texasmonthly.com: Whose idea was it to do a cover story on Laura Bush? Why now?
PB: I think Skip Hollandsworth suggested it first. He had written a profile of her in 1996 and thought we ought to check in with her again. Editor Evan Smith chose the April issue because it is the first issue of the new redesigned look of the magazine and he thought that the first lady would be a fitting cover subject.
texasmonthly.com: Did you have a hard time getting an interview with the first lady?
PB: Oh, yes. You just don’t call up and get an interview with the first lady (or the president). She is always in demand. They have to say no a lot more than they say yes, and they have to ration out the yesses in the way that it does the most good for the president. I was very pessimistic, especially since Mrs. Bush was at the ranch in Crawford for the first two weeks that I was working on the story, getting moved in to their new house, and she was not doing any interviews. I sent a fax to the office of the first lady in which I basically said I’d go anywhere, anytime, and didn’t hear a word in response. I sent a second fax explaining the areas that I wanted to cover in the interview. I called up. Still no definite word. Two full weeks passed. I had done a lot of interviews around Austin, but I had less than two weeks left before we went to press. I was pretty much in despair, because I couldn’t imagine writing a profile about a person who, as we say, was never “onstage” in the story. Then the first lady’s office sent out an e-mail notifying the media—I was on the mailing list—about her upcoming appearance at a school in Hyattsville, Maryland, on Monday, February 26, ten days before press time. I decided to go. At least I would have a scene with the first lady in it. I made sure to get there early and corral anyone I could find who worked for Mrs. Bush. At first they said the interview would have to be done by phone. I kept pleading my case to whoever I could find. They were very nice, really. Finally, they took pity on me and said they would call later with the time of my appointment. I gave them my cell phone number. By noon the battery in the cell phone had started to wear down, and I drove halfway around Maryland looking for a RadioShack where I could get a car charger. I finally found one near the University of Maryland campus. The call came through around five in the afternoon: Be there at seven-fifteen in the morning. It was very generous of them.
texasmonthly.com: Did you go to the White House? If so, what was it like?
PB: I was told to go to the East Gate of the White House—the first lady’s offices are in the East Wing—a little before seven-fifteen. I caught a