The Untold Stories of Election Day 2016

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Read on esquire.com

On November 8, 2016, America’s chief storytellers—those within the bubbles of media and politics—lost the narrative they had controlled for decades. In a space of 24 hours, the concept of “conventional wisdom” seemed to vanish for good. How did this happen? What follows are over 40 brand new interviews and behind-the-scenes stories from deep inside The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and more—plus first-hand accounts from the campaigns, themselves. We’ve spent a year hearing the spin. Now it’s time for the truth.


THE RUN-UP

Steve BannonTrump campaign CEO: When I first came on the campaign, I said, “You have a hundred-percent chance of winning.” We just got to stick to that plan. Even with Billy Bush, I never wavered for a second.

Jim MargolisClinton campaign senior adviser: I am normally a glass-half-empty guy when it comes to expectations on election days. This was the first big election where I was absolutely certain we were going to win.

Dave WeigelThe Washington Post: I called Jeff Flake the Sunday before the election. I said, “I have one round of questions if Hillary wins, and one if Trump wins.” And he just started laughing, saying, “Why would you bother asking the second one?”

Rebecca TraisterNew York magazine: We got up around 7 a.m., and there was an electric current running through my body.

Ana Marie CoxCrooked Media, formerly of MTV: I was staying at my in-laws’ place in New York. They’re Trump supporters. They weren’t in town, but my father-in-law made a joking bet with me. He said, “The next time we see each other, there will be a President Trump.” I remember laughing at him.

Neal Brennancomedian/writer: I was at SNL. Chappelle was like, “Dude, I feel like Trump’s gonna win.” I was like, “Dude, I’ll bet you a hundred thousand dollars he won’t win.” He did not take the bet, thankfully.

Sen. Tim KaineDemocratic vice presidential candidate: I thought we would win, but I was more wary than many for the simple reason that the U.S. had never elected a woman president and still has a poor track record of electing women to federal office.

Ana NavarroCNN commentator and Republican strategist: I schlepped my absentee ballot around with me for a month. It was getting pretty beat up inside my bag. I would open it up and look at it every now and then and say, “I’m not ready. I can’t bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton. Please, God, let something happen that I don’t have to do this.”

Brian FallonClinton campaign national press secretary: There had been a battleground tracking poll our team had done over the weekend that had us up 4 [points]. We were up in more than enough states to win, taking us over 270. The public polls all showed a similar outlook.

Zara RahimClinton campaign national spokeswoman: We were waiting for the coronation. I was planning my Instagram caption.

Van JonesCNN political commentator: The Democrats had this attitude, which I think is very unhealthy and unproductive, that any acknowledgement that Trump had a chance was somehow helping Trump, and that we all had to be on this one accord that it was impossible for him to win. I thought that was stupid. I’ve never seen that strategy work.

Matt Oczkowskiformerly of Cambridge Analytica (Trump campaign data firm): When you see outlets like the Huffington Post giving Trump a 1 percent probability of victory, which is not even physically possible, it’s just like, “Wow, people are going to miss this massively.”

Roger Stonelongtime Trump ally: She was just dead in the water.

Joel BenensonClinton campaign chief strategist: I go into the 10 o’clock call and we’re getting reports from the analytics people and the field people. And they finish, and whoever’s leading the call asks if there’s anything else. I said, “Well, yeah, I got a call 20 minutes ago from my daughter in Durham, North Carolina. People are standing on line and aren’t moving, and are now being told they need to vote with paper ballots.” To me, that was the first sign that something was amiss in our boiler room process. That’s essential information. We needed those reports so the legal team would activate. I was stunned, and actually quite nervous. I thought, “Do we even have what we need on the ground to manage election day?”


“I MEAN, IT LOOKED LIKE A LANDSLIDE”

5 p.m.

Nate SilverFiveThirtyEight: When I was coming in on the train at 5 p.m., according to our model, there was one-in-three chance of a Clinton landslide, a one-in-three chance of a close Clinton win, and a one-in-three chance of a Trump win. I was mentally preparing myself for each of those outcomes.

David Remnickeditor of The New Yorker: I thought about, and actually wrote, an essay about “the first woman president,” and the historical background of it all. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragettes, the relationship with Frederick Douglass…a historical essay, clearly written in a mood of “at long last” and, yes, celebration. The idea was to press “post” on that piece, along with many other pieces by my colleagues at The New Yorker, the instant Clinton’s victory was declared on TV.

Bret BaierFox News chief political anchor: We got the exit polls at 5 p.m. in a big office on the executive floor. Rupert Murdoch and all the staff were there. It looked like we were going to call the race for Hillary Clinton at 10:30 or 11 p.m.

Steve Bannon: The exit polls were horrific. It was brutal. I think we were close in Iowa and Ohio and everything else was just brutal. Losing everywhere. Florida, Pennsylvania. I mean, it looked like a landslide.

Ashley ParkerThe Washington Post, formerly of The New York Times: The RNC thought they were going to lose. The Trump campaign supporters thought they were going to lose. They were rushing to get their side out of the blame game. I spent part of my day lining up interviews for later that night or the next morning to get their version of events.

Jerry Falwell Jr.president of Liberty University, Trump’s religious adviser: I called Sean Hannity and said, “I really think he’s going to win tonight.” Sean said, “Well, I’m glad you do, because the exit polls don’t look good.” I found out later that Trump was very pessimistic, too.

Steve Bannon: Jared [Kushner] and I were out on this balcony in Trump Tower. We looked at it on Jared’s iPhone. And the numbers were so bad that we regrouped inside. We look at each other and we go, “This can’t be right. It just can’t.” And Jared goes, “I got an idea, let’s call Drudge.” And Drudge says, “The corporate media—they’ve always been wrong the entire time—these numbers are wrong.”

Brian Fallon: I was hearing from my high school principal, people I hadn’t spoken to since college. Everybody is conveying thanks for taking on Trump. It was going to be a cathartic experience of him getting his comeuppance after months of representing something that was so egregious in the eyes of so many people.

Rebecca Traister: They were serving, like, $12 pulled pork sandwiches [at the Javits Center]. It was nuts, people were bouncing off the walls. Everyone genuinely believed she was going to win. I don’t know if it made me feel more confident or not.

Evan McMullinIndependent candidate: Our election night event was in Salt Lake City. I was drinking Diet Coke and eating hummus and olives.

Ana Marie Cox: At the MTV watch party, we had dancers and graffiti artists. There were people giving temporary tattoos. I remember my colleague Jamil Smith and I both bringing up at a meeting, “Hey guys, what if something goes wrong? What if this doesn’t go how we think it’s going to go?” And the answer from some MTV exec was, “We’ll pivot.”

Steve Bannon: Drudge snapped us out of it, saying, “You guys are a couple of jamokes. Wait until the second exit polls come out, or later.” We called the candidate and told him what the numbers were and what Drudge had said. And then we said, “Hey, ya know, we left it all on the field. Did everything we can do. Let’s just see how it turns out.”

Sen. Tim Kaine: Based on the returns from one bellwether Virginia county I know well, I realized that we would win Virginia by a significantly larger margin than President Obama four years earlier. This was a huge feeling given all the work that Anne and I have done for 30-plus years to help make Virginia more progressive. It struck me for the first time, “I will probably be vice president.” That feeling lasted about 90 minutes.

Ashley Parker: I walked over to the Hilton for election night. At some point they rolled in a cake that was like…a life-sized, very impressive rendering of Trump’s head.

Melissa Altcake artist: I got an order for a Hillary Clinton cake. So, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to make Donald Trump as well.” Just because that would generate a lot of interest. My manager, who has a friend who works for Donald Trump Jr., said, “Let’s contact them and see if they’re interested in having cake.” And obviously they said yes.

The Kid MeroDesus & Mero: I’m surprised a stripper didn’t jump out of the cake.

Melissa Alt: I start getting phone calls of people saying, “This is TMZ, or Boston Globe, or People magazine. Do you know that your cake is trending all over the whole internet?”

Ashley Parker: I don’t know if I was ever allowed to eat it. It seemed fairly decorative.

Melissa Alt: Obviously, I wanted everyone to see it first and then eat it. That cake could probably feed about a hundred.

Gary JohnsonLibertarian candidate: I was taken aback by the fact that, at least at the start of the evening, all the networks were showing three names on the screen for the first time, meaning mine and Clinton and Trump. But no, I don’t remember the cake.


“I THINK I’M GONNA THROW UP”

8 p.m. – 1 a.m.

Maggie HabermanThe New York Times: When I went downstairs at 8:15, Hillary was up in Florida. When I came back upstairs, it had flipped. I got a sense the second I set foot in the newsroom that something was going on.

Van Jones: You got smoke coming out of every gear trying to figure out what the heck is happening out there. And you’ve got John King who had said, over and over, that there is no pathway for a Trump victory. Suddenly, that whole thing starts to come apart.

Roger Stone: I was committed to be an on-air anchor for InfoWars. I think I was on the air for seven hours straight.

Steve Bannon: We had taken over the fifth floor of Trump Tower, which had been Corey [Lewandowski]’s original headquarters. It was a concrete floor with no carpeting. They didn’t heat it. It had computers everywhere, guys are tracking everything, we had a chain of command. We called the fifth floor “the crack den.” It looked like a crack den. We put all the maps up and we started getting raw feeds from both our local guys and also the secretary of state of Florida. They were putting up their total vote counts. And [national field director] Bill Stepien was sitting there with all of our modeling. They were really focused on Florida—particularly the Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Also North Carolina was coming in. And obviously Ohio and those states were starting to come in. But the big one we were focused on was Florida. Because if we didn’t win Florida, it was not going to happen.

