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tv   Casey Cep Furious Hours  CSPAN  June 15, 2019 8:00am-9:12am EDT

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stakeholders that many of you have alluded to have great interest in how we are moving forward on this program. at this point we will conclude the open press portion of the meeting and transferred to a deliberative discussion. thank you to members of the press who joined us today and our staff will be happy to escort you out the south entrance. >> and starting now, it is book tv on ibly3. .. >> moving political views. watch all that and more this weekend on booktv, television for serious readers. for a complete schedule, visit or check your cable guide. and now we kick off the weekend
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with casey cep. she tells the story of author harper lee's attempt to write a true crime book. [inaudible conversations] >> hello, everybody. can you hear me okay? my name is r are ebek ah, tonight we are on excited to have casey cep -- [cheers and applause] >> "furious hours," this is a book that katie -- sorry, casey. [laughter] this is not the first thing that casey has given us to write. casey has been writing for the new yorker, "the new york times," many, many others for many years now, and many of you
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probably noticed because you're here, but in all of her work she has this superhuman ability to make everything she touches fascinating and crystal clear, and this could not be more true for this book. in this one, casey works to lay out two intertwining mysteries. one is the story of reverend willie maxwell and his trial, and the other is the unfinished work of a beloved literary character, and she recounts both stories with contagious dedication to seeing them through and doing them as much justice as possible. trust me and also every person, i think, who works for this bookstore who's in this room, this is a book that you actually cannot put it down. i think i'm about 20 payments from the end -- pages from the end right now, and very sad i'm not reading it. [laughter] casey, we are so excited to have you tonight. thank you so much for coming. in conversation with casey today is also patrick keith, patrick is a staffer with the new
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yorker -- [cheers and applause] author of three books, the most recent of which is "the new york times" bestseller, "saying nothing: a true story of murder and memory in northern ireland," also amazing. please read it. patrick, thank you so much for joining us. thank you both. and fyi, we will be having a signing, so feel free to grab a copy of this book. thank you, everyone, for coming. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you all for coming out this evening. it's a huge pleasure to be here and talk to casey about this amazing book. what struck me as a fellow
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writer, an envious fellow writer -- [laughter] as i was reading this, in some ways it's a book about a failure, right? it's a book about an extraordinary story, an extraordinary writer who kind of failed to bring it home. and at the same time, it's kind of a triumph in the sense that all these years later another extraordinary writer does succeed in bringing it home. which is remarkable in and of itself but also kind of audacious when you think about it. and a number of places in this book you get this kind of wonderful scenario, familiar perhaps to some of the reporters out there which is that somebody kind of alights in a strange land with a notebook and tries to pursue a story and figure out how to report it and figure out how to tell it. and this happens with different people at different times in this book, but it also happened
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with you. and i wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how it was that you first came to alabama and to this story and what gave you the hubris to think that you would, you would go -- [laughter] >> [inaudible] do this kind of thing and come out with this. >> tough question from the outset. you know, to take this book that harper lee couldn't write and write it so beautifully yourself. >> gosh, that's like a hundred questions, and i'm just going to spend the next 30 minutes with every one of them. so the first thing i want to say, it wasn't clear to me at the outset that she hadn't -- [inaudible] and it's certainly the case that a lot of people close to her, and if you have the chance to read the book, you see they gathered some of their speculation and some of their intelligence -- might be too strong a word -- but a lot of time think she chose not to publish it. it was that history of, well,
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did she write it, did he not, what did she do with what she wrote. those are all possibilities, and it's a little bit of a factorial down the road of what might there be to find. so it wasn't clear to me at the outset that i was trying to do something she hadn't, although it was clear to me the book i was going to put together would be quite different from whatever she might have written because i knew she would be in it. and much the same way i didn't want to be in my book, there was no way "the reverend" by harper lee had a harper lee-like figure in it going about telling the story. she almost certainly, because she was so private, because she had such a strong notion about the identity of the artist standing outside of their work, she was never going to be in it. believe me, day after day i was excited and terrified of the possibility, this would not have done if her book had come out a
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month ago, two months ago -- [laughter] just going to cut me loose are, how is the book that she has to have written -- [inaudible] [laughter] so i thought about it, a although, you know, truly no one would be more excited to read that moon yaw script than -- manuscript than i would be, and i think there would still be a place for the book i wrote. on the one hand, she had's to more sources than i did. on the other hand, she is a huge part of this book, and i think the kind of unfinishedness of her book, it's a real crime story at the heart of the book. it's quite strange and involves, you know, not all homicide, for one thing. so there are five, if not six deaths attributed to the reverend max welshing but in some way withs no cause of -- maxwell. same thing when you're writing
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about a liberal politician in the deep south, that is a very unfinished story. open the newspaper, it's still going on in alabama that people are writing for their rights of equality and justice. so it didn't seem that odd to pick up her unfinished story because they all felt that way. and, indeed, you know, i don't want to get existential, but all of life feels that way, right? [laughter] where do you ever have a complete story? maybe if you're doing some geologic story that ended centuries ago, but it's always kind of messy to know where it started happening, and i can't wait to throw the questions back at you. you wrote about a political situation some would say, you know, unfinished -- [laughter] unresolved and, you know, what about you? , you know? [laughter] the irish language -- [inaudible] trying to solve the murder. >> i think you can wait just a little longer for the questions.
