A Nation Divided In 'Nixonland'
Rick Perlstein's book, Nixonland, combines an evocative trip through the 1960s and early 1970s with an assessment of the impact of Richard Nixon's political career. Perstein argues that many of the deep political divisions in modern American politics were defined by that period, and exploited effectively by Nixon.
Other segments from the episode on August 22, 2008
DATE August 22, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Rick Perlstein, author of "Nixonland," on Nixon's
methods during his rise to power
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
Today we complete our series on presidents and presidential politics. We
begin with historian Rick Perlstein, whose book "The Rise of a President and
the Fracturing of America" was published earlier this year. Perlstein's book
is an evocative trip through the '60s and early '70s, and an assessment of the
impact of Richard Nixon's political career. Perlstein argues that many of the
deep divisions of modern American politics were drawn in that period, and
effectively exploited by Nixon. Perlstein's previous book was "Before the
Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus."
I spoke to him in May when "Nixonland" was first published.
Well, Rick Perlstein, welcome to FRESH AIR. This book is a great read. It's
sort of a fascinating ride through the late '60s and early '70s, sort of
centered on the career of Richard Nixon. Let's talk a little bit about
Nixon's early life. You say that he was a serial collector of resentments.
What resentments did he collect growing up?
Mr. RICK PERLSTEIN: Well, he was a real loner. Apparently, according to the
early oral histories, he wouldn't ride on the school bus because he thought
the other kids smelled. He was very lonely. He spent all his time up in his
father's--his father had a grocery store in a former church, and he would go
up into the bell tower and read and read and read and read and read. And by
the time he made it to college, he was working three times harder than
everyone else, he was very smart, and he received a scholarship to Harvard.
And he never went to Harvard. He never went to Harvard because his family
basically couldn't afford the train ticket from Whittier. They couldn't
afford to send him there from Whittier, California, the small Quaker town in
Southern California where he grew up. So he went to this local school,
Whittier, which was a fine school but, you know, it was not Harvard, which he
bore anger and resentment towards the rest of his life. I mean, you can hear
him raging about it on the Nixon tapes.
And when he got to Whittier, the first thing he did, this kind of young man on
the make, was try to join the school's one fraternity, which were called the
Franklins. And they wouldn't let him in; he was too uncool. So he started
his own fraternity. His own fraternity was called the Orthogonians, which he
said meant "upright" or "upstanding." And basically he created a fraternity
for the uncool kids. And this turned out to be a brilliant way to charter his
political career. Soon he was the student body president, and the secret of
his success was that the uncool people in society outnumber the cool people.
And someone who speaks to their resentments at being looked down upon could
reap a harvest of popularity, which is what he did all through his career, and
every step of the way. He later would call that group of people the silent
DAVIES: Let's move forward a bit. You know, your book really focuses on the
years, I guess, in between like 1966 and 1972, and you note that--you describe
1964, which is the year that Goldwater of course lost in a landslide election
to Lyndon Johnson, as a liberal apotheosis, an apparent national liberal
consensus. Explain what you mean.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Yeah. That was what the pundits said at the time. Lyndon
Johnson won with about 61 percent of the vote. And when Lyndon Johnson was
nominated, he basically had a 2-to-1 majority of progressives or liberals in
the Senate and the House of Representatives. And they passed, you know, the
great social legislation that we're still, you know, enjoying, I would say,
today: Medicare, Medicaid, the NEA, the NEH, the first environmental
legislation, legal aid. Of course, the culmination of that, the absolute
apotheosis of the apotheosis was the Voting Rights Act.
DAVIES: So there was a sense of tolerance and consensus in the land. Now, we
go to 1968, and things are very different. I mean, America is roiling with
cultural trends, which are disturbing to a lot of people, and, you know, you
describe a point before the New Hampshire primary of 1968, and this struck me
as sort of again just an example of what sort of the roiling social conflicts
that were going on. You'd had the Newark riots the year before, 30-some-odd
people killed. A report came out on urban riots, the Kerner Commission in
February. On February 17th, the Black Panthers gathered to celebrate Huey
Newton's birthday, and one of them, James Forman, advocates killing police
sheriffs and Southern governors; that's widely reported. At a police chiefs
convention they were displaying armored personnel carriers to deal with civil
unrest. And into that climate we have Richard Nixon staging his comeback.
Tell us how he exploited some of that atmosphere, those fears and anxieties in
maneuvering his way to the presidency.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Well, at first he didn't, and that certainly baffled me at
first. I mean, the tail end of the story about the signing of the Voting
Rights Act was five days later were the Watts riots, you know, and they were
seen live on TV, because KTLA, the television station in Los Angeles, was the
first station to have a news helicopter. And in 1966, Lyndon Johnson proposed
what was supposed to be the third triumphant, apotheosis-like civil rights
bill. And this was a civil rights bill that had, as its centerpiece, an open
housing amendment, an open housing title that would make it illegal to say,
`I'm not going to rent my house to someone because they're the wrong race.'