Omarosa ManigaultTrump campaign: If we believed what was on the television, we would have thought we lost. But looking at the numbers that were in front of us in the key battleground states, we were up…or we were neck and neck, with expectations of higher turnout and more enthusiasm. We were going off of our own internal data. What was being shown on CNN and MSNBC and some of these other networks was showing a stark contrast to what was in front of us.

Reza Aslanauthor and religious scholar: I thought, “Oh my God, how terrible are we that it’s even this close?”

Brian Fallon: As I was walking off the risers [at Javits], Jen Epstein, a Bloomberg reporter, grabbed my arm and said, “Are you guys nervous about Florida?” I gave her some sort of verbal shrug. Right after that I called into the boiler room and asked for a gut check.

Van Jones: My phone was literally warm from the text messages coming in.

Zara Rahim: I had been going back and forth between the venue and backstage. My face was really tense. All of these reporters can read your energy and your face. You never want a reporter to tweet like, “Clinton campaign members are nervous.”

Jim Margolis: I finally called Steve Schale, who ran Florida for us in the Obama campaign. I said, “Steve, what’s going on here? Is this just a lack of information?” He said, “I think you’ve got a problem.”

Bret Baier: At 8:30 I turned to Chris Wallace, who was sitting next to us on the set, and said, “This does not look like it’s lining up.” We came back from commercial break and Chris said, “Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States.”

Jerry Falwell Jr.: My 17-year-old daughter, Caroline, had been following the election. It’s the first time she’s ever followed politics. And she was so nervous about the result that her stomach got upset. She told her brother, “I think I’m gonna throw up.” So he took off his Trump hat and she threw up in it, right next to Laura Ingraham.

Felix BiedermanChapo Trap House: At that point the blue wall hadn’t come in yet, and that’s when the air in the room started to tighten. It was like, “Oh, fuck.” She can still do it, but everything that needs to happen for Trump is happening. What if what’s always happened with Hillary—they did all the work, they know everything, they’re super qualified—what if they didn’t do it? What if they fucked it up?

Ana Marie Cox: I did a couple of on-camera news hits where I was told, “What you need to do here is tell people not to panic.” Meanwhile, I was panicking.

David Remnick: Not only did I not have anything else ready, I don’t think our site had anything, or much of anything, ready in case Trump won. The mood in the offices, I would say, was frenetic.

Dave Weigel: I’m in the parking lot of the Scalise party. There are Republicans drinking, some celebrating, some not paying attention. My editor was calling to see when I would hand in my story. One, I’m on a minor story that’s falling apart, and two, I’m probably in the wrong place. Three, I need to reorder the story, and four, how much did I tell people confidently about the election that I was wrong about?

Ashley Parker: We started running up to one another like, “He’s gonna win, he’s gonna win. We know it now, it’s gonna happen.”

Desus NiceDesus & Mero: It’s one thing to find out Donald Trump is president, but another to be on TV with people watching you watch Donald Trump become president.

Michael BarbaroThe New York Times: Carolyn Ryan, who was the politics editor, pulled me aside and said, “I need you to be involved in a ‘Trump Wins’ story.”

Matt FlegenheimerThe New York Times: Michael and I build this thing out together into a fully sweeping and historical news story. Maybe 1,500 words. We lock ourselves in this little glass office in the Times building and try to tune out the unstoppable din of the newsroom.

Steve Bannon: Jared came down and the candidate was upstairs. Then when word got out that Florida was competitive, that it was gonna be real, he came down to the 14th floor, the headquarters, where we had what we called the war room, which had multiple TVs running. And so what we did is we moved the data analysis thing that we had up to the 14th floor. And I went over with Stepien and the others and just stood next to the candidate and walked him through what was going on. And he finally took a seat. And we sat there and watched everything come in.

Jacob SoboroffMSNBC correspondent: I went from this feeling of, “Oh my god, wow. I can’t believe it,” to, in a matter of seconds, “Oh, whoa, I can totally believe it.”

Steve Bannon: Stepien looked at it and said, “Our spread is too big, they can’t recover from this.” Miami-Dade and Broward were coming back really slow. They were clearly holding votes back, right? And then Stepien looked at me and said, “We have such a big lead now. They can’t steal it from us.”


“I FELT SO ALONE, I KNEW IT WAS DONE”

Ashley Parker: I received a frantic call from Mike Barbaro, so I was racing around the ballroom getting quotes and feeding them back to the story.

Joshua Green, Bloomberg Businessweek correspondent and Devil’s Bargain author: At 9:05 p.m. I sent Bannon an email and said, “Holy shit, you guys are gonna win, aren’t you?” He sent a one word reply: “Yes.”

Dave Weigel: I had told my parents, who are Clinton supporters—my dad actually knew Clinton growing up as he’s from the same town in Illinois she is. I texted him early in the night saying, “These Florida counties seem to be going the way they usually go.” But once I realized there was no way for Clinton to win, I called them saying, “I’m sorry, this is what I do for a living and I was wrong.” My dad said, “Well, I’m still holding out hope.” And I said, “Don’t bother. Process this, and figure out what you’re going to do next, because it’s not going to happen.”

Trae Crowdercomedian and author: I felt very mad at liberals, you know, like my team. I was very upset with all of us for a lot of reasons.

Rebecca Traister: I felt so alone, I knew it was done. I was by myself on the floor. I started to cry.

David Remnick: That night I went to a friend’s election-night party. As Clinton’s numbers started to sour, I took my laptop out, got a chair, found a corner of that noisy room, and started thinking and writing. That was what turned out to be “An American Tragedy.”

Steve Bannon: As soon as we got Florida, I knew we were gonna win. Because Florida was such a massive lift for us, right? We were so outstaffed. But then we won Florida. Just made me know that the rest of the night was going to go well.

Maggie Haberman: I started texting some of the Trump people and one of them wrote back, “Say it with me: ‘President Trump. President Trump.’”


“CAN WE STAY IN THE U.S.?”

Zara Rahim: A member of senior leadership came, and I’ll never forget him looking at us and saying, essentially, “If she doesn’t win Michigan and Wisconsin, Donald Trump will be president-elect.” That was the first time I heard those words.

Jim Margolis: The tenor had changed completely. People were very nervous in the room, we’re all talking to each other. I’m going back and forth with [Clinton campaign manager] Robby Mook, who is over at the hotel. We’re on the phone with some of the states that are still out there, trying to understand what is taking place in Wisconsin and Michigan, because those numbers are softer than they ought to be. That’s beginning to weigh very heavily.

Rebecca Traister: I was thinking everything from, “I’m gonna have to rewrite my piece” to, “Can we stay in the U.S.?” I texted my husband, “Tell Rosie to go to bed. I don’t want her to watch.”

Roger Stone: The staff at InfoWars is largely people in their late 20s, early 30s, all of whom are interested in politics, but none of whom would consider themselves an expert. So they would look to me and say, “Well, are we going to win or not?” And I said, “Yes, we’re going to win.”

Matt Flegenheimer: Michael Grynbaum—who covers media—we had been following the Upshot percentages on the race. We were trying to get our heads around it. If it’s 75 percent, two coin flips, Donald Trump’s president. You had dynamic, shifting odds on the meter. Maybe it’s one coin flip. Maybe it’s half a coin flip. At some point, when I was in that little room with Michael Barbaro, Grynbaum comes in, takes a quarter, slams it down on the middle of the desk. Doesn’t say a word. Just walks out. I still have that quarter in my wallet.

David Remnick: Obviously, we were not going to press “post” until a result had been announced. So I made some revisions, came across a quotation from George Orwell, played around with various sentences, but all in a kind of strange state of focus that happens only once in a while.

Steve Bannon: We stayed there until I want to say about 11 o’clock, 11:30, after Florida got called. It looked like others were coming our way, that we were obviously gonna win. That’s when we went upstairs to the residence, to the penthouse. In hindsight, we still had two and a half hours to go, because they didn’t call it ‘til like 2:30 in the morning.

Symone SandersStrategist for Priorities USA: Omarosa called [into MTV] saying, “It’s a good night over here at Trump Tower.” She’s like, “I knew Donald Trump would be the president. I told everyone months ago. And the day is here!” I was just dumbfounded.

Neal Brennan: Slowly but surely it dawns on us. And I had said things like, “You know, I’ve heard that technically Republicans can never win another presidential election.” I’m just saying dumb shit, all things I’d read on Politico or fuckin’ The Atlantic or whatever. And then slowly but surely it happens. It’s like we…it…fucking Hillary lost.

Van Jones: I picked up my pen and I wrote down two words: “parents” and “whitelash.”

Jeffrey Lord, former CNN political commentator: People get so obsessed with the race thing.

Ana Marie Cox: I happen to be in recovery. I had a moment of, like, “Why the fuck not?” I went on Twitter and said, “To those of us ‘in the room’ together, he’s not worth it. Don’t drink over this.” And the response I got was amazing. I said, “I’m going to a meeting tomorrow. Everyone get through this 24 hours, get to a meeting, we’re not alone.”

Evan McMullin: I looked at my staffers. In my mind’s eye, they were all seated up against this wall. They were disappointed, they were afraid, all of that. I told them that I didn’t want to see any long faces. I told them to buck up. And it had no effect.

