The New Yorker Radio Hour
About this podcast
Profiles, storytelling and insightful conversations, hosted by David Remnick.
About this podcast
Profiles, storytelling and insightful conversations, hosted by David Remnick.
The New Yorker Radio Hour
The Post-Pandemic Dress Code, Plus Hilton Als on Alice Neel
When a very long year of doing business from home—in sweatshirts and pajamas and slippers—is over, how much effort will people be willing to expend on dressing for the office? Richard Thompson Ford, a law professor and the author of “Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History,” tackles that question along with the New Yorker editor Henry Finder. Clothing, he says, has mostly been used to maintain social hierarchies, but it has also occasionally helped to overthrow them. Dressing up, he says, can be a form of transgression: historically, in Black communities, refined dress has been used to demand dignity and resist white supremacy. Plus, the celebrated critic Als on the work of Alice Neel, who painted her neighbors, friends, and colleagues in a multicultural New York.
Atul Gawande and Siddhartha Mukherjee on the State of the Pandemic
After a year of battling COVID-19, parts of the United States are celebrating a gradual turn toward normalcy, but the pandemic isn’t over—and it may never be over, exactly. Atul Gawande tells David Remnick that a hard core of vaccine resisters, along with reservoirs of the virus in domestic animals, may make herd immunity elusive. Rather, he says, the correct goal is to bring the impact of COVID-19 down to that of something like the flu. Meanwhile, India is now overwhelmed by a devastating death toll, reported at around four thousand per day but likely much higher. Siddhartha Mukherjee, who reported on the pandemic in developing nations, says that commitments from the West such as extra doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will barely scratch the surface. A national mobilization will be required to even begin to flatten the curve.
Three Women Who Changed the World
“The Agitators” is a book about three women—three revolutionaries—who changed the world at a time when women weren’t supposed to be in public life at all. Frances Seward was a committed abolitionist who settled with her husband in the small town of Auburn, in western New York. One of their neighbors was a Quaker named Martha Coffin Wright, who helped organize the first convention for women’s rights, at Seneca Falls. Both women harbored fugitives when it was a violation of federal law. And, after they met Harriet Tubman, through the Underground Railroad, Tubman also settled in Auburn. “The Agitators,” by The New Yorker’s executive editor, Dorothy Wickenden, tells their interlocking stories. “These people were outsiders, and they were revolutionaries,” Wickenden tells David Remnick. “They were only two generations separated from the Declaration of Independence, which they believed in literally. They did not understand why women and Black Americans could not have exactly the same rights that had been promised.”
Are U.F.O.s a National Security Threat?
In June, the director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense are expected to deliver a report about what the government knows on the subject of “unidentified aerial phenomena,” more commonly known as U.F.O.s. The issue is nonpartisan: while he was the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, a Democrat, secured funding for a secret Pentagon project to investigate the subject; John Podesta, a chief of staff in the Clinton White House, argued for government transparency on the topic; most recently, the Republican senator Marco Rubio introduced language in last year’s Intelligence Authorization Act calling for the forthcoming report. This is a shocking turn of events. For generations, U.F.O.s were in the purview of late-night call-in radio shows and supermarket tabloids, not the Department of Defense. Gideon Lewis-Kraus reports on how this change came about. The journalist Leslie Kean, who published a bombshell story in the New York Times, explains how the C.I.A. got involved in casting doubt on U.F.O. sightings. Reid tells Lewis-Kraus that the Pentagon refused to authorize his inspection of contractor facilities which, it was rumored, held U.F.O. crash debris. And a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Christopher Mellon, says that the phenomena observed in many sightings cannot be explained as advanced technology built by one of our rivals. “I really doubt that the Russians or Chinese could be that far ahead of us,” he says. “It looks like centuries ahead.” So, whereas the word “aliens” still seems like taboo in serious conversation, he adds, “it's hard to come up with a hypothesis to explain that without considering the possibility that some other civilization is involved.” Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s “How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously” appears in the May 10th issue of The New Yorker. This segment features scoring by Pablo Vergara. Additional archival clips were provided courtesy of James Fox.