And that year it went up in flames. I mean, it basically--the whole notion
that we had this kind of tolerant nation that was passing more and more civil
rights legislation just went up in smoke. And the reason it probably went up
in smoke was because of all the riots that broke out, in city after city: in
Cleveland, in Chicago, and even places like Des Moines.
And Richard Nixon was very busy in 1966. It really was the pivotal year of
his comeback. He campaigned for tons and tons and tons of congressional
candidates. He worked his tail off. And so he campaigned in city after city
after city, and he never mentioned this stuff. He never mentioned the
backlash. People like Ronald Reagan and people like George Wallace,
respectively, gubernatorial candidate for California governor and the governor
of Alabama, would mention it all the time. And Nixon didn't mention it, I
think, because he knew he had to re-establish his reputation as a statesman
and not a guttersnipe.
But by 1968, when you get things like the Kerner Commission report, he kind of
pivots and he goes all-in, and that's when he starts giving speeches about how
we have to crush these insurrections by any means necessary, and really kind
of casts himself as kind of the field general in the culture war.
DAVIES: Now, he was facing some tough Republican opposition for the
Republican presidential nomination. John Lindsay, the former mayor of New
York; George Romney, father of Mitt Romney; George Romney was the governor of
Michigan. How did he use these fears and resentments to make himself a
different kind of politician, to advance his political interest?
Mr. PERLSTEIN: He had this gift for seeing the angers and the resentments
that kind of roiled slightly beneath the surface. In that 1966 congressional
election where he worked so hard, the Republicans picked up 47 seats. I mean,
basically everyone who won on Lyndon Johnson's coattails in 1964 lost in 1966.
I mean, basically we had two years of this heroically liberal Congress.
DAVIES: You know, by 1968, Nixon has taken a different tack, right, and has
decided that there's a different way to elect Republicans.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Yeah. And the way he does it is he runs a commercial, hour
after hour after hour--you couldn't turn on the TV in the fall of 1968 without
seeing Richard Nixon's commercial bearing the slogan "The first civil right of
every American is to be free from domestic violence." So he basically turns
the civil rights argument on its head and said the people who are suffering
deficits in civil rights were actually white middle-class Americans.
DAVIES: It's interesting. You note that the California primary of 1968 is
remembered for Robert Kennedy's win on the Democratic side, and then of course
his assassination that very night. But forgotten, you say, is something that
Nixon saw in the results of that primary, which was a sign to him that the
shape of the American electorate was shifting. Describe that, will you?
Mr. PERLSTEIN: There was a fellow by the name of Max Rafferty. I can't
imagine a more obscure name in the annals of recent American politics. He was
the education commissioner in California, and he had basically won office in
1962 railing against things like swear words in dictionaries in school
libraries, you know, railing against progressive education, railing against
even the teaching of evolution in schools. And he ran for Senate in 1968
against an enormously popular liberal Republican by the name of Tom Kuchel,
who was the Senate whip. And no one imagined that California would turn out
such a powerful senator who basically brought home so much bacon to
California. And on the same day that Robert F. Kennedy won the California
primary, Max Rafferty won the Republican primary. And in fact he was on a
glide path to winning a Senate seat. This guy who was very extreme, very
conservative. And the only reason he was kept from winning was a newspaper
reporter discovered, a week or two before the election, that he had dodged the
draft during World War II.
DAVIES: But that was the general election, right? In the primary, he won.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: The general election. He won resoundingly, and absolutely
stunned the pundits. Of course, the pundits were serially stunned. They were
stunned over and over again by these conservative...
DAVIES: Some things never change.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Yeah. By these conservative groundswells that they never saw
DAVIES: So at a time when a lot of people looked at California and saw a
nation embracing the return of a Kennedy and a liberal political philosophy,
Nixon saw the beginning of a national realignment, right? I mean, is this
when he embraced the Southern strategy?
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Yes. And political observers should have noticed it much
earlier, because on election day in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson won California
by a million votes, and this was seen as this kind of national consensus for
civil rights, on that same day there was an initiative on the ballot against
an open housing law, and that also won by a million votes.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Rick Perlstein. His new book is "Nixonland: The
Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is Rick Perlstein. his new book
is "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America."
You tell a fascinating story here of how Nixon connected with his media
consultant Roger Ailes. How did they meet?
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Roger Ailes was the producer, a very young producer, by the
way. One of the ironies of the '60s was young people were seen as these kind
of avatars of the left and the counterculture, but actually Roger Ailes was
younger than Tom Hayden. He was younger than Abbie Hoffman. And he was the
producer of a local show in your own town of Philadelphia called "The Mike
Douglas Show." And he was a young wiz kid producer; and they had on, in this
pivotal year, as I say, for Nixon's career, 1966, Richard Nixon in the makeup
chair getting ready to go on "The Mike Douglas Show." And Nixon is making
small talk with this kid, and saying, `Oh, you know, isn't it ridiculous the
things you have to do to get elected president these days? Go on, you know, a
midday show watched by housewives.' And Roger Ailes fixed him in the eye and
said, `If you think that this is silly, you're never going to become
president.' And Nixon immediately sent him to New York and ended up hiring him
as his media consultant for the 1968 election, where he invented something
that's still with us today: the kind of ersatz town hall meeting, in which
basically a supposed cross-section of Americans grilled the candidate before a
carefully selected audience friendly to the candidate, and that let Roger
Ailes cut these things into these TV commercials that made Nixon look
enormously smart, charming, heroic, all the rest.
