The Secret Service has wrestled a 229-page book to the ground.
According to the lawmen, "This is Judy Woodruff at the White House," the NBC correspondent's newly published memoir, poses a threat to executive security. Not for its contents, but for its jacket photograph of Woodruff's White House press pass -- the reproduction of which, federal officials say, is illegal.
So late last week, Secret Service agents notified the publisher, Addison-Wesley of Reading, Mass., of the violation, and offered the house the choice of being prosecuted or accepting a cease-and-desist order prohibiting further distribution of the offending photo.
Addison-Wesley promptly desisted, and agents took possession of the film, printing plates and leftover jackets, both at the company's Reading headquarters and in New York. By agreement, those copies of the book "already in the stores will not be seized," Secret Service spokesman Joseph Petro said yesterday. "There are some practical considerations. How are you going to seize them when they're all over the country, and some of them are already purchased?" But copies still in the warehouse, or produced in subsequent printings, will carry a new and blameless wrapper.
"I was surprised to say the least," Woodruff said yesterday. She was told of the decision last Thursday, but it took a while to sink in "after what I'd been through last week with NBC." First she was abruptly shifted from the White House beat to the staff of the "Today" show, thus effectively negating her book title. "And then the president scheduled a news conference on the night of my book party tonight at The Book Annex on Wisconsin Avenue , so none of my friends from the White House press can come. I figured nothing else could go wrong."
It could. The book -- written with Washington journalist Kathleen Maxa -- was released earlier this month, and "about two weeks ago the issue first surfaced here," said Peter Roussel, Larry Speakes' deputy in the White House press office. "I had a copy outside my door, and I heard somebody stop to look at it and say, 'Gosh--I wonder if that will cause a problem, having that pass on there.' " The Secret Service was notified, and "our legal counsel determined that there was a violation," Petro said. "We get a lot of these cases, and reproducing currency is the most common. People will photograph a bill to use on book covers or as flash advertising, with their business' name printed on the other side. But to my knowledge, this is the first time we've had a violation of this sort."
The matter was referred to Richard Beizer, chief of the fraud division of the U.S. attorney's office here, on the grounds that it violated sections 499 and 701 of Title 18, U.S. Code, which prohibits the "counterfeiting, alteration or misuse" of identity documents, including White House passes. Beizer declined the case last Thursday, and agents took their complaint to the Boston U.S. attorney's office.
Meanwhile, Donald Hammonds, president and chief executive officer of Addison-Wesley, received a call from the Secret Service's Boston office. "They told us that they had a problem with the jacket, and asked us if we'd be willing to change it," Hammonds said yesterday. "Frankly, it's no problem as far as I'm concerned. I honestly didn't even look into the legalities of this. When the Secret Service has a potential security problem, we just say, 'Look, boys, we never thought about that -- we'll do it for you.' It's just good corporate practice." And inexpensive: There are very few left to alter. Of the approximately 15,000 copies printed, Hammonds said that "there are less than 1,000 jackets that need to be changed." The company reportedly will accomplish that by simply cutting out the proscribed photo and inserting another picture of Woodruff into the same typeface and design.
The press-pass photograph "was their idea," Woodruff said of Addison-Wesley. "I resisted it in the beginning. I didn't think it was appropriate," and wanted "a picture of me standing in front of the White House. But they said it was cliche'd, it had been done." When they suggested using the pass, Woodruff produced it and read the fine print on the back, which warns about "counterfeiting, alteration or misuse." ("I didn't know that," Hammonds said. "If I'd read it, I probably wouldn't have photographed it.") Neither Woodruff nor the Addison-Wesley officials felt that the warning prohibited a photo, but ended up deferring the jacket debate -- with the result, Woodruff said, that the final decision to use the pass "was made so late that I had to find a photographer on my own," finally collaring a Newsweek staffer to shoot "some quick pictures."
All of which leaves Woodruff with a banned jacket, a decimated party and a suddenly outdated title. Did the titular obsolescence bother her? "At first, not really," she said, because "my first priority was resolving my position with NBC. But when I got a little farther down the list of things, I said, 'Oh, Gee! I'm not at the White House any more!' But what could I do? Put a big X on the cover? Change it to 'Judy Woodruff, Formerly of the White House'?"