Van Jones: I literally said, “This was many things. This was a rebellion against elites, it was a complete reinvention of politics and polls. And it was also about race.” But the “whitelash” comment became this big, big thing. What’s interesting about it is, I’m black, my wife is not. She and I were talking about what was happening in Europe. And I said, “The backlash is coming here.” She said, “Yeah, it’ll be a whitelash here.” That was in the back of my mind. People think I made that term up on the spot. It’s very rare you can put two syllables together and make the entire case.

Jeffrey Lord: I thought he was wrong. While Van and I disagree, he’s a curious and sensible soul. I thought at some point he would come to a different conclusion.


“WHAT’S OBAMA THINKING?”

1 a.m. – 3 a.m.

Melissa Alt: People were texting me the whole night, just congratulations on the cake. That was funny because the night turned out so different than I expected. Who knew cake could generate so much hype?

Bret Baier: The futures markets had taken a nosedive, so we were covering that aspect of things. Fortunately, we had Maria Bartiromo on the set, who looked at the numbers and said, “Well, I would think this is a buying opportunity, because if you look at policy, tax cuts, regulation roll back, and everything else, that’s probably going to mean the market turning around when businesses weigh in.” That turned out to be pretty prescient.

Ana Marie Cox: A Muslim colleague of mine called his mother. She was worried he was going to be the victim of violence at any moment. A colleague who is gay and married was on the phone with her wife saying, “They’re not going to take this damn ring away from me.”

Van Jones: I had Muslim friends who came from countries like Somalia asking, “Should we leave the country tonight?” Because in their countries of origin, if a president that hostile takes power, they might start rounding up people in the morning.

David Remnick: Jelani [Cobb] and I spoke around midnight. We were both, let’s put it this way, in the New Yorker mode of radical understatement, disappointed. Jelani’s disappointment extended to his wondering whether he should actually leave the country. He wasn’t kidding around. I could tell that from his voice.

Gary Johnson: Well, I was really disappointed at the results. But what I came to very quickly was, as I’ve said many, many, many, times, if I wasn’t elected president, I was going to ski a hundred-plus days and I was also going to ride the Continental Divide bike race.

Jill SteinGreen Party candidate: Did I have remorse about running? Absolutely not. I have remorse about the misery people are experiencing under Democrats and Republicans both.

Neal Brennan: That’s sketch-writing night at SNL. So all the writers are crestfallen, and it was up to us to write comedy for that Saturday. Me and [Colin] Jost wrote the sketch where Dave [Chappelle] is watching the election, and Chris Rock shows up and everyone’s bawling. It was based on the experience of being in Jost’s office and me saying incredibly stupid shit as reality crumbled.

Ashley Nicole Blackwriter/correspondent, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: We all went into a room and sat in silence for at least five minutes. The conversation wasn’t like, “What is it going to be in the country?” It was like, okay, “We’re at work. We have a show tomorrow. What are we going to do?” And Sam goes, “I think this is my fault.” It’s Sam’s first time voting in an American election, and she told us how the first time she was on Law & OrderLaw & Order got canceled the next day. And she got interviewed by Playboy, and the next day they announced they were no longer doing nudity. And now she voted for the first time and broke America. We all laughed, it broke the tension in the room. Then we started writing Act 1 with that idea in mind.

Rep. Adam Schiffcongressman, 28th District of California: I was at a victory party for my campaign at the Burbank Bar and Grill. And it was the most somber and depressing victory party I’d ever had.

Brian Fallon: Eventually there were conversations around the awkwardness. There started to be this pressure to concede even before AP called the race.

Nate Silver: I felt like if the roles had been reversed, and if Clinton had been winning all of these states, that they wouldn’t have been so slow to call it. In some ways, the slowness to call it reflected the stubbornness the media had the whole time about realizing that, actually, it was a pretty competitive election.

Jerry Falwell Jr.: The crowd at the Trump party was really aggravated because Megyn Kelly didn’t want to call it. She was so hopeful that Trump would lose. She let hours go by. Finally, the crowd started chanting, “Call it! Call it! Call it!”

Bret Baier: There was a growing group of people who had gathered outside Fox News who obviously were Trump supporters. They were going crazy.

Zara Rahim: There was a massive garage behind the Javits center. John Podesta stood up on a box and told us, “We will have more information for you soon,” which is the most frustrating thing to hear in that moment. Everybody was in this big circle of sadness and nobody knew what to do. Leadership didn’t know what to do. We were all at a loss.

Jon FavreauCrooked Media, former Obama speechwriter: We were in a constant text chain with our buddies in the White House, asking, “What’s going on? What’s the boss thinking? What’s Obama thinking?” And finally they told us, “Oh, he just talked to her and he thinks she should concede and she agrees. She’s just waiting for the right moment.”

Jerry Falwell Jr.: I called the president-elect. He said, “Well, why don’t you come over to Trump Tower, you and your family, and watch the returns with us?” And I said, “I don’t want to do that, because by the time I get over there, you’re going to be coming over here to do your victory speech.” And he said, “All right, whatever.”

Matt Paulchief of staff to VP candidate Tim Kaine: Senator Kaine, when the news became very grim…the senator actually went to bed. Nothing was going to happen that night. He had to put together a different type of speech.

Brian Fallon: I was on the phone with the decision desk people at AP, trying to glean a sense of their confidence about the numbers in states like Wisconsin and Michigan. I knew that when those got called, it was ball game, so I was trying to impart to them what we were hearing about what precincts might still be outstanding. We were also trying to gauge if they were about to call it, if and when she should speak.

Michael Barbaro: We really labored over a few paragraphs and a few words, just capturing the enormity of a Trump victory. That it wasn’t expected. The messages the campaign had run on, what they would suddenly mean for the country. And it was a real challenge to convey all of the things he had said and done in the campaign, and all the controversies that he had sparked and put those into the context of a traditional, sweeping, “This person has just been elected president of the United States,” New York Times story.

Matt Flegenheimer: I think after 1 o’clock we had our final version and we were ready to press the button on “Trump Just Won.” It did make the last edition of the print paper.

Michael Barbaro: There was so much going on that night and so many last-minute changes and such a hectic schedule that the story was published with the wrong bylines. The historic front page, “Trump Triumphs,” ran in the paper with the wrong bylines.

Jelani CobbThe New Yorker: I saw the New York Times headline and I was very discomforted by it. For one, I knew that I had a child on the way.

Maggie Haberman: I was supposed to go on a CNN panel at 2 a.m., they were doing a very early version of New Day. I got stuck because of a deadline anyway, so it worked out I couldn’t make it, which I felt bad about. In reality, I wasn’t prepared to talk about it. I couldn’t really understand what had happened. And I think images of gobsmacked reporters probably wouldn’t have helped.

Michael Barbaro: We’re all sitting around and we’re all doing what journalists do after a big story, which is talk about it endlessly. I don’t think any of us wanted to go home. I don’t think any of us wanted to go off into the private space of figuring out what this all means. This gravitational pull kept us there much later than we needed to be.

Reza Aslan: My wife stayed up and I went to sleep, then she woke me up around 1 or 2 in the morning bawling and told me that it was over. My poor, sweet wife. She wanted to hug and kiss me but I went into a panic attack and couldn’t breathe.

David Remnick: We agreed that night, and we agree today, that the Trump presidency is an emergency. And in an emergency, you’ve got a purpose, a job to do, and ours is to put pressure on power. That’s always the highest calling of journalism, but never more so than when power is a constant threat to the country and in radical opposition to its values and its highest sense of itself.

Brian Fallon: We had this issue where the Javits Center needed us out by 3 a.m. The decision was made that someone had to come out and address the crowd.

Zara Rahim: There were die-hard Hillary supporters that were like, “We’re not going.” Folks who were sobbing and literally couldn’t move because they were so distraught. I remember pieces of memorabilia on the floor, little Hillary pins and “I believe that she will win” placards.

Rebecca Traister: People were throwing up. People were on the floor crying.

Steve Bannon: We had an agreement with these guys. Robby Mook had sent this email saying, you know, “When AP calls it, we’ll call and congratulate you right away.” Because they were expecting Trump to keep saying, “It’s rigged, it’s rigged.” So Robby Mook sent a thing over which I’m sure he regrets. [Laughs]. He sent an email to us, he said, 15 minutes after AP calls it, they would expect to hear from us. If they hadn’t heard from us, she would get up to give a victory speech. I think AP called it right when we left.

Roger Stone: We figured they had her in a straitjacket by then. Or that she was throwing things and cursing.


“LET’S GO ONSTAGE AND GET THIS DONE”

Bret Baier: It was around 2:30 in the morning, and I said, “Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.” This whiz-bang graphic with all of these firework animations flashed across the screen with the words Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States. Just seeing that, everybody on the set was silent for a little bit, as the whole thing was being digested.

Stephen L. Millerconservative bloggerThe Onion headline kept flashing through my head really heavy. During the primaries they had the Trump story, “You really want to see how far this goes, don’t you America?”

Jorge RamosUnivision news anchor: When he won, I said it as if I was reporting a football score or a soccer match. “Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States.” No emotion. Just the facts. That’s what the audience demanded. That is a sign of respect. As a journalist you have to report reality as it is, not as you wish it would be. That’s exactly what I was doing.

Jeffrey Lord: It was an amazing moment. Anderson [Cooper] came over to me and, in his classy fashion, shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, you were right.”

Steve Bannon: When it was called, he was actually upstairs in the kitchen. He has a small kitchen with a television. When he heard it was being called by AP, I shook his hand and said, “Congratulations, Mr. President.” So we kinda laughed. There were no big hugs or anything. Nothing crazy. He’s not a guy who gets overly excited. He’s very controlled. People around him are very controlled. We were obviously very happy and ecstatic. But it’s not a bunch of jumping around, high-fiving, anything like that.