DAVIES: So it was an entirely staged event, but it looked like he was being
spontaneous and taking citizens as they come. And one of the fascinating
things that you reveal here is that they would often bring somebody in who was
too hard edged, too openly racist, too brazenly conservative. The point being
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Right. So there's a story. They're having one of these
shows. And they're always done locally so that he could kind of spin local
issues in local ways, right? And one of the people they had chosen for the
panel turned out to be a psychiatrist. And Richard Nixon had earlier told Len
Garment that he would do anything to be president except see a shrink. So Len
Garment realizes he has this irrational hatred, or fear, or whatever of
psychiatrists, and is like, `We got to get the shrink off the panel,' but it's
the last minute, and they don't know what to do. They have to fill someone in
in the panel. And Roger Ailes, in this absolutely astonishing quote in
selling the president, which, you know, I'm not sure people paid a lot of
attention to, says, `Well, let's get a George Wallace supporter, a cab
driver.' And Roger Ailes said, `He can say, "All right, Mack, what are you
going to do about the"'--and then he used a racial slur that beings with N.
You know, Roger Ailes recounting how they should get a cab driver.
And the whole point of that was, then Richard Nixon could come back and
deplore that awful language, deplore the sentiments, but basically endorse the
same kind of backlash politics that George Wallace was promoting, just in more
DAVIES: He could be anti-bussing, but in a more reasoned way.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Sure. He could do it in four-syllable words, and not say
things like George Wallace, who said that, `We don't have riots in Alabama, we
just shoot them in the head.'
DAVIES: You know, one of the most memorable phrases from this period comes
from Vice President Spiro Agnew, who was vice president under Nixon, and he
referred to the media, the press then as the "nattering naybobs of
negativism." Now, I think this comes from the congressional elections of 1970,
I believe, when he and Nixon stumped all the way around the country for
conservative senators and congressmen. Give us an idea of their approach, the
rhetoric they used and its impact.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Well, this is 1970, when the most transfixing event of the
year happened in May, when four students were shot at Kent State in Ohio.
Actually, 13 students were shot, but four died, and afterwards these
insurrections broke out on almost a thousand college campuses. It was
absolutely astonishing. And, really, it seemed like America was on the verge
of open violence almost in the streets. And this was the year that Richard
Nixon thought he could finally win a majority in the Senate, and he could
finally kind of have his will in foreign policy by taking advantage of this
social discord in order to campaign for conservative candidates, and his point
man in this actually was his vice president, Spiro Agnew. And he gave this
absolutely scathing series of speeches.
Now, lo and behold, it didn't succeed. For whatever reason--and it's a
complicated set of circumstances involving economics, certainly involving the
Democrats co-opting some of that law-and-order rhetoric--the Republicans did
terribly that year. And a lot of people make the argument that that was the
trauma that finally brought Nixon to the brink of Watergate, that he couldn't
stand this loss of control, that kind of democracy hadn't worked for him,
almost, and he was going to try other means.
DAVIES: Do you think, even though it was a failed electoral strategy, do you
think that the impact on political discourse was significant?
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Yes. What he did was, he had kind of reverted to the
rhetoric--he and Spiro Agnew, I should say--reverted to the rhetoric of a
George Wallace in 1968. He had forgotten his lesson that you have to present
yourself in a time of tumult as someone who has an antidote to the tumult.
But he just looked like that year--and he made the Republicans look that
year--just like another part of the roiling civil war. He didn't appear to be
above the divisions. He didn't appear to be transcendent, and he was punished
at the polls.
DAVIES: When Nixon ran for re-election in 1972, there were a number of
Democratic candidates, and the strongest contender was Edmund Muskie, who
veterans of the time will remember was the senator from Maine who had been the
vice presidential candidate for the Democrats in '68, a strong centrist
candidate. And Nixon clearly did not want to run against him. He preferred
to run against George McGovern, the liberal from South Dakota. And he
undertook to make sure that Muskie would not be the nominee. What did Nixon
do to ensure that Muskie wouldn't be the Democratic nominee?
Mr. PERLSTEIN: He cheated. And the most sort of fragrant tactics were
basically ones that were meant to sabotage the campaigns of every Democratic
candidate who he thought that he couldn't beat in November so that he would be
running against the one he thought he could beat, who was the anti-war--well,
they were all anti-war candidates. Basically everyone, even Scoop Jackson,
was saying we need to get out of Vietnam. But he wanted to run against George
McGovern because he seemed like the furthest left viable candidate.
