "The Pride of the Yankees" and "The Glenn Miller
Story." Anything, that is, that might describe itself as `based on a true
story.'

But when most of us talk about docudramas, we're not thinking of movies like
"Schindler's List" or "Raging Bull," which borrow from historical sources to
create their own dramatic worlds. It may be unlikely that J. Edgar Hoover
actually ate melon from a pool boy's mouth the way Oliver Stone has Bob
Hoskins do in the movie "Nixon," but in the end, these movies stand or fall as
cinema, not depictions of history, which is why they can be compelling even to
people who have no interest in the events they take as their points of
departure. People went to see "Raging Bull" because of Martin Scorsese and
Robert DeNiro, not because they wanted to find out what made Jake Lamotta
tick.

But the docudrama was invented as a way of recreating real events, as the
Times puts it, and as such, it's completely parasitic on them. If you
happened to be out of the country when the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping was all
over the media, you're not going to be very interested in watching the
made-for-TV movie based on it. Docudramas reshape the events we've been
watching on TV according to the well-known rules of TV drama, where stories
follow a seven-act trajectory before they're brought to a reassuring moral
closure. The object is simply to give us the romantic side of familiar
issues.

So the docudrama is by definition a modest form, which avoids drawing any
attention to itself as art. The camera angles and lighting are conventional,
the scripts are efficient and melodramatic, the psychology is simplified to
stereotypes that drive the plot. And public figures are played by second-tier
actors who are unlikely to leave any strong impressions behind them. Above
all, docudramas are eminently forgettable. Not just because their
believability requires them to be pedestrian, but because they don't have any
dramatic existence independent of the stories they're recreating. There's
nothing older than yesterday's docudrama. Who'd go now to rent any of the
docudramas that were made about the Amy Fisher case or the Menendez brothers,
not to mention "Everybody's Baby: the Rescue of Jessica McClure." That was
the Jessica who was rescued from the drainpipe in Texas, not the one who was
rescued from an Iraqi hospital.

But for just those reasons, we expect docudramas to be truer than other movies
drawn from history. Dramatizing the Reagan presidency or the buildup to 9/11
is not at all the same thing as fictionalizing it, after all. So we accept
the things that people do and say in docudramas with the same implicit trust
with which we accept the bus routes in a New Yorker short story. We assume
that everything is as it actually was, only a bit tidier.

And when screenwriters misrepresent the events themselves, then the production
needs something more than the standard disclaimer about being a dramatization.
`Notice,' they should say, `the program you are about to see is not a
docudrama. It's just a bad movie.'

GROSS: Geoff Lundberg is a linguist who teaches at the School of Information
at the University of California at Berkeley. His new book on political
language is called "Talking Right."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with a recording by Joe Glazer, a
singer-songwriter known for his labor songs. He died Tuesday of non-Hodgkins
lymphona. He was 88. This song comes from his 1960 album, "Songs of Work and
Freedom."

(Soundbite of Joe Glazer song)

Mr. JOE GLAZER: (Singing)
I went down down downtown to the factory
Early on a Monday morning.
When I got down to the factory,
It was lonely, it was forlorn.

I couldn't find Joe, Jack, John or Jim,
Nobody could I see.
Nothing but buttons and bells and lights
All over the factory.

Well, I walked, walked, walked into the foreman's office
To find out what was what.
I looked him in the eye and I said, `What goes?'
This is the answer I got:

His eyes turned red, then green, then blue
And it suddenly dawned on me.
There was a robot sitting in the seat
Where the foreman used to be.

(End soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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