Matt Oczkowski: It almost felt like a videogame, like you were playing something and won. You’re like, “Wow, this is the presidency of the United States.”

Roger Stone: The champagne tasted great. This was the culmination of a dream that I’d had since 1988.

Jim Margolis: I was on with Robby [Mook], who was in the room with her when she did the concession call to Trump. It was surreal. It was beyond my imagination that we would be in this position with this person being elected president.

Steve Bannon: It only took us 10 minutes to get there, it was right down the street. When we got there, we were in this weird holding stage, kind of off to the side. Very crammed. She called the president on his phone. Or it might have been Huma Abedin called Kellyanne [Conway] and then she hands her phone off to the president, and then Secretary Clinton was on there, you know, “Hey, Donald, congratulations, hard-fought win.” Two or three minutes. Then we looked at each other and said, “Let’s go onstage and get this done.”

Roger Stone: He looked surprised at the fact that he’d won. Which is surprising only because he pretty consistently thought he would win. Not unhappy, but rather, shocked.

Neal Brennan: I thought it was so fucking weird that he was like, “Is Jim here? Come on up here.” Like he was emceeing a sports banquet. But it was good that he set the tone right there. So long, context. So long, history.

Joshua Green: I thought he had actually made at least a cursory effort to try to unite the country by reaching out to Hillary Clinton voters. That sentiment probably evaporated before the sun rose the next day. At least on election night he said something approximating what you would expect a normal presidential victor to say in a moment like that, to try and bring the country together.

Symone Sanders: I still couldn’t believe it was happening. When he talked about us coming together and healing for the country, I wanted to throw up in my mouth.


“YOU’RE FUCKED”

3 a.m. – 7 a.m.

Maggie Haberman: I was getting bewildered texts from my child who couldn’t sleep, asking me what happened. I think this election was really difficult for kids to process.

Matt Paul: It was fucking terrible. We had these hastily organized calls every 10 minutes to determine what was going to happen the next morning. There was no advanced plan. Where were we going to do this massive global television event? How were we going to get people in the room? Who was going to say what in what order? That happened between 4 in the morning and when she spoke.

Rebecca Traister: In the cab home, the cabbie had on the news, that’s when I heard his acceptance speech, and I said, “Can you turn it off?” I couldn’t hear his voice. I was like, “I can’t listen to his voice for the next four years.”

Desus Nice: I went home, and it was like when your team loses and you watch it on SportsCenter over and over and over. I turned on MSNBC, and Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow were asking, “How’d you get this wrong? How did Nate Silver get this wrong? What did Hillary do?” I kept turning to Fox News and seeing them gloat and the balloons falling. I think I stayed up until three in the morning just drinking and watching.

The Kid Mero: I went home and smoked myself to sleep. I was like, “This sucks.”

Ashley Nicole Black: I took a shower, and then as soon as water hit me, I started bawling. I didn’t really have any feelings until that moment.

Ashley Parker: Times Square felt like a zombie-apocalypse movie. There was no one there. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I walked from the ballroom to the newsroom. They were like, “Go home, get some sleep, you’ll need it.” I walked back to my hotel. I couldn’t sleep. I watched cable news and then fell asleep.

Van Jones: I was walking out the building. Your thumb just kind of automatically switches over to Twitter. I saw that my name was trending worldwide. And I was like, “Whoa, that’s weird.”

Brian Fallon: I stayed in Brooklyn throughout the campaign, but that night I got a hotel in Midtown, close to the Peninsula. I actually walked past his hotel. I saw all the red hats that were still milling about outside of his victory party. It was pretty surreal.

Ashley Nicole Black: I looked at myself—I’m going to cry even saying this right now—I looked at myself in the mirror, and in that moment, I looked like my grandmother. The first thought I had was that I was glad that she wasn’t alive to see that. Then I felt so guilty because of course nothing would ever make me glad my grandmother is not alive. I love her so much, and I wish she was here. But she died when Obama was president, with that hope that the world had moved forward, and black people had moved forward. And she didn’t see the huge backlash that came after. In that moment, I was very grateful, and then guilty, and then I went to bed.

Jorge Ramos: I’ve been to wars, I’ve covered the most difficult situations in Latin America. But I needed to digest and to understand what had happened. I came home very late. I turned on the news. I had comfort food—cookies and chocolate milk—the same thing I used to have as a kid in Mexico City. After that, I realized that I had been preparing all my life for this moment. Once I digested what had happened with Trump and had a plan, which was to resist and report and not be neutral, then I was able to go to bed.

Rebecca Traister: I got back to Park Slope, I went to check on the girls. When I went to say goodnight, I looked at Rosie, and I had this conscious thought that this is the day that will divide our experience of what is possible. This is the day where a limitation is reinforced for her.

Michael Barbaro: I went home and woke up my husband, I think it was 4 or 5 in the morning, and asked him what the next steps should be journalistically. Should I move to Washington? Should I change jobs? It was pretty disorienting.

Maggie Haberman: One Trump supporter sent me a message saying, “You’re fucked.” [Laughs] If you use that, please recall me laughing about it. It was really something.

Van Jones: I got to my apartment and put my head down. I woke up like three, four hours later. And in my mind I thought, it was a dream. Just for a split second. I was still fully clothed. I had makeup all over my pillow. And I was like, “Shit.”


“IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST SPEECHES SHE’S EVER GIVEN”

7 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Jon Favreau: It felt like when you wake up after someone close to you passes away. Not nearly as bad, obviously, but that same feeling where you think, for like five seconds, you’re okay, maybe it’s a normal morning, and then it hits you what happened.

Roger Stone: I mean, we were walkin’ on clouds. We were still in the halo of the whole thing. I was very pleased.

Jerry Falwell Jr.: The feeling afterward was relief. I had worked so hard to help him. I’d risked so much and went so far out on a limb. Everybody thought I was crazy. It was a renewed hope for the future of the country, and a little bit of fear that I was going to be chosen to serve in the administration, because I didn’t want to.

Steve Bannon: I had my whole family that had come up to the victory party and I hadn’t seen anybody, so I went home and grabbed a shower, just like the night before, got another hour of sleep, and I was with Jared. And I think we were with Trump at like 8 in the morning. So it was just like the exact same thing as the day before. The day before I felt we were gonna win the presidency, and the next day we had won the presidency. It was odd, there was never any big insurgent feeling or anything like that. It played out how I thought it would play out. I didn’t have much doubt the first day of the campaign, didn’t really have much doubt on Billy Bush weekend. He was connecting. He had a powerful message.

Reza Aslan: I remember thinking, as clear as day, this is who we are. This is what we deserve.

Shani O. HiltonU.S. news editor, BuzzFeed News: You get on the train from Brooklyn. It’s silent. And not in the normal way of people not talking to each other. It felt like an observable silence. I saw at least three people sitting by themselves, just weeping silently.

Melissa Alt: The next day my manager took the cake back to Trump Tower because they didn’t cut it at election night. Donald Trump Jr. told my friend that it was delicious.

Matt Paul: I remember rolling up in the motorcade and seeing some of our staff and organizers couldn’t get in. A reporter or cameraperson who was familiar to me said, “Can I sneak in with you?” I looked at that person, sort of stunned, and said, “Fuck no.” Then I realized I shouldn’t have said that. It was just a visceral, gut reaction to seeing some of our staff that couldn’t get in who had killed themselves for two years.

Nate Silver: If you read FiveThirtyEight throughout the election and listened to our arguments with other journalists and reporters, then you would’ve been much better prepared and much less surprised by the outcome.

The Kid Mero: We very quickly became familiar with the term “economic anxiety.”

Reza Aslan: You take your kids to school, you go to the store, you go to the post office, you’re looking around, and you’re thinking, “These people hate me.”

Jelani Cobb: I went to the airport the next morning for a 7 a.m. flight. There’s an African-American gentleman, maybe in his 60s, working at the check-in counter. He starts talking about how disastrous and dangerous this moment’s going to be. And he’s seen history in the South and thinking that we might be headed back toward the things he thought were in the past.

Dave Weigel: I was connecting through the Atlanta airport. I looked around and thought, well, for eight years, I didn’t really think about who voted for who. But as a white dude with a mustache, fairly bloated by the campaign, most of the people who look like me voted for this guy who, as far as they know, is a bigot. I remember feeling that this divider had come down, this new intensity of feeling about everybody I saw.

Van Jones: The next day, my commentary had become this sort-of viral sensation. Fox News is mad at me for saying “whitelash.” Liberals are treating me as some kind of hero. And literally, for the next two weeks, I didn’t have to pay for anything in any establishment in D.C. or New York. Not one meal. Not one cab. Uber people would turn the thing off and just drive me around for free.

Joshua Green: Bannon called me. He said, “You recognize what happened?” I’m like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” He goes, “You guys,” meaning you on the left, “you fell into the same trap as conservatives in the ‘90s…you were so whipped up in your own self-righteousness about how Americans could never vote for Trump that you were blinded to what was happening.” He was right.

Matt Paul: There were five or six of us standing in a hold room. One of Hillary’s brothers was there with his wife. A couple of the president’s people. Myself. A couple of campaign photographers. President Clinton walked in. It was very tough. Secretary Clinton walked in and was strong and composed. I stood there in shock at how put together and strong she was.

Rebecca Traister: As someone who covered her in 2008 and watched her struggle with speechgiving, it was one of the best speeches she’s ever given.