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[laughter] but so, but tell me about the beginning though. had you known -- >> i dodged the matter of fact -- >> you dodged the softball. >> yeah, the softball. sorry, i was aiming for the stands. so the logistical kind of how did i find this story, i was a huge harper lee fan as a kid, and you wouldn't really know it to look at me now, but i looked exactly like mary adams, the actress who plays scout. i immediately identified with the character. i was a tomboy and a nerd, and so that book was basically written for me. i had always wanted to see monroeville, and i had done these southern driving trips, but i never made it to town where harper lee was born and raised. you know, not that the novel is purely autobiographical, but it bears a strong resemblance to town in the novel. i wanted to see it. so in 2017, you know, for 50
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years harper lee had said i'm never publishing another book, and she often announced in her 80s that she's publishing this book, and her older sister who had been her caretaker and kind of business manager had died a few months before that, and there were all these questions about the prove nance of that manuscript and about her ability to consent to publication. and so reporters from everywhere went down and was hooking into that book when i found out about this other book she had tried to write. and it was interesting and strange, and, you know, given a thousand years i would never have guessed it's what harper lee was up to in the years after "to kill a mockingbird." the more i looked at it, the more interesting it was, and the more original people were alive. music to a reporter's ears, nobody had tried to write this book, because they all thought harper lee was going to do it. she'd been squatting on this
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story for 40 years. everybody wowgz say, ah, the voodoo preacher, what a great story, but harper lee's got her name all over it. and it seemed there was a kind of sweet spot between the possibility of her having witness and the opportunity to write a book that included her work as well. >> and in terms of that idea, you know, the reporter arrives in town and is not a native -- >> i didn't bring a foot locker full of food. yeah, yeah. >> there's a wonderful moment that you have in the book wrrl -- [inaudible] shows up in kansas having provision. this'll be a short trip with a foot locker full of food. i was, of course, wondering, you know, is it -- what is it? >> what was in it? >> caviar? >> presumably. i think he thought he wouldn't be able to find it in kansas. >> right. and then it turns out the stay is longer than he anticipated, and he runs out -- >> no, i happily lived off waffle house and, you know, the
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great southern specialties with no provisions. >> this is as it should be. but did you, did you go knowing? i mean, i'm just wondering about the process. this sort of, your own sense that there might be a book here, but then also your sense that it was a book that you could report and write. i mean, the book is so steeped in, and the envy's going to come through again here, a sense of the place. and, i mean, i know having tried to do that sort of thing myself, that's earned. it takes considerable work. >> [inaudible] >> visit her home state. >> back there. >> [inaudible] >> so what was that process like? >> so i had never been to alabama before i went to report that story, and i went and i loved monroeville. dare i say i made some friends
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kind of right away. i felt like even though i hadn't been there, i understood the dynamics of a small town like that. it was very much like where i'd grown up and the kind of parochialism felt familiar to me. i was really energized by that initial reporting. and i, you know, really admired harper lee's work, and i wanted to know more about it. this other case was interesting in its own right. i had a little bit of resistance to idea of the true crime portion of the book as the truth. i was totally fascinated by tom radney, the lawyer. the book is about the reverend who was accused of these murders, and the second book is about the lawyer who defended him, and the third part is harper lee. i was tremendously interested in that attorney, political history. i'm very interested in people who stay in the place that would rather not have them. and in that way, tom felt like a
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familiar character to me, and i wanted to understand why he had stayed and why he hadn't left and sort of the ways his ambition had morphed and evolved in this place. if anything for harper lee, quite interestingly, you know, she lived a lot of her adult life in manhattan, but she maintained this lifelong connection to alabama. and for a woman of her means and of her politics and of her kind of cosmopolitan -- i know one of her godsons is here, so i'm mindful there might be people in this room who know her better than i do, so i tread lightly in the characterizations of someone i've never met. you know, she could have ease toly been a manhattanite, but every year she went home, and i wanted to understand that. she felt familiar to me. the reverend was a tantalizing character to write about. and i'm interested in rural religion and superstitions and how people make sense of the world around them particularly
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when it defies explanation or accounting. it felt like between the three of them it was more than enough for a book. and i would get to do different kinds of writing. it was interesting, was there enough stuff, were there enough people. there were people who had lived through this, and there were archives in the local papers, but i waited until i could get autopsies and birth certificates and some court documents turned up, insurance documents in the civil cases, and then it just felt like, okay, i do have enough facts to build off of. kind of the same thing for harper lee. she was still alive, i didn't get to interview -- >> did you try? >> did i try? yes. i was one of the many reporters who went to meadows only to be turned away by the armed guard who had con spinning ifously taken up his post there. i did get to know friends and family of hers, and that was
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meaningful and useful. but the coincidence of timing was some of those folks were alarmed by watchman and worried about her in that sense. after she died in 2016, kind of another wave of folks decided to talk to me because they felt the omerta of harper lee ended with her death. and they wanted to talk about their friend and to make sure there was a rich and complicated version of her in the world even if that meant revealing things that might have been embarrassing to her during her lifetime. >> fascinating. and there's a great malcolm quote that you have here about how between the process of reporting and writing is, i think what malcolm calls an abyss. so you're there, you're doing the reporting. i mean, you hinted at the structure of the book, and i just wonder at what point you awe arrived at the notion of three books, each book focusing on one with of these individuals. >> yeah. i mean --
