Don DeLillo's 'Falling Man'
Ever since word got out that Don DeLillo was working on a novel about Sept. 11, anticipation has been building. After all, DeLillo has claimed plots and conspiracies as his literary subject. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of DeLillo's new novel, Falling Man.
Other segments from the episode on May 16, 2007
DATE May 16, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Boston Globe
Charlie Savage on Pat Roberton's Regent University and its
current propensity for placing graduates in the Justice Department
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Charlie Savage, is the legal
correspondent for The Boston Globe. He's been reporting on changes in the
Justice Department under the Bush administration and writing about the
investigation into the firings of nine US attorneys. The positions are
supposed to be nonpartisan appointments. The Bush administration says the
attorneys were fired for performance reasons, but Congress is investigating
whether the firings were politically motivated so that the attorneys could be
replaced by people more in sync with the Bush administration.
Savage won a Pulitzer Prize last month for his articles on President Bush's
record-setting use of presidential signing statements, which have allowed him
to constitutionally challenge new laws and bypass them without having to issue
a veto. Savage is now completing a book focusing on the expansion of
executive powers under the Bush administration. It will be published in
Charlie Savage, welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on that
Mr. CHARLIE SAVAGE: Thank you very much.
GROSS: You recently wrote a story on the Regent University School of Law.
This was a school that was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. How does
Regent connect to the larger story of changes in the Justice Department and
the firing and replacing of US attorneys?
Mr. SAVAGE: Regent University School of Law connects to the US attorney
firings and replacement affair in two ways. The first way is through the
person of Monica Goodling, the former Justice Department liaison to the White
House who played a central role in helping evaluate which US attorneys ought
to be fired and who they ought to be replaced with, and who was in regular
communication with the White House, notably the office of Karl Rove, during
this process. She later resigned.
The second way in which Regent University connects to the scandal is in its
unusual success in placing graduates, both of the law school and of the larger
university, in government jobs of influence. Under the Bush administration,
this university as a whole has placed at least 150 of its graduates into
government jobs, according to the university itself. And that's interesting
because Regent itself is a very new university. It's a school that is still
struggling to build an academic reputation. Its law school is ranked as a
tier four school by U.S. News & World Report, which is the lowest possible
score, and it's not the kind of place that you would normally suspect that
many, many, many graduates would find success at the upper reaches.
Part of the US attorney hiring and firing affair has been this larger question
of--accusations of politicization at the Justice Department. That is to say,
of hiring changes over the last six or seven years under the Bush
administration, which critics charge have placed ideology and partisan
credentials above qualifications and credentials when deciding who should be
filling these powerful positions of government responsibility.
GROSS: Have people raised questions about whether Monica Goodling was
qualified for her position in the Justice Department or whether it seemed that
she was hired to promote a certain agenda?
Mr. SAVAGE: Yes. One of the themes of the controversy over the last few
months has been charges and accusations by Democrats and other critics of what
has happened in the Justice Department along the lines that people who are not
qualified for the jobs, they say, are being given positions of great
responsibility because they have the right ideology, under the
administration's view, if not the level of experience or the credentials. And
so at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, for example, Senator
Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a former US attorney himself, asked the
question, `Should we be concerned about the experience level of the people who
are making these very important decisions about hiring and firing US
attorneys?' Neither Monica Goodling nor Kyle Sampson, the former chief of
staff to Alberto Gonzales, who was also a leader in this effort, had
significant prosecutorial experience. And in the case of Monica Goodling, as
well, she came from a law school which did not give her the usual credential
one would have for a high-ranking job in the Justice Department.