A Surge at the Border, and the Children of Morelia
Nearly a century ago, during the Spanish Civil War, a group of parents put five hundred of their children on a boat and sent them across the ocean to find safety in Mexico. Few of the refugees ever saw their parents again. The youngest of the children was Rosita Daroca Martinez, who was just three. On this week’s show, her granddaughter, the writer and radio producer Destry Maria Sibley, traces the impact of her grandmother’s trauma down through the generations. Plus, the immigration reporter Jonathan Blitzer ties the story to today’s refugee crisis at the U.S. southern border, where a surge in arrivals has put the Biden Administration on its heels.
Jelani Cobb on Derek Chauvin’s Conviction and the Future of Police Reform
The murder of George Floyd galvanized the public and led to the largest protests in American history. Even Donald Trump said of the videos of Floyd’s killing, “It doesn't get any more obvious or it doesn't get any worse than that,” presumably referring to the use of force by police. America waited anxiously for the outcome of the murder trial of the former police officer Derek Chauvin. The prosecution’s case was notable for the unusually candid and definitive statements against Chauvin’s actions that were made by senior figures in the Minneapolis Police Department. The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb covered the trial and says that this testimony sends a message to law enforcement. “There are now circumstances where public scrutiny and public outrage and egregious offenses that come to light can actually generate enough outrage that you actually will not be defended by your fellow-officers,” he tells David Remnick. “It may seem like a low bar. But, given what we’ve seen previously, that’s a pretty astounding development.”
What Is Happening in the Internment Camps in Xinjiang
In a special episode on the crisis in Xinjiang region of China, the staff writer Raffi Khatchadourian investigates Xi Jinping’s government’s severe repression of Muslim minorities, principally Uyghurs and Kazhaks. Accounts from a camp survivor and a woman who fled detainment show how, even outside the camps, life in the province of Xinjiang became a prison. The crisis meets the United Nations’ definition of genocide, and the U.S. State Department has also made that determination. With the 2022 Winter Olympics coming up in Beijing, what can the world do about Xinjiang?
Rickie Lee Jones’s Life on the Road
Rickie Lee Jones emerged into the pop world fully formed; her début album was nominated for five Grammys, in 1980, and she won for Best New Artist. One of the songs on that record was “The Last Chance Texaco,” and Jones has made that the title of her new memoir. The song evokes a service station on a long stretch of highway, and Jones’s book reflects on her almost obsessive need to travel and uproot herself at almost any cost. “All I wanted to do was leave” from a very young age, she says.“When I talk about it from here, it seems like it was so horribly dangerous.” She adds, “Suddenly I’ll [say], ‘I think I’ll go to Big Sur,’ and I’m in a car, going. But the chaos and trouble that brings to a life!” The producer Scott Carrier, who hosts the podcast “Home of the Brave,” interviewed Jones near her home in New Orleans.
The Brody Awards, and Louis Menand on “The Free World”
Oscars, schmoscars! Richard Brody is a critic of wide tastes and eccentric enthusiasms. His list of the best films of the year rarely lines up with the Academy’s. Each year, he joins David Remnick and the staff writer Alexandra Schwartz to talk about the year’s cinematic highlights. Plus, the staff writer Louis Menand talks with Remnick about his new work of cultural history, “The Free World.” Menand writes about the postwar flowering of American culture, when the United States evolved from an economic and military giant into a global creative force. Modern jazz and rock and roll were exported and celebrated around the world. Painters got out from under the long shadow of Europe and led the way into new forms of abstraction and social commentary. Writers like James Baldwin turned a spotlight back on America’s fundamental, unexamined flaws. It was a time, Menand writes, when “ideas mattered. Painting mattered. Movies mattered. Poetry mattered.”