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>> did you know from the start? >> yeah, i was going to say i wish there was some kind of complicated division problem or calculus. no, i just came to it that way. it became of course. the reverend was born in 1925, he dies in 1977. as far as the book is concerned, this isn't spoiling it for you because this is sort of revealing the prologue, but the book then hands off to attorney whose kind of climax is '77 and '78, dealing with the trial of a vigilante. but then immediately he hands it off to harper lee who we kind of follow forward to 2016. so that chronology was underlying the three character sections. >> yeah. and was there a -- so one of the things i was fascinated by is, i mean, and we'll get into the many, many, many possible reasons why harper lee failed to finish this book or any other
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subsequent to "mockingbird," but one of the reasons seems to be or one of the things she struggled with was writing about the reverend in a way that felt kind of intimate or granular enough to meet her standards. and part of that seems to have been a function of the way in which the lives of african-americans were recorded. i mean, the kind of paper trail that would have been available to her at that time. >> sure. >> so for you coming along and trying to write about the reverend, were there similar -- i mean, did you find yourself confronting similar challenges, how did you deal with them? >> sure. of course i did, and i tried to be conspicuous about some of them in the kind of text of the book and also in the notes. but, yeah, in a lot of instances you're relying on oral history and where, you know, you want to know where tom radney worshiped
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as a kid, you can go to their church, and it's brick and mortar and still wore -- worshiping every sunday. and if you want to go to some of these black churches where the reverend preached revivals, they don't exist. they're torn down. they were not brick churches to gun with, and maybe -- to begin with, and maybe somebody's converted it into a house, and you can see where approximately it was located. but, you know, even the architectural history is harder to come by in some instances. so you rely on oral history. and in the case of official documents, some of the local newspapers had, you know, quote negro sections, so you can get a little bit of a sense of what black life was like and some of those early wpa histories go into the lives of black sharecroppers in the region. it's actually a great coincidence of geography to this story, so -- [inaudible] one of the places where the reverend preached who's a little
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bit in her autobiography and you can learn about that town. he -- this book is set in alabama, and theodore rosengarden, if you've ever read "all god's danger," that tremendous oral history is in the county where the communist uprising was. so, you know, between that and a.g. and walker evans writing about a similar time but across the state, mostly white sharecroppers, there's some material to draw on, you know? the wpa files have some of what life was like then. yeah, a lot of those facts are hard won, and you would hear it from one person and have to get them to kind of stretch out a sense of what the pattern of life was like. but when you do it for harper lee, you can ask ten people who live on her street, and they all remember, or they all wrote up their memories for the local paper. her father was the editor, so you can go and see what was her sister's birthday party when she turned 9.
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you know, that is in strong contrast to reverend where the kind of nuts and bolts of his life, you get his army service records, his birth certificate, marriage certificates, sometimes you can find a tax bill or mortgage piece, but the official paperwork really in terms of the criminal trials and the civil litigation. so i think in instances like where there's real gaps, i just tried to be conspicuous about it and use it as a way to talk about how history is formed. obviously, i'm lucky in the section with harper lee i can use her as a way to talk about the decisions any true crime writer makes about victims and perpetrators and characterization. you know, you're always dependent on who cooperates and who gives over materials. so i think the best we can do sometimes when we can't do a full portrait of everyone is kind of talk about why. >> yeah. >> and not fudge or, you know, invent details where they don't exist. >> that make it explicit. it's interesting, i think you did that very effectively while also not putting yourself in the
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text of the book. >> yeah. i didn't want to tell you about the time when i was in the rockford courthouse and they let me look at the records, and they locked me in the room. yeah, sure. if you don't get all the, you know, nuts and bolts of that or how much it cost for foe to copies in -- photocopies in alabama and when luther strange was attorney general and told me to get the heck out, those did not make it into the book. >> so this issue of true crime, i mean, there's a wonderful section in the book which is about -- and i had not, i confess, i did not know, i didn't fully grasp the chronology. but having written "watchman" in, i think it took two months? >> yeah. if you want to feel bad, i know harper lee has this reputation as a one-hit wonder, i called it
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mondays with maurice, she showed up every monday with 50 new pages. it was a draft that had to be revised, it didn't go to print, but, yeah, she had this period of tremendous productivity. >> so she does that, and then -- which is kind of a land speed record, and then writes "to kill a mockingbird" and turns the book in. and there's this period of time, you know, as the books go through the process of getting ready for publication during which she's looking for a job. and it's at that point that her old friend says, hey, i'm going to kansas and looking for a research assistant. i'll pay you, i think it was -- 900? >> almost as much as she made for mockingbird. >> the kind of duet of these two friends which runs through the book is wonderful. is so they go off together before "mocking bird" can comes out. and then eventually having dug in as reporting, capotety's not
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ready to finish "in cold blood" at which which "to kill a mockingbird" becomes this massive success, and it kind of goes back and forth. during the interlude when they're in kansas, you describe how intimately involved lee was in the reporting and actually the assembly of scenes and characterizations to a point where i, you know, where she hands this hundred-some-odd page detailed outline to capote, and i was thinking harper lee wrote "in cold blood," you know? [laughter] i mean, she did write another book, it was called "in cold blood." >> well -- [laughter] i have to say when with i started this book, you know, all the time did truman capote write "to kill a mockingbird," so i'm just glad it went in the other direction. >> believe me. it's hyperbole in one direction
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or another. >> yeah. >> but here's my question. i, the genre of true crime, literary true crime, i suppose you suggested it, that "in cold blood" really kind of changed the paradigm there, was one that lee ended up feeling uncomfortable with and another one of the reasons why she ended up struggling to write the book that she wants to about the reverend is that she, as you describe it, she feels as though she has a certainties taste for the conventions of the -- certain distaste for the conventions of the genre where she's uncomfortable describing the murders, she feels there's something sensationalist and exploitive about it, and yet she's kind of wise enough to know that there are these commercial imperatives, that she would have to do that. so she ends up stuck between what she knows she would need to do and what she would be able to