And so he would do things--or, more accurately, his deputies would do
things--like stealing Muskie's stationery, writing a nasty letter about how
some other candidate had fathered a child out of wedlock, sending it out to
the media, and making it look like the Muskie team was spreading smears about
some other candidate. And then he would take another candidate's stationery,
say Hubert Humphrey's, and do the same thing. They had a word for it that
basically you can't say on a family radio station, but it worked. Edmund
Muskie eventually withdrew from the race because he was so mercilessly
harassed by a letter to a New Hampshire newspaper that turned out to have been
written by the White House. It was called the "Canuck letter." You know,
later, when it was investigated and The Washington Post exposed it, it had
been written by the White House.
The Canuck letter basically was a letter to the editor saying, `I, down in
Florida, heard Edmund Muskie call French-Canadians Canucks,' which was
basically the N word for French-Canadians in New Hampshire, who are an
important part of the electorate there. And, you know, it was all made up, it
was written by a White House aide, and it so incensed Edmund Muskie that he
gave this passionate speech to defend himself right in front of the newspaper,
and he either did or didn't cry during that speech. Some people think it
might have been just a snowflake in his eye or something like that. And when
that got out, and when people like David Broder put it all over the papers,
that this guy had cried on the stump, he was done for.
Basically, these false flag operations, as they call it in the intelligence
world, achieved their purpose. Hubert Humphrey thought that Edmund Muskie was
sabotaging him, and Edmund Muskie thought Hubert Humphrey was sabotaging him,
and no one knew that it was Richard Nixon's little underlings who were pulling
DAVIES: Well, Rick Perlstein, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. PERLSTEIN: Thank you so much, Dave.
DAVIES: Rick Perlstein's book is "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the
Fracturing of America." I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Brett Morgen, writer and director of the documentary
"Chicago 10," on the events it's based on and making the film
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.
One of the most memorable political conventions in American history was the
1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The week was marked by bloody clashes
between demonstrators and Chicago police, prompting Walter Cronkite at one
point to declare the city of Mayor Richard Daley a "police state." After the
convention, prosecutors charged eight leaders of the anti-war movement with
conspiracy to incite riot, leading to one of the most memorable and chaotic
trials of the era. Earlier this year, Terry spoke with documentary filmmaker
Brett Morgen whose film "Chicago 10" uses archival footage and recreates the
trial through animation using the voices of such actors as Roy Scheider, Mark
Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber and Hank Azaria. The movie comes out on DVD next
Before we hear Terry's interview with Brett Morgen, we're going to hear an
example of the fascinating archival tape he included in the film. It's a
montage from a 1968 meeting of the protest's organizers. You'll hear the
voices of Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis and Ed Sanders.
(Soundbite of audiotape)
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. TOM HAYDEN: We have to establish a network for the discussion and
preparation that takes into account the possibility that you might want, at
the time of the convention, a very great outpouring of protest, or the other
possibility that you might want protests to occur on a more moderate scale at
the convention than in other parts of the country.
Mr. ABBIE HOFFMAN: We believe that politics is the way you live your life,
not who you support. It's not in terms of rallies or speeches or political
programs. It's in terms of images and in terms of transforming people's
Mr. RENNIE DAVIS: We are coming to Chicago at the time of the Democratic
National Convention not to disrupt the convention, not to confront the police,
National Guard troops or men in the United States Army, but to challenge the
policies of militarization that have been felt so strongly and brutally in
Mr. ED SANDERS: We're going to invest our time, our semen, our love vectors,
our intellect in America, and we're not going to allow our country to become
one of the fabled damned of nations to join the Mayan ruins and all the other
violent civilizations that have been snuffed.
(End of soundbite)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Brett Morgen, welcome to FRESH AIR. People know of the Chicago Seven trial.
Your movie is called "Chicago 10." Why have you called it that?
Mr. BRETT MORGEN: Well, you know, it was originally the trial of the Chicago
Eight, and a few months into the case Bobby Seale was severed and it became
then known as the Chicago Seven, but I came across a quote from Jerry Rubin at
some point in which he said, `Anyone who calls us the Chicago Seven is a
racist because you're not acknowledging the presence of Bobby Seale, so call
us the Chicago Eight. But really you should call us the Chicago 10 because
our two attorneys, Len Weinglass and Bill Kunstler, went down with us.'
GROSS: And they were sentenced to contempt, the two lawyers.
Mr. MORGEN: They were. Kunstler was sentenced to four and a half years of
contempt. I think Weinglass got one and a half. And ultimately the movie is
really about appropriating this time period and rendering it as something new
so we decided to rebrand it as the "Chicago 10."
GROSS: Now, before we talk more about how you've made your movie, let's just
talk a little bit more about the event itself for anybody who doesn't remember
it well or wasn't alive at the time. The demonstration in Lincoln Park at the
time of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, it was more than just a
demonstration. Abbie Hoffman, one of the organizers, described it as total
theater, a festival of life. Just talk a little bit about what the intentions
were of the organizers.