David Fincher on “Mank,” and Daniel Alarcón’s Favorite Children’s Books
David Fincher made his name in Hollywood as the director of movies that pushed people’s buttons—dark thrillers like “Fight Club,” “The Game,” “Seven,” and “Gone Girl”—but his new film belongs to one of Hollywood’s most esteemed genres: stories about Hollywood. Around thirty years ago, his father, the late Jack Fincher, gave him the draft of a screenplay about Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote “Citizen Kane” and other classics. Fincher tells David Remnick that Mankiewicz was a key figure in film—one of that first generation of writers who invented a vibrant language for movies as they came into the sound era. Nominated for ten Academy Awards (including a Best Director nomination for Fincher), “Mank” is the story of the writer’s conflict with Orson Welles in the making of “Citizen Kane,” and their struggle is one that has bedevilled creators and critics down the decades: Who really authors a film? Plus, the journalist and fiction writer Daniel Alarcón talks about three children’s books he’s been enjoying with his son during the pandemic.
Race and Taxes, and Jane Mayer on How to Kill a Bill
The investigative reporter Jane Mayer recently received a recording of a meeting attended by conservative power brokers including Grover Norquist, representatives of PACs funded by Charles Koch, and an aide to Senator Mitch McConnell. The subject was the voting-rights bill H.R. 1, and the mood was anxious. The bill (which we discussed in last week’s episode) would broadly make voting more accessible, which tends to benefit Democratic candidates, and it would raise the curtain on “dark money” in elections with stringent disclosure requirements. The problem for this group, a political strategist says, is that the bill is popular among voters of both parties, but H.R. 1, they insist, must die. As we hear the participants tick through options to tarnish the bill’s public appeal, Mayer notes how the political winds have shifted in Washington, leaving the Republican coalition newly fragile. Plus, Dorothy Brown, a professor of tax law, uncovers how the seemingly race-neutral tax code compounds many inequalities in American life, and prevents Black people from building wealth. She talks with Sheelah Kolhatkar about her new book, “The Whiteness of Wealth.”
The Complex Story of Being Trans in Africa, and Derek DelGaudio on Deception
Our producer talks with the South African scholar Dr. B Camminga, whose essay “Disregard and Danger” deconstructs the viewpoints of so-called TERFs—trans-exclusionary radical feminists—through an African-feminist lens. And we speak with Derek DelGaudio, whose magic special on Hulu is “In & Of Itself.” DelGaudio says that he’s never liked tricking people, and he credits his brief stint as a “bust-out dealer”—a professional card dealer who cheats the players on behalf of the house—with changing his perspective on the power of deception. DelGaudio compares the claims of a rigged election that preceded the actual election to his work as a crooked dealer: he made his legitimate deals look shady in order to camouflage the bad ones.
Will the Most Important Voting-Rights Bill Since 1965 Die in the Senate?
No sooner had Joe Biden won the Presidential election than Republican state legislatures began introducing measures to make voting more difficult in any number of ways, most of which will suppress Democratic turnout at the polls. Stacey Abrams, of Georgia, has called the measures “Jim Crow in a suit and tie.” Congress has introduced the For the People Act, known as H.R. 1. Jelani Cobb looks at how the bill goes beyond even the 1965 Voting Rights Act in its breadth, and how it will likely fare in the Senate. And Jeannie Suk Gersen speaks with David Remnick about the Supreme Court’s views on voting rights. The Court is currently weighing an Arizona case that will help decide what really counts as discrimination in a voting restriction.
Remembering a City at the Peak of Crisis
April 15, 2020, was near the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, which was then its epicenter. On that day, a crew of New Yorker writers talked with people all over the city, in every circumstance and walk of life, to form a portrait of a city in crisis. A group station manager for the subway talks about keeping the transit system running for those who can’t live without it; a respiratory therapist copes with break-time conversations about death and dying; a graduating class of medical students gets up the courage to confront the worst crisis in generations; and a new mother talks about giving birth on a day marked by tragedy for so many families. The hour includes contributions from writers including William Finnegan, Helen Rosner, Jia Tolentino, Kelefa Sanneh, and Adam Gopnik, who says, “One never knows whether to applaud the human insistence on continuing with some form of normal life, or look aghast at the human insistence on continuing with some form of normal life. That’s the mystery of the pandemic.” This episode originally aired on April 24, 2020.