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do. i wonder how you felt as you embarked on this and dealt with those same dilemmas at a different time, but at a time when true crime is a genre. there are people who will pick this book up not because they're harper lee fans, but -- >> that's why the damming scene opens the book. i think those are the readers who are like, what on earth -- [laughter] like martin, give me some bodies. why are we filling a reservoir? yeah, there's a little bit of -- [inaudible] >> i love it. i love it. >> yeah. so, hopefully -- yeah, you know, barrier to entry. but, no, of course -- [inaudible] i mean, in the instance of this book, you know, on the one hand the reverend was accused of killing family members, it was all in the family for the maxwells. on the other hand, there are living degeneral cants of some of these -- descendants of some of these women, some of these
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people and people very much alive who remember the victims in this book as living, breathing people. and the reverend's stepdaughter who who was 16 when she was found murder had a lot of biological siblings. and the vigilante who murdered the reverend is alive and was related to her. and there was a lot of grief and loss and mourning around the story and even around the reverend himself. obviously, some members of his family believe he was innocent of all of these crimes and that his murderer was never held responsible. so whatever kind of general obligation you feel to treat your sources and subjects respectfully and care carefully -- which i feel whether you're writing about a tech company or garbage disposal company -- i certainly felt with this book. the more people i met whod had a lived through all this, the more people who were worried that this sensational story would be somehow used to malign or misrepresent their story -- which is where i think the book
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has a lot in common with "in cold blood." on the one hand, you want to write about a certain place and time, but you want to lift up all of the lives a around it and the people who experienced it. so over and over again, i felt myself entering into, you know, kind of emotional pacts with people about how the book would try and be honest but also be respect. respectful and every nettic. this started about the true crime portion. there are bodies and there were people who were murdered and died, and that's one kind of challenge. but, obviously, with a writer as famous as harper lee, i met a lot of people who knew her well and loved and cherished her and didn't want to embarrass her. so there was another kind of fear there around how are you going to represent our beloved friend or aunt or, you know, godmother or whatever, whatever the structural relationship was.
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yeah, everybody in this book, everybody in any book worries about how they will be represented, and that's not only in the genre of true crime, it's not all nonfiction anytime you're writing about other people. so, yeah, i told it kind of even hi throughout the three sections. >> yeah. but you weren't stymied by it in the end. >> no. i mean, i, you know, i believe in contracts and deadlines. [laughter] poor david is here, i do believe in deadlines. i get that one done soon enough. but, you know, an editor -- [inaudible] but, yeah, i don't know. i think, again, the kind of useful -- [inaudible] talk about that. and i was very luck are key in the case of harper lee, i had a very necessary reason for bringing that up. and hopefully, you know, if you're a true crime fan and you're not in it for harper lee, what you get to do is sit with a writer as she makes those kinds of decisions. and maybe if you're someone who
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delights in that genre and you've never thought about the kind of, you know, perspective choices a writer makes or descriptive choices a writer makes or how they assemble documents and give them even or uneven weight, that's one of the things you can do is learn about a genre you already love. >> yeah. fascinating. just a couple more quick questions, and i'd love to open it up for questions from all of you. parking lot of what i love about this book is the, there are these amazing asides which don't -- they manage to not feel extraneous. if some of you who have not read the book are wondering why this reverend might have killed all these people, the answer to extent that there's readily explicable ones appears to be insurance. and there's all this stuff about the history of insurance, which is completely fascinating to me. but then also -- >> my ideal writer. [laughter]
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>> i'm selling the book hard here. [laughter] yeah, yeah. come for the murders, stay for the detailed history of insurance. [laughter] but voodoo as well. i mean, a whole series of -- and also even just the concept of murder and when it sort of became a legal concept. obviously, not one that initially was applied to the killing of native americans. but i guess i wondered how you thought about those -- the introduction of all that kind of stuff felt very calibrated to me because those potentially could have been the kind of rabbit holes down which one can fall and then never reemerge. how you thought about that. >> yeah. it's a little bit like a structure for me. there are enough people in this room who have known me for enough years that it's just the
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way i talk. i start telling one story, and then you've got to explain somebody's great uncle in order to understand why the cousin matters. it's how i grew up hearing people marry their lives. and it feels like the way a good story unfolds x. if you get to point, why bother, you know? [laughter] why not delight in all the things along the way, so why not write the way you talk? i don't know how to do it otherwise. but, you know, that's not to say that there aren't, like, tremendous volumes behind any one of these kind of pockets of explanation or, you know, these aren't informed by a lot of other research. i think there it's kind of about getting the essence right. you do all this reading, you do all these interviews, and it's never going to show up kind of one to one in the book or the articles, but you try as best you can to figure out the salient parts, the interesting parts, the delightful parts, and that's you, the writer, going
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out into the world to find it. and sometimes you're actually in the physical world, and you're look at how the trees look around, like, martin or how the birds sound at night. and sometimes you're just reading a long history of, you know, hydroelectric power, and you learn about how many men it tablings to build a dam -- takes to build a dam. you're just collecting those kinds of things. and, you know, if you're lucky, you have enough time to do it. one of the things i loved, this is my first book, and i loved having time to just go looking for things i didn't even know i was looking for and, you know, have the third or fourth conversation with someone where they told the one story you would never have known to ask, or the person you had been told was dead, you had enough time to think, am i sure she's dead? if maybe she's still alive, she's not that old. and go looking for them. so, yeah, i think it's fun in a book to get to do it, and i'm also mindful -- again, i'm kind of joking about this, but it's not a book for everyone.
