Ray Locker

Ray Locker

Ray Locker book jacket photo

Author of  “Nixon’s Gamble: How a President’s Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration”.

ray locker book coverAfter being sworn in as president, Richard Nixon told the assembled crowd that government will listen. … Those who have been left out, we will try to bring in. But that same day, he obliterated those pledges of greater citizen control of government by signing National Security Decision Memorandum 2, a document that made sweeping changes to the national security power structure. Nixon s signature erased the influence that the departments of State and Defense, as well as the CIA, had over Vietnam and the course of the Cold War. The new structure put Nixon at the center, surrounded by loyal aides and a new national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, who coordinated policy through the National Security Council under Nixon s command. Using years of research and revelations from newly released documents, USA Today reporter Ray Locker upends much of the conventional wisdom about the Nixon administration and its impact and shows how the creation of this secret, unprecedented, extra-constitutional government undermined U.S. policy and values. In doing so, Nixon sowed the seeds of his own destruction by creating a climate of secrecy, paranoia, and reprisal that still affects Washington today.

Ray Locker is the Washington enterprise editor for USA Today, where he supervises investigative reporting in the Washington bureau, as well as the White House, military and money in politics reporters. His work as a reporter and editor has been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes. He covered the final years of George Wallace’s political career at theMontgomery Advertiser in Alabama; spent 13 years as a reporter, columnist, and editor at theTampa Tribune; worked for theLos Angeles Times; and ran the Associated Press bureau in Sacramento, where he coordinated coverage of California government and politics. Locker is married to Margaret Talev, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News. They have two daughters and live in Rockville, Maryland.

Exclusive Interview
By Sarah Baker

USA TODAY investigative journalist Ray Locker’s work has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is also the author of the book Nixon’s Gamble: How a President’s Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration, which offers a look into the culture of secrecy surrounding Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Tell us about your writing process. When do you like to write? Where? Do you use a computer or write longhand? What do you advise to deal with writer’s block?

I like to write in the morning when I’m the most fresh. When I’m in the flow of working on a book, I know where each chapter is going to go and what information I’m going to use. That information is ready when I start to write. For Nixon’s Gamble, I would wake up and often start writing in bed on my iPad. I’d send an email to myself with the chunks of a chapter I had written and then would copy that into a Word document. That helped give me the basic skeleton of the story. Then I would edit what I had written in Word and add more details during the day when I had time and in the evening. I would also add passages from documents and other sources into that file. 

There were times when I had a good idea while I was commuting to work on the Metro, and I would write those thoughts in a notebook I carried with me and then add them later. 

I wrote the first draft of all the chapters first and then I went back to edit them instead of working on one chapter at a time. I was afraid I would get stuck in a loop of going over the same stuff over and over again. 

Writer’s block hasn’t been a problem so far, because I tend to have this plotted out so much in advance that it’s rare that I’m looking at a blank screen without an idea of where to go. 

Why is the book nearly always better than the movie?

The book is the creator’s original vision, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. The movie is someone’s adaptation of that vision, so it’s never an exact copy, and the limits of the medium require a moviemaker to condense or alter the original to fit the new medium. That can often drain some of the energy from the movie. 

Which of the characters you’ve encountered did you find most compelling, and why?

Former FBI official William Sullivan was my biggest discovery and the most compelling figure in Nixon’s Gamble. He’s someone most people know little about, but his fingerprints were on many of the things that Nixon wanted to hide. And he was the most manipulative character in a book jammed with them. I couldn’t believe some of the things I found about him, and how many people he had fooled over the years. 

What makes a good story?

High stakes, vivid characters and tension. It’s hard to care about something that doesn’t really matter. The American presidency deals every day with issues that matter to millions of people, if not billions. What Nixon did as president had tremendous consequences. That’s what helped make his presidency such a great story. You also can’t find many more complex characters than Nixon.

What question have you never been asked as a writer that you would like to answer?

I can’t think of something I haven’t been asked or that I haven’t answered even if I wasn’t asked. That’s one you learn covering politics; people give the answers they want to give regardless of what the question was.