David Remnick is joined by The New Yorker’s award-winning writers, editors and artists to present a weekly mix of profiles, storytelling, and insightful conversations about the issues that matter — plus an occasional blast of comic genius from the magazine’s legendary Shouts and Murmurs page. The New Yorker has set a standard in journalism for generations and The New Yorker Radio Hour gives it a voice on public radio for the first time. Produced by The New Yorker and WNYC Studios.
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The Trials of a Whistle-blower
As a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center—a Georgia facility run by LaSalle Corrections, a private company operating an immigration-detention contract with ICE—Dawn Wooten became aware of some frightening violations, including numerous hysterectomies and other medical procedures performed without patient consent. When she asked questions, she was demoted and eventually pushed out. Wooten supplied critical information for two complaints about I.C.D.C., which were submitted to the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security. The complaints were first reported in The Intercept in September, 2020, and then covered widely in the national press. Last May, in a victory for Wooten, the detained women who spoke up about their mistreatment, and the advocacy groups that had fought on their behalf, ICE ended its I.C.D.C. contract with LaSalle. Wooten’s own troubles, however, had just begun. Receiving death threats and kidnapping threats, she and her five children stayed under security in a series of hotels. Her whistle-blower-retaliation complaint with the federal government is still awaiting a finding, as the Office of the Inspector General has requested two extensions on its legally required deadlines. Meanwhile, Wooten found that hardly anyone would hire a nurse who had made front-page headlines: despite her twelve years of experience, she was rejected from more than a hundred jobs during a national nursing shortage. She couldn’t get hired at McDonald’s. Wooten, and the detained women who shared their stories at great risk, are still awaiting justice. For Sarah Stillman, who covers immigration for The New Yorker, Wooten’s case draws attention to the fact that low-wage whistle-blowers, in particular, can face almost insurmountable obstacles to coming forward to expose wrongdoing.
The Olympic Games Return to China, in a Changed World
Much has changed since China last hosted the Olympics, during the 2008 Summer Games. Those Games were widely seen as greatly improving China’s international reputation. But the 2022 Winter Games have put a spotlight instead on its human-rights abuses, most notably the genocide taking place against Uyghurs and Kazakhs. Peter Hessler, for many years The New Yorker’s China correspondent, asks David Remnick, “When an athlete says something about the internment camps in Xinjiang, and the oppression of Muslim people in China, what is the Chinese response going to be? The I.O.C. has really left them out there.” The sports reporter Louisa Thomas notes that these Games may garner little American support or attention, with few big-name American athletes for NBC to promote. “I even have a lot of friends who have no idea there’s about to be an Olympics,” Thomas says. Plus, at the Beijing pizzeria Pie Squared, the owner, Asher Gillespie, glumly assesses the Olympics boom that isn’t coming. With ticket sales halted and the events in a bubble, he says, “We're going to be watching from TV just like everybody else.”
Hilton Als and Emma Cline on the Late Joan Didion
Joan Didion tried and failed, she said, “to think”; that is, to write about abstractions and symbols, and make grand arguments in the manner of the New York intellectuals of her time. Instead, the California native—who died in December, at the age of eighty-seven—built her work around close observation of American life as she saw it, withholding judgment. And while many of her intellectual contemporaries belong now to a bygone era, “for my generation,” Emma Cline notes, “her influence is so massive.” Cline’s best-selling novel “The Girls” is set in nineteen-sixties California, on the fringes of a cult—what we might think of as Didion country. “I almost can’t think of a writer who is more of a touchstone for every writer that I know.” In fact, younger writers need to “unlearn” her voice, Hilton Als tells David Remnick, in order to find their own. Als notes that Didion eventually rejected the persona of her early works, which was imbued with white female fragility; and she was prophetic, he notes, in placing race and gender at the center of America’s battles.
Since Joan Didion’s death, The New Yorker has published Postscripts by Als, Cline, Zadie Smith, and Nathan Heller. Some of Didion’s own contributions to The New Yorker can be found here.
The Biden Presidency, Year One
President Biden took the oath of office in a moment of deep crisis—the pandemic in full swing and just weeks after an unprecedented attempt to overturn the election by violence. Merely a return to normalcy would have been a tall order. But Biden was promising something more: a transformational agenda that would realign American economics and life on a scale rivalling Franklin Roosevelt’s long Presidency. Yet Biden never commanded Roosevelt’s indomitable popularity and electoral advantages. A year into the Administration, Evan Osnos takes stock of its successes, failures, and ongoing challenges, along with four New Yorker colleagues: Susan B. Glasser on legislation, Jonathan Blitzer on immigration, Elizabeth Kolbert on climate, and John Cassidy on the economy.
Nnedi Okorafor on Sci-Fi Through an African Lens
Nnedi Okorafor, a recipient of the prestigious Hugo Award, is a prolific writer of science-fiction and fantasy novels for adults and young adults. She spoke with Vinson Cunningham about how her Nigerian American heritage influenced her interest in fantastical worlds. “It’s part of the culture—this mysticism,” she says. “I wanted to write about those mystical things that people talked about but didn’t talk about because they were mysterious and interesting, and sometimes forbidden.” Her novel “Akata Woman,” which comes out this month, is the third in a series that also acknowledges complicated relationships among peoples of the African diaspora. Plus, Julian Lucas is a passionate gamer, with a particular interest in video games as a form of landscape art. He walks David Remnick through the forthcoming game Norco, a highly anticipated thriller set in coastal Louisiana.
A New Civil War in America?
When rioters, encouraged by the President, stormed the Capitol, one year ago, to overturn the results of the election, the idea that such a thing could play out in America was stunning. But the attack may have been just the beginning of an ongoing insurrection, not a failed attempt at a coup. David Remnick talks with Barbara F. Walter, the author of the new book “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them.” Walter is a political scientist and a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-director of the online magazine Political Violence at a Glance. She has studied countries that slide into civil war for the C.I.A., and she says that the United States meets many of the criteria her group identified. In particular, anti-democratic trends such as increased voting restrictions point to a nation on the brink. “Full democracies rarely have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars,” she says. “It’s the ones that are in between that are particularly at risk.”