Robert Caro at Work: “Come On, Buzz, What Did You See?”

From Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, by Robert Caro, published in 2019 by Albert A. Knopf:

If you talk to people long enough, if you talk to them enough times, you find out things from them that maybe they didn’t realize they knew. Take the evening of March 15, 1965. Johnson is going to address a joint session of Congress and he comes out of the White House and gets into the backseat of the limousine for his ride to Capitol Hill. Three of his assistants, Richard Goodwin, Horace Busby, and Jack Valenti, were sitting on the limousine’s jump seats facing him.

I never got to talk to Jack Valenti about that ride, but I talked to Goodwin and Busby, and I also interviewed George Reedy, who talked to all three of them the next day, and I asked Reedy what they had told him. I kept asking Goodwin and Busby, What was the ride like? “What did you see? What did you see?” My interviewees sometimes get quite annoyed with me because I keep asking them “What did you see?” “If I had been standing beside you at the time, what would I have seen?” I’ve had people get really angry at me. But if you ask it often enough, sometimes you make them see.

So finally Busby said, Well, you know Lyndon Johnson was really big. And sitting on the backseat, the reading light was behind him, so he was mostly in shadow, and somehow that made him seem even bigger. And it made those huge ears of his even bigger. And his face was mostly in shadows. You saw that big nose and that big jutting jaw. I didn’t stop. “Come on, Buzz, what did you see?” And he finally said, “Well, you know—his hands. His hands were huge, big, mottled things. He had the looseleaf notebook with the speech open on his lap, so you saw those big hands turning the pages. And he was concentrating so fiercely.

He never looked up on that whole ride. A hand would snatch  at the next page while he was reading the one before. What you saw—what I remember most about that ride—were the hands. And the fierceness of his concentration—that just filled the car.” So thanks, Buzz. Now I had more of a feeling of what that ride was like.


  1. Ever since I read Caro’s piece in the New Yorker a few months ago (“Turn every page”) to this (“What did you see?”) and 3 or 4 interviews in between, I can’t get enough behind-the-scenes Caro. He raises the reporting bar to almost unreachable heights.

  2. Neil Manson says

    Caro is a machine. He’ll definitely finish.

Speak Your Mind