GROSS: You've written about some of the hiring practices that were changed
under the Bush administration that relate to the scandal surrounding the
firing and replacing of US attorneys, and this goes back to 2002 under
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who changed some long-standing rules for
hiring lawyers to fill vacancies in the ranks. How did he change the rules in
Mr. SAVAGE: Prior to 2002, political appointees had much less control over
who would be hired to fill a vacancy in the career ranks of the Justice
Department, and in the civil rights division, for example, where voting rights
laws are enforced, committees of veteran career attorneys would screen
applicants and conduct interviews and essentially decide who to hire when
there was a vacancy. Political appointees had to sign off on their
recommendation, but they always accepted it under both Republican and
After 2002, when Attorney General Ashcroft made this change, the career hiring
committees were disbanded and political appointees did the entire hiring
process from start to finish, and this caused some dramatic changes in the
profile of who was being hired to enforce laws, especially civil rights laws.
And it connects to the US attorney scandal especially through the voting
rights section of the civil rights division, because in the beginning of 2003,
a lawyer named Bradley Schlozman was given the position of being the political
appointee who oversaw the voting rights section, along with a few others. And
career officials from that section say that he took an unusual interest in
hiring decisions and just basically took over control of the whole process,
taking advantage of this new policy that Attorney General Ashcroft had put
And under Mr. Schlozman, the profile of attorneys who were being hired to
enforce voting rights laws in order to protect minorities shifted
dramatically. Prior experience in civil rights fell. Half of the lawyers
that he hired listed the Federal Society on their resumes or were members of
the Republican National Lawyers Association, and, according to McClatchy
newspapers, he was also telling applicants to leave such markers off of their
resumes in order to get hired, so the numbers may be even higher than that.
In addition, the quality of the law school from which the hires were coming
plunged in the two years before Mr. Schlozman took over and the policy was
changed. The average law school ranking, according to U.S. News & World
Report, was 15 for new hires to that section. In the three years after he
took over hiring, it dropped to 65 on average. Then, in March of 2006, Mr.
Schlozman was moved out of the voting rights section and installed in western
Missouri as the first new replacement US attorney. And so his record in
voting rights law in the three years before that change connects to the US
attorneys firing scandal, both because he was the first replacement attorney
and because we know that vote fraud prosecutions were a major part of the
motivation behind the replacements; that is to say, the desire on the part of
Karl Rove to bring more voter fraud investigations against Democrats in
GROSS: Another part of the story that you've written about is how, under
Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department tried to find ways to
replace US attorneys without having them go through Senate confirmation. And
they managed to change the rules on that. How?
Mr. SAVAGE: Well, the main aspect of this is that when the USA Patriot Act
was re-authorized finally in March of 2006 after a long fight, there had been
slipped into it by a Republican staffer in the drafting of the bill at the
request of the Justice Department a then-unnoticed provision that gave the
attorney general the power to permanently replace US attorneys without Senate
confirmation, and that was a piece of the puzzle. E-mails and such have
shown--that have since been released by the department--as far as enabling
them to put people into US attorney positions who would not otherwise be
likely to survive vetting by the Senate, notably, in Arkansas, Tim Griffin,
who is an aide to Karl Rove and an opposition researcher for the Republican
National Committee, who had no support from the local senators, not the type
of person who would normally become a US attorney had he had to go through
And what you referred to under Attorney General Ashcroft is--it's sort of
unknown how this, what I'm about to talk to you connects to this, but I found
an interesting memo from the Office of Legal Counsel a couple of years
earlier, I think in 2003, in which there was an early brainstorming going on
about how to replace US attorneys without Senate confirmation. Or that is to
say, how long they could put a replacement US attorney in without having to
worry about Senate confirmation, because under the rules as they then existed,
prior to the Patriot Act change, they could only do so for 120 days, but they
had figured out a creative way to call someone first in interim, and then in
acting US attorney and get nearly a year of US attorney service out of them
without any Senate vetting. It's unknown, however, to me, at least, whether
that early brainstorming connects in any way to what followed a couple years
GROSS: Now, the thing that was slipped into the re-authorization of the
Patriot Act that said that these replacement attorneys would not require
Senate confirmation, do you think that most of the senators and congressmen
who voted for this bill realized that that was in there?
