PW: How did you mutually decide to write The Money and the Power, about the history and evolution of Las Vegas?
RM: Well, it's almost as if two people were driving toward Las Vegas from two different directions. Sally had a strong background in investigative journalism with the New York Times and the Washington Post , and she's a third-generation Nevadan.
SD: Yes, and almost every story I did inevitably led back to Vegas.
RM: I had worked in politics with Johnson and Nixon before becoming a historian and biographer. I kept discovering these dirtier, murkier threads in American politics that led back to Vegas's gambling interests and criminal connections. I'd be writing a book, thinking I was doing serious, mainstream, conventional American history, and then the tracks would drag me into the netherworld
PW: You share careers as writers and as a married couple: is it easy to collaborate?
RM: It was after we signed the contract for the book that we got married. It was as though our background, knowledge and perspectives were wonderfully complementary. I could write the history and do research, but found myself again and again relying on Sally for sources. She knew where the bodies were buried and, if not, she knew where to look.
SD: Both of us thought Vegas was going to be a metaphor: America silhouetting Vegas. But as we got deeper into the story, the city itself began taking on its own strength and drama. Maybe we were naïve, but we were shocked at how deeply organized crime and narcotics are imbedded in American history. It goes back as far as Prohibition. If you look at it, someone like Pat McCarren [Democratic senator from Nevada, 1932—1954] was a much larger figure in American history than anyone could ever imagine.
RM: When dealing with American politics you try to follow the money, and that's where it leads you. It doesn't take you to the electoral college or to Princeton. It takes you down the darker alleys of American life.
PW: So much of the book is historical and involves figures who have been written about often. How did you get the new stories you write about?
SD: Lots of cross-referencing. We started at the Library of Congress and spent a lot of time at the University of Nevada, Reno, library and their oral history archive, which have fabulous information. There are no secret documents in the book. All of the information is in the public domain, and many records from Senate investigations into organized crime have been unsealed by the Freedom of Information Act.
RM: And we went through hundreds of FBI files on people like Bugsy Siegel and Frank Sinatra, which are pretty raw. But those are naturally suspect, especially if they come from under the auspices of J. Edgar Hoover.
SD: Vegas is a place where everyone's been on a first-name basis with their senator for 50 years, so people know a lot, but very few people there talked. You can count the real insiders on two hands, and a lot of those people are quite elderly. They're taking it to their graves.
PW: At the same time, you're writing about criminals and revealing a lot about their connections to politics and other powerful people. Were you ever concerned for your safety? Are you worried now?
SD: There's always the possibility of danger. It's always in the back of your mind. Susan Berman was killed [the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster and author of two memoirs that were about to be filmed]. But we're riding on the shoulders of other writers and scholars who were on the frontlines 20 or 30 years ago when it was clearly more dangerous. But the old Mob was more colorful and straightforward than the new. The old mob wouldn't shoot unless you got involved in their business. There is a sense that someone like Johnny Rosselli (a '60s mobster) was a first-class guy. The rules are different now. Exposure is your best protection.