Jim Margolis: Everybody was basically in tears. Huma was in front of me. Jake [Sullivan] was on one side. It was one of those incredible scenes. Nobody had had any sleep.

Steve Bannon: Never watched it. Couldn’t care less. Her, Podesta, all of it. I thought they were overrated. I thought they were—they’re a media creation. People say how genius they were, how brilliant they were. Look, I’d never been on a campaign in my life. But I can understand math. Just looking at where it was gonna come down to. Morning Joe tells me they’re so brilliant every day. Why are they not getting some pretty fundamental stuff here? But no, I had no interest in seeing her concession speech. I have no interest in a damn thing with their campaign because I don’t think they knew what they were doing. I only have interest in what we did. Which was just, focus, focus, focus.

Rep. Adam Schiff: My staff both in California and in D.C. were absolutely devastated. People would come up to me, constituents and others, with tears in their eyes. And the astounding thing is, here we are now. People continue to come up to me with tears in their eyes about what he’s doing. I’ve never seen people have a visceral reaction over an election and be so deeply alarmed at what’s happening to the country.

Charles P. PierceEsquire writer at large: On the Sunday before the election, I drove out from Philadelphia to Gettysburg. Once I got out of the sprawling Philadelphia exurbs, I started to see improvised signs. There were several of those small portable marquees that you see outside clam shacks and chili parlors. I saw a huge piece of plywood nailed to a tree outside a motorcycle repair shop. I saw an entire barn painted red, white, and blue. “Trump,” it said, on the side of the barn. “Make America Great Again.” And I could see that barn, out in the field, in my mind’s eye, as Hillary Rodham Clinton gave her belated concession speech. And when she talked about making the American Dream available to everyone, I thought, damn, somebody had to want it bad to paint a whole barn just to argue about that.

Roger Stone: Trump is a winner. He’s a very confident, upbeat guy. That’s just his style. He thought all along that he would win. There’s no doubt that the Billy Bush thing shook him a little bit, but it ended up not being determinative.

Jerry Falwell Jr.: We had traveled on the plane with him during the campaign. He went and got the Wendy’s cheeseburgers and the fries, put them out on the table for us. I just think he’s a people’s president. I think that’s something we’ve not had in a real long time.

Gary Johnson: Well for me, just speaking personally, I do not aspire to be president of the United States anymore. Why would anybody want to be president of the United States now that Donald Trump’s been president of the United States?


Edited by John Hendrickson, with assistance from Michael Sebastian, Ryan Bort, Kate Storey, Whitney Joiner, and Robert P. Baird.

Interviews by John Hendrickson, Ryan Bort, Nick Pachelli, Luke O’Neil, Jack Holmes, Colin St. John, Dave Holmes, Megan Friedman, Emma Dibdin, Matt Miller, Justin Kirkland, Rose Minutaglio, Eileen Reslen, Sarah Rense, and Nate Erickson.

Art by Kevin Peralta, Kelly Sherin, and Michael Stillwell.

There’s One Man With the Influence to Change America’s Gun Laws

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Today, right now, there’s a bullet inside Steve Scalise. Hundreds of parts of a bullet, actually, fired from James Hodgkinson’s gun, an SKS semi-automatic rifle, which is legal. Hodgkinson open fired on Republicans practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game back in June; Scalise was playing 2nd base. As recounted in a detailed 60 Minutes segment this past Sunday, Scalise nearly bled to death after the bullet entered his left hip. He made it out alive thanks to a MacGyver’d tourniquet, a helicopter ride to the ER, and a massive blood transfusion.

Scalise, more than any other living American in the United States, has the power to change our country’s gun laws. Donald Trump can’t do it through an executive order because he knows it would obliterate his base. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell can’t do it from their respective perches because they lack the moral conviction and their fellow Republicans are ready to mutiny at a moment’s notice. Newtown wasn’t enough for Congress to rally around Chris Murphy of Connecticut. In a mildly sane world, Gabby Giffords getting shot in the head six years ago would have been enough, but Giffords is a Democrat, and here we are.

But no one could afford to oppose the House Majority Whip, a southern Republican if there ever was one, on this issue. Scalise hobbled into the chamber one week ago today to a standing ovation from every corner of the room.

Scalise shared his story on 60 Minutes as his wife, Jennifer, sat next to him staring at her husband through glassy eyes. Several hours after that episode aired, Stephen Paddock sprayed bullets through a broken window on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. As The New York Times notes, at least 12 of Paddock’s nearly two-dozen weapons were modified with bump stocks to turn his semi-autos into the closest thing you’ll see to a modern-day machine gun. Fully automatic weapons have been illegal since 1986; bump stock devices are the deadly loophole that make a mass shooting like Sunday night’s even easier to perpetrate.

Why is it so easy?

Scalise could draft legislation this week to make such devices illegal (an initiative reportedly under consideration in Republican circles). Furthermore, Scalise could amend the assault weapons ban to include the AR-15—the weapon of choice for mass shooters—and similar weapons like it. Scalise could create the infrastructure for universal background checks and institute new measures to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.

But Scalise says the Vegas shooting “fortified” his stance on the 2nd amendment. At the moment, Scalise has an “A+ rating” from the NRA, a fact he proudly boasts on his official congressional page:

A strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Scalise has sponsored and cosponsored legislation protecting citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. In the 112th Congress, Scalise introduced H.R. 58, the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, which improves law-abiding citizens’ ability to purchase firearms. The bills Scalise has recently cosponsored include H.R.645, a bill to restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia and the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, H.R.822, which would ensure national reciprocity for concealed carry permit holders. Congressman Scalise’s pro-gun stance has earned him an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. A member of the Congressional Second Amendment Task Force, Congressman Steve Scalise will continue fighting to protect every citizen’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Despite being a victim of gun violence, Scalise is one of several congressional leaders who has continued to prop up the 2nd amendment—after Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Newtown, after Orlando. He offered his thoughts and prayers after Vegas but no action. I reached out to his office multiple times requesting comment for this piece and never heard a single word in return.

Framing America’s uniquely prominent gun violence problem as a mental health issuewon’t stop the next mass shooting. Senator John Thune’s suggestion that those caught up in a mass shooting simply “duck” and “get small” is as laughable as it is insulting.

There will always be “bad people” doing “bad things.” Congress cannot end the concept of murder anymore than it can win a war on terror. The only thing Congress can do is decide which blunt instruments can legally be bought and sold on American soil. Banning the sale and production of bump stocks would be the very first step. Americans still have a right to arm and defend themselves. Retailers like Cabela’s—where Paddock bought at least six of his rifles—could still sell firearms, the question is what kind and to whom.

It’s not impossible. Scalise doesn’t even rank in the Top 10 of House Representatives who have received funding from the NRA. Nevertheless, Scalise could trade that NRA A+ for an F. And yes, the 3 percent of households who own half of all the guns in America would curse his name. The other 97 percent would thank him and venerate him as a hero for generations to come. There’s a bullet inside Steve Scalise, right now, today. What else is in there?

The Director Behind HBO’s New True Crime Murder Mystery Opens Up

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Holding a hand is a strange sensation. It’s both intimate and public; vulnerable yet confident; charmingly sincere and quietly performative. Hand-holding is a proclamation of connection, initiated by one but confirmed by two. There’s the affectionate, aspirational I wanna hold your hand of the Ed Sullivan-era Beatles, and then there’s the regressive familial hand-holding—the sort of helicopter parenting that allegedly yielded a generation of timid millennials who refuse to grow up or, in a broader sense, be free.

Dee Dee Blancharde never seemed to let go of Gypsy Rose’s hand. In photos and in home movies, Dee Dee kept her daughter physically close, often grasping her palm or wrist from a very short distance. Dee Dee squeezed Gypsy in ways that only the two of them would know—a Morse code for what did or did not constitute “suitable behavior” when others were watching. These hand signals provided Gypsy answers to tough questions and ensured the daily upkeep of a complicated, years-long lie, or series of lies, that ended in tragedy.

Gypsy had a baby voice and baby eyes and a baby pale head. We’re led to believe she was handicapped, mentally and physically, spending her formative years in and out of hospitals for questionable surgeries, followed by extended recoveries that more closely resembled house arrest under Dee Dee. The fragile girl and her mother were the recipients of mass public pity. Gypsy seemed so brave, Dee Dee so dedicated. The two were forced to face such relentless hardship yet kept persevering, and somehow, despite her numerous afflictions, Gypsy stayed alive.

And even though she spent so much of her life cooped up inside with her mom, Gypsy managed to find love online. She could escape, if only for minutes or hours at a time, through Facebook and chat and sexy cosplay. Nicholas Godejohn was one of Gypsy’s only human connections besides her mother, but three never made as much sense as two.

And then one day Dee Dee died, her body discovered in a swirl of bloody pink bed sheets. Everything that happened shortly after that moment appeared to make zero sense. That is, until you learn the real story of all that came before—the years of terror and control and abuse, the nuance contained within something as subtle as a hand squeeze. Very few people transition from the physical captivity of a wheelchair to the physical captivity of prison stripes. That was Gypsy’s path, and it’s still hard to unpack.

Gypsy’s strange and complicated journey is the subject of Mommy Dead and Dearest, a new HBO documentary that was one of the most buzzed-about films at South by Southwest. It’s a true crime thriller with the creepiness of The Jinx and the peculiar characters of The Thin Blue Line. Filmmaker Erin Lee Carr, director of the 2015 true crime doc Thought Crimes and the daughter of the late journalist David Carr, sat down with Esquire on the day of her film’s SXSW world premiere to discuss the human element of storytelling, particularly when things get dark. Below are key excerpts from the conversation.

