This Week's Show •

Documenting Democracy: Fred Wiseman’s ‘City Hall’

What Fred Wiseman found in Boston City Hall is not what he was looking for.  The master of documentary film is famous for his almost innocent camera eye that unlocks visual drama in big institutions ...

What Fred Wiseman found in Boston City Hall is not what he was looking for.  The master of documentary film is famous for his almost innocent camera eye that unlocks visual drama in big institutions — the New York Public Library, the Paris Opera, or in his early days: Bridgewater State Mental Hospital in 1960s Massachusetts. So why not finally get inside the modern brick and concrete fortress of official life in his hometown, and see what’s going on in the faces, the meeting rooms, the tone of voice in local affairs.  What he found was simpler than all that.  It was the un-Trump in the un-Washington. An almost astonishing civility, good humor, what looks like good faith in the hundreds of negotiations every day that keep a community going, and growing.

Fred Wiseman shot his film “City Hall” in Boston toward the end of 2018—before COVID, before the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, before the vote that elected Joe Biden president.  It was 10 weeks in the shooting in the nooks and crannies of city services. Then it was 10 months in the alchemy of editing and shaping what the legendary Wiseman eye has seen. It is now a four-and-a-half hour movie — between limited release in theaters and national exposure on public television.  And already it is a field day for reviewers far and wide: an artist’s impression of local politics and public conversation that seem to have turned upside down and are not settled yet.  To my eye and ear, Fred Wiseman’s “City Hall” feels like a classic that dates itself before the flood, so to speak, but is not at all frozen in time.

This hour, we’re in conversation with Fred Wiseman, speaking to us from Paris, where he distilled hundreds of hours of film into a movie. Lydia Edwards, city councilor from East Boston, also joins us.

Featured image by Adrien Toubiana, courtesy of Zipporah Films. The full Open Source panel event at City Hall, excerpted in this hour, can be found here. Our 2018 conversation with Fred Wiseman can be found at this link.

Podcast • November 12, 2020

Election Disconnection

Call it a four-year try-out we’ve just been through of strong-man, one-man politics.  The election put it to a vote, and the country said: enough for now, but not quite No. The USA didn’t so much ...

Call it a four-year try-out we’ve just been through of strong-man, one-man politics.  The election put it to a vote, and the country said: enough for now, but not quite No. The USA didn’t so much split down the middle as declare itself two states, of mind and geography, red and blue, or maybe three: Atlantic, Pacific and Farmland, with the next round in doubt. We feel saved, in some sense, but not cured or redeemed.

So we do what you do: enlist the soundest of our friends and keep talking. With people like Citizen Ralph Nader; Masha Gessen with a Russian twist, Green New Dealer Saikat Chakrabarti; historian Rick Perlstein; letter-writer Heather Cox Richardson, the noisy Scotsman Mark Blyth; Chris Hedges, preaching doom; and the only pundit we truly love, the cranky Caribbean-American patriot Amber.

You thought a presidential election could be an exit ramp out of polluted stuck traffic and already you know we’re in the same old breakdown lane — with ingenious fresh touches of absurdity. President Trump lost the popular vote and the electoral college, prompting his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to assure us this week that we are in a peaceful transition to a second Trump administration. What can you do in the breakdown lane but call out for help or at least for company, or judgment with a jolt? And that’s what we’re doing this hour with the Open Source family of historians, preachers, politicians old and young, foreign and domestic.

This Week's Show •

The Many Faces of Ferrante

This is a rerun, prompted by the HBO series My Brilliant Friend, based on the  “Neapolitan Novels” of Elena Ferrante. Ferrante’s identity remains beguilingly unknown, but she has put so much of her life and ...

This is a rerun, prompted by the HBO series My Brilliant Friend, based on the  “Neapolitan Novels” of Elena Ferrante.

Ferrante’s identity remains beguilingly unknown, but she has put so much of her life and world in this masterwork that we’re not going to dwell on that part of the mystery.

Instead we’ll count the many faces of her novels. From the outside, the books look innocuous enough: their covers are airbrushed photo collages of mothers, daughters, and girls in Mediterranean scenes.

four-books

But deep down they are roiling, and white-hot: with male violence, women’s resistance, pleasure, trespass, and loss. Think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” rewritten into a feminist epic.

Ferrante pushes the story over a long roller-coaster arc, and it can be as gripping as soap operas, HBO, or Harry Potter and—at moments—as deep and humane as Proust.

