“1:30-1:45: Rewind Ace Ventura”

Democratic hopeful Sen. Bob Graham keeps an incredibly detailed daily log. His rivals say it's weird, and they plan to use it against him.

Topics: Democratic Party,

The breathlessly comprehensive diaries of Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., may not reach the notoriety of, say, Anaïs Nin’s. But the daily, hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute logs of the presidential candidate are generating some minor heat of their own.

A Graham spokesman tried on Monday to pooh-pooh their importance as an issue, noting that a Democratic rival keeps a campaign diary on his Web page. But Republican operatives are already pointing out an inaccuracy in how Graham has said he has archived the diaries, and suddenly the respected, mild-mannered candidate’s personal “quirk” threatens to be a full-fledged story.

In Graham’s journals — which he’s been keeping daily since 1977 — the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee records everything about his day. Though Graham’s notebooks are packed with important information about serious senatorial business, they are also interrupted by notations about the application of scalp ointment, the eating of tuna fish sandwiches and the rewinding of videotapes.

It is that level of detail that some political observers — both Democrat and Republican — are finding odd. At the very least, politicos and journalists wonder if the diaries could be twisted into a larger issue, tarnishing one of the senator’s main selling points — his “electability” and seriousness of purpose.

“It’s peculiar that people like to make fun of something reporters do every day and that most of us do in our Palm Pilots,” says Jamal Simmons, a Graham campaign spokesman. Simmons points out that Graham’s primary rival — and the man with whom he is competing for the votes of moderates, Democratic hawks and Floridians — Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., keeps a campaign diary in which “Lieberman records the play-by-play of all the moments of the trips that he takes.”

Team Lieberman doesn’t quite share this opinion. “I wouldn’t say they’re exactly the same,” a Lieberman aide says. “The devil is often in the details — no matter how minute those details might be.”

Asked on April 27 by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos if he would release the diaries, Graham said he had “placed all of my notebooks from the first 12 years in the University of Florida Library of Florida History. I intend to do so with the balance of my notebooks at an appropriate time.” But, according to Jim Cusick, curator of Florida history at the George A. Smathers Library at the University of Florida, that isn’t true. The library collection doesn’t have any of the pocket notebooks Graham started keeping when he first ran for governor in 1977.

Graham’s Senate spokesman, Paul Anderson, concedes that his boss misspoke. “There’s some confusion over that,” Anderson says. The University of Florida has “papers from his years at law school,” which include “more traditional notebooks, not the ones he is now famous for.” Those are in storage in Tallahassee.

But the location of the journals is hardly the issue — though Republican operatives have been calling reporters to tell them that Graham made misleading comments about the location of the diaries. Now that the self-described candidate who boasts of being “from the electable wing of the Democratic Party” has thrown his hat into the ring, the diaries become a topic, at least for Graham’s opponents.

On paper, Graham has as strong a case to make for his candidacy as any of the top-tier candidates he faces. He is a serious man, a two-term governor who has been warning about the threat from al-Qaida for years. He is a Southerner in a party whose last non-Southern president was elected more than 40 years ago. But he can’t escape the questions about these diaries, which has caused his campaign some frustration.

“They’re going to prove to be problematic for him,” says a top advisor to one of Graham’s Democratic primary rivals. This isn’t necessarily because the contents of the notebooks will reveal any “huge revelations.” Rather, the advisor says, “most voters will find them strange and sort of bewildering. They’re a weird quirk.” Were Graham to emerge as a top-tier contender in the field of nine, “I imagine those notebooks will become part of the debate.”

Others are less convinced. When Cusick first heard Graham’s diaries were in his collection, he says, “I was dying to see one. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ I thought we’d have to get out there” — to the off-site storage area where the 200 boxes of Graham’s artifacts are kept — “so we can start organizing these collections. I knew we’d get a lot of requests.”

On April 28, the day after the ABC interview, archivist Mel Willis was dispatched to those 200 boxes, which he began rooting through. “It took him a week to go through,” Cusick tells Salon.

But the most recent notebook turned out to be from Graham’s days as a student at Harvard University Law School, from which he graduated in 1962. The general material “tends to peter out around 1978, when Graham became a senator,” Cusick says, adding that the library collection doesn’t “have any of the diaries that are the kind everybody’s interested in right now.”

