To the Editor:
I read with interest and some astonishment the error-filled and badly misleading review of my book Heist by Chris Lehmann [“The Gaud That Failed: A Tour of New Jack City,” Oct. 2]. To set the record straight on several facts, the following points are worth noting. Mr. Lehmann is wrong that I only interviewed Jack Abramoff once in 2004. The book quotes from three different interviews I did with Mr. Abramoff, two of which, as I noted, were from 2003, and the other in 2004. Mr. Abramoff and Michael Scanlon—not Tom DeLay and Mr. Scanlon, as the reviewer wrote—worked as a lobbying team for the Tigua Indians. Mr. Scanlon actually worked for Mr. DeLay when he was majority whip, not majority leader. Further, Mr. Lehmann errs in attributing an e-mail about “wackos” to Mr. Abramoff that was written by Mr. Scanlon.
Alas, he also mistakenly suggests that I see the scandal as primarily about personal greed and that I slight the role of ideology in Mr. Abramoff’s career. Neither characterization jibes with what I wrote: Several sections of the book detail how Mr. Abramoff bilked the tribes both for his own enrichment, but also because he played the role of “financial godfather to a conservative influence machine.” In fact, in one of my first descriptions of the lobbyist, I note that his career was marked by “extraordinary risk taking, ideological zealotry and outsize greed ….”
Mr. Lehmann’s review also conveys the erroneous impression that the book is mostly full of “background” interviews with former colleagues of Mr. Abramoff and disillusioned clients. But Heist contains numerous on-the-record interviews, including several with tribal leaders who were bilked by Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon; a handful with prominent conservative allies of Mr. Abramoff, such as Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, or critics, such as Michael Waller and Marshall Wittmann; and five with current and former members of Congress, including Senator John McCain, who led the Congressional probe into the scandal.
Peter H. Stone
Chris Lehmann responds:
My source for Peter Stone interviewing Mr. Abramoff but once is, I’m afraid, the appendix marked “Sources” in Heist, which begins, “This book grew out of reporting over a two-year period that started in the spring of 2004” and then goes on to explain: “I interviewed Abramoff on the phone in late March 2004 for National Journal, but he declined to talk to me for this book, although I made several requests through his spokesman, Andrew Blum. Abramoff also declined to answer a two-page list of written questions that I submitted as I was finishing the book.” I don’t doubt that Mr. Stone interviewed Mr. Abramoff three times instead of just once, but in making repeated reference to a 2004 interview, and explicit reference to numerous declined requests for interviews, the author leaves readers with a very strong impression that there is but one interview standing.
Mr. Stone is correct to note that the “wackos” e-mail came from Mr. Scanlon, not Mr. Abramoff—an attribution that I misapprehended because of its ambiguous wording. Responsibility for the howler in which Mr. DeLay somehow got misidentified as Mr. Abramoff’s “Gimme Five” partner in crime is all mine, as is the case with the lesser trespass of failing to note that Mr. DeLay was majority whip when Mr. Scanlon was in his employ.
As to Mr. Stone’s broader complaint that I’ve somehow “skewed” the content of his book by criticizing its handling of ideology in forming Mr. Abramoff’s career, I’d only cite the concluding point in Heist—that Abramoff was a man of exceptional “greed, duplicity and zealousness.” Where’s the ideology?