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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  January 15, 2012 2:00pm-3:00pm EST

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mark whitaker, managing editor and executive vice president of cnn worldwide, details his career path against the backdrop of his childhood and formative years. mr. whitaker recounts his childhood as the biracial son of an academic father who battled alcoholism and a french immigrant mother who struggle led with depression. this is just under an hour. >> academics and just starting out in their careers when i was a young child and took me to london and to africa and to a number of different towns where
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they were start anything their first jobs. um, and then the many trips we took after my parents got divorced when we, my brother anr i, went with our mother, had to move back across the country. we weress in los angeles when te split up and to the east coastat and travel today many new homes -- traveled to many newplc homes, often places where i didn't know anybody as she struggled to get her life back on track after my parents brokey up. um, but it's also a reference, a sort of metaphorical reference to the trip that i took in reporting and writing this book where after an entire adultlt lifetime of establishing my own career, having my own family, thinking all the time that i wai doing everything that my parents hadn't done, avoiding their mistakes, making my way in thepa world completely on my own, um,
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i decided to go back and to tryo to piece together the story of o who they were and what happened to them and how they influenced me. for bad, but also for good. it is subtitled a family memoir, but for people who read memoirs, it's a little different than a lot of conventional memoirs which tend to be written mostly from memory.moir my book is a book that's partially from memory, but largely from a year and a half of reporting about whatened happened. that's what i was trained to do as a professional, to report. and after trying to write for a couple of weeks just fromry, memory, i decided that i really needed to report the story, and that's what i did, and the book is really sort of takes youakes through what i thought i knewhat about my family and my parents and what i learned in the course
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of reporting. oing to start by reading a brief excerpt from the beginning of the book, the very beginning, that will tell you who my parents were and how they meant, and then i'll talk about what happened afterwards. growing up, i always took it for granted that it was my mother who was first attracted to my father. after all, she was the exotic one, the charm machine. she was the shy one, the one who stuttered so badly as a child that her parents sent her away to be treated by doctors in paimpts and who got self-conscious when she couldn't get the words out quickly, but when i went back to investigate, it was the other way around. he became obsessed with her. she noticed him around campus, of course, as one of the few
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black students at the college in the 1950s. it was hard to miss. she had heard him perform once or twice. he played the guitar and sang. for awhile, he earned pocket money by recording radio commercials. later, she would hear one of his jingles playing on the air and feel a sliver of pride when the announcer said if a young man with that voice ever turned professional, he'd have a contract. that was news to me too. the news of my father singing. they met in his junior year thanks to a play. jean was a music instructor, the faculty adviser for the french club, and she decided it would be fun to help the students put on a production. she chose a one-act play called
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-- one that recounts the fanciful story of captain cook's arrival in the tropics. to direct, she enlisted michael, a junior from england who had taken one of her classes as a freshman. they passed most of the parts, but they didn't have anyone to play the chief, the tribal leader who greets the explorers. he said he knew someone with the perfect look for the part, his roommate, bill whitaker. the only hitch was he didn't speak french. when he agreed to take on the role, she had to coach him to learn the lines and speak with a convincing accent. they met before rehearsals and in her apartment where she oversaw a suite of rooms for students who wanted to speak the language and attend her weekly
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teas. she was impressed by how quickly he learn and by what a good mimic he was. he noticed how his cheeks dimpled and the worry lines creased when he was making a serious point. in all, there was no mistaking how handsome he was, particularly when he put on the grass skirt costumes for commercials. she was startled the night of the wrap party, which she threw at robert's. when they were talking in a crowded corner in her apartment, and all of the sudden, he kissed her. she pulled back, looking confused. i thought you wanted me to do that, he said, the other day when you touched my arm, i thought it was a signal.