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you know, i think there are folks who just want plot, and they don't want history or detail. one of my favorite passages in the book, you talk about how you don't know what you're going to need, it's one of the chapters that opens with the first mrs. max welshing -- maxwell shelling peas. i grew up doing that, so i knew how it felt and sounded. there's a little bit of a description that follows that about the kind of texture of that, you know, kind of late summer in alabama, and it comes from these tremendous letters that a naturalist wrote in the 19th century. and i read this, like, whole volume of letters he wrote. he was supposedly going to look f like, nails on the alabama river, but he made his way off, and, you know, he was just an observer. he watched the mud dawners in his cabinets, and he watched the insect life in the late summer.
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you read a book like that, and all all of a sudden could have you've got the sense of this is what it's like in alabama in august. this is what people see, and this is how a summer evening feels and it's a time to sit with a woman who's about to die and just doing the things she's done every summer before that. how could you ever know you were looking for it? >> yeah. you make it sound easy, but i think actually that -- >> it's crazy to to me we get paid to do this. it is fun and delightful, and i went back and read the letters. >> okay, so last question for me. you have -- this is not the beginning of your book tour, and you have already done a swing through the south.
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one pretty crazy story about like an almost meet cute at one of your readings between -- [laughter] people who are related to books that are involved. i just wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the reception in alabama and what that's been like for you. >> sure. you know, i mentioned anytime you write about people, they have this unfortunate habit of going to read what you write about them. [laughter] you can't convince them otherwise. no, i've been very lucky so far. so i did the first week of my tour in alabama, and i was extremely grateful to a lot of librarians and archivists and folks who shared their stories or letters from harper lee or experiences they'd had with her. some of those folks are older, and i knew they would not be able to travel the, so i did -- [inaudible] archives were just tremendously helpful and billing ham and
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fairhope and, gosh, people have heard me make this joke, but it was johnny cash, i've been everywhere, man, just in alabama getting started. for the most part, people -- it's extremely gratifying. i am a creature of a place that i would have very high standards if someone were going to write about where i were from, and it was gratifying to have people who were from alabama several generations back feel like the book got it and that it felt like the place they knew and and the people they loved and that it did justice to a story they'd kind of always wanted to see in print or to a write they'd always ad mired but never really understood. that event patrick was referencing was an event in alexander city where a relative of the reverend's was there, the individual landty was there who murder her father, and all of tom radney's kids and grandkids
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were there. so so you gather in a room like that, i have said this in a lot of places, this is a strange and sordid story, and, you know, there are ways in which it feels not real and it feels like a ghost story, feels like a southern gothic novel or something and never was i more mindful in that room that it's real high for those people, and they lived it in tremendously different ways. so i think that was an important event to have so early in the book process, because it means i can carry that sentiment into rooms like this where you may never go to alabama, you may never see lake martin, you may never media maxwell or a radney or a reid, but they are real people, and the book kind of, hopefully, makes them there. but in case not, i'm school marmishly going to reminded you they are real people. [laughter] >> on that note, i'm going to ask you all to prepare your questions. i'm sure you have them. i don't know, is a mic going around? no.
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okay. so just shove them, or we can repeat them if necessary. we've got one right here. >> [inaudible] that's how i heard about this, i had to come. and i read the glowing review in the -- [inaudible] >> michael lewis, all he can talk about. [laughter] >> but i started learning a little more about the case, and i'm wondering, the reverend marries his main witness in his trial. how did the waif's husband die -- wife's husband die? >> you want an official alabama vital statistics version or the version around the county? so the death certificate said abram anderson died after 92 days in a v.a. hospital of pneumonia. people around the county think he was poisoned. >> by the reverend?
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>> by the reverend. yeah, so that he could remarry -- yeah. that's the kind of perfect discrepancy between, you know, people have told me that, and somebody told me it was, that it was the antifreeze, and someone else told me a voodoo potion. so i hear all this, and i go and i request the death certificate, and there's a story -- i said i'm like harper lee and i didn't want to be in this book, i'm actually in this book in one page of the epilogue, kind of an important story about recovering some documents. and those documents involved a lot of harper lee's reporting materials from when she was working on this case. i just died because she paid the same processing fee i did to get a copy of abram anderson's death certificate because, presumably, she had been told the same thing i had to find out what the official cause of death was. you know, when with i was done reading, even down in alabama, i usually read this kind of riff
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on some of the voodoo rumors about the reverend. i thought for a while that they might have just been offered to me, you know, the kind of young, out of town reporter and people were just telling me what they thought i wanted to hear. but another kind of interesting thing about harper lee's time in town, one of the most consistent things people said about the reverend -- and this is partly because in some voodoo there's black cat lore -- they said he could turn into a black cat if he needed to van everybody quickly. and harper lee, when she was in town, she'd stay in a cabin on lake martin, and she adopted a stray cat which she called reverend maxwell. [laughter] those rumors were circulating at the time, so i was happy to know that people weren't pulling my legs. he was said to have voted in an election two years after he died, and strange lights were found over his tombstone, here, there and everywhere. interesting, that's like the story of the neighbor. there is, you know, i gathered
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for you some of those tremendous stories and superstitions and things. and the reason they had currency there is there were active voodoo commitments. and -- communities. those kinds of superstitions, it wasn't just love potions and get out of jail potions. some of them are homeopathic remmingties, and voodoo was an alternative health care for people who couldn't afford it or for reasons of racial segregation were not allowed to go to hospitals or doctors. i think there it's like the licensure business. there's a kind of surprising turn, and i think that michael lewis did a good job of turning the reverend into a super villain on par with the goldman sachs book. [laughter] the truth of the matter is there have been some tremendous settlements in the last 10 or 15 years for african-american clients who were overcharged for
