New York Times
reporter, former investment banker, would-be private equity media mogul, Hillary Clinton mega-fundraiser, and Treasury secretary-in-waiting, who became the stoic-but-obviously-disappointed Obama administration almost-car Tsar, and who is now being investigated by the SEC and the New York state attorney general for a kickback scheme involving his old firm, has written a tell-all about his brief time in the Obama administration helping to rescue the American automobile industry.
It is being billed as the first Obama insider account, a record of privates chats and a participant’s view of public events.
Well … several years ago, I wrote a tell-all (or anyway, what I had to tell) about the media business, and part of what I had to tell was about Steven Rattner—who reacted like a stuck pig.
This column is not, per se, about Rattner’s book, which, from the snippets in circulation, seems readable and appropriately insiderish; nor about his performance as almost-car Tsar, which, judging by the apparent rebirth of GM, seems successful; nor about his complicated (to say the least) reputation. It’s about writing invasive books about powerful people.
My book, Autumn of the Moguls
, was based around a conference organized by Rattner’s then firm, the Quadrangle Group, at which I was an unpaid speaker. There was some gentlemen’s understanding that this conference was off-the-record (public to a thousand people or so, but off-the-record to you), but I wrote about it anyway, just as Rattner is now writing about the insider events he was privy to. Further, I used as a scene a party Rattner gave at his sumptuous Fifth Avenue apartment for a friend of his who had just written a book. Book parties are, as I have always understood them, public events specifically for the purpose of bringing attention to the book, so I was quite caught off guard that this would become an issue about me violating the privacy of Rattner and his friends—really! This is the sort of innocence, feigned or otherwise, that Rattner will no doubt affect when other insiders question him for writing about the events he is writing about.
Rattner, who was apoplectic about all aspects of my book, seemed angriest most of all because our children were in the same class and my then 7-year-old son went on a playdate with his then 7-year-old son and reported back to me about the royal sense of the Rattner household. This was, I admit, somewhat beyond the journalistic pale, but—and I’m sure Steve in the writing of his tell-all encountered such material—just too good to give up. What writer would?
Anyway, Rattner’s rage at my book seemed most of all a way to say that he was an insider and his privilege had been invaded. He was clearly of two minds about this, annoyed to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny (in fact, such scrutiny would help bring him down), and protesting too much about it, not least of all so that everybody would know he was the kind of insider who people wrote books about.
His book now represents an obvious sort of humbling. While he is trying to use this book to, once again, reaffirm his standing as an insider, insiders, true insiders, don’t write tell-alls. Rather, Steve’s face, like mine, is just one more that’s pressed to the glass.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.