The New Greg Packer

Feature: The man who attends every Trump-themed book drop

Comey book launch
Getty Images
September 15, 2018

D.C. has its own Greg Packer—and his name is Phillip Carlisle.

For those who have forgotten, Greg Packer was a Long Island resident in the early 2000s who successfully became the unofficial man on the street for New York City publications. The New York Post, NPR, and the New York Times (among a much wider range of outlets) unknowingly made him their go-to guy for color quotes on events in the city — often bland comments on sports games, parades, or political rallies.

Carlisle has been pulling a similar trick since January, except he limits his scope to one reliable press frenzy: midnight Trump-themed book drops at Kramerbooks & Afterwords.

"It's so easy to show up at these things, and if you want to, you can make eye contact with any member of the press and they will eagerly talk to you forever," Carlisle said Tuesday evening, after attending Kramerbooks' release party for Bob Woodward's Fear.

Carlisle's fascination with press attention began the night of Michael Wolff's Jan. 5 Fire and Fury release extravaganza. While scrolling through Twitter and texting a friend he had met at a wedding several weeks before, Carlisle noticed that Kramerbooks would be throwing a hyped-up midnight party, only a few blocks away from his home in Dupont Circle.

"I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, and ran over there," he said. "There was so much fun energy—and I like attention—so I got to talk to a lot of news people."

By the time the night had ended, Carlisle had spoken to dozens of reporters, become the voice of the D.C. everyman for the Huffington Post, and landed a radio spot on BBC. Encouraged by his success, he was determined to recreate the experience when former FBI Director James Comey held his late-night book release for A Higher Loyalty on April 17.

This time, Carlisle waited around after the event, figuring that camera crews would be more likely to go after stragglers than crowds.

"There was literally just a line of newspaper folks waiting to speak to me," he said. "How cool is that? How many people wish they could stand in line at a bookstore and have curious people come up and ask them similar but different questions for like 30 minutes?"

Carlisle walked away a color-quote wealthy man, with mentions in the Weekly Standard, CNN, and Reuters, as well as photo features in many other news outlets' coverage.

At both events Carlisle bought the books after speaking to the press. He keeps them in a stack on his bedside table along with other books he has picked up at release events in the past year. He intends to read them all, eventually.

"Fire and Fury is very close to the top, but A Higher Loyalty is way down at the bottom — three below Jon Meacham's Soul of America, which I picked up at his book event," Carlisle said. "I prioritize them based on how much I actually want to read them—A Higher Loyalty will always be the lowest."

Carlisle approached last night's escapade with the same strategy as in the past, but garnered limited success. Although he interviewed with the Washingtonian and several foreign news outlets, Carlisle said none of them asked for his name, which harmed his chances at fame.

"But it's okay, I wouldn't call this sort of reporting journalism anyway, to be honest," he said.

Even with the disappointment, however, Carlisle said the freak-out over these book releases amuses him.

"The best part is when you walk home," he said. "You get to bask in the many Twitter mentions, where you often find yourself in the background of some big news outlet's picture.

He chuckled over the phone.

"It feels good, watching—like a normal human thing."

Published under: Feature