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policies or sold substandard policies. so there's accreditation in both directions. the reverend might have been a great villain, but it was a villainous industry. there are a lot of turns like that in the book where, yeah, there's just two sides to every story. but, yeah, i hope you read it. i met an ethno botanist who claims he's going to look over all the autopsies again. if you read the book and you have theories, feel free to get in touch. there are live questions around lake martin about how the reverend did it. and those questions from coroners as well as electricians. >> [inaudible] >> it's a one-man room, i like it. all right, nobody -- oh, this guy. [laughter] >> [inaudible] in alabama and how amazing every person they interview in that --
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[inaudible] everybody in it, and that part of alabama have the culture that just lends itself to that kind of storytelling? did you find that when you were doing interviews? >> harper lee would say, yes, but -- [inaudible] lift us up as much as alabama. i think anywhere, one of the last interviews she gave and it's kind of interesting, there's almost as little of harper lee's recorded voice as tennyson even though she lived until 2016. on "60 minutes" she did it in 1964. she says this utterly absurd thing that the south produces storytellers in ways that's 82nd street doesn't. she was living on east 82nd street when she said that. she does make a salient point about how people have time to tell stories there, and it was
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simply my experience that i would go visit someone for two or three days, and they would pretend as if i had come for morning coffee. when are you really going to come visit. i've been here for three days, what do you want from me? [laughter] i've got to get home. or you'd rent a house for two months, and it was like, you're leaving already? there was time. and i make a joke in the book about how if you ask a question, you either get no answer p or you get a whole ideology of where the question began. i think it's just time. it's not or capacity, but willingness to share. i really delighted in that. obviously, every community has -- [inaudible] and once you learn, they'll talk to you. a tremendous writer from the new yorker has gotten, you know, bean farmers to talk to him, and, you know, for different access to different communities, and if we're lucky, we really
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get them to open up in deep and meaningful ways. yeah, i don't think -- i neither take it personally nor take it to be indigenous to alabama. how about that? but elle tell you -- i'll tell you, my friend becca is here, and becca did a tremendous amount of research for this book and was a tremendous help, and god bless her, she texted me one day and said had i heard that are -- [inaudible] was going to be doing a, story about or small town murder, talking to npr, and then it turned out to be over in another county, and it was fine. [laughter] i carried on about my business. none of them have mentioned that people are calling from new york to talk about their lives and this story? so i was just glad they found something on the other side of the state. >> did i misunderstand from the radio, i thought harper lee was
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trying to write a novel, that she was doing it -- [inaudible] >> so she started out in town very deliberately and conspicuously talking about a true crime project. and she beat the drum very loudly about how she was doing journalism of the old-fashioned kind, and she only wanted facts. and she then said one of the reasons she was struggling was because she couldn't find enough facts. but she then turned out to have tried a kind of novelized version, which makes sense, you know? she had made her name as a writer of fiction, and except for a few pieces of journalism rl, reportage in the college newspaper, she had mostly written fiction. so it makes sense she would have try it out. but she did all of this reporting and gathered all of these documents and, you know, paid the court reporter $1,000 for a copy of the transcript and got these death certificates and went around town with akaka set recorder -- a cassette recorder
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and typed up exactly what someoned had said. she was really amassing the kind of material you would need for a nonfiction project. >> i mean, i'll ask another. i got more. i can go all night. >> honestly, i'll have to change what i said about alabama, because the truth is they didn't want me to leave. they just had hours and hours of questions. [laughter] >> so here is a question, can you talk a little bit about the voices in this book? the narrative voice that actually runs through all three sections? because i was trying to think about it, it's strange knowing you because it's -- >> strange? wait, wait, curious. [laughter] >> because it's not exactly your conversational voice. and there are, there are places where you, i mean, some of it is the kind of use of the vernacular, and i feel though it kind of lands with this very intense kind of resonant sense of place that runs throughout
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the book. i just wonder how you thought about that when you thought about putting words on the page, who is this voice? what does it sound like? and does it have any relationship to lee's voice? >> yeah. i mean, that's an interesting question. i absolutely tried to saturate myself in everything she'd written, so that's like as many letters as i could gather, everything she ever published. i mention that only because other than, like, you know, the dixie chicks it's probably the most repeated mp3 on my computer, because i would just have it playing to kind of hear the rhythm of her voice and think about word choices and kind of natural metaphors and things like that. that got more and more important the further i got into her section. so, or yeah, i think that a book you need to be in the driver's seat, but you need to kind of learn the pace of the road, and this is a road through alabama, and i wanted to try and bring in the way that people there talk and the kinds of metaphors they use and the way they talk about
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pine. in my little notebook, i would sometimes note what people said. i did use a ton of those wpa files and heritage books of the local history, and i would make notes of different, you know, turns of phrase and that sort of business and try to bring all of that n. i think the other thing that's happened is i was, like 11 or 12, and i started going by my middle initial, and i made this list of resolutions one of which was seriousness above all things. [laughter] and that has been kind of a writing credo ever since. i think probably what's most odd is people that know me would say, oh, she's like, hopefully, funny and friendly. and the book is serious, only occasionally goes over to humor, and that's just a product of, oh, now i sit down to write, and this is the task of writing. it needs to be accessible, but it can't be anything but serious. now, i gave up my middle initial
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for this book only to point of listening to alabamians, one of my favorites i encountered was this civil rights historian on the border. she's a new yorker, she used to live in new york, some of y'all might know her. she wrote a tremendous history of the civil rights movement s and she knew harper lee. i got in touch with her, and she knew a little bit about this alex city business. she said there's no other casey cep in the world, get rid of the n, no one's going to confuse you -- [laughter] it planted the seed, and i got rid of it. i did it over and over and over again. so hopefully, it's, you know, it talks the way they talk and walks the way they walk. but i don't know. they have these beautiful ways of telling stories, so it's hard not to just mimic. >> yeah. no, i think it worked effectively. >> is there anything you had to cut from the book? >> ah, wonderful question to ask