GettyImages-482275665

A few of the things these books are doing:

The psychology of a friendship.

The Proustian gene shows itself from the very beginning of the novels: when Elena Greco—an aging, successful writer from Naples—hears that her best friend Raffaella Cerullo, whom she calls “Lila,” has disappeared from her home.

Greco decides to set down their entire friendship on the page: every meaningful moment, from school competition through teenage cruelties, weddings, vacations, and shared pregnancies.

All the while Elena and Lila become closer than close—almost interdependent in a sometimes tense and jealous pairing. The joy of the book comes from standings inside the two friends’ field of influence: where does one friend end and the other begin? Who would they be without one another?

Italian-donne

20th-century feminism, a life story.

Our guest Dayna Tortorici, co-editor of n+1, reads Ferrante’s whole body of work—she wrote shorter novels before the “Neapolitan” series—as a sensitive portrayal of women’s power in practice and across history.

Not as high-falutin theory, but almost as gossip:

Ferrante’s novels animate these ideas with a generous clarity. In her work, you can see how the mother-daughter paradigm operates in all relationships between women without reducing them to cardboard… Ferrante has given intellectual and literary women an invaluable gift: books that speak to them in a language their mothers can understand.

By the end, Ferrante’s two brilliant heroines have clearly come a long way from the fates of their mothers, eaten up by abusive husbands and the fatigue of motherhood. But also not as far as we might have hoped.

A dark theory of history.

That leads to the most shocking thing the novels do: they become political and philosophical; right when you think Ferrante will spill all her gossip or tie up her threads, she stops short.

It begins in postwar Naples, a world of poverty and danger:

Our world was like full of words that killed: croup, tetanus, typhus, gas, war, lathe, rubble, work, bombardment, bomb, tuberculosis, infection. With these words and those years I bring back the many fears that accompanied me all my life.

It ends in a Naples that has been “developed,” put through the wringer of fifty years: Communist-Fascist street wars, organized crime, heroin, disaster,  and financial crash.

The narrator Elena Greco sounds like a radical philosopher when she holds forth on the lessons of her hometown in the final volume:

Naples was the great European metropolis where faith in technology, in science, in economic development, in the kindness of nature, in history that leads of necessity to improvement, in democracy, was revealed, most clearly and far in advance, to be completely without foundation.

To be born in that city— I went so far as to write once, thinking not of myself but of Lila’s pessimism— is useful for only one thing: to have always known, almost instinctively, what today, with endless fine distinctions, everyone is beginning to claim: that the dream of unlimited progress is in reality a nightmare of savagery and death.

The radical politics failed; the violence rattled on. What remained constant was the interpersonal enchantment of two women, two wills, in a hostile place.

Sabine Weiss, A Street in Naples

Sabine Weiss, “A Street in Naples”

By the way, Michael Reynolds, the (English) publisher of Ferrante’s novels, spoke to us about the Ferrante phenomenon this week in prep for our show. You can listen to an excerpt of our conversation here:

Have you read Elena Ferrante? Leave a comment below, and please tune into the show.

Podcast • September 30, 2019

The CIA’s Covert Chemist

We’re at home with Stephen Kinzer, the longtime reporter of secret U.S. operations in books like Overthrow and All the Shah’s Men. In a new book, Poisoner in Chief, Kinzer looks at a scientist named Sidney Gottlieb and the notorious “mind ...

We’re at home with Stephen Kinzer, the longtime reporter of secret U.S. operations in books like Overthrow and All the Shah’s Men. In a new book, Poisoner in Chief, Kinzer looks at a scientist named Sidney Gottlieb and the notorious “mind control” CIA program he led, MK-ULTRA.

Kinzer’s portrait induces the feeling of a bad trip: We’ve been to a completely different zone we know is there, but we can’t believe. He’s introducing us to the man who brought LSD into this world. Gottlieb’s experiments may have been responsible in part for Billie Holiday’s death, and putting Whitey Bulger on a two-year LSD regimen. At the CIA, Gottlieb was involved with assassination attempts of Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba. There are resonances of James Bond and Doctor Strangelove. Or maybe Josef Mengele.

Stephen Kinzer

“This is the first time I’ve been shocked by something I discovered in writing a book. I’m still getting over my shock from the process of learning who this Sidney Gottlieb was,” Kinzer told us. “I now conclude he was the most powerful unknown American of the twentieth century.”