Mr. MORGEN: Well, this was one of the problems with the conspiracy trial in
which the government tried to suggest that there was a singular motivation
behind the movement. There were a number of different groups that wanted to
protest in Chicago.
Basically, as early as March of '68, these various organizations approached
the city for permits, and Daley, from the get-go, refused to give anyone
permits to protest. I think his feeling was he was using the convention as a
way to showcase the city. He had spent a great deal of time and money sort of
in these beautification efforts, and I think, in his mind, the protesters
would sort of pollute and dirty that image.
And sometime during this process, I think it was in April, after Dr. King was
assassinated and they had the riots, Mayor Daley gave the famous "shoot to
kill" order, you know, in which he basically told the assembled media that he
was ordering the police to shoot and kill anyone who was involved in any
larceny or rioting. And that was kind of an effort to scare the protesters
from coming to Chicago; and in effect, it did. But ultimately there were two
main groups that we focus on in the film, the Yippies and the Mobilization.
The Mobilization, which was fronted by Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden and David
Dellinger, wanted to do more of a traditional protest in the parks of Chicago.
The Yippies, on the other hand, wanted to create a festival of life, as they
put it, a celebration of life in the shadows of the convention of death; and
what they had envisioned was a three-day sort of Woodstock festival, if you
will, with bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, and a sort of
merging of the hippy countercultural movement with the new left.
GROSS: Well, the police confronted the demonstrators in the park. They
charged them. They tear gassed them. They beat them. And tell us what the
charges were at the Chicago Seven trial.
Mr. MORGEN: Right. So after...
GROSS: Chicago Eight.
Mr. MORGEN: The riots in Chicago--you know, we can't even really call them
riots because I think the proper terminology is they were police riots. It
was really the police going berserk, and for five days they senselessly
attacked the demonstrators in a manner that was as vicious as, in my mind, the
Rodney King beatings, just on a massive scale. So three months after the
convention, Nixon won office and one of the first things that John Mitchell
did was indict the leaders of the anti-war movement for conspiracy with
crossing state lines with the intent to start a riot. This was, ironically, a
new law that was part of the Civil Rights Act. The Chicago Eight are the only
people who've ever been tried under the Civil Rights Act, and--were the first
people ever tried under it and the only people ever tried under it.
DAVIES: Brett Morgen's film about the conspiracy trial of protesters at the
1968 Democratic Convention is called "Chicago 10." We'll hear more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's interview earlier this year with
documentary filmmaker Brett Morgan. His film about the trail of protesters
after the 1968 Democratic Convention, called "Chicago 10," is out on DVD next
GROSS: Well, I--this is really going to be interesting. We're going to play
an excerpt of your movie with actors portraying the people at the Chicago
Eight trial, and then we're going to hear the tape from the actual trial. So
let's start with the excerpt of your movie, and again this is an animated
excerpt. And this is the day of the National Vietnam moratorium, so right
before Judge Hoffman enters the court, Dave Dellinger, who's a pacifist and
was a leader of an anti-war group, gets up to--and he's one of the
defendants--he gets up to address the people in the court before the judge
enters, and he explains that the moratorium is a day to protest the
continuation of the war and to urge the withdrawal of US forces in Vietnam.
And he says that, in observance of the moratorium and to kind of get the sense
of the people who are dying senselessly in the war, he's going to read the
names of the people who have died in the war this week. So he starts reading
And at this point the court is called to order, Judge Hoffman comes in, and
then the prosecutor objects to Dellinger's little speech, and then Kunstler,
the defense attorney, objects to the prosecutor. We're going to pick it up as
Judge Hoffman has walked in and Dave Dellinger wants to continue speaking.
(Soundbite of "Chicago 10")
Mr. DYLAN BAKER: (As David Dellinger) Mr. Hoffman, we are observing the
Mr. ROY SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) I am Judge Hoffman, sir.
Mr. BAKER: (As David Dellinger) I believe in equality, sir. So I prefer to
call people "mister" or by their first name.
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) You will sit down, sir.
Mr. BAKER: (As David Dellinger) Can I be heard, your honor?
Mr. NICK NOLTE: (As Thomas Foran) Your honor! I object to this man speaking
out in court!
Mr. BAKER: (As David Dellinger) We would just like to propose a moment of
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) You needn't object. I forbid him to
disrupt the proceedings.
Mr. LIEV SCHREIBER (As William Kunstler): Your honor, I want to object to
Mr. Foran's yelling in the presence of the jury. Your honor has
Mr. NOLTE: (As Thomas Foran) Your honor, this is outrageous! This man is a
mouthpiece. Look at him! He's wearing an armband of his client's. The
government protests his attitude and requests the court move to take notice of
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) Your Honor, I think that the temper and
the expression on Mr. Foran's face speaks more than any picture could tell.
Mr. NOLTE: (As Thomas Foran) Of my contempt for Mr. Kunstler!
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) Mr. Kunstler...
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) To call me a mouthpiece...
Mr. NOLTE: (As Thomas Foran) Jesus Christ.