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a writer. [laughter] i don't think my editor's here. wonderful question to ask a writer. i rarely write more than i need, but this is, in fact -- so the title of the book comes from the talk that harper lee gave, extremely odd thing. she hated to speak in public, but she agreed to give this talk in the '80s as a favor to one of her sisters. she was evangelizing for her favorite alabamian historian. he's an odd historian because his history of alabama, it's actually the bicentennial of alabama's statehood, 819, and his history stopped when it became a state. [laughter] and harper lee has theories about that. she said, you know, he was so enamored with the creek indians that he couldn't bear to tell the story once their empire had ended. and she says, as we all know, i can assure you i didn't know and probably no one in that room, as
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we all know, the creek nation came to an end in a few furious hours in a battle of horse assume bend. i had realize that talk, and i went to battlefield which is near where she stayed, and if you can believe, she stayed at the horseshoe bend motel. i knew how much she loved history, and i read a lot about the creek indians, and i felt like, you know, for a story about violence, there needed to be a kind of archaeology of violence in the area. and, of course, you know, obviously when you're writing about african-american lives in the deep south, that includes the violence of jim crow and slavery. but you go one layer below that, and it's the violence against indigenous peoples and the relocation of the creeks. i managed to keep a tiny bit of that in the book, and i actually feel the title kind of chimes for me in that with a -- in a way that hopefully accentuates
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it. yes, there were 600 glorious words about the creek, and then they started with the re rebelled, moved to lawyer, moved to -- reverend. and then they moved right out of the book. [laughter] yeah, someday that book on the creeks. yeah, there's a tiny mention -- >> a few furious words. >> a few furious words. thank you very much. yes, what a great question. this is truly in the category of arcana, but i found this tremendous fact about how the bison used to cross alabama to get to salt licks of the ocean. [laughter] and i love this kind of -- alabama people, you don't realize how beautiful it is, maybe there's some alabamians, but one of the reasons i wanted to write about lake martin is it's tremendously beautiful. talladega forest is beautiful. i only knew about the industrial cities, and if you'd read about the selma march, you know selma,
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montgomery, birmingham, but there's this beautiful natural land a scape. and i thought about those bison over and over again because i wanted to have some sense of gran you for a state that has been very put upon and looked down upon. rightfully. i mean, we were just down there during the abortion ban, and there's a lot of evil and ill in alabama still today. but i thought about those bison over and over again, and i could never quite figure out how to get them walking to the sea in the book. [laughter] so the bison and the creek indians, if the book was 1,000 pages, they'd be there, but they're not. >> was there ever a point at which you were thinking of this story as an article, and did it ultimately grow into a book or -- >> it started as an article, yeah. and in the way you can sometimes really just write something for yourself, the last line of that article is, it had to do with this problem of documents and the family of the lawyer's.
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the last sentence is the radney family is saying if harper lee didn't write the book, someone elsewhere. why not me, you know? [laughter] that was the conclusion, and it felt like an imperative. yeah, it started as an article. >> as you were hearing stories and gathering facts, were you compelled to write certain sections as you heard the stories, or did you gather first and then write the whole thing? >> i like to write in my held, it's one of the reasons i love to drive. i mostly drove back and forth from maryland to alabama. i drove around california looking for some friends of harper lee's there. i can write, like, 1,000 or 1,500 words of prose in my head and carry out and tinker with it and try to make it sound better and where it goes. that number never grew. i thought i might be able to write a whole book that way, but i was often writing little
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sections and thing it is. when i, for instance, read about the flooding of lake martin, this kind of opening scene, it's like a terence mall ec-like scene of the water slowly rising up and do the moon shiners taking their stills up, you know, that was in my head for a while. i thought, okay, that's where that goes. bits and pieces like that. i always write while i'm doing it. sometimes if i'd been reading tonight, i would have read the opening passage of the harper lee portions of this book which is one of my faith characters, and so sad she died at all, but before the book came out so she never got to read herself in it. this woman, oh, my gosh, she wrote herself into the book. there was no editing to be done. it was just like the tour de force arrived by fiat and demanded to be the opening section. she barely needed to be edited. i had to go fact check a few things, but sometimes you're lucky and you do meet someone who can make sense of their life
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or really bring to life a moment in time, so they just kind of situate themselves. yeah, i don't know, you've got to do all the research before you write or you write along the way? or it depends? >> this isn't about me, casey. >> ah! [laughter] yeah, but i'm looking for tips. i want to do it better next time. >> yeah, you need all the help you can get. [laughter] >> it's true. >> i can write 1,000 words at a time in my head. [laughter] >> come on -- >> truman capote if had perfect -- >> yeah, yeah. >> 95% or 93% -- >> i know it's 1,000 or 1,500 because one of my first jobs in journalism was a column. i used to try to write them while i was mowing the grass, so i know how much i can keep in there before i have to get off the lawnmower -- >> i've honestly never heard of anybody doing this before. >> that's funny. [laughter] when you're in the car --
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>> well, there's that. i don't know anybody who drives. but what i mean is actually composing in your head as go. not having kind of notional ideas of here's where i start, but finish. >> no. i wrote, you know, there's a sentence that was the lead in my proposal that i was so happy i got to salvage because i'm a lazy writer. i don't like to write anything that doesn't see the light of day. nobody dies at a funeral, i was in a kayak, got off on a sandbar and was like -- >> five words. >> no, do you want the rest? [laughter] i'll perform the proposal. no, it's not very many words if you think about it. it's like, you know, you tinker with it some, you move them around. >> i'm just feeling terrible -- [laughter] >> this is one of those long great american road trips, turn on the radio and see what happens. >> other questions? if. [laughter]
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>> [inaudible] >> interesting question. i see mr. orloff here, am i allowed to say anything at all? >> one to come. >> one to come. [laughter] it's a good agent. i'd be remiss in saying edward and jess and ruth and madeleine, and, oh, my gosh, the number of people in this room that made this book a successful, you're just packed in. i'm so grateful to have you here. my p.i. and my wife and all of my writerly friends. i sometimes go around pretending i don't like new york, but the truth is i love you all, and it's so nice to see you and to get to celebrate with you. what's next? i promise. for four years it was like, oh, gosh, how are you going to do this? ..