“2034,” and Torrey Peters on the Taboo of Detransitioning
The retired admiral James Stavridis teamed up with Elliot Ackerman, a journalist and former Marine, to imagine how, in the shadow of an increasingly tense relationship between the U.S. and China, a small incident in contested waters could spiral into catastrophe. The result is “2034: A Novel of the Next World War.” The book is a thriller, and also a cautionary tale about a failure of military planning: “We have plenty of intelligence,” Ackerman says. “What we often lack is imagination.” And Torrey Peters describes how her book “Detransition, Baby”—a dishy novel on a taboo subject—aims to move beyond the marginal spaces in which trans writing has flourished, into mainstream success with a major publisher.
Can the Royal Family Withstand Oprah’s Scrutiny?
Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan and Harry, the Duchess and Duke of Sussex, was riveting celebrity television, but it may also be a significant turning point in the history of the British royal family. Revelations about racism and about Meghan’s struggles with mental health are already reshaping public perception of the powerful institution. The interview also touched on racism and mental health, issues that are familiar to many families. “In the future, we will look to this interview as a real touchstone marking the change of who it is we see as authorities of their own experience,” says Doreen St. Félix. In conversation with St. Félix and the eminent historian Simon Schama, the author of a three-volume history of Britain, David Remnick discusses how the interview plays into culture wars in the U.K. and in American.
Bonus Episode from La Brega: Basketball Warriors
Despite being a U.S. colony, Puerto Rico competes in sports as its own country on the world stage. Since the 70s, Puerto Rico’s national basketball team has been a pride of the island, taking home trophy after trophy. But in the 2004 at the Athens Olympics, the team was up against the odds, with an opening game against a U.S. Dream Team stacked with players like Lebron James and Allen Iverson. This episode of La Brega, from Futuro Media and WNYC Studios, tells the story of a basketball game that Puerto Ricans will never forget, and why he thinks now, more than ever, is a crucial moment to remember it. The documentary "Nuyorican Basquet" is here. If you want to see the famous photo of Carlos Arroyo, click here. To read more about sovereignty and sports, we recommend The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico, by Antonio Sotomayor.
Living in the Shadow of Guantánamo
When Mohamedou Salahi arrived at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, in August of 2002, he was hopeful. He knew why he had been detained: he had crossed paths with Al Qaeda operatives, and his cousin had once called him from Osama bin Laden’s phone. But Salahi was no terrorist—he held no extremist views—and had no information of any plots. He trusted the American system of justice and thought the authorities would realize their mistake before long. He was wrong. Salahi spent fifteen years at Guantánamo, where he was subjected to some of the worst excesses of America’s war on terror; Donald Rumsfeld personally signed off on the orders for his torture. And, under torture, Salahi confessed to everything—even though he had done nothing. “If they would have wanted him to confess to being on the grassy knoll for the J.F.K. assassination, I’m sure we could have got him to confess to that, too,” Mark Fallon, who led an investigation unit at Guantánamo, said. Ben Taub reported Mohamedou Salahi’s story for The New Yorker and tried to understand what had gone wrong in the fight against Al Qaeda. Salahi met Ben in Mauritania, because, when the U.S. released him, it was under the condition that Mauritania would withhold his passport. He would like to go abroad—he needs medical treatment, and he hopes to live in a democracy. But, for an innocent victim of Guantánamo, being released isn’t the same as being free. This episode originally aired August 2, 2019. Ben Taub’s reporting on Mohamedou Salahi won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2020.
Clubhouse Opens a Window for Free Expression in China
Clubhouse is an audio-only social-media platform offering chat rooms on any subject, allowing thousands of people to gather and listen to each other. Jiayang Fan, who often reports on China, tells David Remnick that the chance to talk in private and without a text trail has opened a window of free expression for Chinese users. (Recently, some questions have been raised about whether the app is as secure as its makers claim.) Suddenly, in chat rooms with names like “There is a concentration camp in Xinjiang?,” Chinese users are able to address politically taboo subjects out loud in large groups. A Clubhouse chat-room moderator explains to Fan that for Han Chinese, who are the beneficiaries of the government’s persecution of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, the app offers a space for reckoning and protest comparable to America’s Black Lives Matter movement. The government has clamped down on Clubhouse, but tech-savvy young people are used to finding workarounds.