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) ...and for your honor not to open his
mouth and say that's not to be done in your court, I think violates the
sanctity of this court. That is a word your honor knows is contemptuous and
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) Ha! Don't tell me what I know.
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) I want him admonished, your honor, and
I request you to do that.
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) I do not admonish the United States
attorney because he was properly representing his client, the United States of
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) To call another attorney a
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) You, a lawyer, permitting your
client to stand up in the presence of the jury and disrupt these proceedings,
I--I don't know how to characterize it.
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) Your honor, we do not permit, or not
permit, our clients. They are free, independent human beings who have been
brought by the government to this courtroom...
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) That's right. They're free, but
they'll conform to the law and they'll conform to the direction of the court
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) Are you turning down my request?
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) I not only turn it down, I ignore
Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) That speaks louder than words.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's an excerpt of the new film the "Chicago 10," made by my guest
Brett Morgen. And we heard Roy Scheider as Judge Hoffman. Who else did we
hear in that scene, Brett?
Mr. MORGEN: That was Nick Nolte as prosecutor Thomas Foran, Dylan Baker as
David Dellinger and Liev Schreiber as Bill Kunstler.
GROSS: Now, we're going to hear an excerpt of the actual trial, a real audio
recording made at the trial that you've brought with you. And before we hear
it, is there anything in particular you'd like us to listen for?
Mr. MORGEN: The judge is--I mean, two things to listen to. Thomas Foran
GROSS: The prosecutor.
Mr. MORGEN: The prosecutor and the way that he is just absolutely exploding
in the courtroom, and the inflection of Judge Hoffman's voice. It's a very
unique characteristic that Roy spent a lot of time trying to mimic.
GROSS: OK, so we're going to pick up this part of the reel tape with the
prosecutor objecting to Dave Dellinger's speaking about the Vietnam
(Soundbite of audio tape)
Mr. DAVID DELLINGER: (Unintelligible)...
Mr. THOMAS FORAN: Your honor! I object to this man's speaking out in court!
Judge JULIUS HOFFMAN: You needn't object. I forbid him to disrupt the
proceeding. I note for the record that his name is...
Mr. DELLINGER: David Dellinger.
Judge HOFFMAN: You needn't finish my sentences for me, sir.
Mr. DELLINGER: You...(unintelligible).
Judge HOFFMAN: I note for the record that the name of the man who has
attempted to disrupt the proceedings in this court is David D. Dellinger.
(Soundbite of coughing)
Judge HOFFMAN: And the record will clearly indicate that, Miss Reporter, and
I direct him and all the others not to repeat such occurrence.
Mr. WILLIAM KUNSTLER: Your honor, I just want to object to Mr. Foran
yelling in the presence of the jury. Your honor has admonished many counsel
many times on the defense side for yelling, but particularly when the jury was
halfway out the door.
Judge HOFFMAN: I didn't--I never used the word "yelling."
Mr. KUNSTLER: Raising your voice.
Judge HOFFMAN: That point--if a lawyer representing his client didn't protest
that sort of thing--that sort of thing, he'd be a mighty poor lawyer for his
Mr. KUNSTLER: But not in the presence of that jury, which was deliberately
done, your honor. The doorway...(unintelligible)...
Mr. THOMAS FORAN: Your Honor, this is outrageous! This man is a mouthpiece!
Look at him wearing the armband of his client. Your honor, any lawyer who
comes into a courtroom and has no respect for the court and acts in
conjunction with that kind of conduct before the court, your honor, the
government protests his attitude and would like to strike to move the court to
make note of his conduct before this court.
Judge HOFFMAN: Note has been duly made on the record.
Mr. KUNSTLER: Your honor, I think that the temper and the tone of voice and
the expression on Mr. Foran's face speaks more than any picture could tell...
Judge HOFFMAN: Mr. Kunstler...
Mr. KUNSTLER: Wait a minute, your honor.
Mr. FORAN: (Unintelligible)...Mr. Kunstler, your honor.
Mr. KUNSTLER: To call me a mouthpiece and your honor not to open his mouth
and say that's not to be done in your court, I think violates the sanctity of
this court. That is a word that your honor knows is contemptuous and
Judge HOFFMAN: Ah, don't tell me what I know. You don't know.
Mr. KUNSTLER: Well, then, you tell me, your honor, if you haven't heard that
word in your court before.
Judge HOFFMAN: I might know...(unintelligible)...behave here,
Mr. KUNSTLER: And wearing an armband to mourn the dead, your honor, is no
disgrace to this country.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: And that's an excerpt of the actual Chicago Eight trial, a real
audiotape of the trial, and my guest, Brett Morgen, has just made a movie
about the trial.
Brett, watching the movie, I remember the trial--not that I was there, but I
certainly remember coverage of it and how important it was and what a real
circus it was. Watching the movie, I was kind of surprised at my reaction.