Mr. SAVAGE: No senator or member of Congress has stepped forward to say that
they knew that was in there, and all of them who have spoken about it have
said they did not know it was there, and both chambers have since, in
overwhelmingly bipartisan votes, voted to repeal that change. The bill has
not become law yet because it's still in conference committee, but it's clear
that Congress as a whole, without regard to party, is outraged that that
GROSS: The larger question here is: Has the Bush administration consciously
tried to make the staff of the Justice Department and the US attorneys fit the
political agenda of the Bush administration, even in positions that are
supposed to be politically nonpartisan? You have been doing research into
this question in various areas. One of the areas was the civil rights
division of the Justice Department, in which you found evidence that not only
was the staff changing but the agenda was changing, too. Would you just sum
up that for us?
Mr. SAVAGE: Certainly. Last year I used the Freedom of Information Act to
obtain the resumes of successful hires to the civil rights division over the
last six years in three sections, and what I found was that, starting in 2003,
after this change in procedures had gone through, giving political appointees
greater control of who would be hired, the profile of the attorneys being
hired changed dramatically. They were much less likely to have prior
experience in traditional civil rights enforcement. To the extent that they
did have that experience, it was just as often people who had been fighting
against traditional civil rights enforcement; that is to say, defending
companies and municipalities against discrimination lawsuits and so forth.
And they were much more likely to have very conservative credentials, such as
membership in the Federal Society, the Republican National Lawyers
Association, Christian activist groups.
And along with that change, the focus on the civil rights group has also been
shifting. They've been putting more resources into religions discrimination
lawsuits, especially defending Christians against religious discrimination.
They've been putting less emphasis on what used to be the bread and butter of
the division, which would be large lawsuits alleging systematic discrimination
GROSS: Is there any way of knowing how permanent the hiring changes in the
Justice Department will be?
Mr. SAVAGE: Well, this is interesting. Just a few weeks ago, the Justice
Department announced internally that they were going back to the old way of
doing hiring--in the civil rights division, at least. Which is to say they
were now going to have committees of career staffers once again screen
applications and recommending whom to hire. However, when one talks to the
numerous, in some cases the 30-year veterans of these divisions that have all
sort of fled in the last few years, taken buyouts, quit, and otherwise been
driven out, they are skeptical about whether this actually means that
everything got rolled back. Because the career ranks are different today than
they were in 2001. You know, any of the long-standing traditional career
civil rights lawyers have left and they've been replaced already with very
conservative lawyers. And so a career-hiring committee made up of Federal
Society members is not going to produce, they say, a remarkably different
result than what we've seen with the, technically, political appointees the
last few years.
GROSS: My guest is Charlie Savage, legal correspondent for The Boston Globe.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Charlie Savage, legal correspondent for The Boston Globe.
Last month he won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Recently, he's
been writing about changes in the Justice Department under the Bush
administration, including the firings of nine US attorneys.
Let me get back to Regent University and the Regent University Law School
founded by Pat Robertson. There's a very specifically Christian mission to
the teaching. For instance, what's the mission at the law school?
Mr. SAVAGE: Well, the law school, like the whole university, shares as its
motto "Christian Leadership to Change the World." When Pat Robertson founded
this school, which was originally the Christian Broadcasting Network School,
and shares a campus with his televangelist studios, he had the idea of wanting
an institution where Christian activists could come and study to take up
positions of responsibility and influence in the world, where they would be
able to spread Christian values, biblical values, as they understood them, and
try to change society in those places where they believed that secular law
deviated from God's law.
GROSS: You spent time there for one of your stories. What do you find
interesting about the university now and the connections that it has with the
Mr. SAVAGE: Well, Regent University itself has a brag on their Web site,
that they, though they are a small and young school, have 150 alumni serving
in the Bush administration, and that is a remarkably large number. Yes, I did
go down and spend a day at Regent and I talked to a lot of students and
professors and the dean, who I guess you're going to have on your show. I
thought it was a fascinating day.