Carr started digging into the story after the initial news reports about Dee Dee’s death.

“In terms of access, that took a long time. Gypsy was facing a possible life in prison, and [her lawyers] were like, ‘No, we don’t want you coming near our client. This is not the time for this to be happening.’ So, it was about approaching the family in a careful way and starting a dialogue with Gypsy and with her lawyer, for the most part. I met Claude [Gypsy’s father]. He said, “Come on in, baby,” and he kissed me on the mouth. And normally, I wouldn’t like that sort of thing, but he was a southern, kind of just a weirdo, who just wanted to tell a story. There was no tension, they just kind of said whatever was on their mind. As a documentary filmmaker, that’s rare. We are measured as human beings. We think before we talk. It just like the grandparents. This was a terribly fucked up story that had happened to them. They didn’t mind having a little bit of dark humor about it.”

The real Gypsy was and is a hard person to ever truly know.

“I think that in the interviews that we had watched with her, it was very pronounced, how high her voice was. It was very in line with the ‘little girl’ personality her mother had developed. I went to the prison and did an off-the-record conversation and her voice was like that.

It was hard. I sat next to her dad during that movie, and there’s these very edgy parts about adolescent sexuality and taking pictures of yourself. The thing is, just because that makes us uncomfortable, that’s not a reason why not to include it. That is the creating force of what brought these two people together, which actually ended up creating a sort of destiny for Gypsy—freedom and serious consequences.”

She believes that there’s a clear reason audiences keep flocking to documentaries.

“I love [co-producer] Andrew Rossi’s films. Big fan. Before I met him I watched all of his docs. I think Liz Garbus is an incredible filmmaker and documentarian. She accesses the true crime space with There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane in a way that feels purposeful, it feels intellectual, and it does not feel exploitative. It’s a very fine line that we have to walk in making films about this kind of stuff, because you want there to be these moments of levity, these moments of humor, but we’re talking about somebody that died. They’re no longer here, they can’t speak for themselves, and so, Andrew and I thought a lot about how we make this film without it feeling exploitative to Gypsy.”

“I love thinking about these things. Maybe every documentary director feels this way. True crime has this sort of weird reputation within the doc community, but for me, and the reason why I’m attracted to it and drawn to it, is that it’s the human stakes. It’s life and death. That seems totally grandiose, but I like when there are real stakes, that a life is on the line. I will always be fascinated by that.”

Carr’s father is still giving her advice two years after his death.

“I’ve looked through a lot of his emails many times when there’s been a question about access, about integrity, about sobriety, about how to work well with others. I sent a couple of the emails to Andrew. I think one of them I sent was, Great art happens in the spaces between people. That’s how I opened the film today. Those messages resonate with me so clearly and so loudly, and I’m so grateful that he was a writer, and I was able to have access to those thoughts. And all the G-chats. We get to kind of have these things forever.

The Mike Brown Documentary ‘Stranger Fruit’ and Its New Surveillance Footage Raise Questions

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AUSTIN, TEXAS—Mike Brown did not deserve to die. That sentence is an objective truth that you already know before, during, and after the buzzy and frustrating documentary Stranger Fruit, which had its world premiere Saturday at South by Southwest. The film is frustrating because of the glaring lack of justice for the Brown family, but also because this movie probably should not be classified as a documentary. For all of its access and authenticity, for as close as it flies to the outer reaches of human experience and pain, the finished product is an activist project, not a journalistic statement. Director Jason Pollock’s “big reveal” of additional security footage has already turned Mike Brown’s name into a national trending topic again. Still, Pollock’s film is more of a new question than a definitive answer or missing piece of the puzzle.

Pollock, whose Facebook page lists him as the Creative Director for Michael Moore, has made a film very much in the style of Moore’s work: captivating and polarizing. Like Moore, Pollock’s finger-wagging narration often gets in the way of his material. Like Moore, Pollock cares little for opposing viewpoints or inclusion of any information that might obscure his pre-stated narrative. Like Moore, Pollock is not a journalist, but he puts himself in front of the camera and interviews key players as an everyman. With a lesser-known, less-covered case, the audience might benefit from this sort of hand-holding. But Pollock doesn’t hold your hand so much as force you to believe an imperfect, speculative new detail with questionable legal impact.

“This is a pill that the world is going to have to swallow,” Pollock said as he introduced the film to Saturday’s audience. He brought out Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, to a standing ovation and a 30-second moment of silence. It was powerful to be in McSpadden’s presence, and she makes for the most visceral moments of the film. She speaks fondly of her late son, who was gunned down on August 9, 2014, eight days after he graduated from Normandy High School. His dead body lay in the street for four and a half hours before being hauled away in the back of an SUV, not an ambulance. The raw video of McSpadden wailing, crying, shrieking on the other side of yellow police scene tape is gut-wrenching. For the bulk of her interviews, the camera pulls in close to her face, the pain and loss still visible in her eyes. She is not at peace with any of it. How could she be? Brown’s memory is everywhere, from his face on a throw blanket slung over the couch to screen-printed tees commemorating his life. The radical vulnerability at play here reaches a truth that cannot be described, only seen and felt. Brown’s family’s pain is its truth.

Here are some other truths: Officer Darren Wilson’s facial injuries are inconsistent with his claim that Brown assaulted him at close range, causing Wilson to fear for his life and ultimately pull his gun. Wilson was allowed to drive himself back to the station and put the murder weapon in the evidence locker himself. An incident report allegedly was not filed on the day of the shooting, and may not have been filed until days after. A police press conference stated that Wilson stopped Brown and Dorian Johnson because they were walking in the middle of the street, but in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Wilson claimed he made the stop after hearing a radio call about a convenience store robbery in which the suspect was believed to be carrying cigarillos, which Brown had in his hand at the time of the stop. Here is where Pollock’s reveal comes in: Those cigarillos were not stolen, per se, they were rightfully Brown’s in exchange for what may or may not have been a small amount of marijuana the night before. Pollock’s findings rest on security video that appear to show Brown engaging in the low-level drug deal shortly after 1 a.m. with what appear to be younger, different employees than the older man he scuffled with the next morning at the same store. That’s where the movie gets messy.

Those defending Brown allege that if Wilson never heard the radio call for suspects in the late-morning robbery, and if he stopped Brown and Johnson for merely walking in the middle of the street, then public surveillance video of the dust-up should be obsolete. Brown’s lawyer and family believe the decision to release this video was nothing more than character assassination. This is a compelling argument. But Pollock’s incorporation of this second video of Brown’s alleged low-level drug deal the night before undermines the previous argument. If the morning-after footage is tangential to the case, why should the night-before footage matter? Pollock’s argument seems to be that Brown was merely returning to take what was rightfully his, and that the police releasing one clip and not the other is essentially suppression of evidence. In an interview with The New York Times, a lawyer for the convenience store disputed the alleged night-before drug deal altogether.

Deray McKesson on the Advice He Gave Hillary, and What She Needs to Do to Win

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PHILADELPHIA—Everybody wants a piece of Deray. Strangers want selfies. Fist bumps. Handshakes. Hugs. They want to share their Twitter handles and hope he somehow remembers them. Most people just want to be in his presence, or to tell him thank you.

“People often ask what’s next,” McKesson told me Thursday afternoon.

Maybe you’re among the half-million-plus who follow McKesson (@deray) on Twitter. Maybe you saw him speak about race relations on Colbert. Maybe you heard about his highly publicized campaign for mayor in his native Baltimore. Maybe you saw the video of his arrest two weeks ago down in Baton Rouge. That night in Louisiana, McKesson was wearing a gray and black #StayWoke shirt, the same one Twitter founder Jack Dorsey wore in a recent public appearancewith McKesson. Dorsey immediately set off a minor firestorm of mockery on his own social network for trying way too hard to be “woke.” But that exact shirt looks different on McKesson. The hashtag was borne out of the black community, and Deray is a household name because he helped make Black Lives Matter a household phrase.

When you look back at that photo from the night of his arrest in Baton Rouge, you see McKesson on his knees. He’s sweating. A black backpack tugs on his shoulders. His shirt is pulled back against his stomach, the neckline starting to strain. Two cops grasp his upper body. He stares directly into the camera lens. McKesson was in jail for 16 hours that night because he was out protesting yet another death of yet another black American by the hands of yet another cop from yet another police department. That particular death was Alton Sterling, who was shot while pinned to the ground outside of a convenience store. Sterling joins Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, and countless others on a list that refuses to stop growing. The mothers of those three men were among those who appeared onstage at the DNC Wednesday night as part of the Mothers of the Movement segment. McKesson was in the crowd.

“I think it was important that they were given time to speak, that they spoke candidly about the issues,” he said. “And I’m hopeful that if Hillary is the next president, that these issues remain a center in the administration.”

Four years ago, Black Lives Matter was not yet an American refrain, let alone a movement that would stage marches at both conventions. Now it’s even spawned counter-movements like “Blue Lives Matter” and the more resentful “All Lives Matter.” We heard the latter two phrases everywhere at the RNC last week, and Obama had the difficult task of bridging all three groups this week.

McKesson has met with the President twice in private, but Wednesday night was the first time he had ever watched Obama speak before a live audience. “It was a reminder of the hope that people felt in ’08,” McKesson said. “Inside that arena, you felt that energy again. I think the message was strong. It was interesting to see him choose to end so soft, to try and de-center himself so that there would not be this thunderous applause for Obama, but so he could use his celebrity for Hillary.”