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i'm sorry, she said, that's just something i have the habit of doing when i'm talking to people. he must have seen her blushing because her skin was peal -- pail and freckled, but that did not detour him. in fact, it may have been part of the allure when he faint sized about wooing her as he must have done. since 1955, a black student would hardly have dared to kiss the white teacher on the lips on a spur of the moment whim. would you mind if i visited you here again, he asked? i suppose that would be all right, she replied. he started to come by roberts every few days for an hour or so at a time. they listened to music, and he brought his favorite 45's and introduced her to black jazz
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singers like nelly lecher. sometimes he'd kiss her or hold her hand, and she'd concept, but mostly they talked. he told her about growing up in pittsburgh, about his parents, the morticians, and what it was like to live there. when his mother came to visit friends in philadelphia, he arranged for them to meet. my mother was instantly impressed by the light skinned beauty and her elegant manner in entertaining way of speaking. he rarely mentioned cs, the man he was named for, except the fact that they didn't get along and that his parents were divorced. he confessed that his father had beaten him as a child. eventually, they discovered what was for him, a humiliating coincidence. my mother had gone to graduate school with a girl who came from
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harrisburg and family's employed as a butler after he lost his business. she told him about her parents, about how they met as protestant missionaries in africa where she was born and spent much of her childhood before they moved to france. she described how she came to america on a boat with five of her little sisters when she was 14, and she went to live with a family of doctors, the biology professor, which is why she attended college there and later joined the french department. she explained the reason her parents had acceptability her away -- sent her away, the dangerous work that caused one to be watched and arrested by the police. she told him how much she loved and admired her father and how sad she thought it was that he disliked his own so much. that's how they met.
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a -- a black man and woman in the mid 1950s when it was still illegal for interracial marriage, was still illegal in two-thirds of the states in america, and also a student and a teacher, which was pretty scandalous then and still is. when they started courting, they had to carry on in secret for almost a year and a half until my father graduated, and they married that summer. my mother was coming up for tenure, but when the president of the college found out about the relationship, he tried to deny her tenure.
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it was only when my father got involved when he was in high school in pittsburgh where he grew up through going to quaker work camps in the summer and met civil rights leaders who were connected to the quakers got them involved and among others who later organized martin luther king's march on washington actually intervened on their behalf, got the president to back off, and my mother got tenure. the -- i tell the story about where both of my parents came from, and i elude to it in the first few pages, but came from very different, but both fascinating worlds. my father grew up in black pittsburgh, still segregated pittsburgh. both of his parents were
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undertakers. my grandfather, who had been born on a tenant farm in 1898, the 13th son of a former slave, had started his education literally in a one room log schoolhouse and had only been educated through the 7th or 8th grade, made his way north as part of the great black migration that others have written about, to pittsburgh. he started as a laborer in the steel plants there, and eventually encountered a lot of racism, which i, in reporting the story of the book, found out about. as an extra money, got a side job driving a car for a white field owner who realized as more and more black folks moved into
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pittsburgh, he had a problem, which is that he didn't want to have to bury black folks because it would be bad for his business with his white clientele and pakistani needed black -- pittsburgh needed black undertaker, so he set my grand disad in business. my father grew up in this -- what i call a world a cross between august wilson and six feet under. [laughter] my mother, her parents were french protestant missionaries. my grandmother was actually american. my grand dad was french. she spent early years in french africa and eventually moved with her seven sisters to france where my grandfather, who was a protestant french hughnot pastor
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was one of the two religious leaders in a little village in the mountains of france which once the germans invaded france and an underground railroad for hiding jews and other refuges from the nazis, and it involvely became -- eventually became a famous story, but before this happened, my grandparents were very concerned that the nazis were denying educational opportunities so they sent my mother and five of her younger sisters who were old enough to travel to the united states to stay with american families, and my mother arrived on a boat when she was 14 with other refugee children, and she was placed with this family. she came to live there, finish high school, go to college, and
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eventually come back as a professor, which is where she met my father. now, all of those elements of the story were the ones that over the years, when i would tell people about them, they would say, well, that sounds fascinating. it should be a book. there was another part of the story which was not so roman take, and that's -- romantic and that's what happened after my parents divorced. i was six years old at the time. we had moved to princeton where my father was the first graduate student in the department of politics at princeton, the first black person ever to get a doctorate in politics from princeton, to eventually to los angeles where he had a job offer from ucla. my mother ran up her tune year
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position to -- tenure position to follow my father, and a year after we arrived in l.a., he asked for a divorce. my mother barely knew how to drive. she had to support herself working as a student teacher in high schools, in community colleges. she tried to, you know, get my father into therapy and patch the marriage together, but he wouldn't have any of it, and eventually, they divorced, and we moved to the east coast with her. again, she had no idea of where she'd land, what the prospects were of finding a permanent job. the job she was able to get didn't pay much. we struggled financially. she was very depressed.
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my brother and i fought all the time. i ate compulsively, was about 100 pounds overweight by the time i was a teenager, and then during this period over the next five or six years when my father was largely out of our lives, really stopped having contact with us, and he was supposed to pay child support, and unbeknownst to me at the time or to us, he was becoming a chronic alcoholic to the point that when he reentered my life, when i was just becoming a teenager, he moved back to the east coast to take a job as the first head of the first african-american studies program at princeton. he had such a problem that, first of all, every time my brother and i went to visit him, he'd start drinking, and we'd have to leave, he'd go into a
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clinic, and my grandmother had to take care of him, and he lost his tenure at princeton, which is pretty hard to do. there was a period during those years where we fought intensely, where i tried keeping to reconcile with him, and it kept not working out. there was a point before i went off to college later on tried to visit him, he had started drinking, i had left, but then he called me and asked to come back because he wanted to try to stop, and i don't know how many of you know about alcoholism in the dt -- the delirium, but what happens when you drink when you have severe withdrawal, and i had to sit and nurse him through that. it was a rough period. i went off to college at that
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point. it was really the beginning goingings -- i went to harvard college and specifically joining the college newspaper, the harvard crimson, that really gave me a sense of what i could do with my life, coming out of all of that. i fell in love with journalism. i fell in love with the "crimson," the people i met there, and during most of that period, my college period, i didn't have any contact with my father, but then towards the end of my junior year, he contacted me and said he had finally stopped drinking. i learned later in reporting the story that he did it by finally going to an aa facility in rural new jersey where the directer, who's this tough old woman named gerald o. delaney made people
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promise to stay for a minimum of six months. she wouldn't take insurance because she didn't want them telling her what to do. finally, we were able to establish a relationship again, but in my -- in the 30 years after that as i developed a career as a journalist, news week, met the woman there who i eventually married, started a family of my own, and had, you know a fair amount of success along the way, the kind of success that i think now causes people to say, well, you know, how did you come from such an unpleasant childhood and end up being a successful doesn't? well, you know, i thought during
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those years that i was doing this on my own, and by avoiding all of the mistakes of my parents, and, indeed, showing my father in a way what it was to be a real man, what it was to be a responsible father and a responsible husband. but then he died. two days after thanksgiving 2008, and by the time he died, you know, we had developed a better relationship. it took a long time, and it was still a little weary, and i thought once he died, that, well, that's that, any idea of sort of writing his story or my family's story, you know, just wasn't going to happen, and then on the exact same day, woke up in the middle of the night
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saying i want to try to write the story now, and that's when i began, and what i discovered in the course of revisiting these events and reconstructing them is that this life i made for myself which i thought i had done all own my own -- all on my own despite me parents was deeply rooted in my family's story, and despite the dysfunction and unhappiness, there were deep threads that went back to my grandparents of a love of learning and writing and a spirit of the desire to set off and conquer new worlds, a theme of survival, recovery, and resilience, that really
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unbeknownst to me, i think, had been the -- had begin me the strength, i think, -- had given me the strength ultimately that i needed to make a successful life for myself, so it is a book because of family. the picture on the cover, the parallels to president obama's story that i think a lot of people are assuming is a story mostly about race and about identity, and, indeed, it is in many ways, but it's also been more than that, a story about family, a story about faith because there is a lot of religion on both sides between baptism, french protestantism,
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quakerrism, and french judaism which in raising our children is the faith we worshiped, and then finally of forgiveness and learning about the interplay between understanding and forgiveness, and you know the french term that means to understand, but what i found was that to a certain degree i had to forgive first, and that's what allowed me to embark on this reporter's journey and to finally understand. that's the story of the book, and i'd be happy to answer any questions you have about it. if you could please wait for the mic. >> was wondering if you could connect the dots that made you able to forgive.
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>> well, the -- what i knew, to some extent before i even started reporting the story, about what i found out much more about,fuls the relationship between -- was the relationship between my father and his father, and i -- my grandfather had suffered a stroke when i was a small child, so i remembered him as a sad figure in a wheelchair who could barely talk, but what i found in reporting is what a formidable figure he was, and i found out partly because when i interviewed my father's older sister, her husband, my uncle gene, he said there's something that might interest you. your grandfather before he died
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wrote an autobiography. i said, what do you mean? he pulled out a drawer and pulled out a document that he must have kick tainted because he -- dictated because he couldn't have written it, on his 75th birthday, a decade after he suffered a stroke, about how he was born on a tenant farm, moving to pittsburgh, encountering racism, and starting the funeral business, and discovered what a dynamic man he was, but he was a tough man, and he was very hard on my father, who was his only son, and my father hated him. i don't think that's too harsh a word. my father was named after him. my grandfather's name is sylvester whitaker, and he hated that name because it sounded like a slave name to him, which
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it was, and he refused to take that name and insisted people call him sil, short for his middle name, and i always thought growing up, and i think i became more convinced in reporting this book, that a lot of my father's problems came from his deep anger towards his father. so even though i had had a lot of conflict with my father, i was very determined as i grew up not to -- to try to at least come to terms with him and to try to develop some compassion towards him because i always sensed that if i didn't, i could repeat the pattern because my father, you know, had hated his
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father, rejected everything he stood for, and yet became much like him in a lot of ways. i guess writing this book in a way was the time phase of that, of really trying to understand and to forgive my father partly so i would not end up like him or at least in the ways i didn't want to be. just wait for the microphone. >> what about your little brother? [inaudible] >> he did. he's -- his name a paul. he's two years younger than me. he was born into a very different family. you know, they always say that children are -- every child is born into a different family. i had the benefit, and i didn't -- i don't remember it or i didn't remember, the happy years of when my parents first
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married, and when i was nine months old, my father just finished his course work for his doctorate. he became a scholar of african politics, was a brilliant man, and would have ended up having a distinguished career, but it would have been far more distinguished if he hadn't developed the severe drinking problem, but he finished course work embarking on field research in africa, northern nigeria, and my mother took a sabbatical year, and my parents took me for a year to where he was doing documentary research and then to northern nigeria, and i was able to reconstruct this in the book, and it was a very exciting time. my mother left with me because she was pregnant with my brother, and my brother was born where my parents lived, and then
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she brought us back to america, and my father stayed on in africa and didn't even see my brother until paul was probably nine months old or so, and it was really when my father came back that things started to get worse between my parents, so he never had that benefit of those happy years. he -- we fought severely after the divorce, and frankly once we grew up, we had a respectful relationship in a way that pained us both, but finally when i went to interview paul for the book, we talked about it, and he's now a psychologist. you know, i dealt with it by
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becoming a journalist. he dealt with it by becoming a psychologist and he lives in san diego. he said actually there's a lot of scientific psychological work that shows that when siblings fight as savagely as we fought when we were young, it's because they were angry at their parents, so this was -- you know, the writing of the book was also something that brought us together after many years. i just came back from san diego and saw him, and if nothing else, it was worth that. >> you talked about this as a feat of reconstruction, and you also mentioned your love of writing on both sides of your family. aside from your grandfather's autobiography, what did you have in the way of writings to help you reconstruct? letters? diaries? >> yeah, i'll talking about how
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i reported the story. so, first of all, i realized that i had to talk to people. i had to conduct interview, and because a lot of the sources, the people who are still alive and lived through the events were quite elderly at this point, they all -- two persons insisted to me they couldn't remember what happened. well, if you want to talk to me, that's okay, but i really just don't remember. i said, well, let me come, we'll talk, and i always made sure that they -- it was early in the day so they wouldn't be tired -- [laughter] and that they didn't have a lot of things to go to so that if they started -- we started have a conversation, they wouldn't be pulled away, and it turned out actually once they got going, they remembered a fair amount, and particularly, once i told them what i thought they knew, they started correcting me
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saying no, no, no, no, no this is what happened. you're a reporter and people's memories get sharp when they are correcting you. i asked if they had letters and other things written at the time. my parents' earlily scholarly paperings for example, and diaries various people had kept, and sometimes they remembered they did and others times they didn't remember, but they found things and sent them to me. of course, there were all kinds of clues in the documents to things that happened, and it was then piecing together those clues that i was able to then go back to all of these sources saying, well, what did that mean? you know? and actually probably some of the most sort of profound secrets in the family, you know, what had actually come between my parents, what were the official grounds for the
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divorce, all of these things, what actually happened with the child support, i mean these are things i all found out through the letters, and then i was able to sort of follow-up and corroborate, but, you know, the writing thing was powerful. i found in this autobiography that my grandfather dictated, unbelievable, you know, from his wheelchair in a nursing home at 75. he said that his father, my great grandfather, who was named frank whitaker, had been born a slave, was freed at 12 years old, had no formal education, but had taught himself to read and to write, and he was actually a local historian for the jeuitt messager, the local paper where he lived, so turned out the reporting thing was deep in the tradition.
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my french grandfather kept diaries throughout the entire time while he was in madagascar and so there was a lot to draw on, and i got to say one of the things that this all made me realize is the fact that people don't write those kinds of letters anymore is really going to be a disaster for historians and memoir writers. just wait for the microphone, sir. oh, sorry. >> prior to using your journalistic training on writing the book, did you ever use your story consciously in anything at the magazine, at the crimson, or -- >> you know, i didn't talk about it for a very long time. you know, most people -- in fact, even now, the people who know me well, have worked with
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me, are surprised to learn the story, and, you know, i think it was because i, you know, i think i was ashamed for, you know, a lot of my life about some of the circumstances. one of the things that, i think, again is good about this is that i don't feel ashamed anymore, not personally or for my parents because, you know, there's a lot of painful stuff in the book, but i was also able to find out about just how admirable they were and to share that with the world. look, you know, i think in terms of being biracial, there's no question that's been a factor in my career. i think it's one of the additional things that made me interested in becoming a journalist because you grow up sort of seeing things or different worlds, you know, and
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it makes you appreciate that, that there's various sides to a story, but also to be curious about different cultures and different perspectives. i think that, you know, frankly, you know, because i was raised largely by my mother, i told her she kept us in contact with my father's family and the world of pittsburgh even after they divorced so i had that part of my heritage in my life as well, but, you know, i was raised largely in white environments, college towns where my mother worked, and as a result, i felt comfortable around white people, and, you know, there's no question that if you are a black executive in the media world or in any world these days, you still -- it's still an overwhelmingly white environment, you know, and in order to succeed, you have to feel comfortable in it so i
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think that was probably a benefit. you know, there's other elements in terms of, you know, sort of the perspective of my parents. you know, they were, you know, they were both brilliant people, but also skeptics. i mean, people who taught me never to accept anything as face value, and that's pretty useful. sir? >> there's parallels between you and president obama that's fascinating. barack is african-american, but he has no connection to african-american parents to have a connection to slavery. you, on the other hand, you're fore parents were slave, and barack had a conflict of his identity, raised by a white mother where his african father
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abandoned the family, and when he went to jeremiah wright's church, and you, on the other hand, became jewish so it's like kind of interesting way. >> yeah, well, 5 lot of people have -- a lot of people have commented on those parallels. there are differences. he's the president of the united states. [laughter] i'm just a journalist. look, i think there's a couple of differences. i mean similarities obviously, interracial family, academics his parents also came a from that world, a brilliant, but very troubled father. one big difference in the stories is that, as you say, obama really never knew his father. his father abandoned them when he was very small and encountered him a couple of times very briefly, and his
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story which he tells to beautifully in "dreams of my father" are about the struggle of someone who grew up without a father to figure out what it is to be a man and a black man really on his own. my story in terms of the relationship with my father is the story of a very complicated 50-year up and down relationship, and my father is a real character in this book, probably the dominant character; then, you know, as you say, i think once obama, having really, as you say, had no real contact with the black american experience growing up in hawaii with an african father who deserted him, decides actually fairly late in life, you know,
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after law school that he's going to move to chicago, meets michelle robinson, becomes part of her family, joins jeremiah wright's church, and they are consciously working this identity as a black american man. look, you know, my feeling about racial identity is that as my father told me when i was a teenager, there is no one way to be black. i mean society will tell you that anybody whose black blood traditionally is black, and that's how society defines us, but he said, so you will always be black, but it's up to you to decide how you want to be black, and i talk about it in the book about the pressures that i think people have felt -- mix race, but also just black folks who have two black parents but integrated world, but the sort of pressure ironically after all the advances of the civil rights
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movement to show you're awe ten -- authentically black, and president obama encountered this when he ran for president in 2007 and twaights, -- 2008, and i don't get on my soap box on it, but threaded to the story is a rejection of that premise, so, you know, in my case, i grew up in contact with both worlds, and commute through being very grateful for having a black cultural identity, but i have always felt that, you know, that wasn't the full story and that it was not necessary to reject the white part of my heritage as well, and so my wife is white and she's jewish and,
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you know, we made a decision to raise our kids as jews, again, because i told me kids they will light skinned, you know, if folksment -- folks decide to come after black folks, they'll come after you, and if you're jewish, you're jewish, so we wanted to raise our kids to have a consciousness of both of those traditions, but, look, i believe very strongly that we shouldn't be judgmental, but in the end, part of the book is that the universal themes of families and relationships are much more important ultimately than the issue of just what your skin coal already -- skin color is. >> i wondered when you -- you
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very rarely used "i," and you spoke about your parents and he and she, but there was one line where you said -- well, one question is how much of the book is about i, and the second question really is when you said that you had to sit with my father as he went through the deep t's, i wanted to ask why "had to," who couldn't be there or somebody else be there. i was curious about that. my father also was an alcoholic, but he dieded as a result. >> i'm so sorry. >> yeah. just curious. >> well, let me first answer, there's more i in the book as it goes along, but, you know, as i said, i wanted to -- part of the
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book and sort of is it, you know, the sort of narrative thread of the book is telling you this story from the point of view of a journalist who lived through these things, remembers certain things this way, but then found out what really happened, and it sort of goes back, you know, between the two, and, you know, look, i am not a terribly confessional person, and people are shocked that i went this far to write this book, and the people that know me over here are laughing at that. [laughter] but i wanted to tell the story in a way that wasn't overly emotional or sentimental and so forth that would sort of lay it out so the people could make their own conclusions about my
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parents, about my grandparents, about me, too, and some people have found it too detached, but other people have found it ultimately more moving because of that, but i'll leave you to judge that. what happened in the episode where i had to nurse my father was that i had -- i was 17 years old at the time, i had actually left high school early to enroll in the college where my parents had gone, probably in a kind of unconscious desire to somehow correct the past, had not been very happy there and had left without so -- you know, i found myself at 17, i hadn't finished high school and dropped out of
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college after a semester and what i decided to do once i did that was to try to live with my father, so it didn't work because he agreed to have me come and live with him, but then he fell off the wagon and i had to leave, come back, and he fell off the wagon again, and i 4 -- had to leave, and at that point, i just thought it was not going to work out, and i actually came and lived here. his college roommate lived here, and i lived in their spare room for awhile, and then i lived in the international youth hostile in a sleeping bag on the floor, and i worked in the back room of the old new yorker bookstore and staved my money so i could go to the movies at the new yorker theater, and went to bars with an occasional trip to thad's steak house, and then i got a
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call from my father asking me to come back. he was living in new jersey at the time, and i asked why, and he said, well, i want to try to stop drinking again. you know, this is, you know, for the hundredth time, and i want to go on a drug that alcoholics take to stop drinking, but in order to take that, you have to get the alcohol out of your system. he was living with a woman named barbara at the time, but she was away at an academic conference so he asked if i could come to help him, you know, to make sure he wouldn't suffer from seizures and if you're a severe alcoholic and you quit cold turkey, you can die from withdrawal. i didn't know enough to know that i was not medically, you
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know, qualified to really stay with him in that condition, but i felt like i had no choice, but that he asked me to do it, and he asked and i did. for three days he was in his bed, you know, moaning and twitching and, you know, i would bring him ice cubes and wipe his forehead and until finally he was well enough to get out of bed at which point i told him good-bye. i applied to other colleges to find out what had happened, and after i left, i didn't talk to him for three years. yes? >> hello. i'm curious about two things. has your diving into black history showed ethnic
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sensibility, and how did your family react to this publishing of becoming confessional? >> well, my mother who actually turned out to be a very good source, she just turned 85, she actually remembers a lot, and also turns out that she was a very prolific and descriptive letter writer so the letters she gave me or i got from other people she wrote to, you know, really sort of helped me conjure up the early years. mu mother's also french protestant, a litture professor, so not until the third descraft that i sent -- draft that i sent her and she said, well, you know, this is actually pretty well written. [laughter] but she was very helpful and
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supportive and ultimately, you know, it's her story too, and really even though she was less -- much less flamboyant than any father, i think ultimately, she's the hero of the story. i don't say that, but people told me that's the conclusion they reach, and i don't disagree with that. i don't know that -- you know, it was always clear to me -- it took awhile, you know, i struggle with my identity like any kid, and the thing about being biracial is that the good part of it is that you are forced to struggle with your identity, so maybe i did it in a more intense way, but when i was a little bit younger than some people did, but, you know, i -- i had become very comfortable
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with being someone who proud of black heritage, but felt very clearly that i was not going to be completely defined by that. before i undertook this project, but, you know, i -- it was fascinating to sort of discover, you know, where really in detail where i came from. i knew nothing about my great grandfather, you know? the former slave. as i said, i knew very little about my grand dad, and i was, you know, he turned out to be this incredible force of nature. you know, i -- i -- you know, i also appreciated much more what my father was doing. i talk, you know, later in the book about some of the disagreements we had about race,
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and also he he interpreted things differently. there were things that happened to him and also to me that he interpreted with much more of a kind of racial chip on his shoulder, assuming that things were racist. you know, i mean when i got married he interrogated my future mother-in-law about how she felt about her marrying a black man. he was convinced when i became the editor of "news week" that people would be out for me because i was black, and, you know it just -- i realized in reporting to the story where a lot of that came from, that, you know, at the time i kind of thought he was being paranoid and unreasonable, come on, dad, the world's not like that anymore, but i realize when you grow up in the circumstances he did why he felt that way and had
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that suspicion. i talked to a lot of my black friends my generation, and they say the same thing. when they talked to their families, it's a totally different frame of reference. okay, one more question. did you have another one? no, no, go ahead. >> whentk you, you know, think about your identity, is it from your experience or from your parents' experience or, you know, your great grandparents' experience on your father side, or where do you grab your adentty? >> well, i, again, i think that what i thought for many years
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was that i was taking -- i was sorting establishing a new identity, you know, an identity that, you know what i mean mixed race and so forth and so on, but given the turbulence of my childhood, i thought the ways in which i, you know, what i was doing as a professional, what i was doing as a father, as a husband, in terms of my friends, you know, my interest, it was all stuff that i was figuring out on my own because i didn't have, you know, i didn't have a proper father. my mother, you know, was too unhappy and depressed to be there for me. i was doing it all on my own, and like i said earlier, you know, what i discovered is i was very much, you know, they say no man is an island. well, i was very connected to
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the mainland, and the mainland wasmy past, and so me on a personal level i hope you all enjoy the book when you read it, and i think it is, ultimately, a sort of universal family story, but, you know, for me, feeling much more firmly rooted in my past, i think, has been, you know, really liberating and just makes me, you know, that i don't have to run away from it anymore. i can embrace it and be proud of it and i can share it with all of you. >> is there a nonfiction author or book you'd like to see featured on booktv? send us an e-mail at or tweet us at
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>> get back the last ten years and draw three lessons. one, the most important lesson, is that the most important thing to happen in the united states in the last ten years was nothing. the last ten years never saw another successful terrorist attack in the united states, and one -- and i think the most important question to ask is why and whether it was worth it. to me, the most important decision was one that president bush made as commander in chief and chief executive on the very night of 9/11 which was to treat the 9/11 attacks as an about of war. as an act of war. i think the way we thought about it in the justice department at that time was if any country had attacked us on the same way as al-qaeda did, no one would have had any doubt that we were at war. the only difference was al-qaeda was not a nation state, and the important legal and constitutional issue was
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could we be at war with a non-nation state, and i think president bush made that decision for the country that night. and that was an important decision because once you make that call, then the united states can turn to the laws and rules of warfare to deal with al-qaeda and the threat of terrorism. all of those, i think, were on display not just in our invasion of afghanistan, the use of troops and drones to wipe out much of al-qaeda's existing leadership at the time of 9/11, but also was put fully on display, i think, in the successful operation to kill osama bin laden over the summer which i think of as president obama's greatest foreign policy and national security achievement in the last two and a half years. there you saw intelligence provided by people who had been detained under the laws of war, electronic surveillance producing more intelligence, all pulled together to locate where osama bin laden had been
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hiding. and then the use of military force to go out and kill him. under the rules of the criminal justice system which administrations of both political parties had used in their approach to terrorism before 9/11, we would have instead indicted osama bin laden and sent out people who tried to arrest him after he had committed a crime. they switched to the approach of war made our policy forward looking to try to stop people like osama bin laden and terrorist groups from attacking the united states before they could attack. the second lesson i would draw from the last ten years and also helps us to look forward is that after 9/11 we treated intelligence and information differently. we tried to broaden the scope of intelligence available and to deepen it. so to take one example before 9/11 because of civil liberties concerns which i think were quite


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