There's a number of interesting things you can say about Regent, one of which
is, though it has been much ridiculed in recent months, in part because of its
very low ranking in the U.S. News polls and other things, it's actually
getting much better. They've put a huge amount of money into recruiting
higher-qualified students in recent years, and they've overhauled their
curriculum, and they've started to win national law student competitions,
which normally are won by Ivy Leaguers, and they're really a school that's on
the rise. And so whatever else you may think about them, I think it's an
error not to take them seriously and their graduates seriously.
Now, I mean that especially about the students that are there now, because the
students who were there in the '90s, before all these changes were made,
really struggled. And I think the wake up call, Dean Brown told me, to make
these changes was when the majority of their students couldn't pass the bar
exam in 1999, which was the year that Monica Goodling graduated from Regent.
I also find it interesting just to sit in on their classes. They open each
class with a 10-minute devotional prayer or sermon, sometimes led by students,
sometimes lead by professors, and then they go in and they have what is
essentially a regular law class, especially in those areas in which there's
not really much to say religiously about what's happening, such as, you know,
standards of evidence in criminal law and so forth.
On the other hand, I also sat through a constitutional law class in which the
subject was substantive due process, especially as it related to laws that
used to ban interracial marriage and were struck down in the Loving v.
Virginia case. And it was very interesting because they were, as in any law
school class, they were trying sort of figure out the bases on which the
judges had decided that that law was unconstitutional and so forth, but
hanging over the entire debate was a higher discussion was the issue of gay
marriage today. Obviously anyone who goes to Regent--or almost everyone who
goes to Regent--is against gay marriage because they think it's contrary to
biblical values, and it should not, you know, be legalized in America. And so
they were--but on the other hand, no one there thinks that people of different
races should not be able to get married.
And so they were struggling with, `How do we accept the Loving v. Virginia
precedent and say that case was rightly decided because certainly we're all on
the same side on that without also extending that to gay people who might want
to get married?' And so there was--and it's not necessarily the professor who
was presenting that, but even the students in the class discussion were coming
up with, `Well, maybe this is how we distinguish the two; maybe this other
approach is how we say this case was OK, but it goes no further.' And so I
don't think that's a discussion you might have heard in a different law
school, or maybe it would have gone the other direction if it was a more
liberal student body. I just thought that was a very interesting approach to
what it's like to be a Regent Law student.
GROSS: Well, Charlie Savage, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. SAVAGE: Thanks for having me on.
GROSS: Charlie Savage is the legal correspondent for The Boston Globe. We'll
hear from the dean of the Regent University School of Law in the second half
of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Interview: Jeffrey Brauch, dean of the Regent University School of
Law, on Monica Goodling and Regent's complex relationship with
religion and law
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Monica Goodling, a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was
one of the officials who oversaw the firings of US attorneys. She resigned
after refusing to testify to Congress, taking the Fifth Amendment, which
protects against self-incrimination. She graduated in 1999 from Regent
University School of Law, a Christian law school founded by televangelist Pat
Robertson. Charlie Savage, the Pulitzer Prize-winning legal corespondent for
The Boston Globe writes, quote, "Goodling has became the face of Regent
overnight and drawn a harsh spotlight to the administration's hiring of
officials educated at smaller, conservative schools, with sometimes marginal
academic reputations," unquote.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft teaches several weeks a year at Regent
Law School. The campus houses the American Center for Law and Justice, which
is headed by Jay Sekulow, who was picked by the White House to be an adviser
on judicial nominations. The center's Web site says, `Take action! Don't let
Congress silence Christians.'
My guest is the dean of the Regent School of Law, Jeffrey Brauch.
Dean Brauch, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Dean JEFFREY BRAUCH: Thank you.
GROSS: One of the mission statements of Regent's University School of Law is
to turn out lawyers who will, quote, "bring to bear the will of our creator,
Almighty God, upon legal education and the legal profession." What does that
Dean BRAUCH: Well, I think it reflects that there are principles of justice
that we believe transcend, let's say, a particular, political majority at a
particular time. There are eternal principles of justice and, as we teach our
law students, we want to explore this and talk with our students about those
during their education.
GROSS: How do you teach law pertaining to the rights of gay people?