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through the process how far into the research do you want to tell the story, in 3 distinct segments, or is this the obvious way to do it? >> better language on it now, felt like the way it was supposed to be told. there was no struggle. it just came. she felt like writing was only good if you suffered for it and it is fun and i don't think it has to be misery. >> when you were done with the conversation? >> looking at someone here,
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chase your mother down in albuquerque, i was trying to make sure, if you have a chance to read the book. walked into those alabama events and alabama, i love facts about that and i will still be writing this book 100 years from now. it is hard to put it down. it is unfinished. i am sure you are learning more facts about your story and you keep accumulating information and help somebody right a better version and there will be more looks about harper lee. i feel a responsibility to do oral history and gather information to be better than mine was and the long and short of it is i can't stand suspense. the reason the book works the way it is is i pick up the
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phone and keep looking for more intel. >> we can count on you. >> you do whatever writing -- >> putting the book to bed. when did you tell me no more? no more facts. the last fact i slept in was -- had not known her until she worked for laurence olivier. how did i not see you?
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andrew miller in the insurance section. there is a strict editorial moment where keeps increasing. there you go. >> i want to give a shot tear end notes. >> look at this. >> a model of generosity and help you do things. >> i did get the chance, when these -- if you read that, there was something about that. i need to know more about the 7 sisters. go forth and conquer.
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i enjoyed writing this book without an incredible number of scholars and archivists and amateur historians and it feels like those are the people you want to thank. thanks for the expertise. i was going to ask you, you shouldn't be with your wife, should you? andrew and his wife are expecting. >> any other questions? will you sign? >> you could have had robert burns and all the rest of the
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people in the book. >> do readers come up and say could you sign this? >> i don't remember how it started. i had real groupies in alabama. jim was an incredible reporter in this book. a great example how you have to keep talking to someone but hadn't been to harper's grave and at one point all the siblings were there. it was a lot of fun and i don't remember how it started but it started and there were a bunch of other signatories already. >> hope you join me in thanking casey cep. [applause]
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>> thank you. welcome tomorrow and all the other days. in the name of order and general -- we will have a signing in the back. i will show you how to get there. enjoy a copy of the book. line up behind the sign right now. if you need to purchase one, at the front desk margaret is waiting. thank you so much, everybody for coming in. [applause] where republican
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senator tom cotten of arkansas described his time in the old guard which provides funeral services at arlington national cemetery. >> all those missions take a backseat to funerals, ceremonies can be pushed later in the day, can be rescheduled in the capital region if that is what it takes to make sure if a family has a funeral scheduled at arlington national cemetery the old guard is on time and performing to standard which is perfection. even on 9/11 that was the case. imagine you are in the cemetery the morning of 9/11, beautiful fall day, the sky was blue, the weather was temperate and at 9:00 funerals began, for 5 or 6 funerals at 9:00 am that morning and at 9:37, not from north to south or south to
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north, slammed into the western face of the pentagon. american airlines flight 77 and that is 200 yards from the southeastern corner at arlington national cemetery. imagine what it would be like to laid to rest your father or grandfather and to hear that explosion and see that smoke cloud rising up in the air as soldiers continue their mission until the funerals are over and then starting the 10:00 mission exactly on time, the 11:00 mission and the rest of the funerals all day long. soldiers who were not dedicated to funerals that day dropped everything, and changed their ceremonial blue uniforms and put on combat fatigues. >> senator tom cotton's latest book is sacred duty. visit and search for his name in the search box at the top of the page. >> this weekend on booktv we
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visit the home of jean safer and richard brooke kaiser to hear how they maintain their relationship despite opposite political views. >> this is the basis to me of what matters in life. chemotherapy tests, when you are relying on a hospital bed you do not ask the party affiliation of the person standing next to you. >> at 8:00 pm author mark levin talks about his book on freedom of the press. >> the difference between the moderate medium today and the patriot media and how cloud this country is, the patriot media, the men with the printing presses, 30 some newspapers, trying to fundamentally transform government. they wanted representative
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government and didn't want a lot of that. today the press is trying to fundamentally transform us. >> at 9:00 eastern on afterwords chief white house correspondent jim acosta offers his firsthand account of covering the trump administration in his book the enemy of the people. he is interviewed by at new york university journalism professor and founder of press think. >> we are roughly 90 days from the last official white house briefing in the white house briefing room and we don't have access to white house officials the way we used to even during the trump administration where we have them on the record in that briefing room where everybody is miked and you have a variety of reporters, not just networks who are vying to get a question and but also print reporters from wire services, newspapers, foreign news outlets, that has been lost.


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