You can catch our last episode with Kinzer, “America’s Empire State of Mind,” here.

And if you can, give us a tip over on Patreon—and thanks!

Photo illustration by Conor Gillies, photo courtesy of the author.

Podcast • April 17, 2018

Barbara Ehrenreich on the Cult of Wellness

This is an unlocked, bonus segment of Open Source. You can hear weekly conversations and extended interviews like this one by subscribing and supporting our work on Patreon. In her new book, Natural Causes: An ...

This is an unlocked, bonus segment of Open Source. You can hear weekly conversations and extended interviews like this one by subscribing and supporting our work on Patreon.

In her new book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, the veteran reporter Barbara Ehrenreich takes aim at a host of maladies in the world of modern medicine: bloated hospital and insurance industries, Silicon Valley charlatans preaching everlasting life, and especially wellness and self-help gurus. Against the fitness entrepreneurs and “positive thinkers,” Ehrenreich (who has a PhD in cellular immunology) is putting forward a “dystopian view of the body.” She writes: “The body is not a smooth-running machine in which each part obediently performs its tasks for the benefit of the common good. It is at best a confederation of parts—cells, tissues, even thought patterns—that may seek to advance their own agendas, whether or not they are destructive of the whole.”

Ehrenreich argues that a delusion of Control pervades the culture, and good or bad health is increasingly pinned on “individual responsbility.” Dying is not a crime, she says, neither a sign of weakness. In conversation here, she’s expanding on these themes, as well as the ironies of “successful aging,” and what exactly is wrong with the Ray Kurzweil view of the human body.

Produced by Homa Sarabi-Daunais and Conor Gillies. Photo by Reed Young for The Guardian, 2014.

Podcast • January 4, 2018

Mark Blyth’s State of the Union

The people’s economist Mark Blyth is a perpetual fan favorite for Open Source listeners. The Brown University professor, who never left behind his working-class Scottish roots, brings a vernacular wisdom and wit to his deep ...

The people’s economist Mark Blyth is a perpetual fan favorite for Open Source listeners. The Brown University professor, who never left behind his working-class Scottish roots, brings a vernacular wisdom and wit to his deep analysis of inequality, austerity, and popular unrest. He also often sees what the rest of us tend to miss. In 2016, he predicted both of the year’s major upset victories: the American election of Donald J. Trump as well the British vote for Brexit. You can listen to our own shell-shocked phone call with Blyth just after the Brexit vote here:

For all the gritty and scandalous detail in both scenes, he’ll keep telling you: it’s a malady in the money system, a global tsunami of populist resentment that’s driving events.  And furthermore: at the start of 2018, that populism is still popular. Today, we couldn’t imagine a better guest to help us ring in this topsy-turvy new year.

So what’s the matter with the world today, according to Mark Blyth? He sees at least two major issues: class warfare and intergenerational struggle. The former problem is, in some ways, an old story—one which our party leaders have largely ignored for over the last three decades. The rhetoric of resurgent populism and nationalism are really just responses to deepening inequality in a rapidly globalizing world, as Blyth explains:

Has politics fundamentally changed because of Trump? No. Politics fundamentally changed because the people in charge basically ignored millions of Americans and what was happening to their standard of living their communities what was happening to the life chances and opportunities. [The people in charge] basically lived on the coasts and said to each other, “Gee isn’t everything swell?” And they got a really surprise when about 40 million of them said actually no we don’t like what you’re doing.  … meanwhile, our “elites”— whether it’s Tony Blair, whether it’s the Clintons, or whoever has the means thinks “everything’s great, the new global economy! We’re all doing fabulous!” But you’re only doing fabulous because you only talk to each other. You only live in half a dozen places and you all have tons of cash so if you travel internationally everybody’s like you. You’re not a nationalist, you don’t have a national or local identity, you’re rich enough to be a global cosmopolitan and you can enjoy all of the fruits of globalization, but not everybody else can. Put that all that together and it’s self-explanatory.

The second major issue Blyth lays out is the hoarding of wealth by those who grew up and entered the work force during the so-called “golden age” of economic prosperity in America. So, if you’re looking for someone to blame, Blyth says, blame the boomers:

They’re not  awful in the sense that they are awful people. They’re just following the incentives mean laid out to them in a free market system to accumulate as much assets as possible and leave it to their kids which means they hate inheritance taxes they want to pay a little marginal rates and they continually vote down things like bonds for schools bonds for subways Boston et cetera et cetera. So they’re acting in a completely understandable way which for them is individually rational but it’s just really crap for everybody else who come in behind them who can’t accumulate assets in the same way precisely because they’ve done that.

