Notes on The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019) by Garrett M. Graff

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgIf there were any doubts about the high regard with which Former First Lady Michelle Obama is held by the American public, her 2018 memoir Becoming surely put them to rest: the book sold more copies in the U.S. than any other title that year, had its promotional tour extended well into 2019, and was very quickly adapted into a 2020 Netflix documentary. (As of this post’s publication, it remains on the New York Times‘ nonfiction bestseller list, coming in at an impressive #15.) In addition, as Jennifer Szalai notes in her review for the New York Times, the book essentially confirms what many probably already presumed about the author’s personal politics: that she “seems to be a measured, methodical centrist at heart.” Szalai doesn’t stop there, however. “But hers isn’t a wan faith in expanding the pie and crossing the aisle,” she goes on to say. “Her pragmatism is tougher than that, even if it will come across as especially frustrating to those who believe that centrism and civility are no longer enough.”

Of course, when something sounds too good to be true it usually is. And, indeed, comments made by Mrs. Obama during her press tour definitely put the lie to any suggestion that hers is some kind of enlightened centrism. In a Today Show interview with Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of Former President George W. Bush (just in case there was anyone left who felt that America’s political class wasn’t insular or nepotistic enough), she had this to say about the 43rd President:

Our values are the same. We disagree on policy, but we don’t disagree on humanity, we don’t disagree about love and compassion. I think that’s true for all of us — it’s just that we get lost in our fear of what’s different.

It may not be wan, but if this doesn’t show a problematic faith in “expanding the pie and crossing the aisle,” then I really don’t know what does.

As The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan has accurately noted, George W. Bush was “one of the most destructive presidents in modern American history; a man who has never been held to account for a long litany of crimes, misdeeds, and abuses of power committed during his two bloodstained terms in office.” I won’t enumerate the whole litany here, but the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, present open-and-shut cases for this assessment. There are also his much more recent activities to consider: as Hasan reminds readers, “In September 2018, Bush lobbied Republican senators to approve his former staff secretary, Brett Kavanaugh, to the Supreme Court — and reaffirmed his public support for Kavanaugh even after Christine Blasey Ford and others accused the judge of sexual misconduct.”

That Mrs. Obama is so popular and well-liked makes her contributions to the unofficial-but-easily-perceptible Bush rehabilitation project particularly troubling. But she is by no means the only high-profile liberal engaged in this undertaking. Just days ago, her husband, as part of a virtual fundraiser for former vice president and presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, stated that “my predecessor, who I disagreed with on a whole host of issues, still had a basic regard for the rule of law.” This is so patently, ludicrously false that it should not even require pointing out. For those who need a refresher, though, Common Dreams staff writer and senior editor Eoin Higgins usefully tweeted this in response: “Bush started an illegal war, instituted a dubiously legal spying program, codified torture into US law despite it being illegal, and fired US attorneys for political reasons and that’s just the shit I can think of in 30 seconds.”

There has also been some alarming punditry — which you can search for yourself because I’m not going to link to it here — suggesting that Biden should offer a “unity” ticket by choosing Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be his vice-presidential running mate. Not to be outdone, the perpetually self-parodying Democratic strategist James Carville said about the decision, “Pick Sarah Palin. I’ll be for her too. I just want to win this thing.” (As an aside, I’m astonished that anyone even nominally liberal still cares to hear Carville’s opinion about anything, especially given his consulting work with Palantir — the tech company whose software is used for ICE raids, detentions, and deportations, not to mention other invasive law enforcement surveillance programs. One small way that those who profess to care about family separations and children in cages can show it is by sending this hack packing.)

If it feels to you, like it does to me, that the Overton window in the United States is shifting further to the right all the time, there are probably more than a few reasons for that. But one of them certainly has to be this tacit rehabilitation of Bush, his administration, and their ilk by the Democratic establishment. If generally well-regarded liberal figures send the message that their “values are the same” as Bush’s, so much so that they can’t see any problem with Biden’s presidential campaign choosing a Republican (even a member of 43’s cabinet) as his running mate, it seems to me that that will absolutely have an effect in terms of recalibrating what constitutes the political center.

Worse still, the fourth estate has provided little to no assistance here. Beyond the more obviously left-leaning outlets, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much Beltway journalism pointing out the increasingly rightward bent of the so-called center, let alone the key role liberals have played in pushing things that direction. This owes something to mushy-headed interpretations of what it means to be “objective,” of course, but also laziness: media critics and independent reporters have long raised concerns about journalism’s tendency towards “stenography” — essentially taking dictation from sources and reporting it without much in the way of analysis or critique. Further taking into account just “how big media failed us” in the run-up to and throughout Bush’s war in Iraq, it should go without saying that standing idly by as the right-wing consolidates power will have deleterious consequences. Indeed, as two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Wesley Lowery put it in his Twitter response to the recent fracas at the New York Times (which I blogged about at length here):

American view-from-nowhere, ‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment. We need to fundamentally reset the norms of our field. The old way must go. We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.

If such rebuilding is to actually happen it will require everyone’s best efforts, including practitioners of what has been called “oral history as journalism” (work that presents a single story pieced together out of snippets from a wide-ranging collection of interviews). As much as we might like it not to be true, the medium is no less susceptible to the temptations of stenography and bothsidesism.

Which brings us at last to Garrett M. Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019). Purporting to be the “first comprehensive oral history of September 11, 2001” (more on that shortly), the book “intends to capture how Americans lived that day, how the attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Somerset County, Pennsylvania, rippled across lives from coast to coast, from the Twin Towers to an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, and how government and military officials on Capitol Hill, at the White House, in mountain bunkers, at air traffic control centers, and in the cockpit of fighter planes responded in an unprecedented moment to unimaginable horrors” (front flap; pg. xx). In an extremely enthusiastic write-up (they also named it one of the “Best Books of 2019”), Kirkus Reviews gushes:

Graff…does an admirable job of maintaining focus on the personal stories and does not drift off into political commentary — or engage in placing blame — or arrange the material so that some of his interviewees look good and some bad. Pretty much everyone emerges looking good, from President George W. Bush on down the political ladder…

But how is “not drifting off into political commentary” a good thing when your oral history includes narrators who were part of the Bush Administration? Considering how the tragic events of September 11, 2001, were subsequently used by his administration as a pretext for wars, draconian mass surveillance, and other awful things, how is it not actually an enormous problem that a book published in 2019 makes Bush and his cronies “look good”?

There is nothing inherently wrong with focusing an oral history project on peoples’ “lived” experiences of September 11, 2001, of course. Dean E. Murphy’s September 11: An Oral History (2002), which I previously blogged about and admire very much, is one such project. However, if you’re deliberately trying to eschew getting into politics then it really behooves you to restrict your pool of narrators to “everyday people” — just as Murphy does. Once you start including the affected recollections of formerly high-ranking officials in the executive branch — as Graff does — then things are no longer as simple as just “[attempting] to listen, to hear others’ stories, to know what it was like to experience the day firsthand, to wrestle with the confusion and terror” (pg. xx). (It probably doesn’t help that the book has its origins in a Politico piece that centers the memories of those who were on board Air Force One throughout much of the tragedy.)

This is not to say that Graff doesn’t recognize that there is some tension at the heart of The Only Plane in the Sky. As he writes in the Author’s Note (pg. xxii):

As the nation united in solidarity after the attacks, it also descended into two wars that continue to this day and reshaped multiple corners of the world; thus 9/11 remains a daily presence in our national politics and our international geopolitics, and it fundamentally changed the way we live, travel, and interact with one another. As Rosemary Dillard, an American Airlines manager in D.C. whose husband, Eddie, was aboard one of the hijacked flights, said, “I still think we all walk on eggshells. I don’t think that the young people who will be [reading] this will know the same freedom I knew growing up.”

Rather than carefully connect the dots here for young people and other readers, though, Graff opts instead to beat about the bush. “…To understand all that came after,” he continues, “we must first understand what it was like to live through the drama and tragedy that began under the crisp, clear blue skies of Tuesday, September 11, 2001” (pg. xxii). But Graff’s approach winds up exacerbating this tension instead of resolving it. On the one hand, the author wants a decontextualized oral history of “an unprecedented moment”; on the other hand, he also wants to include those whose words and voices should never and can never be considered apolitical (George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and John Bolton, to name just a few).

At this point, it’s worth underscoring (again and again) that there really is no such thing as a politically neutral work anyway: as Toni Morrison teaches us, even those projects “that try hard not to be political are [essentially being] political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.'” The Only Plane in the Sky is very much a political work in this sense, though Graff’s biases are also fairly apparent in other choices he makes and doesn’t make throughout the book. For example, Gordon Johndroe, “assistant press secretary, White House,” throws an elbow at Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) because of its criticisms of Bush’s inaction in the first several minutes after he was notified of the attacks. “…It wasn’t an issue until [the film],” he insists (pg. 78). That Graff includes comments like this without any counter or challenge certainly gives the impression that he shares or at least has no issues with their seeming implications — in this case, that it’s unnecessary or somehow mean-spirited to critically examine the then-Commander-in-Chief’s decision-making in those early moments of crisis.

Relatedly, the book’s narrow definition of “comprehensive” also needs to be discussed. What exactly is meant by this term is never clearly explained, and Graff only says that “The Only Plane in the Sky is comprehensive, [but] it is not complete” — though this is specifically in reference to the fact that “these stories capture only a single moment in time.” The term seems to refer to the book’s coverage of the events of the day, as well as its wide variety of narrators with first-hand knowledge: eyewitnesses, survivors, victims’ family members, first-responders, various law enforcement and military personnel, politicians and their staff, journalists, and others. But even if we accept that this makes for a “comprehensive” approach, there is still not as much range as there could be. Graff notes that sometimes “perspectives differ,” but certain important narrators and/or viewpoints are excluded altogether (pg. xxi). For instance, though the book includes Congressional voices (from both sides of the aisle), conspicuously absent is the voice of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who, only three days after the attacks, had the good sense to cast the lone vote against the resolution that authorized President Bush to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” Why are her memories of that day less worthy of inclusion than those of Tom Daschle or Dennis Hastert? Similarly, it appears that only one member of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Beverly Eckert, is included among the group of narrators who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001 — though nowhere in the book can we find any mention of this anti-war organization, which came into being less than six months after the attacks, or her affiliation with it.

While we’re on the subject of what’s included and not included in the book, it should be noted that The Only Plane in the Sky is made up not only of interviews conducted by Graff but many more that were not. As he explains (pg. xx-xxi):

To construct this book, I worked for two years with Jenny Pachucki, an oral historian who has dedicated her career to stories of September 11 and who located for me about 5,000 relevant oral histories collected and archived around the country. We closely read or listened to about 2,000 of those stories to identify the voices and memories featured here. As part of that, I’ve drawn upon interviews and exhaustive work from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and the 9/11 Tribute Museum (New York City), the Flight 93 National Memorial (near Shanksville, Pennsylvania), the September 11th Education Trust, the U.S. House of Representatives Historian’s Office, C-SPAN, the Arlington County (Virginia) Public Library, the Fire Department of the City of New York, the Historical Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard, the 9/11 Commission, the Museum of Chinese in America (New York City), Columbia University, Stony Brook University, and other repositories, as well as a host of snippets and transcripts culled from news articles, magazine profiles, pamphlets, videos, documentaries, collections ranging from the trial exhibits of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to a compilation published by America Online of its users’ thoughts, posts, and memories of 9/11, and countless other books, including three that deserve special mention for their usefulness: Mitchell Fink and Lois Mathias’s terrific 2002 collection of oral histories, Never Forget, as well as two works focused on the 9/11 New York maritime boatlift, Mike Magee’s All Available Boats and Jessica DuLong’s Dust to Deliverance. To supplement those existing archival primary sources, I’ve also collected several hundred interviews, personal reflections, and stories myself, about 75 of which are featured here.

Rightly or wrongly, “oral history as journalism” suggests to me that the journalist has done all of the fieldwork themselves. The collagic technique practiced by Graff and others, which draws on existing archives as much as (if not more than) their own interviewing, might actually require a different and more specific designation, then. For lack of a better term, I think of these efforts as “verbatim journalism,” in that they pull from all kinds of oral and textual sources, just as many pieces of verbatim theatre are often based on oral history interviews, archival materials, and/or some combination of the two. By way of example, The Only Plane in the Sky includes material from oral history interviews, yes, but also from transcripts of radio transmissions, phone calls, and public speeches, among other things.

While I do think the book is critically hobbled by Graff’s Quixotic attempts to avoid getting bogged down in politics, it nonetheless has its virtues as a work of “verbatim journalism.” Though I often would have liked to read a bit more of peoples’ recollections, The Only Plane in the Sky is, generally speaking, nimbly and sensibly edited; Graff has solid storytelling instincts that shine through in the arrangement of all this material. And in contrast to Murphy’s September 11, which is organized geographically (each section of the book features a collection of narrators representing each of the different attack sites), Graff’s book is organized temporally, giving us a minute-by-minute reconstruction of events through the memories and stories of the narrators. For those of us who remember that terrible day, this has an especially powerful, evocative effect. Scott Detrow is not wrong when he writes in his review of the book for NPR:

The Only Plane In The Sky is brutal, emotionally wracking reading. I repeatedly cried. I could feel my pulse elevate. I often had to put it down after a dozen pages. […] This book captures the emotions and unspooling horror of the day.

For most readers actively seeking out an oral history of September 11, 2001, The Only Plane in the Sky will probably give them exactly what they’re looking for, even if it is missing a lot of what they need.

In these blog posts and the book reviews I sometimes write for other publications, I will occasionally suggest that a revised or expanded edition might provide the author with an opportunity to address shortcomings and improve their work. That’s never said insincerely or patronizingly and it’s absolutely the case here as well. Graff is clearly capable of setting things straight if he wants to do so. For proof, look no further than his current project, a real-time oral history series about the COVID-19 pandemic, which notably places an appropriate amount of attention on politics. (One installment even focuses specifically on “the clear and consistent red flags about pandemic preparedness that Trump ignored.”) I hope he will seriously consider revisions and expansions because, in its present form, what strengths The Only Plane in the Sky does have are greatly overshadowed by the ways in which the book (wittingly or not) contributes to the reckless sanitization of the Bush Administration. Graff is rightly concerned about future generations remembering the events of September 11, 2001, but to truly understand the tragedy it seems to me that we have no choice but to talk about both what happened before and after that day. Otherwise, we run the risk of obfuscating things for those future generations and saddling them with the consequences of that.

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“A (Premature?) Postmortem of Revolution by Way of Oral History”

May Made Me: An Oral History of the 1968 Uprising in France by Mitchell AbidorI’ve written a review of Mitchell Abidor’s 2018 book May Made Me: An Oral History of the 1968 Uprising in France (AK Press) for H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online’s H-Socialisms network. Here’s the opening bit:

For a long time now, oral history and the left have enjoyed a fruitful mutual influence. In particular, oral history has been shown to be uniquely effective in terms of conveying certain aspects of leftists’ lived experiences — something we are all being reminded of as Vivian Gornick’s newly back-in-print The Romance of American Communism (1977) inspires a fresh round of reappraisals in mainstream publications. But this interinfluence can be seen elsewhere as well. Blacklisted author, broadcaster, and actor Studs Terkel, for instance, became one of the key popularizers of both oral history and “history from below” by bringing the voices of everyday people to a wide range of relevant subjects, including labor (Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do [1974]), war (Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II [1984]), and racial inequality (Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsession [1992]). Meanwhile, in academia, some preeminent figures came into the field of oral history with serious left commitments, producing landmark scholarship about significant campaigns and struggles. Paul Buhle, for example, was an undergraduate member of the University of Illinois chapter of Students for a Democratic Society before going on, among other things, to found the Oral History of the American Left archive at New York University’s Tamiment Library and to co-author (with Patrick McGilligan) the oral history Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (1997). And Alessandro Portelli, whose oral histories of worker movements in his home country (Biography of an Industrial Town: Terni, Italy, 1831–2014 [2017]) and the United States (They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History [2010]) have been enormously influential, credits “the effects of 1968” with his decision to pursue oral history.

The epochal global period that was 1968 has of course received attention from others working at these points of confluence. To commemorate its twentieth anniversary, avowed socialist and oral historian Ronald Fraser — who is perhaps best known for Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War (1979) — even undertook an ambitious “international oral history” with 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt (1988). Similarly, editors Robert Gildea, James Mark, and Anette Warring draw on “the rich oral histories of nearly 500 former activists collected by an international team of historians across fourteen countries” in their Europe’s 1968: Voices of Revolt (2013). Other projects, though, have taken comparatively particularist approaches. One of the central methodological essays in Portelli’s The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (1997), for example, reflects on interviews with participants in the titular skirmish between Italian students and the police that took place in March 1968. And, as its title also clearly indicates, Margaretta Jolly’s recent Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement, 1968-Present (2019) considers the development of second-wave feminism in the United Kingdom very much in light of the events of 1968.

Mitchell Abidor’s May Made Me: An Oral History of the 1968 Uprising in France is a welcome new contribution to this latter kind of work…

You can read the full text of my review right here.

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Notes on Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History (2007) by Wallace Terry

Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History by Wallace TerryThough they are far from over, the massive global protests that have arisen in response to the murder of George Floyd, police violence broadly, and white supremacy generally have produced a number of remarkable and much-needed effects already. Of special note: the longstanding movement to defund police departments has experienced a quantum leap forward in just the last several days, as you’ve probably noticed. Additionally, as Oliver Darcy puts it in a recent analysis piece for CNN:

The media is at another inflection point. In the way the Me Too movement reshaped newsrooms, sparked debate, and purged bad actors from positions of authority, the Black Lives Matter movement is bringing about a similar upheaval by putting questions about race and reporting on the center stage.

He goes on to note that no less than “four top editors have resigned their positions in the last few days.” (Though there have been even more in the days since this piece was published.) It is probably fair to say, though, that one of these has stood out a bit more than the others in terms of recent news coverage. For the uninitiated, Jeet Heer offers a rather efficient summary in his write-up at The Nation:

On Sunday [the 7th], James Bennet, editor of the [New York Times‘] opinion section, resigned his post. His departure was a messy one. Since Wednesday [the 3rd], the newspaper had been rocked by an internal staff revolt against a controversial op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton arguing for the use of military troops to quell the uprising, which the lawmaker portrayed as legitimate protests hijacked by nihilistic, violent rioters. The op-ed was inflammatory, demagogic, and contained major factual errors.

More than 1,000 Times employees signed a letter complaining that Cotton’s “message undermines the work we do, in the newsroom and in opinion, and is an affront to our standards for ethical and accurate reporting for the public’s interest.” The push against the op-ed was spearheaded by African American journalists, who had justifiable grounds for arguing that the article “puts Black @nytimes staff in danger” in any escalation of conflict between the government and the protesters.

Predictably, pundits who are apparently unwilling or unable to face up to the necessary work of anti-racism have cried foul, accusing the Times and its critics of being intolerant of differing opinions and acting as enemies of “free speech.” As ever, though, Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson has their number:

We hear it so often: oh, everyone should listen to “people they disagree with” or “I publish the opinions of people I personally disagree with.” I’ll tell you why that phrase is so grating: because it pretends not to endorse the “disagreeable” opinions, but it actually does, by labeling them merely disagreeable rather than completely toxic and wrong. Just as publishing an opinion suggests it’s within the bounds of reasonable discussion, saying a person is someone you “disagree with” implies that their difference from you is mild enough to merely be something you “disagree with.” But political conflicts are more than mere disagreements: I do not just “disagree” with those who defend the slaughter of Palestinian children. I think they are morally repellent. A person who defends slavery is not someone I “disagree with.” I mean, I do disagree with them, but that puts it too mildly. It makes an “interesting debating society question” out of something that has serious human stakes. An op-ed editor needs to understand that “whether the military will be used to crush dissidents” is not a matter simply to have polite disagreements over. We have to take a firm stand in favor of civil liberties and fight those who would impose military rule. A good opinion editor should have good opinions, and not simply believe that all opinions are equal.

This is doubly true in a time of crisis, when every person has a duty to take important moral stands.

On its face, this last statement may seem anathema to traditional journalism, which stereotypically aspires to “objectivity.” But, as Margaret Sullivan writes in her Washington Post column:

Every piece of reporting — written or spoken, told in text or in images — is the product of choices. Every article approaches its subject from somebody’s perspective. Every digital home page, every printed front page, every 30-minute newscast, every one of the news alerts blowing up your phone, every radio talk show is the product of decision-making.

We choose what to focus on, what to amplify, what to investigate and examine.

That’s why the simplistic [goal of] “just the unadorned facts” can be such a canard. And that’s why the notion to “represent all points of view equally” is absurd and sometimes wrongheaded.

“Journalism is not stenography” is a refrain from an astute editor I know.

The real answer is to make better, wiser choices — ones that best serve our important mission to find and tell the truth.

Among these “better, wiser choices” are, of course, hiring choices. As I mentioned in a post from a few years ago:

The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University’s 2015 Census found that “the percentage of minority journalists has hovered between 12 and 14 percent for more than a decade…[and] the number of minority leaders has dropped by 3 percentage points, with 12 percent of participating organizations saying at least one of their top three editors is a person of color.” ASNE hopes “to have the percentage of minorities working in newsrooms nationwide reflect the percentage of minorities in the nation’s population by 2025,” though things will have to change quickly and dramatically to make that happen: as they note, “minorities make up 37.02 percent of the U.S. population,” and the U.S. Census bureau predicts “that number will increase to 42.39 percent by 2025.”

Similarly, while the findings of the Radio Television Digital News Association and Hofstra University’s 2019 report on “local newsroom diversity” show improvement in terms of broadcast journalism, there is certainly room for much, much more progress there as well. (On that note, the Nieman Journalism Lab’s recent Twitter thread inviting stories from journalists of color “about the racism and discrimination they’ve faced” has yielded and continues to yield devastating and troubling accounts from across the professional spectrum.)

Reflecting on all of this recently, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Wallace Terry’s posthumously published Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History (2007). Though his Pulitizer Prize-nominated Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History (1984) is perhaps much better known, the author’s only other book is no less significant: in much the same way that the former sheds essential light on the Black experience in Vietnam, the latter fills gaps in the history of professional journalism with the memories and stories of Black reporters based in the United States. By doing this, Missing Pages also forcefully underscores the necessity for news organizations to make those aforementioned “better, wiser choices.”

In the page-long author’s note, Terry, who taught journalism at Howard University, tells the story of encountering an unnamed and “acclaimed book on the history of war correspondents” that made no mention of the black correspondents who “covered World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War.” While he didn’t necessarily expect to see their contributions noted, what he found next was much more of a shock (pg. vii):

What stunned me…was the story of a British correspondent who claimed that he had rescued the bodies of four white journalists murdered by Viet Cong sappers in the Vietnam War. I knew this story was a lie because I was there, and he wasn’t. In reality, the rescue was made by me and another American correspondent. This was a major and very dangerous event in my life.

Why, I asked, was I left unmentioned? Was it because I was black?

As a result of encountering this slight, Terry resolved to “research and write a book about black journalists, beginning with World War II and taking them through the civil rights movement in America and the Vietnam War” (pg. vii). In the epilogue, his widow Janice — who assembled the book after her husband’s death from “a rare vascular disease called Wenger’s granulomatosis” — further notes that he had originally planned a much larger two-volume work (pg. 329). But only the interviews for Missing Pages, the first volume, had been completed at the time of Terry’s passing. (All of the author’s other research, plans, and unfinished work can be found in the “Wallace Terry papers” collection at the New York Public Library.)

The book is comprised of interviews with an impressively wide range of print and broadcast journalists, twenty in all. There are some household names in this group of trailblazers, including no less than 60 Minutes‘s Ed Bradley and CNN’s Bernard Shaw, but each and every one of the narrators is revealed to be an extraordinary and impressive journalist in his or her own right. And, in a lovely touch, the final interview is with Terry himself. As Janice explains in the epilogue (pg. 329):

…I asked Zalin Grant to adapt a piece Wally had written for the July 1, 1990, issue of Parade magazine entitled “A Friendship Forged in Danger.” This was one of Wally’s favorite articles, because it captured his optimism about relations between blacks and whites, and I knew he intended to include it in this book. The photograph that accompanies the piece illustrates the truth — and proves the mendacity of the British journalist — as Wally recounts in his opening Author’s Note, about what really happened in Saigon on that Sunday morning in May 1968.

Missing Pages also creates a lot of space for its narrators to address issues of diversity within the community of Black journalists. For example, Ethel Payne (the “First Lady of the Black Press”), Karen DeWitt, Barbara Reynolds, and Carole Simpson all speak to additional challenges that they faced in newsrooms as women of color. And Joel Dreyfus talks a lot in his interview about feeling set apart because of his point of view as “a Haitian immigrant.” Among others, he offers this instructive story (pg. 35):

I once had a colleague at the Washington Post who got exasperated by my rather outspoken and critical attitude about race relations at the paper. He was annoyed by my lack of tact and reserve. He was black and a rather senior writer.

He said to me, “You act like you discovered discrimination.”

I said, “Well, I have.”

And that was it, too. I was an immigrant. So my perspective was different because of that.

But of all the book’s many fine qualities, one, in particular, stands out from our vantage point in 2020: the way Missing Pages pulls back the curtain on professional journalism, giving us a much clearer picture of the racism and implicit bias Black reporters have faced both inside and outside of their newsrooms. The narrators’ stories describe all manner of micro- and macro-aggressions, which often lead to searching and difficult questions. “How then should a black journalist consider himself?” asks the AP’s Austin Scott. “As a black first? Or a journalist first?” (pg. 260).

As if this weren’t enough to grapple with, some of the narrators’ experiences also have rather enormous implications in terms of the fourth estate’s very wellbeing. One particularly dramatic example is that of Earl Caldwell, who “covered the Black Panthers for the New York Times, and was involved in a press freedom issue that was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court” (pg. 263). Recalling his refusal to testify before a federal grand jury, he tells Terry about the chilling effect it would have had (pg. 278):

If I appeared before a grand jury, I would only verify my news stories. So we argued that if I went before the grand jury and put on the record what was already on the record, it would be a barren performance. The FBI wouldn’t learn anything. But it would be destructive to me as a reporter.

We argued that there were only a handful of black reporters with the major newspapers. We brought all my stories to show that I was able to get on the inside of the Panther operation to write effectively about the organization. Even the FBI said that everything they knew they learned from the New York Times and other newspapers. But the very action they were taking against me would make sure there would be no more stories. No more enlightened stories.

[My attorney] Tony Amsterdam argued that I still had a legal right to refuse because if the government would not gain anything they didn’t already know from my appearance, then why were they doing it? Why were they pushing it? To embarrass me? To destroy my reporting?

Fortunately, this story ends well for Caldwell. And there are more than a few other truly inspiring stories of triumph and overcoming these and other sorts of adversities. Perhaps because of this, Terry emerges as an optimistic voice in his own book. His closing interview would seem to indicate that the possibility of reforming professional journalism — of making those “better, wiser choices” — is always there, waiting on us (but especially the White people among us). Recounting the true story behind his and Zalin Grant’s rescue of the bodies of the four American journalists in Vietnam, he explains (pg. 327-8):

All the absurd distinctions society would make between us — black and white, North and South — vanished that day. Zalin Grant and I found what many soldiers were discovering at the same time in Vietnam. A bonding took place, as much for us as it did for the soldiers who risked their lives to pull their comrades out of the line of fire.

In one solitary moment, in the horror of it all, we discovered what Dr. King dreamed of: The sons of slaves and former slaveholders could sit at the same table. We found a better vision of ourselves and of our nation.

We became more than friends. We became brothers.

In order for most professional journalism organizations to progress in a more just and purposefully anti-racist direction, an awful lot of practical changes will need to be put into place. Time will tell how many are actually up to that challenge. For those that earnestly want to try, Missing Pages is an indispensable resource: among the voices, past and present, that we should all take care to heed at this particular moment are most certainly those of Wallace Terry and his book’s narrators.

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Black Lives Matter

The cover photo added to the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling’s Facebook page on June 1, 2020.

A friend shared an excellent opinion piece from yesterday’s Toronto Star on social media today. Written by the paper’s race and gender columnist, Shree Paradkar, and entitled “So Now You Care About Black Burdens? Prove It,” it is definitely something you should make time to read in full. I want to take just a moment, though, to offer a brief reflection on part of it here.

At one point in her piece, Paradkar looks askance at the various statements issued and social media campaigns launched in ostensible solidarity with the ongoing protests of George Floyd’s murder, police violence in general, and white supremacy. “TikTok celebs are changing their profile pictures to the raised-fist Black power gesture, school boards and universities are releasing statements denouncing anti-Black racism, white and brown people are feeling suddenly provoked to ‘check-in’ on Black folks,” she writes. “Protests create some pressure. Changing profile pictures don’t. Denouncing racism is not anti-racism.”

On the one hand, it’s pretty irrefutable that words and actions are not the same things, especially when it comes to activism and social justice work. On the other hand, though, I do think denunciations of racism can sometimes play a more important role than this quote might suggest. Going a bit further, I also think it’s useful to parse the differences between things like a celebrity’s performative response and a formal statement of support from a university or similar entity. While I mostly share Paradkar’s dismissiveness of the former, I do think the latter can have its place. Obviously, lip service that fails to reckon with institutional hypocrisy is the opposite of helpful; but a statement that demonstrates sincere reflection and offers specifics about practical steps that need to be taken might well help to guide an organization and its allies towards the actual work of anti-racism to which she alludes.

If nothing else, such statements certainly seem preferable to ambiguous silence. For instance, close to home, I very much appreciate that the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) at Concordia University not only updated its logo on Facebook with the above image but also released this statement:

The Centre for Oral History & Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal, recognizes that it is essential for academic institutions and cultural organizations to use their platforms to share the message of antiracism and to support the Black Lives Matter movement and all those at the forefront of leading social change. In mourning, in rage, in solidarity: Black Lives Matter! // Le Centre d’histoire orale et de récits numérisés de l’Université Concordia, à Montréal, reconnaît qu’il est essentiel que les institutions universitaires et les organismes culturels utilisent leurs plateformes pour partager le message de l’antiracisme et pour soutenir le mouvement Black Lives Matter et tous ceux qui sont à l’avant-garde de menant un changement social. En deuil, en rage, en solidarité: LA VIE DES NOIRS COMPTE!

This is decisive, forceful, and unequivocal in its commitment to support the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also noteworthy as an act of leadership: as far as I can tell, comparable steps have not yet been taken by other oral history organizations. While they may have something in the offing, the Oral History Association, for example, has nothing whatsoever about the protests on its website or social media pages as of the time of this post’s publication. (Speaking as a dues-paying member, I hope that changes very soon.) it was the first such statement to be issued by a major oral history organization. (See the updates below for others that followed.)

Anyway, all this to say: Statements should absolutely not be confused with the actual work of anti-racism, but I do think they have the potential to encourage that work — all the more so when they are informed by straight truths like those contained in Paradkar’s column.

To that end, for what it’s worth, let me say here: Black lives matter. I understand, though, that simply saying this is not enough. Practicing anti-racism means listening, educating myself, continuously developing a positive White racial identity, and showing up as an ally whenever and wherever I can.

Lastly, if for whatever reason you feel motivated to do more but don’t know what to do next, I recommend visiting and/or reading Ibram X. Kendi’s recent book How to Be an Antiracist.

#BlackLivesMatter #BLM

UPDATE (June 3, 2020): One day after this post was published, the Oral History Society issued this statement:

UPDATE (June 5, 2020): Three days after this post was published, the Oral History Association issued this statement:

OHA Statement on the Killing of George Floyd and Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
June 5, 2020

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department. Following Mr. Floyd’s death, protests and calls for change and an end to police brutality have risen throughout the United States and internationally. The Oral History Association stands in solidarity with the family of Mr. Floyd, Black Lives Matter, protestors, and communities of color, and we echo this call for change. The killing of George Floyd is not an isolated incident, but another event in a long history of state violence and brutality toward people of color in the United States—a history that predates our country itself.

Institutionalized white supremacy is a disturbingly prominent part of American history, placing barriers to economic, social, and educational equality and creating a criminal justice system which is deeply punitive towards Black Americans. Further, militarized police actions that threaten a free press and freedom of assembly have worked to create a terrible legacy of violence and suppression towards those working to change this country.

As oral historians, we understand that through the stories of people—citizens and activists—we can confront oppression and work to create an equitable and just society. In our commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and respect, and to a historical record that documents the experiences of unheard and marginalized voices, we must listen to and amplify the demands of people and communities of color. We must continue to document and expose the injustice so many have suffered for centuries, and develop new projects to expand these efforts.

In this work, it is essential we adopt anti-racist methods and practices. Further, we can and must work to address institutional racism in our institutions and our field, through developing and supporting leaders of color, providing anti-oppression training, and continually working to center the voices and experiences of those most directly impacted by oppression. People of color, whether they be colleagues, narrators, students, or patrons, must be supported and valued. Historical knowledge around police brutality and systemic racism is essential to addressing both, but Black and Brown people must have a clear, equal, and respected role in developing this knowledge.

Many of our members have dedicated their careers to documenting stories of democratic citizen action and how these efforts can enact change. We have a responsibility to understand and celebrate these successful efforts, and to engage in this work ourselves. There are a number of ways we can support current protests and calls for justice: register to vote, sign petitions, support protestors or participate in protests ourselves, donate to groups and funds working to end police violence and systemic racism, call our legislators, and educate ourselves.

As Black Americans and those acting in allyship in our communities, states, and country engage in difficult and transformative work to end police violence and racism, work that will continue long after the current moment, we are committed to supporting them and participating, now and in the future. Black Lives Matter.

UPDATE (June 17, 2020): Fifteen days after this post was published, Amy Starecheski, director of Columbia University’s Oral History Master of Arts, posted a thorough statement to the program’s official blog. (Follow the link to read this statement in full.)

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SHOW AND TELL: Rithy Panh’s Graves Without a Name (2018)

(L-R) Director Rithy Panh and one of his oral history narrators in Graves Without a Name (2018).
Image from Playtime’s press kit for the film.

“SHOW AND TELL” SERIES INTRODUCTION: As Michael Frisch astutely observes in A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (2002): “Oral history has been very much at the methodological center of a wave of highly successful documentary films…” (pg. 147). And yet, the third and most recent edition of Bill Nichols’s go-to text Introduction to Documentary (2017) is only the first to include any discussion of oral history — and what’s there isn’t really that much (a few fleeting references, really). It seems, then, that Frisch is also correct that oral history’s “particular characteristics as a mode for presenting history to audiences have been easy to take for granted” (pg. 147). In addition, the great oral historian Alessandro Portelli notes in The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (1997) that, “as far as [he has] been able to see, [his field has] failed to consistently develop an analytical, let alone a scholarly form of video presentation…” (pg. 15). While there’s certainly been progress in terms of thinking about the audiovisual presentation of oral history since he wrote this — Douglas A. Boyd’s work comes immediately to mind — there’s not been that much when it comes to thinking about the more robustly cinematic work that represents what we might call “the oral historical mode” in documentary filmmaking. All this lack of attention is that much more surprising when one considers the often incredible quality of the films that fit this bill — Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006), Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), and Wang Bing’s Dead Souls (2018), to name just a few. This series of blog posts, entitled “Show and Tell”, will put some much-needed focus on these and other trailblazing works. The point is simply to see what emerges when we don’t take the oral historical mode of documentary filmmaking for granted.

In a video interview with the magazine Canada’s History, preeminent oral historian Alessandro Portelli remarks:

You know, you’re always taught the interview is not about yourself. “You’re a fly on the wall.” And I always say, “If I see a fly on the wall, my instinct is to squash it.” You’re not there, like, as an adjunct to the tape recorder to collect the stories; but you’re actually there as a co-author to create the stories because the stories are being told to you. They’re not being told in the abstract.

Though not necessarily the most obvious guideline for interviewing, this bit of wisdom is certainly something we can see reflected in the greatest of documentaries made in the oral historical mode. Think, for example, of how Claude Lanzmann’s own sense of purpose encourages so many of the narrators in Shoah (1985) to dig deep into their memories. Or how Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006) is suffused with and energized by the righteous anger of not only the narrators but also the outspoken director himself.

But perhaps the clearest cinematic exemplifier of Portelli’s lesson is Rithy Panh’s 2018 film Graves Without a Name — a recent entry in the Cambodian-French auteur’s ever-growing corpus of masterpieces focused on the genocide in Cambodia. (The most recent entry, Irradiated, was the recipient of the Documentary Award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, which took place just before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered most everything.)

Panh was the lone survivor of his family’s internment in Khmer Rouge work camps, and his documentaries seek to shed light on various aspects of life under the regime, as well as understand their after-effects. But this is not to say that his films are prosaic exercises in personal testimony or reportage. As Panh writes in his memoir The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields (pg. 247):

My films are oriented toward knowledge; everything is based on reading, reflection, research work. But I also believe in form, in colors, in light, in framing and editing. I believe in poetry.

Indeed, the form is always as striking as the content in each and every one of Panh’s films. 2003’s S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, for example, returns personnel to the infamous, titular prison for re-enactments of their crimes against humanity. (Among other things, the film was an enormous influence on Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and their anonymous co-director’s widely-praised 2012 documentary The Act of Killing.) 2013’s Oscar-nominated The Missing Picture brilliantly uses clay figurines to visualize the otherwise undocumented story of Panh’s family after “Year Zero.” And 2016’s meditative Exile employs actors in its efforts to illustrate the filmmaker’s interior monologue.

With Graves Without a Name, Panh once again finds creative inspiration on the trail of the elusive. As the synopsis in the film’s press kit reads:

When a thirteen-year-old child, who lost the better part of his family under the Khmer Rouge, embarks on a search for their graves, whether clay or on spiritual ground, what does he find there? And above all, what is he looking for? Spectral trees? Villages defaced beyond recognition? Witnesses who are reluctant to speak? The ethereal touch of a brother or sister’s body as the night approaches?

Panh’s seeking here incorporates some of the ideas and visual motifs introduced in his earlier films but also introduces some important new elements, including especially oral history. “I want to talk to you,” Panh says to his deceased family members through a voiceover (which is performed by actor Randal Douc), “but I’ll talk to the living.” Graves Without a Name, then, features extended excerpts of the filmmaker’s interviews with two unidentified, aging peasant farmers. These narrators speak candidly, and sometimes quite startlingly so, about their experiences in the Khmer Rouge work camps. (Moments such as the one that begins with one of the narrators describing the vital importance of each forced laborer’s personal spoon will likely not be forgotten by those who see the film.)

That said, the methodology does quite a lot in and of itself. For one thing, any oral history recording is, generally speaking, an important step forward in terms of historical preservation in Cambodia. This is something Panh understands all too well as co-founder of the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, an organization dedicated to “restoring and enhancing the Cambodian audiovisual memory, with archives, production and screening activities.” As he explains in an interview with Meniscus Magazine:

I think we…have to help to restore our history or identity. A few centuries ago, we did not record our oral history because people did not know how to write. Only a few people knew how to write, how to read. So we have machines to record [now, but] we lost a lot of things. Our society is oral, it’s not like the Chinese where there’s a big, great writer or historian who writes things. In Cambodia, most of the time people tell stories, the children talk, etc. … That is why we have to set up a policy to restore, to digitize, to record.

And, of course, the act of oral history interviewing has a uniquely powerful, even emancipatory quality in the more specific context of recent Cambodian history. As Panh tells IndieWire:

Part of the Khmer Rouge project was not only to destroy individual people, but to destroy the very notion of the individual. I want to simply rebuild the stories of people — it’s part of my fight against the Khmer Rouge agenda.

The use of oral history, then, is just as radical as any of Panh’s more boldly pronounced artistic flourishes. “…Because they reflect a place in time where creativity meant death, they celebrate creativity more powerfully,” Kevin B. Lee says of The Missing Picture‘s clay figurines in an epistolary video essay. We could say the very same thing about the oral histories in Graves Without a Name.

Circling back to Portelli, Panh’s use of oral history also serves to deepen the introspective qualities of what is first and foremost an “essay film”. As Portelli explains in that aforementioned clip, oral history narrators “tell the story to the kind of person they think you are, and therefore you’re sort of mirrored in there. And that creates the dialogic element whereby you’re sort of called into questions every time.” Accordingly, the narrators in Graves Without a Name speak about things in explicitly spiritual terms, seemingly with the assumption that Panh shares their animistic beliefs. This, in turn, has the director wondering if his actual frame of reference hasn’t come with certain limitations. Early in the film, Panh muses:

There is magic. And there’s a magic world, naturally. You, who doesn’t talk to the dead; you, who lives in images; you, who believes he knows; you, who’s rushed by life; you, who makes fun or shivers; you, who kept talking, rub your eyes. Look.

And so, when it isn’t making space for its extraordinary oral history interviews, Graves Without a Name follows Panh as he puts himself into the hands of various practitioners of popular religious rites and rituals. “The bones of the film are scenes of séance-like communion with the dead,” writes Daniel Glassman in his exceptionally thoughtful review of the film for Point of View Magazine. “Candles are lit, water is flicked, rice is tossed, prayers are chanted, all in search of murdered relatives left to wander in perpetuity.” Among other things, we also see Panh’s head shaved by Theravada Buddhist monks; ostensibly successful and unsuccessful attempts by spirit mediums to channel his deceased family members; and ultimately a funeral that powerfully joins together the elements of a traditional ceremony with the filmmaker’s idiosyncratic artistic tableau.

In making Graves Without a Name, Panh seems to have intuited something about the importance of religion that should be familiar to oral historians — specifically, its uniquely revelatory capacity. As Marie A. Pelletier writes in her essay “Finding Meaning in Oral History Sources Through Storytelling and Religion” for editor Steven High’s excellent book Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence (pg. 333-4):

…[R]eligion can provide a uniquely useful window into the meaning interviewees give to events by providing a framework through which they try to explain all aspects of life. When an interviewee’s life story must integrate and explain the experiences of genocide, a religious framework (assuming there is one) can draw attention to how she/he makes sense of these violent experiences as well as to how these experiences challenge her/his worldview. Thus, we can move beyond treating survivors’ life stories only as testimony to genocide and also look at what they tell us about how survivors experienced and remembered violent events.

The “religious framework” here most definitely “[draws] attention to how” the two narrators in Graves Without a Name “[make] sense of [their] violent experiences as well as to how these experiences challenge [their] worldview.” But it does this for Panh the self-reflexive artist as well, allowing him to go even further in his career-long project of contemplating how the Cambodian genocide is “experienced and remembered.” As he says in the final moments of the film:

Those who talk to the dead have experienced violence and elimination. They’ve worked while being beaten, they’ve dug graves. They’ve seen blood on spades. I’m familiar with the image of death imprinted in them. The past embraces us. You, who fears the other world, learn now to perform the gestures, over and over again.

Again, I’m very hard-pressed to think of a documentary in the oral historical mode that better epitomizes Portelli’s point about the dialogical nature of interviewing than Graves Without a Name. And not only that, but the film also conveys this reality in robustly and distinctly cinematic ways. So much so, in fact, that one recurring image even manages to visualize Portelli’s lesson perfectly all by itself: Panh and his narrators constructing the outdoor tableaux together (as shown in the picture above). If the notion of oral history as a co-creation of the narrator and the interviewer was missing a picture, Rithy Panh has surely provided it.

You can watch Graves Without a Name for free online with a public library card at Kanopy. Digital copies can also be purchased or rented via iTunes, and DVDs can be purchased through the First Run Features website.

To read other entries in the “Show and Tell” series, please follow this link.

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My Introduction of Michael Moore’s Sicko (2007) for the Centre for Free Expression’s Film Series at Ryerson University

On March 10th — just before things in Toronto began to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — I introduced and led a post-screening discussion of Michael Moore’s hit 2007 documentary Sicko at Ryerson University as part of the Centre for Free Expression’s 2019-2020 Film Series. I’m publishing my introduction below for anyone who might be interested. As I say in my remarks, the screening was eerily well-timed considering what was happening with the Democratic Party presidential primaries at that moment. Quite a few conversations at the event also revolved around the preparedness of our global health systems in the face of Coronavirus. In short, the timing of the event made it plainly obvious that Sicko — a funny and impassioned plea for free, universal healthcare in America — has lost none of its urgency or relevancy in the thirteen years since its release. Indeed, as epidemiologist Danya M. Qato wrote just last week for Jacobin: “COVID-19 teaches us why Medicare for All should be the floor of our demands not the ceiling. To truly address this pandemic, and any other smaller and bigger crises that might follow, we need to create and deploy a public health infrastructure that listens to and is accountable to the people who have long been foreclosed from care.”

I was delighted when the IMA’s Dr. Blake Fitzpatrick invited me to introduce tonight’s film, Sicko — Michael Moore’s 2007 take on the woefully inadequate U.S. healthcare system. But then I started to think about the task before me: introducing a Michael Moore film…for a series on “Truth, Evidence, and Disinformation”…under the auspices of the Centre for Free Expression. What have I gotten myself into?

From the very beginning of his career, Moore has been a controversial figure. His first film, 1989’s muckraking Roger & Me, documents the devastation his hometown of Flint, MI, faced after General Motors closed several large plants there. As impactful and indelible as the film is in this regard, it was really its framing device — Moore’s comic and Quixotic quest to get a meeting with then-GM chairman Roger Smith — that captured the movie-going public’s imagination. Not only did this shtick come to define Moore’s style, it has certainly had ripple effects on popular documentary cinema. (We could spend the better part of this evening listing the various folks and projects that have clearly been influenced by him, both for better and worse.)

You probably know the rest: after experiments in television and narrative filmmaking, Moore went on to win an Oscar for 2002’s Bowling for Columbine, his look at gun violence in America. After being booed off the awards stage for denouncing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he then turned his attention to the “War on Terror.” The resulting film, 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11, failed in its goal to prevent George W. Bush’s re-election, but did become the highest grossing documentary film of all time — a distinction that it retains to this day (with nothing having come even remotely close to taking its place). The success also made Moore public enemy number one in the eyes of the American right: at the Republican National Committee that same year, the late John McCain called him “a disingenuous filmmaker” to thunderous applause.

If that zinger had more staying power than most, it might be because it built on preexisting concerns about Moore and his work. At the time of Roger & Me‘s release, for example, noted critics Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert sparred over the filmmaker’s ethics, in particular his loose approach to chronology. Moore’s unapologetically leftist politics have also marked him as a figure of suspicion among not just the right wing, but also those who uncritically hold fast to the belief that documentaries should (or even can) be “objective” or “neutral.” As ticket sales for his films have sharply declined, it’s become downright fashionable in both academic and critical circles to pooh-pooh the man and his work. “He’s an artless polemicist,” the line goes. “A self-righteous populist. A bigmouth. A blowhard. A gadfly. An antic-prone wise-ass.” Two Toronto writers, Will Sloan and Luke Savage, even host a podcast called Michael & Us, which began as a concerted effort to skewer each and every one of Moore’s projects from the left.

At the same time, there have been attempts by some to rehabilitate Moore, or at least ensure that he and his work are getting a fair hearing. For example, no less than Thom Andersen, director of the classic 2003 essay-film Los Angeles Plays Itself and a professor at the California Institute of the Arts, has argued that Moore’s 2009 film Capitalism: A Love Story is “the most remarkable documentary” of the first decade of this century. (I’d agree that it’s definitely one of them.) And in a recent interview with Film Comment, the School of Image Arts’s very own Dr. Brett Story called Roger & Me “a masterpiece” and sang its praises. In addition, Moore’s last film, the anti-Trump screed Fahrenheit 11/9, received some of his most glowing reviews in quite some time, which may inspire further re-examinations of his oeuvre.

On that note, the CFE could not possibly have chosen a more appropriate moment to offer a look back at Sicko. In an interview just last night with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the two remaining candidates in the Democratic Presidential Primary, said that, if elected, he would veto any Medicare for All legislation that came across his desk. And tonight’s primary in Michigan will very much determine the continued viability the other candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders — whose enormous popularity (and Michael Moore endorsement) have a tremendous lot to do with his unwavering support of Medicare for All.

From our vantage point in 2020, Sicko looks very prophetic indeed. Then as now, it’s hard to disagree with Moore when he says of healthcare in the U.S.: “We’ll never fix anything until we get that one basic thing right. And powerful forces hope that we never do. And that we remain the only country in the western world without free, universal health care.” If that sounds a little too partisan for your taste, Moore’s Canadian relatives are brought in to reassure us: “We’re not criticizing your country, we’re just giving you the facts.”

That said, I definitely think there are things to critique about Sicko. For instance, one thing that has always irked me about it is the comparison that Moore draws between the medical treatment of 9/11 rescue workers and prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Invoking a term from the Bush Administration, he jokingly refers to the detainees as “evildoers.” But, of course, many of these prisoners are being held at Guantanamo Bay precisely because the U.S. does not have sufficient evidence to charge them with any crime. As funny and effective as this bit is in some ways, it also reifies a dichotomy that is very problematic from both a civil libertarian and an anti-war perspective.

And, of course, at the time of Sicko‘s release, Moore was criticized from many corners for his (arguably) idealized depictions of health care systems outside the United States. I imagine we’ll talk a bit about this in the discussion afterwards; for my part, though, I do think the filmmaker has handled himself extremely well in the face of these attacks. In a tense exchange with a Canadian reporter at the Cannes Film Festival, for example, Moore was berated for not saying more about hospital wait times in Canada. After listening calmly to the reporter, Moore asked, “…Would you be willing to trade your Canadian health insurance card for our [U.S.] health insurance…?” The reporter’s reply? “No.”

Please enjoy the film. I look forward to talking with you all afterwards.

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Interested in Purchasing Books Discussed Here? Find Deals on My Bookshop Affiliate Page, Which Supports Both Independent Bookstores and My Work

Screen shot of my affiliate page on Bookshop.

Bookshop, the “online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community,” has finally launched. To mark this momentous occasion, I’ve joined their affiliate program. You can find my page (with a curated list of the books I’ve blogged about in my series of “Notes on…” posts) here.

I joined Bookshop’s affiliate program for two reasons. First, I generally do what I can to support independent bookstores — and I think you should too. It’s also especially important to do so right now, as so many bookstores are having to cancel events or close altogether in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, as Slate senior editor Sam Adams put it on Twitter, “the places that are closing now to stem a pandemic will need your support. The ones that won’t don’t deserve it.” Bookshop, not to mention, Kobo, and Hummingbird Digital Media, offers a way to support independent bookstores even as we all stay home and practice social distancing.

Second, I like doing what I do — thinking about and making work at the intersection of oral history and the documentary arts — and I want to be able to do as much of it as I can. At the same time, I don’t like the idea of generating necessary income to do that through pay-walls, ads, and the like. But I’m OK sharing a little revenue with independent bookstores if and when you buy a book because of one of my posts — and I hope you’re OK with that too!

Again, my main affiliate page is right here, and the running list of the books that I have blogged about as part of the “Notes on…” series is here. In addition to continuously updating the “Notes on…” list, I am hoping to add other lists of books in the future: recommended readings for neophytes, key texts in particular areas, and so on. So please do keep an eye on my little corner of Bookshop. (And buy some books!)

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A Solidarity Statement in Support of Wet’suwet’en Jurisdiction and Governance from Ryerson University’s MFA Documentary Media Students and Faculty

Over the last several months, the Unist’ot’en Camp in Northern British Columbia has been very much at the center of the news here in Canada. As Alleen Brown and Amber Bracken describe it in a recent (and excellent) piece for The Intercept, the camp “for a decade has stood in the way of fossil fuel pipeline construction through the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s unceded territory in British Columbia.”

Their article continues:

Unist’ot’en, which has grown [from a single cabin built by Freda Huson in 2010] to include a bunkhouse, a traditional pit house, traplines, and a three-story healing center, is associated with one of 13 houses that make up the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The camp is the oldest and most remote of a series of Wet’suwet’en camps established along an old logging road as an assertion of the nation’s right to decide what happens on their territory. Until this month, members controlled access to the area with gates constructed in the middle of the road.

Brown and Bracken go on to explain that, in spite of the camp’s presence, “TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, has forged ahead with the Coastal GasLink project…[and] obtained an initial injunction to force Unist’ot’en members to get out of the way of construction in December 2018.” They pithily break down what has happened since then:

Royal Canadian Mounted Police commanders claimed “lethal overwatch” was required, according to documents revealed by The Guardian, and instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want.” After the RCMP arrested more than a dozen pipeline opponents that January, a strained peace was established. Police maintained a presence in the area, spending more than $3 million to establish a station halfway up the logging road to the camps. Unist’ot’en members negotiated access for pipeline workers as long as they followed an agreed-upon protocol, but TC Energy claimed the checkpoints continued to slow their work.

In the latest court order, the judge argued that the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s title claims and jurisdiction remained unresolved. In response, pipeline opponents abandoned the access agreement, and the hereditary chiefs demanded that Coastal GasLink vacate the territory immediately.

On February 6, Unist’ot’en members watched on social media as the RCMP mounted a dramatic raid before dawn on a smaller support camp down the road, arresting six people. But rather than serving to quell the resistance, the arrests inspired a wave of solidarity protests and transportation blockades across Canada. Protesters shut down ports, roads, and railways from Vancouver to Saskatchewan, and a blockade set up by Indigenous-led protesters from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario halted commuter rail traffic between Montreal and Toronto.

As Brown and Bracken detail in their article — and you’ve probably heard — there have been further police actions at the Unist’ot’en Camp since early February, as well as further protest response across Canada and beyond.

One such response comes from the amazing first-year students in the MFA Documentary Media program at Ryerson University, whom I have the privilege of teaching this semester. They have composed a powerful statement expressing “solidarity with the Hereditary Chiefs representing the clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation,” and “[condemning] any action interfering with their right to defend their unceded lands.” I am proud to join several faculty members in signing on to it with them.

You can read the statement in full here, and find a list of other solidarity statements on the Unist’ot’en Camp’s website here.

#WetsuwetenStong #WetsuwetenSolidarity

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Notes on Tibetan Resettlement Stories: Voices of Boston (2019)

Knowing about my past work in Buddhist studies, and current work on oral history, one of my students very thoughtfully loaned me a book: Tibetan Resettlement Stories: Voices of Boston (2019), an oral history assembled by members of the eponymous project. I dug into it with immediate interest, and discovered that it’s an excellent example of what is often called “community history.” As editors Cliff Mayotte and Claire Kiefer explain in their book Say It Forward: A Guide to Social Justice Storytelling (2018), oral history projects of this type are guided by questions such as “What are the stories and events that have shaped our community’s history and identity? What has impacted how we see ourselves? What is our dominant narrative and how does that complement or contradict personal experience?” (pg. 12).

And indeed, as we can read on the official website for Tibetan Resettlement Stories, the organizers describe the project’s efforts this way:

Our mission is to listen, record, share, and preserve the stories of the first Tibetan immigrants to settle in Boston. In their own words, these narrators tell the story of political exile and resettlement. Hearing these accounts of first-generation immigrants has opened our eyes, touched our hearts and truly deepened our understanding of what it means to leave Tibet, to be refugees in India or Nepal, and to begin a new life in the United States of America.

In the book’s preliminary notes, the organizers also speak to the issue of how the collected voices “complement” and “contradict.” As they write (pg. ix):

Occasionally, factual details gleaned from multiple interviews might contradict each other; we believe that this is the nature of nature of oral history, which relies on imperfect, and sometimes genuinely conflicting, memories. However, all efforts were made to convey accurate accounts within each story. Other materials in the book have been verified by thorough research.

These “other materials,” interspersed at useful points throughout the book, include “brief essays” that “[describe] Tibet during its vibrant period of sovereignty, and the chaos of fleeing Chinese-occupied Tibet, living in exile in neighboring Himalayan countries, forming the early Tibetan community in Boston, the challenges and surprises of adapting to life in the U.S., the dream of building a better future through work and education, resilience and changes within Tibetan families adapting to American life, and reflections on the meaning of home for those living in exile”; as well as “a historical map of Tibet and surrounding countries, displaying birthplaces of all narrators, a glossary that defines Tibetan terms and elaborates on key concepts, organizations, and places mentioned in the text, and a timeline detailing the history of Tibetan immigration in Boston” (pg. ix). In addition, Tibetan Resettlement Stories features narrator portraits, and several archival and other photographs handsomely laid out on a series of glossy pages. (To get a sense of how all these parts of the book look on the page, do take a look at the sample images included in the product listing for the book, which can be found on the project’s official website.)

As for the interviews themselves, what we get are “excerpts” from original interviews of varying lengths “selected in order to explore particular themes,” such as those mentioned above. (I took a very similar approach with the exhibition component of the Chinese Jamaican Oral History Project, and when I wrote about it for the Oral History Review blog.) The organizers explain that “the editing of these narrative has been guided by the goals of clarity and readability, and each of these abridged versions was carefully reviewed and approved by each narrator.” They also note that “translations from Tibetan to English were made by a highly esteemed Tibetan translator.” In addition, “complete versions” of the interviews “will be archived with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.” (pg. ix).

The end result of all these efforts, as I say above, is an estimable and impactful work of community history: bolstered by the volume’s careful arrangement and rich supporting material, the voices in Tibetan Resettlement Stories inform, evoke, and effect. By focusing in on the experiences and stories of those Tibetans whose diasporic journeys led to the Boston area, the book achieves the kinds of ends that Barbara W. Sommer and May Kay Quinlan articulate in the third and newest edition of The Oral History Manual (2018). Speaking about the possibilities for community history projects, they write (pg. 6-7):

In many cases, while documenting the community’s history is critical in itself, an oral history project or a set of life interviews can become a catalyst. It can provide an avenue to correct long-held misconceptions about an event or a time period, help collect information that balances the existing record, and become an impetus for developing community pride through the telling of people’s stories in their own words.

Fittingly, these are very close to the stated aspirations of the project itself: “Just as these stories engage, educate and inspire us, we hope they will have the same impact on Tibetans everywhere, and on everyone interested in political exile, immigration and resettlement.” I may be just one reader, but — on the terms the project has set for itself, and in view of best practices for community history projects — Tibetan Resettlement Stories seems to me a resounding success. So much so, in fact, that if I were ever to decide to produce a companion book for the Chinese Jamaican Oral History Project, I would be utterly delighted if it came out anywhere as well as this wonderful book.

By way of closing, I should point out that Tibetan Resettlement Stories — in addition to selling copies of their book — accepts donations in order to “make it possible to collect, translate and transcribe the stories of first-generation Tibetans and to share these stories with Tibetans across the globe, other groups of refugees and immigrants, and the wider public.” If so moved, you can make a donation to support their efforts here.

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Notes on The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests (2016) by Chris Smith

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgJust a couple of issues ago, in the pages of the Oral History Review, Troy Reeves offered an exacting appraisal of Chris Smith’s New York Times bestseller The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests (2016). While I presume it will not shock readers to learn that this write-up in the “U.S. journal of record for the theory and practice of oral history” hammers away at the fact that Smith’s book “does not stand up as a work of oral history according to the OHA’s Principles and Best Practices,” its closing might come as something of a surprising provocation. In it, Reeves writes:

What are the boundaries between traditional oral history and popular culture? Can they ever overlap? What are the minimum components that make oral history legitimate? Do those of us who call ourselves oral historians have exclusive rights over the term? Does the popularization of oral history enhance or debase the field that we hold dear?

While I enjoyed the book through my acolyte (or loyal follower) lens, I cannot consider it oral history. Nowhere within the pages will interested oral historians see mention of methodology, recording medium, full transcription, or archival location, four main principles that separate our work from journalism or reportage. So, as one might imagine, anyone looking for oral history insight should look elsewhere. And that is my moment of Zen.

To be clear, I think it is quite useful indeed to draw distinctions between more traditional/OHA-compliant oral history projects and things like The Daily Show (The Book), just as Reeves does here. This is not because I’m worried that not doing so would foster confusion — I’m doubtful that the two are erroneously conflated very often (or really at all) — but because I think we should talk much more about (and celebrate) the many different types of oral historical work.

One of those types is certainly what has been called “oral history as journalism” — or, work that presents a single story pieced together out of snippets from a wide-ranging collection of interviews. I discussed this approach a bit in my last post, and The Daily Show (The Book) is a word-perfect example of it. Smith follows the well-established template for “oral history as journalism” that has been set by many other books, including Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live (2002), which very similarly gathers together on- and off-camera voices from Saturday Night Live‘s now nearly fifty-year history. So the comparison to journalism isn’t exactly off-beam either.

Where I do think the review goes too far is with its suggestion that if a work neither discusses “methodology, recording medium, full transcription, or archival location” nor explicitly follows the OHA’s Principles and Best Practices, then it “cannot [be considered] oral history.” Obviously, as someone with a scholarly interest in what we could call the “oral historical mode” within the documentary arts, this rubs me the wrong way. Furthermore, such a notion ignores arguments for a more inclusive outlook that have come from within the field of oral history itself. For example, in my post about Studs Terkel’s “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II (1984), I include a snippet from Alessando Portelli’s essay “Oral History as Genre.” The passage, which is contained in the great historian’s 1997 book The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue, definitely applies here as well (pg. 18-19):

Speaking to specialists implies the use of a more rigorously technical language (including bibliographies, footnotes, etc.); speaking to the community or to the general public requires a more pointed effort toward communication; the former will be more interpretive, the latter more narrative. Ironically, the originary orality of the sources tends to be retained much more extensively in works not intended primarily for a scholarly audience.

Speaking to the community, or targeting a broad, nonacademic audience, then, does not necessarily subtract from the quality of the work. One of the things that makes oral history different is its democratic potential, which can make an oral history project academically relevant at the same time that it is accessible to the general public, not only through readable books, but also through community projects, exhibits…film, video, the theater. Rhetorical strategies vary significantly, however.

As a mass market title that tells the story of the eponymous and enormously popular “fake news” program, The Daily Show (The Book) necessarily requires a “rhetorical strategy” that speaks to “the general public” and not just “specialists” within the field of oral history. This might at least partially explain why “nowhere within the [book’s] pages will interested oral historians see mention of methodology, recording medium, full transcription, or archival location,” among other things.

As I’ve also mentioned before, the Oral History Association notes that its membership represents “various [academic] disciplines” and includes those from “both inside and outside the academy.” Essential texts such as Ronald Grele’s Envelopes of Sounds: The Art of Oral History (1991); David K. Dunaway and Willa K. Baum’s Oral History: An Interdisciplinary Anthology (1996); Donna M. DeBlasio, Charles F. Ganzert, David H. Mould, Stephen H. Paschen, and Howard L. Sacks’s Catching Stories: A Practical Guide to Oral History (2009); and Elizabeth Miller, Edward Little, and Steven High’s Going Public: The Art of Participatory Practice (2018) also underscore this by including editors and/or contributors who come from a wide variety of disciplines. As such, I think we all need to make a special effort to receive things like The Daily Show (The Book) in good faith, taking care not to be too dismissive of them for not being what they never set out to be in the first place.

All of that said, I do have my own criticisms of Smith’s book, though these have more to do with its content than its form. I also agree strongly with one of Reeves’s major critiques — but more on that later.

First, though, I do want to saw a few things about what I think The Daily Show (The Book) does well. At its very best, Smith’s book — which is much more an oral history of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1999 – 2015) than it is an oral history of either The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn (1996 – 1998) or The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (2015 – the present) — fills in knowledge gaps about the epochal news satire. Sometimes it does this by simply allowing its many narrators to reminisce and really dig in on points in the show’s history that generated a lot of conversation, publicity, and/or gossip. The sheer range of voices heard from on things like the formation of The Daily Show‘s writers union, Stewart’s full-court press on behalf of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, or the much-discussed dustup between Stewart and writer/correspondent Wyatt Cenac, for instance, is remarkable, and adds depth to our understanding of these and other red-letter moments.

Other times, it fills in those knowledge gaps with what we might call “shoptalk” or “inside baseball” stuff. For instance, prior to reading the book, I hadn’t been aware of SnapStream, a company specializing in TV monitoring software. Interviews about The Daily Show‘s collaboration with them to develop tools for monitoring the many news shows the program draws from illuminate just how much work went into simply gathering clips before 2010. “It absolutely changed the way we produce,” supervising producer Pat King tells Smith. “It could take hours to find the clips we wanted, and then it used to take ten or twelve minutes to get a clip into an Avid editor. SnapStream cut our production time down by about 60 or 70 percent.” Executive in charge of production Jill Katz adds: “It turned out to be an incredibly expensive investment, but I really saw this as a way of changing everything that we do and reducing so much of the legwork so we could spend more time being creative” (pg. 260). (As Smith seems to indicate, it’s probably not a coincidence, then, that “experiments” like Stewart and partner-in-crime Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” happened shortly thereafter.)

In addition, the narrators are well-drawn by Smith from the transcripts. As both the show’s leader and primary on-air talent, Stewart comes across the same intelligent, funny, self-effacing presence he does on TV, but also cuts an appropriately complicated and complex figure. Among others, executive producers Rory Albanese and Jen Flanz also emerge as particularly compelling “characters,” due in no small part to the evolution of both their professional roles on the show and personal relationship to one another.

But despite these strengths, The Daily Show (The Book) often feels like something of a vanity project — an opportunity for Stewart, his colleagues, and others to take a victory lap without having to do much in the way of sober, critical reflection.

Consider the ten pages devoted to the aforementioned “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” — the Washington, D.C., rally that Smith explains as “a plea for rationality in an increasingly irrational political and media landscape” (pg. 261). Though we hear about the staff’s initial misgivings, and a tiny bit about the subsequent criticism, the whole event is essentially looked at through rose-tinted glasses. Smith himself even writes that “[Stewart] and Colbert were an excellent fit for the jittery moment in American politics — a moment very much in need of a few laughs and a dose of civility,” and characterizes Stewart’s closing speech as “a welcome, hopeful appeal to Americans’ better nature, and a borderline-prophetic warning that things could get worse if sanity didn’t make a stand” (pg. 265; 268).

In reality, though, there were quite a few of us at the time who felt — and still feel — that the rally was recklessly wrong-headed, and its underlying thesis bunk. Indeed, as Alex Shepard put it in a recent look back at the event for the New Republic:

…From our darker vantage point, what really sticks out is Stewart’s denialism. The backlash to Obama was a terrifying expression of the anxieties — both racial and otherwise — gripping America’s increasingly unhinged conservatives. Bill Maher, of all people, got this. ‘When Jon announced his rally, he said the national conversation was dominated by people on the right who believe Obama’s a socialist and people on the left who believe 9/11’s an inside job,’ Maher said on his show. ‘But I can’t name any Democratic leaders who think 9/11’s an inside job. But Republican leaders who think Obama’s a socialist? All of them.’

This kind of thinking was not limited to Stewart and Colbert or the people holding signs about how political moderation is sexy. It was shared by Democratic leadership, most prominently by Obama himself, who spent the first precious years of his administration mistakenly convinced that he could find common ground with the right. The myth of unity remains a trope in much of the legacy media, while at least two leading candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary are selling themselves as uniters, not dividers.

The idea that the left has enemies who must be roundly defeated remains too gauche for many Democrats. That disdain for political combat is all on display at the Rally to Restore Sanity, but coated with smug condescension: It’s elaborate political theater that nominally appeals to better angels but really signals that liberals are smarter and gentler than conservatives and that, deep down, the rest of the country agrees with them.

That it came from Stewart and Colbert, who were otherwise in the midst of a decade-long hot streak, should have been the real warning. Facing growing right-wing hostility, the best they could offer was patting the backs of 200,000 people who probably would have been better off knocking on doors.

But none of the narrators meaningfully contend with critiques of this sort, and the only criticism that isn’t glibly brushed aside is Salman Rushdie’s complaint that one of the featured musical performers, Yusuf Islam, “had endorsed the fatwa against [him]” (pg. 269).

Smith seems similarly disinterested in interrogating The Daily Show‘s rather queasy “frenemies” status with partisans from across the political divide, including especially the late Senator John McCain. In fact, both he and his widow Cindy are narrators in The Daily Show (The Book). Though the highs and lows of his and the show’s relationship are all recounted by the narrators, their mutual cordiality is never really in doubt — McCain himself boils any perception of fractiousness down to “one bad interview I had with Jon” (pg. 293). One might well ask, then: how biting and/or effective a satire was The Daily Show really if it was able to maintain such a chummy rapport with one of its targets?

In addition, such cutesy media relationships betray what Nima Shirazi and Adam H. Johnson have called “liberals’ obsession with the phantom reasonable Republican,” which is certainly something that has played a role in pulling the political center more and more to the right. Considering that a trusted source of liberal “info-tainment” like The Daily Show tacitly signed off on John McCain — who, among many other sins, cheerled the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; voted to “deprive millions of access to health insurance”; unrepentently used a racist epithet; chose Sarah Palin as his running mate; and callously called for the bombing of Iran — is it really that much of a surprise that we eventually wound up with Donald Trump in the White House? That seems like a question worth asking.

But even those criticisms that might present opportunities for Stewart and company to more easily and constructively fall on their swords — such as the persistent call-outs of The Daily Show (and The Colbert Report) for transphobic (and atypically mean-spirited) jokes — go undiscussed. The only faultfinding here is that which comes from within the inner circle; if there were attempts to cut through the narrators’ groupthink and mythologizing, it’s not apparent in the text. The show’s co-creator and former executive producer Madeleine Smithberg feels the most like a wild card here, expressing opinions that are often out-of-step with the rest, but no one seems caught off-guard by anything she has to say either.

Ultimately, I think Reeves is exactly right when he suggests that The Daily Show (The Book) exists principally to “evoke nostalgia”; it’s a work of “oral history as journalism” designed to give fans of the show the warm fuzzies. If that’s what you’re after, there’s a very high probability that you will love Smith’s book. But if you’re looking to read an unsentimental and unsparing document of the program and its cultural impact, you will want to wait for another book, a significantly revised new edition, or a companion volume.

And that — with apologies to Messrs. Stewart and Reeves — is my moment of Zen.

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