January 3rd, 2011
02:45 PM ET

Letters to the President: #714 'Cancel that booking'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama is a great reader, but in Washington it’s just impossible to keep up with all the writing that is going on. Not that you’d want to…unless we’re talking about my daily letters.

Dear Mr. President,

I don’t know precisely how it starts, but sometime around the first week of January each year a great number of unwanted books gather on tables in common areas around our office. They are all brand new, all put there to be taken by whomever, and usually the great bulk of them stays right there until one night the Building Services people haul them away en masse.

And I say, “Good riddance.”

Those words may surprise you, as they would have surprised me before I moved to Washington. As a true book lover I long thought that there could be no such thing as a useless book. Certainly if someone took the time to set his or her ideas onto paper, and someone else deemed them worthy of publication, then the result had to be respectable.

Not so. Most of the books I am citing were not purchased, but were sent to various reporters, producers, photographers and editors here in hopes of scoring a guest slot for the author on one of our programs. And the vast majority are just awful. The biggest category is sheer propaganda: Books propped up by partisans on the left and/or right who supposedly offer a fair and scholarly analysis of some pressing concern. Health care, the deficit, the electoral process, the census, economics, green energy, and bear attacks. With few exceptions, they are tilted farther to one side than my Great Uncle Jake on his way home from a bender.

There are a fair number of salacious stories of “true crimes,” which read like supermarket tabloids. There are a few biographies, but far too often they attempt to lionize the life of someone who really wasn’t that interesting. (Lincoln’s brother-in-law who was a pioneer in ceramics or something like that)

Each January, I imagine that maybe this will be the year in which I finally get around to publishing a book. Then I see that sprawling pile of useless offerings spread across our tables and I think well, maybe not. It looks like we have way too many people in Washington writing these days, and not enough reading as it is.

I mention it as a cautionary note. Although I would obviously like to think you read my letters, I know that you are buried daily under an avalanche of writing from experts, advisors, departments, bureaus, analysts, and on and on and on. Just don’t forget, there may be a good number of folks in that crowd too who are just filling paper, and the best thing you can do with their work is to ignore it.

Hope all is well. Congrats on the Bears making the playoffs. And of course we’re pretty happy the Saints are still in the hunt, too. Call if you get a moment. I’m around this week.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Ronnie

    Hey Tom – I seldom miss your daily attempts to view the public and it's policies without blinders of any kind...I always appreciate your efforts...even when you don't agree with me...I know your remarks are always heartfelt....Yes?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    We had book piles like that where I used to work. Most were rubbish and needed to be tossed; but every now and then you found a jewel among the clunkers. This year my friend, who looks for me, found a book that contained all the articles about the Civil War from the NY Times. Talk about fascinating. I have been ever so much pleased with it. Last year she found me a book on Waterbirds – a chronicle of the photography of water birds from a 40 year hobby. They are so good they look like Audubon prints. Then there was the companion book to the National Parks specials on Discovery...a good biography of Lincoln; a very good textbook on the writings of women in history. One man's trash is another person's treasure I suppose.

    At any rate on the book table we put a collection jar – for donations to a worthy children's project or program. We collect far more in that than the books were worth and it makes the idea of throwing those books away that no one wants a bit more palatable. At least the books served some purpose in their ever so short lives.

    January 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |