TBT: The Pentagon Papers

Map of Communist positions in South Vietnam, 1964

In 1971, analyst Daniel Ellsberg gave parts of a Department of Defense study on American involvement in Vietnam to a New York Times reporter, Neil Sheehan.  This DOD study, officially known as the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Task Force” came to be known in common parlance as the Pentagon Papers.  The Pentagon Papers revealed to the American people that they had been misled about American actions in Vietnam for nearly a decade.

The following year, Neil Sheehan and his wife Susan (also a writer) joined Studs in the studio.  They are forbidden to discuss the legal matters surrounding the Papers’ publication (there had been a Supreme Court case over the publication, which was decided in favor of the Times), but they do discuss the relationship between journalism and truth (or, as we think of it these days, “alternative facts”), the expected and assumed honesty of people in power, leaks to the media, phone tapping, and FBI investigations.

Interview Highlights

Here, Neil talks about his career as a journalist and why he writes what he does.

In this clip Neil talks about how a “dissatisfaction of conveyance of truth” has started to change journalism.  Susan picks up the thread and points out that “They’ll always cover what President Nixon says in a press conference, but it’s much harder to get into the papers why what he’s saying is untrue.”  Neil goes on to talk about government using the media to manipulate, rather than inform, the public.

As an example of this manipulation, Neil talks about how information about North Vietnamese infiltration was leaked to the press in order to influence public feeling about the war in Vietnam.  He implicates Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and General Maxwell Taylor, a diplomat in Saigon.

Finally, Neil and Susan tell Studs how their lives have changed since the Pentagon Papers were published.  They had become the subject of an FBI investigation, and as a result their bank statements were subpoenaed, friends and relatives were questioned, and investigators even tried to get photographs of the Sheehan’s children.

Neil Sheehan has continued to write.  His ebook The Battle of Ap Bac came out in 2014.  His 1986 book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the National Book Award for Nonfiction.  Susan Sheehan has also continued to write, including articles for Architectural Digest through 2010 and The New Yorker through 2006.  She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1983 for Is There No Place on Earth for Me?

Photo credit: United States Military Academy (http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/maps/0005.cfm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Meyer Weinberg on desegregation

May is Teacher Appreciation Month and today we’re featuring an interview with Dr. Meyer Weinberg.  Dr. Weinberg taught at Wright Community College (then Wright Junior College) in Chicago, and was a co-founder of Teachers for Integrated Schools.  He also edited the journal Integrated Education.

In 1971, the Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education case was decided by the Supreme Court, allowing busing to be used to desegregate schools.  This was a controversial decision for a variety of reasons, from students not wanting to leave their neighborhoods, to Richard Nixon’s awareness of George Wallace’s impending presidential campaign.

Dr. Weinberg spoke with Studs in 1975, and is a voice strongly in favor for busing as a method to desegregate schools.

In this first clip, he talks about how the media covers the schools where busing has led to protest and violence, instead of those schools where it hasn’t; and about the success of desegregation in the South.

Here, Dr. Weinberg replies to Studs question about the relationship between educational success and desegregation, saying, “The whole society is stacked against the education of minority kids.”

Finally, Dr. Weinberg compares the desegregation experience in Pontiac, MI and Kalamazoo, MI, saying, “You can’t just analyze a specific problem with generalities.”

Over 40 years later, we can see that desegregating schools requires a far more complex solution than busing students across city lines, but this interview is a valuable snapshot of another facet in the work for civil rights.

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Looking back: Rodney King and The Merchant of Venice

Twenty-five years ago this month, in April 1992, the Rodney King trial was decided.  This resulted to the LA riots, although some would say they were a long time coming.

The following summer, director Peter Sellars staged a production of The Merchant of Venice in Leimert Park, just a few miles from where major violence erupted at Florence and Normandie, and just inside the curfew boundary.  He chose this play because he says it’s “Shakespeare’s play about racism.”

In 1994, the play came to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.  Here’s an excerpt, including the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech, with Paul Butler as Shylock.


In order to highlight the contemporary issues of the play, including antisemitism and racism, Sellars updated the production to twentieth-century Venice Beach, CA and cast the play in a unique manner, which he discusses here.

Peter Sellars talks to Studs about the importance of theater, and why we still have it around even though we can watch so much on television or at the movies.  He tells Studs, “Theater is the last place where grassroots politics can have a presence”  and goes on to explain why he chose a Shakespearean play to convey his message.

Reflecting on Los Angeles, Sellars says, “The Rodney King trial, and the aftermath of that, already established that Los Angeles was at the center of the crisis zone of this country, and the issues that are on America’s mind are in their fiercest, most painful state in that city.”  He goes on to talk about why Leimert Park was chosen as the site for the arts festival, which included the production of The Merchant of Venice.

Speaking about why he chose The Merchant of Venice specifically, Sellars highlights the word merchant in the title, saying “It’s about the economic construction of racism.  Racism wasn’t just invented because some people don’t like other people; it was invented as a specific tool of exploitation.”  Sellars applauds Shakespeare for writing a play about antisemitism at a time when Jewish people had been expelled from England, and goes on to discuss Shakespeare’s time as one in which colonial imperialism exploded.

Photo credit: By Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/55l29b, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40983097

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Thich Nhat Hanh, poet and activist

line from Thich Nhat Hanh's "Condemnation"

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, peace activist, and poet.  By 1971, when he joined Studs in the studio, he had spent years campaigning for peace in Vietnam; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh and Studs discuss the Vietnam War and two books of his poetry that had been translated into English at that time: Cry of Vietnam, and Vietnam: Lotus in A Sea of Fire.

In this clip, Studs tells Thich Nhat Hanh that he has heard about American soldiers finding poems in the pockets of the dead Vietnamese.  Thich Nhat Hanh uses this story to demonstrate how important poetry is in the Vietnamese culture.

They continue the conversation about poetry in Vietnam, and its importance even among non-literate populations.  Thich Nhat Hanh recites an example of one of the spontaneous poems of the farmers.  This leads to a conversation of the ongoing destruction of this culture: “The kinds of things imported, together with this war, has been destroying much of our way of thinking and creating.”  To show how hopeless things have become, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of Vietnamese people trying to raise earthworms in order to save the land that was destroyed through defoliation.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks with Studs about his experience of speaking and reading his poems to a group of anti-war veterans in Washington, D.C.  He tells Studs they are “very, very brave in recognizing the truth.” One of the poems he reads to the veterans is “Condemnation,” which you can read here.

Studs asks Thich Nhat Hanh about his feelings on the war.  Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the policy of “Vietnamization” as opposed to a cease-fire.  He also says that “most of the Vietnamese people feel the same way — they want the war to end at this very moment.”

Thich Nhat Hanh tells Studs about a family he knows whose home was burned six times in five years; they continually moved to escape the violence but were unable to.  “Sometime[s] we don’t know [if] what we have in our heart is hope or just illusions, because life would be impossible without some hope in the future.  That is why sometime[s] we are very ready to accept illusions as hope.”

Photo by James K. F. Dung, SFC, Photographer – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 530610. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78487

The Studs Terkel Radio Archive is a partnership between the WFMT Radio Network and the Chicago History Museum.

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Paul Durcan, Irish poet

In 1991, Paul Durcan joined Studs in the studio. His collection Daddy, Daddy (winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award) had recently come out and his next collection, Crazy About Women, was due out shortly in Ireland.

Studs starts off by asking Durcan about his father, the inspiration for Daddy, Daddy.  Durcan talks about his father’s love of history and remembers hearing his father’s stories as they drove through Ireland together:

Every townland, every hundred yards, it was another world, as remote and romantic as say China.  That’s how it was, and you can’t romanticize that.

Later, they talk about the spelling and meaning of the name Durcan.  Studs brings up the fact that neither he nor Paul Durcan have ever driven a car, referring to Ducan’s poem “Self Portrait, Nude with Steering Wheel.”  Hear them talk about the poem below, and then read it here.

Studs asks Durcan about poetry in Ireland saying, “I suppose the word ‘Irish poet’ almost sounds redundant since the language itself is so lyrical generally.”  Durcan responds by saying

All over the world poetry is born of speech; we’re still all talking to each other, making sounds.  I feel it’s a form of music.  Some people say that modern media therefore is likely to spell the end, but I see that as a misunderstanding, a contradiction.  It seems to me to fundamentally involve the opening out of the oral tradition – radio, television – it gives the possibility of expanding it.

They continue talking about the relationship between music and poetry, and then Durcan remembers a teacher who helped him learn about lyrical writing.  The clip ends with an introduction to his poem “The Virgin and Child” (click on the preview to open the entire poem).

Paul Durcan is still writing.  His latest collection was published in 2012, Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being.


Photo credit: Grace Radkins, “County Kerry, 2005”

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Anais Nin on Compassion and Creativity

Anais NinIn 1972, Studs had Anais Nin into his studio to talk about the fourth installment of her diary and her book of short stories, Under the Glass Bell.  Ms. Nin was born in France in 1903; by the time she sat down with Studs at nearly seventy years old, she had been publishing books for forty years and had lived in Spain, the United States, and France.  She is best known today for her diaries and erotica.



In this first clip, she talks about how dreams and legends influence her writing, and the importance of her diary during her own growing up years.

Later, she speaks about her passion and openness, essential characteristics for a woman who shares her diaries with the world.  She also talks about the joy she finds in her own work

And here, she talks about the connections she sees between creativity and compassion: “compassion takes empathy and empathy takes imagination.”


Her work continues to influence filmmakers, performers, and other writers.


Meet Angela Pieroni, Chicago’s own environmental crusader

This post was written by one our production interns, Adam Miller.

In the late 1960s, Angela Pieroni was fed up with slow government action on air pollution. She became a Democratic precinct captain, made countless calls to city officials, and went door-to-door to rally support in her Southwest side community. What she found was apathy from her government and a problem that was not soon to go away. Studs Terkel welcomed Pieroni on his show in 1970 along with Dr. Bertram Carnow to discuss these issues.

Dr. Carnow spent over 30 years studying the effects air pollution has on the body. He brings this insight to the conversation as Pieroni, a passionate activist, tells her story of attempting change from the ground up.

Forty-seven years later, their concerns sound familiar. President Trump has begun the process of rolling back environmental regulations including those concerning clean air and water. As Carnow describes, “A lot of people in politics now have gotten on this thing. Some of them I think are sincere in what they’re trying to do. Others I think are just muddying the waters.”

This political battle has slowed federal change in environmental regulations as Republicans and Democrats in government pass the baton to erase their predecessors’ efforts. But strides to combat climate threats persist. “I think if we start now we have a chance,” says Carnow. “I think if we don’t start now we have no chance.”

Adam Miller is a senior Radio major at Columbia College Chicago, and a production intern for the Studs Terkel Archives at WFMT. He held prior production internships with The Feed Podcast and at WUWM – Milwaukee Public Radio, where he interviewed popular names in indie rock like Angel Olsen and Julien Baker. His passion for music brought him into radio, but a deeper care for quality creative content and news have kept him active in the field.
Photo credit: By Paul Sequeira [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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