ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
The new book "Game Change" has gotten a lot of media attention for revelations about the 2008 presidential campaign. The book forced Senator Harry Reid to apologize for remarks about President Obama's race. And it served up detailed accounts of John Edwards' self-absorption and Sarah Palin's ignorance of foreign affairs.
But as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the book also forces readers to decide just how much they trust the journalists who wrote it.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: "Game Change" is so juicy, I could hardly put it down. And yet, when I flipped to the part that cited the sources, I found hold on a sec here oh, that's right, I found no named sources, no footnotes, no nothing in the entire book.
Mr. JOHN HEILEMANN (Co-author, "Game Change"): From the very outset we wanted to try to write a book that was narrative driven, that was character driven in the omniscient voice and to write it in the way that we've done it in a novelistic way.
FOLKENFLIK: Longtime political journalist John Heilemann is one of the authors of "Game Change," along with Mark Halperin of Time magazine. The two men wrote that they conducted interviews with 200 people. All were done on deep background, which they say meant they could use anything they were told, but that no sources would be identified in any way. Heilemann says that promise ensured candor.
Mr. HEILEMANN: It was the decision we made at the beginning and we're perfectly comfortable with it and happy with it. And it's worked out we think it worked out very well in terms of serving the public interest and getting us what we wanted to get, which was an unvarnished at the high human drama of this campaign.
FOLKENFLIK: The book is said to be flying off the shelves. But there is that lingering question asked recently on TALK OF THE NATION by the caller Polly from Wilmington, North Carolina.
(Soundbite of radio broadcast)
POLLY (Caller): I saw you on TV describing a really personal moment where Elizabeth Edwards had a meltdown. And I just thought, exactly where were your sources for that?
FOLKENFLIK: The authors say they're honor-bound not to say. So, Polly and the rest of us can't verify how true it is.
Melinda Henneberger is a former reporter for The New York Times and Newsweek, who is now editor of politicsdaily.com. The Web site gave the book plenty of copy.
Ms. MELINDA HENNEBERGER (Editor, Politicsdaily.com): You know, we had been saying that this is the genre done for especially after all the Obama campaign books, can there be any sugar left in the gum? Is there anything that hasn't been rehashed to death? And as it turns out, there was plenty.
FOLKENFLIK: But she says she has qualms about the lack of explicit sourcing in the book.
Ms. HENNEBERGER: Because these are two journalists with a reputation for accuracy and fairness - and they are we're really being asked to trust on faith that everything in it is completely accurate without the kind of sourcing that you would have for a news story.
FOLKENFLIK: The authors say they're following a strong, nonfiction tradition. Co-author Mark Halperin.
Mr. MARK HALPERIN (Co-author, "Game Change"): We didn't invent this notion of the balance between full openness and getting information. And I think if you look at why some people are attracted to the book, it's because of the quality of the material.
FOLKENFLIK: But plenty of journalists manage to get good information about sensitive topics and yet still provide readers insight about their sources. The author Jane Mayer had hundreds of footnotes in her book "The Dark Side," about torture during the George W. Bush years.
The Towson University scholar Martha Joynt Kumar actually revealed in an academic journal the scramble by White House officials to thwart a feared terrorist plot against President Obama's inauguration. How did she get her scoop? From interviews with former President Bush's chief of staff and national security adviser.
Professor MARTHA JOYNT KUMAR (Towson University): When I do interviews I do them on the record. I have a tape recorder, I put it down, turn it on and say what the ground rules are.
FOLKENFLIK: When sources are named Kumar says...
Prof. KUMAR: He probably wouldn't get the same kind of quotes the very juicy quotes, but is that what a book is about?
FOLKENFLIK: She says too often anonymous sources settle scores rather than serve history. Heilemann and Halperin say they led them to material you haven't read anywhere else.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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