If you’re still eager to hear more from Mark, you can search the archives here on our site and find more than a dozen conversations with the scotsman stretching back to 2008. As always, make sure to drop us a note in the comments section below.

Podcast • December 21, 2017

American Socrates: The Life and Mind of Noam Chomsky (rebroadcast)

Noam Chomsky for 50 years has been America’s Socrates, our public pest with questions that sting … not the city-square of Athens but a vast global village in pain and now, it seems, in danger. ...

Noam Chomsky for 50 years has been America’s Socrates, our public pest with questions that sting … not the city-square of Athens but a vast global village in pain and now, it seems, in danger. This holiday season, we’re rerunning our conversation with him.

The world in trouble today still beats a path to Noam Chomsky’s door, if only because he’s been forthright for so long about a whirlwind coming.  Not that the world quite knows what do with Noam Chomsky’s warnings of disaster in the making. Remember the famous faltering of the patrician TV host William F. Buckley Jr., meeting Chomsky’s icy anger about the war in Vietnam, in 1969.

It’s a strange thing about Noam Chomsky: the New York Times calls him ‘arguably’ the most important public thinker alive, though the paper seldom quotes him, or argues with him, and giant pop media stars on network television almost never do. And yet the man is universally famous and revered in his 89th year: he’s the scientist who taught us to think of human language as something embedded in our biology, not a social acquisition; he’s the humanist who railed against the Vietnam war and other projections of American power, on moral grounds first, ahead of practical considerations.  He remains a rock-star on college campuses, here and abroad; yet he’s still an alien in the places where policy gets made.  On his home ground at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is a notably accessible old professor who answers his email and receives visitors like us with a twinkle.  

Last week, we visited Chomsky with an open ended mission in mind: We were looking for a non-standard account of our recent history from a man known for telling the truth. We’d written him that we wanted to hear not what he thinks, but how. He’d  written back that hard work and an open mind have a lot to do with it, also, in his words, a “Socratic-style willingness to ask whether conventional doctrines are justified.”

In the opening moments of our conversation, recorded and captured in the video below, Chomsky lays out a succinct demonstration of his method that might be applied to our present-day political crisis:

 “I think the fate of the species depends on it because, remember, it’s not just inequality, stagnation. It’s terminal disaster. We have constructed a perfect storm. That should be the screaming headlines every day. Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them. That’s our pincers. That’s what we face, and if that problem isn’t solved we’re done with.”

Over the years Noam Chomsky has defended his heavyweight debating title against all comers: YouTube has him in the ring with Michel Foucault on the nature of human nature; with Alan Dershowitz on Israel; with John Silber on Central America. But looking beyond his intellectual pugilism, Chomsky’s life might be defined as much by his allies as his enemies.

One of Chomsky’s longest running partnerships is with his assistant, Bev Stohl, who serves as the gatekeeper in and out of Chomsky world at MIT. She’s a sprightly writer and wit who’s learned over most of two decades that a lot of laughter helps in living with genius. We caught up with Bev and her office pup Roxy this week.

Another critical alliance comes from Robert Barksy, the author of two admiring, critical books—Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent and  The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory TowerAs an admirer and biographer of Chomsky, Barsky helps us fill in the story of how NC became the most widely cited author and innovator in the literature of contemporary science as well as a by-word for rational humanism.

Our hour only is only the beginning of the Noam story though. For more, read our friend George Scialabba‘s many excellent essays on Chomsky—a man he ranks among his triumvirate intellectual heroes (along with Christopher Lasch and Richard Rorty). Here’s a good place to start for beginners.

Also, be sure to check out the Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance‘s musical tribute “Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution” which puts the linguist in a class of musical as well as political and literary dissidents—Dr. John, James Brown, and Willie Nelson as well as Jean-Paul Sartre, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Che Guevara.

Finally, watch these two bite-sized bits of Noam discussing two giant-sized philosophers, Bertrand Russell and Adam Smith.

Also, read a full transcript of the show on Medium.

Extra Credit Assignment from Prof. Barsky

“For brief introductions to the incredibly complex world that Chomsky describes, it might be worth watching a few videos. There is an incredibly important one that was done years ago on the BBC that offers a one hour summary of the basic philosophical tenants that underwrites his thought, and the interviewer is a very brilliant English philosopher. I have had occasion to talk about this interview with Noam and he agreed, and bemoaned that such programs are no longer easily found.
 The other incredibly important source to understand the generation preceding Noam, is the remarkable film by Joseph Dorman called Arguing the World. References made in this film to a tiny Jewish Zionist organization that existed from 1928 to 1943, started at Harvard, that set forth some crucial ideas that were to both reflect and guide the work of Chomsky’s teacher, Zellig Harris (I talk about this at length in my book about Harris). The group is called Avukah , and I have been working on a film and book about it for many years. Joseph’s film is a model for what I’m trying to do, and many of the people mentioned herein have direct or indirect influence on Noam’s thinking.”

Podcast • October 3, 2017

Karl Ove Knausgaard on Art and Loneliness

Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote a 6-volume selfie that a lot of us can’t stop reading. My Struggle he called it, looking inward and talking to himself for thousands of pages. Autumn, his new book, is ...

Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote a 6-volume selfie that a lot of us can’t stop reading. My Struggle he called it, looking inward and talking to himself for thousands of pages. Autumn, his new book, is a relief for him and us: It looks outward, in short pieces, letters to a new daughter before she was born, about Stubble Fields, Telephones, Wellington boots, chimneys, the painter Vincent Van Gogh. You name it, he’ll write it, a theme a day as in the college course we wish we’d taken.

In conversation it’s not one guy introspecting, it’s two guys groping for a connection, sitting in the back of my house in Boston for most of an hour in the storm season of 2017. What’s the difference, I’m asking, between his narcissism and President Trump’s?

We’re jumping from Russian novels to gene editing to the experience of loneliness, and I’m finding him wide open to engagement. He’s generous, transparent, in effect: innocent. Here’s an excerpt of the interview below:

Karl Ove Knausgaard: The books I’d been writing before were so introspective and so analytic and so self-analyzing. That’s very much about relations, very much about psychology, and it’s basically all about the interior life. And this book is the opposite. I’m looking at something outside of myself, and it is the things themselves that should be in the center, basically yes removed from myself. But from thing to me was to see what happens if you write, you know in your own style personally, about something objective that happens with an encyclopedia thought of the world, you know. Everything becomes, in the end, very personal anyway somehow. It’s impossible to remove yourself. You never think of quality of writing in an encyclopedic text, you know, in a dictionary. It’s just like it’s a matter of fact: this is the world. But what you discover when you write about it that’s just not true. The objective world just doesn’t exist. It’s all a relationship between me and the world and you and the world. There is nothing else.

Christopher Lydon: So why get out of yourself after so long inside? Was it for relief?

KOK: Yeah, very much a relief. It was joyful to write this book, and it wasn’t joyful to write My Struggle, as my previous book was called. But a joyful part is, you know, because I am writing about joyful things. I’m writing about being alive in this world, which is joyful. We do forget it all the time, but it is. And this book is mainly set in a garden and a house, and that’s it. That’s where the world is. I mean, even when there are hurricanes and, you know, climate change and all the wars and hunger and all of this, this is still true. It does exist.

Video: On Van Gogh and the Life of an Artist


Video by Zach Goldhammer. Illustrations by Susan Coyne.

This Week's Show •

Return of the Prophet: Baldwin in the 21st Century

James Baldwin was the prophetic voice of an era that isn’t over. Fifty years ago, he was a young, bug-eyed man from Harlem who wrote, in essays and novels, his own version of the civil-rights movement. Now his words ...

James Baldwin was the prophetic voice of an era that isn’t over. Fifty years ago, he was a young, bug-eyed man from Harlem who wrote, in essays and novels, his own version of the civil-rights movement. Now his words have become the rallying cries for a new rising generation—in film, in music, and in the press.

Raoul Peck, the Haitian-born director of the Oscar-nominated Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, sees Baldwin as a mirror on American life:

He went really deep into what the society is, you know, and he was the only one who was able to formulate it in a way that a scholar of course would understand it but also the man in the streets would understand it in a way where he could be very critical to the white liberal but without pushing them away. But he found a way to put every one of us, whether black or white, in front of the reality. He put a mirror in front of us in a way that you can’t look away.

Teju Cole views the Baldwin of today as a master aphorist: a pithy prophet well-suited to the twitter age and “the go-to quote factory of those who are woke”. On a deeper level, Cole finds kinship in Baldwin’s transnational sense of self.  Cole guides us through his own pilgrimage to Leukerbad, Switzerland—the remote town where Baldwin composed his seminal essay “Stranger in the Village”:

The essay I ended up writing about this journey to Leukerbad became also a kind of exercise in Baldwinian form … I deeply love the essay that he wrote about being there, and in my essay, which I call “Black Body,” I wanted to think about what it meant to inhabit somebody else’s space. I was inhabiting his space and, in a sense in the essay, I was inhabiting his prose style. … it was conscious to allow that to happen, to allow the visceral effect of being there as he was there, walking the streets as he walked the streets, to let all of that come through and still have it be analytical.

Cornel West reminds us of Baldwin’s unpopularity, and his nagging truth-telling habit that alienated him, in later years, from the white liberal media professional who first popularized his work, as well as from the radical black nationalists. But for Brother West, this outsider truth-teller “was really a kind of Democratic saint, if you define a saint as a sinner who looks at the world through the lens of the heart.”

“He was heartbroken.” Cornel says, “America broke his heart, day in and day out.”

And Ed Pavlic, author of Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listener, hears in Baldwin’s words echoes of the black musicians Baldwin dearly loved – Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson et al. Above all else though, Pavlic reminds us of Baldwin’s deep love for Ray Charles, highlighting the concert Baldwin and Charles organized together at Carnegie Hall as part of the 1973 Newport Folk Festival.

 

Illustrations by Susan Coyne. This program was originally broadcast February 2017.

 

 

This Week's Show •

Lessons from Nixonland

Welcome back to Nixonland: After four decades, the Oval Office is once again the seat of empire, occupied by a paranoid pilot hellbent on an unremittingly personal fight, and no holds are barred. Between US Presidents ...

Welcome back to Nixonland: After four decades, the Oval Office is once again the seat of empire, occupied by a paranoid pilot hellbent on an unremittingly personal fight, and no holds are barred.

Between US Presidents 37 and 45, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, the links of language and temperament are getting uncannily close—their political predicaments, too. Even beyond the Saturday Night Massacre parallels and the rising calls for impeachment, there are other points of comparisons.

Both Trump and Nixon, for instance, refer to their stalwart base using the same title: the silent majority. Both presidents also share a certain adversarial view of the political press. Trump has called the media his opposition.  Nixon made them his enemies.  For the benefit of Henry Kissinger and others on his staff, Nixon—inadvertently taping himself—turned his sentiments into a sort of prose poem:

The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The establishment is the enemy
The professors are the enemy
The professors are the enemy
Write that on a blackboard 100 times
And never forget it….
To understand how and why the ambient fears of the Nixon presidential years are now resurfacing in the Trump White House, we talk to the man who might be the missing link: Patrick J. Buchanan. Buchanan is one man who’s not just looking at a movie he’s seen before. He was, after all, a major player in the prequel: writing some of Richard Nixon’s most famous fighting lines. You could say he anticipated the movie playing now in his own right-wing populist “America First” presidential campaigns in the 90s and then 2000—first as a Republican, then as an independent.
John Aloysius Farrell, the esteemed biographer of Tip O’Neill in the Congress, and Clarence Darrow in the courtroom, joins us. He’s spiced up the Nixon legend in a big one-volume life full of fresh letters and tapes and lines we’d almost forgottento David Frost, famously, when he spelled out the ultimate executive privilege: “When the president does it,” Nixon said, “that means that it is not illegal.” Beverly Gage—historian at Yale working on a new biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the founding G-man of the FBI—discusses another set of parallels: from Nixon-Hoover to Trump-Comey. She tells a broader story about the culture of an institution that has always chafed against the presidential leash. Glenn Greenwald—co-founder of The Intercept and one of the main journalists who broke the Snowden story—draws out the parallels between Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers and today’s Wikileakers, including Snowden and recently released Chelsea Manning. We’re asking Glenn, of the latest flurry of Trump scandals: “Do you ever feel like we’re in a game of distraction—to keep our eyes off the ball?”
While he may not have admitted to being a crook, President Richard Nixon would have certainly admitted to being a cinephile.  During his abbreviated time in office, he viewed an astonishing 528 films.  In this short essay film, Boston Globe film critic Mary Feeney explores Richard Nixon’s devoted relationship to the movies.