Obama, McKesson said, is finally transitioning into one of Hillary’s many surrogates. The First Lady is another, and she nearly walked away with the whole damn Convention after her speech on Monday night. Vice President Joe Biden is another, and he was on the verge of stealing Wednesday’s show, until Obama came on for what was likely one of his last major public speeches while in office.

“He did that thing,” McKesson said, “He talked about how our best days are ahead, hammering in the understanding that we’ve made progress. We’ve not made all the progress, but we’ve made progress. He says it a little different, whether you’re in a meeting or it’s in public, but the message is the same. The two meetings I’ve been in, we were meeting because of tragedy. Because police have killed people, so people walk in listening for very specific things from him. In the arena, we know the message is going to end with ‘I support Hillary.’ How he gets there is the interesting part.”

Obama got there.

He told the story of the past eight years and he alluded to the 80 years before that. He rejected the fear-mongering rhetoric that dominated the RNC a week earlier in Cleveland, where Tamir Rice was killed and where no officers were indicted. He made a case for his own legacy by making a case for America. But in the end, he stepped out of the way and made a case for Hillary. And then they shared a long embrace, and, as Charles P. Pierce noted, less than 80 years ago, in certain parts of the country, that sort of thing is what left black men dead. Black men are still dying for senseless reasons, but thanks to McKesson and his work with Black Lives Matter, millions of Americans now see it and hear it and feel it, even if they don’t quite understand it.

So now Hillary Clinton has 101 days left to fight, then likely four to eight years to continue Obama’s fight. She’ll have to fight Trump’s vitriol and misogyny and daily mudslinging. But more than anything, she’ll have to fight weariness. Exhaustion. Apathy.

McKesson told her as much.

“What I said to Hillary when I met with her was, ‘I hope the campaign doesn’t take for granted that some people are choosing not to vote,'” McKesson said. “The campaign will explicitly need to talk to those people. And I’m hopeful that will happen over the next hundred days. I’m hopeful there’s a strategy to do that.”

Why This Guy I Went to High School with Is Voting for Trump

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PHILADELPHIA—This guy I went to high school with lives several blocks from our old school. He saw my post on Facebook that I was in town and he shot me a text Tuesday morning. Our parents used to live a few miles from each other in the Philly suburbs, but I hadn’t seen him or even really spoken to him in many years. I asked him if he was free to meet for a beer.

So we sat across from each other at a table at a corner bar not far from our old high school and talked about what we’ve been up to, and who in the class is now married, and who has kids, and who served in the Middle East, and who moved away for a few years then came home. Then I pulled out my tape recorder and asked if it was ok to hit record, and he said yes, and we started talking about the election. What follows is that conversation, edited for clarity.

So are you a registered Republican?

Yes.

Since when?

Probably since I got my license. Since I turned 18, I guess. Only voted once. It was the reelection of Barack Obama, last go-round.

2012?

Yes.

Who’d you vote for?

I did not vote for Barack Obama. I voted for Mitt Romney. I had to go to a car dealership. I voted. I walked out of the booth. Someone asked me if I was voting to support the president, and I told them, “You have a better chance of me buying a new car today.” Just wasn’t a fan. I’m Irish. I realize the world’s gonna break apart, so, I was hoping for McCain four years earlier, was hoping for Romney, and Barack got elected. Do I hate the guy? No, I don’t hate the guy. It’s the president. I respect the president. I respect the office. Love the country.

Do you plan to vote for Trump?

Yeah. As of today, I think that where I’m gonna end up casting my vote is Donald Trump. Gary Williams looks pretty interesting.

Gary Johnson?

Yeah, whatever. I played a lot of lacrosse in college, took a lot of hits to the head. Gary Johnson, yeah. Bill Weld. I think their marketing platform is really interesting. Especially on social media. I think they really are doing a good job at capturing those people that are like, “I have to vote for one of two idiots, who am I gonna vote for? Oh wait, these guys actually have good resumes.” But yeah, I think I’m leaning more towards the Donald. Do I think he’s gonna build a wall? No. Did building a bunch of roads and bridges take this country out of a tough time decades ago? Yeah. Building a wall, will that take us out? I doubt it. Do I think it’s gonna happen? No. Is Mexico gonna pay for it? Doubtful. Does it sound kinda funny? Yes.

What is it about Trump that appeals to you?

His brutal honesty. I feel just very hesitant with Hillary with regards to her honesty. John, if you and I click on an advertisement on the wrong side of a web page, we’re gonna get a year’s supply of Viagra. Are you telling me she didn’t see the word “CLASSIFIED” at the top of a piece of paper and decided to send it out to people from her Gmail or Yahoo account? Come on. I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, but even I know that’s stupid.

So is it a matter of supporting Trump, or is it a matter of disliking Hillary?

I would say 60/40. Distrusting Hillary, not disliking. I have a lot of respect for where she comes from. I’m thrilled at the opportunity for our country to nominate the first female candidate for the presidency of the United States. Do I think we need a woman president? We don’t need one. Would it be great if we had one? Absolutely. How many other countries have a supreme leader of the female variety? We’re about due. Do we need the right one to be the first one? Preferably. But nominating and electing for the sake of sex, that’s naiveté, in my opinion. We could have a robot for all I care. As long as they do right by the country and do right by the people, I’m ok with it. But yeah, 60 is distrusting, not disliking, Hillary. Forty is siding with Trump.

When you talk about these things at a bar with your friends, what do most of them say?

Well a lot of our, my friends come from our background. You know, upper middle class, white, educated parents that live out in the suburbs, where they sent their children to private school, where taxes continue to rise. For instance, my parents live in one of the highest-taxed school districts in Pennsylvania as well as in the U.S., and our high school in that school district is a dump. Taxes continue to rise in that area. So a lot of people in our age group are voting with their parents, to be absolutely honest with you. Especially the ones that just aren’t politically educated. I went to school in D.C., but I didn’t take note of politics. Only time I took note of politics was when the inauguration was going on and I had off from school. (Laughs.)

Are your parents, and your brothers, and your extended family, are they going to vote for Trump?

I don’t know. I think it’s like, it’s a firecracker. We don’t trust her. We don’t want her. Do we have to go with him? That’s a sad state of affairs for the election, in my opinion.

Do you feel obligated to vote at all?

Yeah, I think I do. I really had some Irish guilt about that first election I didn’t vote in. Whether it be the people with the clipboards out in the park asking, “Are you registered? Did you vote?” And I didn’t even take the time to fill out the absentee ballot because I was down at school at the time. So, you know, I definitely feel obligated to vote this go-round.

Pennsylvania is historically blue. Do you think your vote will matter?

I think every vote matters. There’s no reason why any vote shouldn’t matter. Whether it be the trust fund wealthy or the poorly educated. Everyone has stake in the game.

What do you make of Philly and the DNC? As a lifelong person who’s been here, do you feel proud of Philly to be hosting Democrats? Do you feel annoyed by the people you see around the city?

I’m a Republican capitalist, John, to be absolutely honest with you. I think that alumni from our high school are in the mayor’s office and they made sure that, hey we had the Pope come to visit and we had the DNC. I think it’s awesome for business. All of our hotels are filled this week. All of our restaurants are packed this week. I have friends who work in event planning, and they hit their quotas. They’re doing extremely well. The city has a lot to offer from a tourism standpoint. It just puts us again on the map. It’s awesome. Yeah it’s a nightmare for traffic, but at the same time, the tax dollars that were brought in, and the police force, they get, you know, they get to work. Our police force is fully utilized. I could care less if it’s the Democratic Convention or the Republican Convention. Am I going to welcome something that’s hateful or non-welcoming to any and all observers? Am I gonna welcome a KKK rally? No, I’m not gonna welcome one of those.

Did you watch the RNC last week?

Yeah, I watched a little bit of it. I watched a little when Donald spoke.

What did you think of it?

I was interested to see how his son painted him. I was definitely interested to see how his daughter painted him. Definitely got a good chuckle out of his wife’s speech, you know, Michelle Obama’s. I don’t know if that was an inside joke or what. You know, certain Republicans think that Donald’s been planted by the Democrats to get Hillary elected. And Hillary’s claiming the Russians leaked those emails to get Donald elected. It’s a pretty good game of Clue. I’m waiting for Colonel Mustard with the candlestick to show up.

One of the principle themes of his speech was law and order. In terms of both the local level, where he talked about the attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, but also on the national/international level, in terms of terrorism, in terms of immigration, Syrian refugees. Of course, he’s said he wants to bar Muslims from entering the country.

Yeah, that goes up there with the wall. Do I really think he’s gonna put a wall up? No. Do I really think he’s gonna stop everyone who practices the Muslim faith from entering this country? No. Do I think we need extreme reform? Yeah, I really think we need to stop putting one hand towards the finish line and waving everyone in. I applied for Global Entry. I have to go to the airport and submit myself to an interview. I think at the very least an interview needs to be conducted. I think at the very least some background needs to be done on where these people have visited and where they come from.

What people?

People that are coming from these war-torn countries. Do I think that we need to help? Absolutely. But at the same time, you’re subjecting certain countries, for instance, Germany had their second attack this past week. It was from an individual who had mental illness, who wasn’t able to be deported because he had mental illness, but was listed for deportation at least once, and it’s like, that’s a powder keg that was put into the corner. Because of that, individuals died.

The beginning of your sentence there, you said, “Do I think he’s actually gonna check everyone? No. Do I think he’s gonna build a wall? No.” Why would you vote for somebody who says they’re going to do things that you don’t think they’re going to do?

