Watch out, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. The mouth of media is elbowing his way into the book business, and he's aiming at you.
Sam Donaldson, the ofttimes irreverent and always loud White House correspondent for ABC, is writing his memoirs, to be auctioned off this week among 10 publishers. Donaldson describes his proposed book as a "critical, but not hateful," look at the media and the White House, during the past two administrations.
"This book is a book about me, let's face it," he said. "It's not a book where I pretend to speak for the press corps. But I hope by showing the things I have done, it will illustrate how a lot of other people do it. I know what I like in a Washington book -- and this will not be a definitive work on the presidency. I want to write about the things I've seen and the things I've done.
"I don't have an ax to grind, but I don't mean for a moment that I'm not going to be critical of things . . . I don't hate anyone. On the other hand, I am willing to say what I think about Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Roone Arledge president of ABC News and Sports ."
Asked how Arledge felt about the book, Donaldson said: "I don't know, I haven't asked him. I guess if he reads about it in the paper, he'll hear about it for the first time."
Donaldson, 51, made his name in television journalism by yelling at everyone from presidents to Secret Service agents, shouting questions, complaints and startling quips as they ambled across the White House lawn.
In fact, when Jimmy Carter packed his bags in 1980, he wished only two things on Reagan -- Menachem Begin and Sam Donaldson.
"So this auction will be different than other literary auctions," says Robert Barnett, Donaldson's attorney. "The publishers will be asked to line up behind a rope and yell the offers at Sam as he strolls across the White House lawn."
"Yes, and I can just cock my head and pretend not to hear the offers I don't like," says Donaldson.
Those close to the project say Donaldson hopes to generate a six-figure advance, adding to the high-stakes mystique that has gripped the publishing industry in the past year. Jeane Kirkpatrick's book recently sold for nearly $1 million, and last week House Speaker Tip O'Neill's sold for more than $1 million.
"The publishers with whom Sam and I have spoken have shown a great deal of enthusiasm about this book," says Barnett, who was also involved in the auction of Geraldine Ferraro's $1 million memoirs. "I expect the bidding to be hot and heavy."
Among those interested in the project are Bantam, Simon and Schuster and Random House.
"One thing to consider," said a publishing source, "is that he'd be great at the booksellers convention next year."
Donaldson said he wasn't merely interested in the highest bidder.
"I need a strong editor to help me, quite frankly," he said. "I need someone to say, 'This paragraph is boring.' "
Asked how he thinks his book will sell, Donaldson said: "I plan on making it a huge success. Move over, Iacocca! I don't care how many you sold, I'm going to top it."