Because although I think Judge Hoffman was so wrong for this case, he didn't
comprehend what was happening at all, he didn't comprehend how or why the
people who were on trial were playing him and trying to turn this into
political theater. And so all of his reactions were so kind of tone deaf to
what was happening...
Mr. MORGEN: Hm.
GROSS: ...and just kind of like feeding, like feeding the theater as opposed
to getting control of the court. But there was a part of me that almost felt
for him because, like, what was he supposed to do? Like, everybody was
playing him. Everybody was trying to make it into political theater. And you
feel him, you know, like, trying to keep control of the court and being
clueless about how to do it.
Mr. MORGEN: Well, I will tell you that's a credit to Roy Scheider. He found
a way to empathize with the judge that came through in the film, and you do
get the sense that, you know, the judge has completely lost control, and by
the end of the film even he--you could get the sense that he wishes he was
But I will say, Terry, in all fairness that the defendants didn't march into
the courtroom, you know, thinking of this as a big piece of theater. I think
there was a lot of division amongst the defendants on how to approach the
case. But I think Abbie and Jerry's reactions to the judge and the fact that
they would often speak out in court had a lot to do with the way the judge
handled the case in the early days. And he was so biased against the, and
prejudiced against the defendants, I think that Judge Hoffman, who was, you
know, in his last days, saw the defendants as a disease that was polluting
America, and it was his moral obligation to cut the head off that snake, very
similar to Mayor Daley.
And in that sense, I always thought of this as a film as much about parenting
and generation gap as it was about cultural revolution.
GROSS: I think like the most outrageous moment of the Chicago Eight trial,
which you depict in the animated part of your movie, is when--Bobby Seale is
being spoken of by the prosecutor, and he insists on representing himself, on
speaking for himself. His lawyer is sick and isn't there, and he is being
charged with things that he says he is innocent of and he wants to speak out.
The judge refuses to let him speak. Seale insists on speaking, so the judge
finally does the most outrageous thing a judge can do. He has Bobby Seale
bound and gagged and brought back into the courtroom. And it's, I mean, this
made news around the world.
Why don't we hear a scene from your animated recreation of a Bobby Seale
chapter of the trial with Jeffrey Wright as Bobby Seale.
(Soundbite of "Chicago 10")
Mr. JEFFREY WRIGHT: (As Bobby Seale) I want to request again, demand again,
that I be able to cross-examine the witness. Now, you have Benjamin Franklin
and George Washington sitting in pictures behind you and they were slave
owners. That's what they were. They owned slaves! And you act in the same
manner by denying me my constitutional right.
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) Young man, if you...
Mr. WRIGHT: (As Bobby Seale) Look, old man, you being exposed to the public
and to the world that you don't want to...
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) Have him sit down, Mr. Marshal.
Mr. WRIGHT: (As Bobby Seale) I want to defend myself! I have the right to
speak on behalf of my constitutional rights!
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) I--I didn't think I would ever live
to sit--to sit on the bench in a courtroom where George Washington was
assailed by a defendant and a judge was criticized for having his portrait on
Mr. WRIGHT: (As Bobby Seale) The law protects my right not to be
discriminated against. Why don't you recognize that?
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) Mr. Seale, do--do you want to stop?
Or do you want me to...
Mr. WRIGHT: (As Bobby Seale) You can't deny me my rights! You can't deny me
my constitutional right!
Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) Take that defendant in--into the
room, in there, and deal with him as he should be dealt with.
Mr. WRIGHT: (As Bobby Seale) I still want to be represented. I want to
represent myself! Let me go! I want to represent myself! It's my
constitutional right! I got a right! I got a right! I got a right!
(Sound of door being closed)
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Jeffrey Wright as Bobby Seale in one of the animated scenes
from my guest Brett Morgen's new movie "Chicago 10," which is a movie about
the trial and the demonstrations that led to the trial.
There were parts of the demonstration where demonstrators, as they were being
beaten by the police, shouted, "The whole world is watching," and did you
really get that feeling going through all this footage, like the impact that
it made for the world to to see this?
Mr. MORGEN: Well, it's an interesting question because what the world saw in
1968 is not what the world will see through my film. I watched all of...
GROSS: What do you mean?
Mr. MORGEN: Well, I watched all the broadcasts of the riots, and except for
the last one in front of the Conrad Hilton, you know, there was an electrical
strike in Chicago that week so there was very limited video remote feeds going
on. And so in general what the networks would do is they would send one
camera down to a riot to cover it. And then four hours later they would air
maybe 45 seconds up to two minutes of unedited footage from one perspective.
So the march of the Conrad Hilton at the end was culled from over 50 visual
sources and over 20 audio sources. And so the events that we're depicting
them are really not what the world saw in 1968.
What's shocking to audiences when I speak with them about the film is that 70
percent of America at the time supported Mayor Daley, and the only thing I
could explain to them is, you know, America was presented with a specific
image of these riots, and it really took 40 years for us to come around and
GROSS: Well, Brett Morgen, thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. MORGEN: Thank you, Terry.
