Cover image for Inside the Oval Office : the White House tapes from FDR to Clinton
Inside the Oval Office : the White House tapes from FDR to Clinton
Doyle, William, 1957-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Kodansha International, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 419 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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E176.1 .D73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E176.1 .D73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E176.1 .D73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In 1940, inventor J. Ripley Kiel was taken by Secret Service men to the Oval Office, where he planted a microphone in FDR's desk lamp and connected it to an experimental sound recording machine. Since that day, almost every president has found some use for recording, sometimes covertly, sometimes not. The tapes and transcripts left behind from this sixty-year recording experiment are a cockpit voice recorder of the presidency, time capsules from crucial moments in American history. During four years of research in the National Archives and Presidential Libraries, William Doyle unearthed scores of White House tapes and transcripts, many never before published. He interviewed over one hundred Oval Office insiders, Cabinet members, and White House aides, from FDR's personal secretary to Henry Kissinger. Inside the Oval Office is the result, a flesh-and-blood drama of the presidency in action.

Author Notes

William Doyle is a writer and documentary producer whose previous book, Inside the Oval Office: The White House Tapes from FDR to Clinton, was a New York Times Notable Book. In 1998 he won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best TV Documentary for the A&E special "The Secret White House Tapes," which he cowrote and coproduced. He lives in New York City.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Doyle won a Writer's Guild of America Award for his A&E documentary on this subject. The focus here is on audio and videotapes maintained by recent U.S. presidents as "a real-time record of the presidents in action as they manage the business of American history." One can get a sense of Doyle's judgments from the adjectives in his chapter titles: FDR, creative; Truman, decisive; Eisenhower, organized; Kennedy, pragmatic; LBJ, controlling; Nixon, strategic; Ford, collegial; Carter, technocratic; Reagan, visionary; Bush, diplomatic; Clinton, chaotic. Though most readers are familiar with the Nixon tapes, and FDR's tapes became public in the '80s, Doyle's dogged research unearthed several resources--notably the worn dictaphone belts ignored for decades in the Eisenhower Library, the Reagan team's White House video operation, and videotapes of Clinton's fund-raising "coffees." Doyle concludes that the White House's business offices (only) should be fully wired, with tapes reviewable by the president and then sealed for 20 years before being made available to historians. An interesting sidelight on history. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Seven of the 11 U.S. presidents since the Depression have secretly recorded meetings and telephone conversations in the White House. Many of these recordings have been locked away in official archives, lost or forgotten. Doyle, who won a Writer's Guild award for a documentary on the same subject, uses these recordings to present an impressive, illuminating account of how presidents from FDR to Clinton managed the day-to-day operations of "the world's most dangerous office." Combining interviews, meticulous historical research and transcripts of the tapes themselves, Doyle peeks behind the wizard's curtain to show us the nation's chief executives at work: FDR thundering at the "damn Jap" who demanded that the U.S. evacuate Hawaii; Eisenhower sternly prodding the British prime minister to cease hostilities in the Suez; Johnson browbeating a senator into serving on the Warren Commission. We learn what time presidents woke up (in Truman's case, 5:30 a.m.), if they took naps (Reagan, every day) and what time they went to sleep (well past midnight for Johnson). We see them trading quips with the White House press corps and dispatching troops to international hot spots. We also see them digging their own graves, via Johnson and Nixon transcripts on Vietnam and Watergate. Doyle's running commentary on the transcripts provides a plethora of instructive and sometimes disheartening insights into the hidden machinery of the Oval Office. Quoth Bill Clinton: "I get treated like a mule. Whenever I'm at my desk I end up with these lists of people to call. I'm supposed to call every junior congressman about every vote.... I don't have time to think." Reading this book is a little like peering through a keyhole at history. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The control and abuse of electronic surveillance began with Franklin Roosevelt, who, feeling miffed at being misquoted during White House press conferences, installed a recording machine for the Oval Office. But, according to Doyle, who won the 1998 Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary for A&Es The Secret White House Tapes, Richard Nixon debased the presidency more than any other chief executive. Doyles thoroughly researched, finely written investigation is primarily about how recordings can describe management style and show how effectively a president fulfills the constitutionally defined role as head of the Executive Branch. Presidents mostly taped to protect themselves, although Truman, Ford, Carter, and Bush did not use tapes because of personal ethical doubts, while Clinton recklessly recorded conversations describing campaign finance, law exploitation, and sex. The best safeguard, notes Doyle, is to elect honest presidents, and he sensibly recommends that only the business operations of the White House be taped for clarifying conversations and policy proposals. Strongly recommended for public and academic collections.Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.