As a presidential history buff, Mo Rocca has long been fascinated with first families and the striking pattern of, let’s call them …. unruly presidential brothers. They go way back to John Quincy Adams’s brother Charles who was described as a “mad man possessed by the devil.”
Ulysses S. Grant’s brother Orvil got mixed up in a kick-back scheme. Donald Nixon received bad publicity for a loan he received from Howard Hughes for his burger business.
And remember Roger Clinton? Roger became such a nuisance, that his secret service code name was “Headache.” Really.
But no other presidential brother made headlines the way Billy Carter did in the 1970s.
Former president Jimmy Carter spoke with Rocca by phone and acknowledged that his younger brother “became the most famous person in our family.”
Perhaps best known for Billy Beer, Billy Carter made headlines for his outlandish promotional appearances and eyebrow raising liaisons with the Libyan government.
The former president spoke lovingly of his brother’s good humor and hard work but acknowledged the consequences of Billy’s dealings with the Libyan government.
“The news media kind of turned on Billy,” Carter recalled. “He had been their darling and he became kind of a pariah.”
The scandal, also known as “Billygate,” came to a head during the Iran hostage crisis and President Carter’s battle for re-election. “I spent a lot of my time, you know, defending Billy to the press instead of explaining my foreign policy and domestic policies to the news media.”
In the episode, Rocca traveled to Plains, Georgia to spend time with Billy Carter’s widow Sybil and their six children, all of whom challenge how their father has been portrayed over the years. Daughter Jana believes: “the press made Daddy look stupid. He was not stupid. I couldn’t stand that.”
Sybil Carter told Rocca her husband was “trying to be what the press had tried to turn him out to be, a redneck brother and he would play to that.” She explains that “he would tell outlandish stories just to see what the press would do.”
The family also spoke openly about Carter’s very public struggle with alcoholism and how his eventual recovery affects his legacy to this very day.
Buddy Carter told Rocca: “If he were alive today I think that would be the first thing that he would bring up about the good he's done in his life. You know, helping other people through alcoholism.
Through rare interviews with Billy’s family, Rocca reveals the man behind the caricature.