DAVIES: Documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen speaking with Terry Gross earlier
this year. His film "Chicago 10" is out on DVD next week.
Coming up, John Powers remembers film critic and artist Manny Farber.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Critic and painter Manny Farber dies at age 91
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Manny Farber died on Monday at age 91. An acclaimed artist, The New York
Times declared him the greatest still life painter of his generation. Farber
also wrote about the movies. He did it so well that filmmaker Paul Schrader
once said he belonged on the Mount Rushmore of American film criticism. Our
critic at large John Powers agrees, with a special accent on the word
Mr. JOHN POWERS: It's always been easy to make fun of critics, even critics
at large. Mark Twain described us as eunuchs in the harem, saying, "They know
how it's done and see it done every day, but they can't do it themselves."
Maybe so, but nobody would have ever made such a joke about Manny Farber.
Even as his real job was being a gifted painter--a poster of one of his still
life's hangs on my wall--Farber moonlighted as a film critic from the '40s to
the early '70s.
Now, it's possible that you've never heard of Manny Farber, but in a sense you
already know him, for he was one of those critics who opened other critics'
eyes. He was admired by everyone from Pauline Kael to Susan Sontag. The one
collection of his criticism, called "Negative Space," is on every critic's
bookshelf, and it's amazing how often it's been quoted, borrowed from,
stripmined or used as a launching pad.
Although he knew his high art, Farber grasped that motion pictures shouldn't
be looked at in the same way as old world masterpieces, like the Mona Lisa or
"Madame Bovary." The movies are all about looseness and movement, the
boundless unruliness of life. Farber disapproved of filmmakers who tried to
impose too much high-faluting order on things. This included everyone from
John Huston to Michelangelo Antonioni. At the same time, he was among the
first to champion Howard Hawkes and that two-fisted pulpmeister Sam Fuller.
For Farber, what makes movies great is the same thing that made jazz America's
enduring contribution to 20th century music: the swing, the personal
virtuosity, the knockabout ease that is a democratic culture's answer to
aristocratic savior faire.
He was perhaps the first to see that the true glory of American movies lies
not in high-minded message pictures like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or
"Schindler's List," but in B-movies and genre pictures like "The Big Sleep,"
where the artistry is hidden within playfulness.
Take, for instance, this scene from "The Big Sleep," where Humphrey Bogart's
Philip Marlowe is in the bedroom of his client's daughter, played by Lauren
(Soundbite of "The Big Sleep")
Ms. LAUREN BACALL: (As Vivian Sternwood Rutledge) And I don't like your
Mr. HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Philip Marlowe) I'm not crazy about yours. I
didn't ask to see you. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. I don't
like them myself. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter
evenings. And I don't mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a
bottle, but don't waste your time trying to cross examine me.
Ms. BACALL: (As Vivian Sternwood Rutledge) People don't talk to me like
Mr. BOGART: (As Philip Marlowe) Ohhhh.
Ms. BACALL: (As Vivian Sternwood Rutledge) Do you always think you can
handle people like trained seals?
Mr. BOGART: (As Philip Marlowe) Mm-hmm. I usually get away with it, too.
Ms. BACALL: (As Vivian Sternwood Rutledge) How nice for you.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. POWERS: If anything in Farber's work is well known, it's his distinction
between so-called "white elephant art" and what he dubbed "termite art." While
the former announces its capital-I importance, it has the bloated pretension
we now associate with Oscar bait, termite art goes forward by energetically
nibbling away at boundaries. It's the difference between Robert De Niro
gaining 70 pounds to star in "Raging Bull" and that 6'5" termite John Wayne
dominating a scene with the casual confidence with which he moves across the
Unlike many critics, Farber was never a systematizer or "thumbs up"/"thumbs
down" kind of guy. He simply wrote what he saw and felt, presenting his
thoughts the way Charlie Parker sprayed his notes. His passages come at you
in waves that dazzle on the page, but are hard to read out loud because no
sentence or two can do him justice. His writing could be so sharp and funny
that even today young critics foolishly try to imitate him, but this misses
the whole point. You're supposed to have your own personality, not his.
Such an emphasis on the personal is part of what Farber so distinctively
American. And not just American, but of the American West. Born in Arizona,
he wound up in San Diego. And his career is a triumph of Wild West
individualism in all its thorny unpredictability.
Politically, he was conservative. He twice voted for President Bush. But
aesthetically he was far from it. He was as happy to champion Godard and
Fassbinder as he was in praising William Powell and Ida Lupino. For him, the
highest value was freedom: the freedom of actors to capture fleeting moments
without being crushed by some director's preening visual scheme or by $50
million worth of CGI, the freedom of filmmakers to capture life in all its
rude outrageousness without feeling the need to ennoble the audience with big
statements, and the freedom of critics to offer their personal response to
work without worrying about some artistic hierarchy inherited from Europe or
being forced to serve as a consumer guide. Put simply, Manny Farber was the
critic as libertarian, and he left American culture a little bit freer.
DAVIES: John Powers writes about film for Vogue.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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