Episode 98, with guests David Zaslav, David Leavy & Jason Gay

David Zaslav, David Leavy and Jason Gay are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: April 20, 2013 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
PoliOptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.
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This is always the time of year when I miss my hometown — Newton, Mass. — the most. Now 47, now living in New York City, I remember clearly being 7, or 17, and loving Patriot’s Day. The three-fer of the early morning reenactments at Lexington & Concord, the mid-morning ballgame at Fenway and the lunchtime race from Hopkinton to Boston made for many memorable moments of youth. This week, so many poetic voices have chimed in their thoughts — Kevin Cullen, Mike Barnicle and Jason Gay, one of our guests on Episode 98 — among the most eloquent.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, before Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev had been identified and, in Tamerlan’s case, killed, and Dzhokar’s case, talked out of a winterized Chris-Craft in a backyard in Watertown, Jason Gay had taken the first steps to help Bostonians — and everyone who considered themselves a Bostonian in spirit last week — get back to normal. He asked Bill Rodgers to go jogging with him.

Bill Rodgers runs Boston — in 1980, and 2014

When Bill Rodgers last won the Boston Marathon, in 1980 — preceded by three other wins in 1975, 1978 and 1979 — I was at my usual spot at Mile 17 of the route, selling lemonade and Marathon Bars with my pal Mark Leibovich at our makeshift stand about 200 yards away from our neighboring houses on Agawam Road in Waban. In his article — ‘Boston Billy’ Won’t Stop Running — Jason Gay captures the joy kids like me got from watching Rodgers lope down Route 16 toward Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Heartbreak Hill a mile beyond. But Gay then shifts the moment forward 33 years, painting a picture of a runner now at 65 but little changed, physically or mentally, from his prime.

When Gay wrote last week that Rodgers would run Boston in 2014, it brought a sense of closure to the bombing mayhem well before the collective men and materiel of local, state and federal law enforcement honed in by helicopter on Dzhokar’s infrared silhouette lying prone beneath a gashed tarpaulin in David Henneberry’s backyard on Franklin Street. There was never much of a question that the FBI would get it’s man, assisted by the uniformed officers of Boston and the western suburbs. It was just a matter of time. But would I ever see Bill Rodgers loping down Route 16 again having just made his way into Waban from Newton Lower Falls?

Thanks to Jason Gay, I know I’ll only have to wait 12 months. I’ll be there, lemonade in hand.

* * *

The way we were.

Bill Rodgers brings me back to my youth in some ways. Robert Redford does in others.

What was the first movie you saw in a cinema?

For me, it was Jeremiah Johnson, starring Redford, which I saw with my dad and brother at the old Savoy Theater in downtown Boston. Other Redford movies of the era — Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Great Waldo Pepper, Downhill Racer, The Candidate, All The President’s Men — were each in their way tantalizing dioramas of what kind of person a 10 year old kid could become.

Leavy and the Champ

In one skewed look in the mirror, a watered-down amalgam of Bill McKay and Bob Woodward created the template for a person who would find himself in the White House as Bill Clinton’s director of production in the White House from 1993 to 1997. Thank you, Mr. Redford.

Thank you Mr. Redford, also, for returning to the scene of the crime, coming back to the newsroom of the Washington Post with the real Woodward, the real Bernstein, the real Ben Bradlee and Annie Leibowitz in tow, plus a long cast of characters, for ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN REVISITED, which premieres on Discovery on April 21 at 8:00 pm.

“ATPMR” is essentially Redford’s documentary within a documentary within a documentary.

  • First, it offers us the story of the historic downfall of a president retold in fresh fashion through updated reflections of the legendary journalists, buttressed by the eyes of my generation (Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough) and outstanding editing of old footage.
  • Second, it sheds light on “the business” (by which I mean “the industry,” or Hollywood) circa 1973-1976, and the making of an unlikely thriller with all the wrong ingredients that turned out to be masterpiece of script (by William Goldman), directing (by Alan Pakula) and acting (by Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards and a IMDB smorgasboard list of marquee names).
  • Third, and in many ways most interesting, it paints a picture for a new generation of who made up Watergate’s supporting cast and what kind of thoughtful people they became four decades removed from the crime.

David Zaslav

Regarding that last point, Redford and Andy Lack, in producing ATPMR, made the truly historic effort of recording for posterity the current thoughts of people like John Dean, Hugh Sloan, Alexander Butterfield and many others.

With the perspective of 40 years and the storytelling expertise of Peter Schnall, we are able to experience in a visceral way the excruciating choices Sloan, Dean and Butterfield made in either leaking (on deep background) to Woodward & Bernstein or offering their scathing testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee. It’s not enough to see the archival footage of Butterfield confessing that a clandestine taping system existed in the Oval Office. You have to see the person Butterfield has become and his contemporary thoughts juxtaposed with the tension he faced in Sam Ervin’s committee room.

Through it all there is Redford’s voice as our guide. At 76, Redford isn’t the sixties idol he was in Downhill Racer, but his voice still resounds as if he was Bill McKay on the stump.

There were no two people better to exchange thoughts with on the show than David Zaslav, the President and CEO of Discovery Communications, and David Leavy, Discovery’s Senior EVP for marketing and corporate affairs.

Zaslav has run Discovery since 2007 and, in the process, transformed it into a global content distribution giant (my kids and their cousins are satisfied with “North Woods Law” and “Finding Bigfoot”).

Leavy has been part of Discovery’s team since 2000, which he joined from the White House, were he and I had worked together since 1993.

It was clear from our conversation with Zaslav and Leavy that ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN REVISITED, like growing Discovery itself, has been a passionate exercise in igniting curiosity.

Watch ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN REVISITED — for the first time, at least — on Discovery beginning on April 21 at 8:00 p.m. and catch a promo below.



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