Cusick was disappointed, saying, “Graham is very meticulous in the way he keeps notes, and I was interested to see how he thinks about things.” Cusick sees Graham’s journals as historical artifacts akin to the papers the library holds from other former Florida officials, like Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward and Sen. David Levy Yulee.

But their level of detail has others questioning Graham about them. Asked by Stephanopoulos if he worried the diaries might make him seem “obsessive,” Graham insisted that they were perfectly normal. It’s a habit picked up from his dairy farmer father, Graham said, who “kept a notebook religiously as a means of recording sick cows and broken fences.” Similarly, Graham says, he writes down voters’ concerns and makes sure he follows up on them. No big deal, he insisted. But excerpts indicate that the diaries are a bit more complex than just a way for him to ensure that he follows up on tasks.

The log for Sept. 17, 2002, begins by noting his 6:50 a.m. wake-up call, followed by a weigh-in (181 pounds) and hair care: “6:50-7:00 Apply scalp medication.” That’s followed by more granular detail: “7:00-7:40 Kitchen — brew coffee — prepare and drink breakfast (soy, skim milk, OJ, peach, banana, blueberries), read Post, dress in gray suit.”

Other matters of import quickly rear their heads, like an 8 a.m. conversation indicating that Graham staffers “have not received CIA answers to Iraq Qs” and a 12:20-12:35 review with his environmental staffers of the status of “Apalachicola River + Forest” and other issues. He has a busy day of briefings and meetings on Capitol Hill, including discussions with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., CIA director George Tenet, House Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Dick Shelby, R-Ala., CIA congressional liaison Stan Moskowitz, and the like. Then it’s back home by 8:40 p.m., where it was time to “change to blue shorts,” “apply scalp medication,” and, of course, “update notebook.”

University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato minces no words, calling the notebooks “obsessive-compulsive.” A spokeswoman for the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation seems to question Sabato’s diagnosis. While “one in every 40 people show signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she says, some of the big questions include whether Graham’s “quality of life is being intruded upon or compromised in any way by all of this record keeping.” Moreover, a review of the foundation’s “screening test” would seemingly dispute Sabato’s claim.

Graham’s diaries first became part of the national conversation in 2000 when he was being discussed as a possible running mate for Vice President Al Gore. One source from the Gore campaign insists they were not even remotely a factor in the decision to select Lieberman. But another campaign source points out that Graham didn’t make it to the final tier of potential veeps — which included Lieberman and two other 2004 hopefuls, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina — when a more thorough vetting takes place and the diaries would more likely have emerged as an issue.

In any case, the possibility of Graham’s selection brought forth a July 2000 story in Time. That story included the following Graham diary excerpts, recorded on the September 1994 day when his daughter Cissy gave birth. Graham recorded, from 12:20 p.m. to 1:20 p.m.: “Eat lunch (tuna salad). Watch Ace Ventura. 12:50: Cissy thinks she’s going into labor. 1:15: Cissy preparing to leave for Baptist Hospital … 1:30-1:45: Rewind Ace Ventura. 2:00: Adele [Graham's wife] ready to go. Drive to Baptist Hospital. 2:15: Stop at Blockbuster to return Ace Ventura.”

Why would he record such obscure matters as the rewinding of a videotape? “I might ask the question, Why not?” Graham told the St. Petersburg Times. “If you spent 15 minutes rewinding Ace Ventura and returning it to Blockbuster, why not, as part of a log of what you did throughout the day, include it? For personal purposes, it’s kind of nostalgic to think back to the day before Cissy had this baby, that we spent the evening together watching this movie.”

On May 7, the day after Graham’s official candidacy speech, the Washington Post Style section printed a mockery of the diaries. “12:17: Ascend stage, stumble, regain balance … 12:20: Adjust tie (red, white stripes).” That morning, NBC’s Katie Couric — unaware that the Post story was a satire — asked the candidate about the excerpts. Graham’s response was essentially that those notations couldn’t have been legitimate — after all, he hadn’t made his notebook entries for the day before until that morning, so there’s no way the Post could have obtained them. “For me, it is a means of organization and discipline,” Graham said. “And I guess my question is why more people in public office don’t do this.”

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>