Dean BRAUCH: Well, we are going to look at the law as it exists. We'll talk
about the Constitution. In all our Constitutional law classes, we begin with
the text of the Constitution. We'll talk about that and we'll address the
cases then that have come down from the US Supreme Court on all issues,
including issues like that. So that our classes would cover Lawrence v.
Texas, the sodomy case out of Texas, just like any law school would.
GROSS: Is there a `but' at the end? Because--I'm assuming that you think
that there should be no gay marriage and that perhaps there should be laws
making gay sexual unions illegal.
Dean BRAUCH: Well, I think as we do in all of our classes, we're going to
study the law as it exists, see what the legal framework is out there, but we
will examine biblical texts, we'll talk about natural law and consider, you
know, how ought we to approach an area like this.
GROSS: Regent University and Regent University School of Law was founded by
Pat Robertson, and he has said some very extreme things in the past few years,
including that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered his stroke as, you
know, God's retribution for his policies. What has the repercussions been at
the school of some of Pat Robertson's more recent extreme statements?
Dean BRAUCH: Well, Dr. Robertson has been a great leader of Regent
University. I can tell you he's a person of real vision. The beauty of the
campus, the excellence with which we do things, stem from his conviction we
ought to be excellent in all we do. And so I've been very thankful to have
him as leader of the university, as a leader in the law school. I'll tell you
he, like all people, his views on different topics, and again, Regent is a
place of diversity of views and diversity of opinions. I think you would find
that our faculty and students display that diversity.
GROSS: What are the odds I'd find any students who were gay or thought that
abortion should be legal?
Dean BRAUCH: I think you're going to find students of many different
backgrounds on all kinds of issues.
GROSS: On those included?
Dean BRAUCH: I think, perhaps.
GROSS: When you talk about, you know, bringing like a Christian worldview to
law, what does that mean in terms in terms of separation of church and state?
Dean BRAUCH: There's no question that the institutional separation of church
and state is an important concept, and we talk about that a lot at Regent Law
School. But I think over time the idea of separation of church and state has
morphed into a concept--or at least is discussed as a concept by some--that
meant something very different from that. And that is that religious belief
and faith have no impact in public life, and that's wrong. It has always been
wrong. It's part of this country's history. People of religious conviction
have always brought their religious convictions to bear in public policy, but
that's very different from saying that there ought to be a merger of church
and state or an institutional merger of those two.
GROSS: Monica Goodling is at the center of the scandal surrounding the fired
and replaced US attorneys and served as the White House liaison for Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales, and she was one of the people who oversaw the
firings and replacements of US attorneys. She was a graduate of the Regent
University Law School, and because of that, that's kind of giving your law
school a lot of attention, and I'm wondering what impact that's having on the
Dean BRAUCH: Yeah, no doubt we've had a lot of attention on the law school
recently, but I have to tell you, it's been an opportunity to share many good
things about the law school that people don't know about us. The kind of
excellence that we have in our program. I think it's been a chance to share,
for example, that Regent Law students won this years ABA Negotiation National
Championship. Out of 220 teams in the nation, our team finished first in that
competition. Harvard won it last year; Regent won it this year. So I think
it's given us an opportunity to share that there's great quality. Our
students are bright men and women. They're learning outstanding legal skills.
They're going to be great lawyers. And so the attention's given us a chance
to share some of those things.
GROSS: Well, Dean Brauch, thank you very much for talking with us.
Dean BRAUCH: Well, thank you very much. I've enjoyed being here.
GROSS: Jeffrey Brauch is the dean of the Regent University School of Law.
Coming up, we listen back to a 1986 interview with Reverent Jerry Falwell.
The founder of the Moral Majority died yesterday.
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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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Review: Maureen Corrigan on new Don DeLillo novel "Falling Man"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Ever since word got out that Don DeLillo was working on a novel about
September 11th, anticipation has been building. After all, DeLillo has
claimed plots and conspiracies as his literary subject. Book critic Maureen
Corrigan has a review of DeLillo's new novel "Falling Man."
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
Can you write a novel about September 11th and sidestep its most horrific
images--the smash of the planes, the collapse of the Twin Towers? Don DeLillo
leaves that question dangling in readers' minds until the final 10 pages of
his much-anticipated novel, "Falling Man." It's not until the last chapter
that DeLillo puts aside whatever misgivings he has about being exploitative
and goes for broke, giving us not one but two claustrophobic insider versions
of the climactic moments of 9/11.
First, we're in the mind of one of the hijackers. Bloodstained, box cutter in
hand, strapped into his jump seat. At the explosive instant of impact, our
prospective leaps. Now we're in the mind of an office worker inside the south
tower, feeling it impossibly lurch, no doubt because DeLillo knows he's so
good at summoning up these `You are there' scenes of the unthinkable, the
prime example in his work is the Kennedy assassination scene in "Libra"--he
hesitates to dramatize the still-raw events of September 11th.
We readers know DeLillo has qualms about evoking 9/11 because he tells us so
through the virtually neon-lit symbol that gives this novel its name. Falling
Man, as Delillo imagines him, is a controversial performance artist who begins
mysteriously appearing around New York City shortly after the horror. Dressed
in a business suit and tethered to a safety harness, Falling Man jumps from
high public places, re-enacting the awful plunge of office workers from the
towers, much as DeLillo, as a different kind of artist, performs the same feat
in his novel. Some New Yorkers find the figure of Falling Man an
exhibitionist, while others hail him as a new chronicler of the age of terror.
DeLillo obviously is anticipating the same kind of angry responses to this
novel that "Libra" stirred up, namely, `How dare a novelist help himself to
real life catastrophe as a fictional subject?' It's a legitimate objection, I
guess, but as a reader, I had no qualms about surrendering myself to the
voyeuristic horror of DeLillo's last pages. By the time I reached that last
chapter of "Falling Man," I was just so grateful to feel anything, as opposed
to the vacancy I'd been lost in throughout the rest of the novel. For page
after muted page, "Falling Man" catalogues post-traumatic numbness.
The main character, Keith Neudecker, who's that office worker trapped in the
south tower, spends the days, months and years following 9/11 tamping down his
terror by losing himself in walking and marathon poker games. His estranged
wife, Lianne, runs a writing workshop for Alzheimer's patients, whose memories
are dwindling down to a last bare state. Lianne's mother, a retired art
professor, stares and stares at a minimalist painting of bottles that look
vaguely like the twin towers. Taken together, this collage of shell-shocked
images makes DeLillo's novel read like some World War I poetry by Siegfried
Sassoon or Wilfred Owen, except that their poems were powerful in part
precisely because they were poems. Shell shock alone isn't enough to sustain
a novel, even a thin novel like this one.
What fiction about 9/11 has a responsibility to do is to enlighten readers, to
take us beyond our own memories of the days, our conventional wisdom, even the
gripping reportage of nonfiction. The word "responsibility" sounds Victorian,
but the ironic thing about DeLillo is that, for all his celebrated coolness
and po-mo intermingling of pop culture and high art and rejection of
conventional plot, characterization and dialogue, his greatest novels, like
"White Noise" and "Libra", have never shied away from offering moral judgment
and finding larger significance in even mundane events. Here he shrugs off or
simply can't fulfill that mission. Listen to this all-too-characteristic
passage from the novel, in which the narrator describes Lianne's post-9/11
(Reading) "She read newspaper profiles of the dead, every one that was
printed. Not to read them, every one, was an offense, a violation of
responsibility and trust. But she also read them because she had to, out of
some need she did not try to interpret."
Lianne may not be up to interpreting that need, but DeLillo should be, and
given that DeLillo is our jagged poet of conspiracy, of men in small rooms
whispering secrets, weaving plots, his failure to deepen our understanding of
September 11th is especially disappointing. Instead, "Falling Man" is just a
series of gestures--some contorted, some striking, but all of them infuriating
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Falling Man" by Don DeLillo.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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