(Long pause.) Bernie Sanders and certain individuals told me that I was gonna go to college for free. Do I really think I’m gonna go to college for free? No. There’s just those empty promises. We all thought we were gonna get free healthcare, too. People aren’t going to the same doctors that they grew up going to. I think that’s just a matter of the political game.

What do you think is the defining issue of this election? Or the biggest issue facing the United States right now?

Government spending. Government debt. It’s one of the main things that, sadly, I lean towards Donald. It’s weird like, I’m ashamed to say I’m voting for him, but I’m probably gonna vote for him. He looks at that number of our nation’s debt and is like, “Whoa, that’s not good.” She looks at it like, “It’s there, I can’t cut it, if I cut it it’s going to hurt us.” No, there are ways to cut it. There’s excessive spending going on. I remember driving on various highways here in the mid-Atlantic and seeing like the “road rejuvenation project funded by Barack Obama.” We spent 13 million dollars on those signs alone. I’m throwing that number out there. It was in the tens of millions of dollars. In the teens. Shit, we spent that much money just to promote the fact that we did it? Why did we do that? Just do it. Do I really think we spent 4 billion dollars on a website for Obamacare? No. Do I think Donald Trump spent 3 dollars on his website? No. Do I think there was probably a smarter way to do it? Yes.

What causes you shame to say you’re going to vote for Trump?

Guy had a show called The Apprentice where he used to fire people. It’s not shame, it’s just like, it makes me giggle. I would say shame’s not the right word. I hope you don’t quote me on that. It just makes me giggle to say “I’m throwing my hat towards that guy.” You see those videos of him on WWE Raw, body-slamming Vince McMahon. Buzz-cutting Vince McMahon. But at the same time, you know, Hillary’s had those funny things. Bill playing the saxaphone in a pair of Ray-Bans always makes me giggle, too.

You mentioned the spending of the Reinvestment and Recovery Act, on the signs…

It sounds a lot more smarter when you say it than when I do.

And on the money for the Obamacare website. There are a lot of different numbers that float around. It’s hard to tell what’s what. Where do you get most of your news?

Two people that I trust most with regards to political conversation are my dad and my older brother. I’ll always remember my older brother saying, “I get more news from Jon Stewart than Fox News or MSNBC.” I think John Oliver is a great alternative. Jon Stewart’s replacement is pretty good. I get a lot from those shows. You know, I do watch CNN, I do watch Fox News. You know, we always joke, we’re a Republican household. Do we only watch Fox News? No. But we jokingly refer to it as “Channel 1.”

Those guys, though, Jon Stewart…

They HATE Trump.

They destroy Trump. So if you’re getting news from them, is that causing any concern?

Not really.

What do most people on your Facebook feed seem like and sound like? If you see political views floating by, where are they?

Bernie. Yeah. A lot of Bernie. A lot of Bernie and a lot of Trump. Not many Hillary. It’s ridiculous. This is the first time I’ve actually ever thought of it. It’s a healthy mix of strong Republican, Democrats, straight, gay, religious, non-religious, and to be absolutely honest with you, it’s stick to the Republican line, or Bernie Sanders was cheated.

It’s that binary?

Yeah.

Things are so far apart.

And little-to-no mention of Hillary unless it’s like the funny meme.

So you’re 28?

Twenty-eight years old.

Are you where you thought you would be at 28? In terms of career, money, quality of life?

That’s an interesting question. Where I am with my career, we always joke about it, we always want more. That’s the Prep mentality. It always wanted us to want more. Am I doing well compared to my counterparts? I think so. You know, I bought a modest condo a year ago. I’m pursuing a masters in business right now. I work for a Fortune 100 company. I’m able to provide for myself. Now, I’m beginning to think about marriage, providing for myself and my girlfriend. Do I wish I could have more? Yeah. Do I hate the fact that I have student loans with interest rates between seven-and-a-half and 10 percent? Yeah I hate that. Do I always remember the moniker like, stop treating students like cash cows? And giving banks zero percent interest loans? It sucks. Do I make my loan payments on time? Yeah. Are they in deferment right now? Yeah, but I still pay ’em. I paid loans off for my high school education, too, that were in my parents’ name. I paid my parents back for high school loans because my dad didn’t go to college. He worked manufacturing jobs. My mom worked two nursing jobs and sent three boys to private school and sent all of us to private Catholic school for undergraduate. Did I pick my college based on the number of scholarship dollars? Absolutely.

Do you think that electing Trump is going to improve your life? Or the lives of people that are not you?

It’s a team sport for me. I think it’s best for the country. A lot of the statistics and figures he throws out there sound dopey, but I agree with the fact that he says the unemployment rate doesn’t include people who stop looking for jobs. It’s not as low as it is. It’s a lot worse. I think companies that have left this country and seek tax shields in other countries deserve a slap on the wrist. But at the same time, as a country, we haven’t welcomed business. We haven’t welcomed manufacturing companies in this country. We have individuals that have, with high school education or lower, that could make a living for themselves or a life for themselves, and instead are seeking other avenues, both legal or potentially even illegal, that harm this country. I think a strong America is a working America. A strong, working, low unemployment country is the best bet. I think additional government spending and programs that don’t produce jobs are not the right direction for this country. But if Hillary gets elected this week, and she gets everyone back to work, I’m all for it. It’s just hard to trust any word she says nowawadays.

What would you say to her if she walked in this bar right now?

Hello Secretary Clinton, can I buy you a beer?

What would you say to to Trump?

Hello Mr. Trump, how’s your golf game?

He doesn’t drink.

Does he?

He doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee. And he says he’s never smoked or done a drug. Do you believe that?

It’s one of the things I liked about Obama. He admitted to smoking and he admitted to inhaling. At least he was honest about it.

There Was a Dark Energy on the Convention Center Floor Last Night

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CLEVELAND, OHIO—You know when you see a dog’s hair stand up on its back? When its kind eyes turn predatory? It’s an involuntary reaction, a mix of defense and aggression. The dog radiates a certain energy and you instinctively take a half-step back. Something is about to happen, and it’s going to go one way or another.

That was the vibe on the floor of the Republican National Convention last night. The energy inside Quicken Loans Arena was different than every other night of the week. It was angry. Seething. Dark.

The celebratory “U-S-A!” chants were whispers compared to the roaring “LOCK-HER-UP!” chants directed at Hillary Clinton. Did you see the copious amounts of “HILLARY FOR PRISON” shirts, signs, and pins? Or the delegate milling about the red-carpeted floor in the orange jumpsuit and mask? Or the members of the coal lobby holding clenched fists in the air above their hard hats?

G.E. Smith and the house band did their best to keep the wedding reception jams grooving all night, but even the closing couplet of “All Right Now” > “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” felt tense, the bass heavy and crunchy, the drums more pronounced than usual. The balloons floated down from the rafters, confetti followed, and yet this coronation didn’t feel like a celebration.

“I am your voice,” Trump promised during his 75-minute rambling speech about law and order and terrorism and “Americanism.” Country first. No more bad deals. Nobody’s coming in who doesn’t respect our values. Us. The whites who always had the power and temporarily lost it but now it’s time to get it back. Make America X Adjective Again.

It was different on the floor. People kicked balloons and popped balloons and let out deep-belly “WOOOO!”s. Not much hugging or crying. No real sentiment. There were battle lines drawn and battle cries heard—namely a fundamental repudiation of Black Lives Matter in the form of “All Lives Matter.” It felt like a high school football game. But instead of “HOLD THAT LINE!” it was “BUILD THE WALL!” (Which pretty much means the same thing, just at a different scale.)

I saw at least one kid propped up on his dad’s shoulder like Tiny Tim hitching a ride on Bob Cratchet. He waved a tiny American flag at the appropriate moments of applause, but he didn’t really smile. He couldn’t have been older than five or six. He’ll remember this moment, this night, no doubt, even if he won’t grasp what it means for another 10 or 15 years.

Will anybody?

He Lives in One of Cleveland’s Poorest Neighborhoods. He’s Voting for Trump.

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CLEVELAND, OHIO—There are Secret Service agents in bulletproof vests peppered throughout Public Square. There are Cleveland police officers in riot gear, state troopers pressing index fingers to earpieces, undercover cops in black sunglasses trying not to look like undercover cops in black sunglasses. This is the same place where, earlier in the week, Alex Jones was “attacked by communists” (his words). This is where members of the Westboro Baptist Church have been pleasantly reminding us that “God hates fags,” and where human troll Vermin Supreme is galloping about with a boot on his head telling the God-fearers that they’re the ones going to Hell.

On Wednesday afternoon, a small group of middle-aged men identifying themselves as “Bikers for Trump” stand near the edge of the square as open-carry advocates in paramilitary vests lumber by. (Some strap handguns to their hips; others sling full-on AR-15s over their shoulders.) To be clear, none of the bikers have visible weapons on them.

“The gay group is over there,” Bikers for Trump organizer Bill Daher says in a heavy Midwestern accent. “This is the Jesus group.” He gestures to the left and crosses his arms. Daher, a 66-year-old retiree, can’t even ride on account of his open-heart and brain surgeries (he tugs his t-shirt down and brushes his stringy white hair aside to reveal both scars).

Depending on whom you ask, Public Square just underwent a $50 million, $60 million, or $70 million renovation. No one seems to agree, and everyone laughs at the fact that they finished it right under the wire before the RNC kicked off. Still, it’s a beautiful and functional space free of graffiti and bird shit and dried gum and all the other debris you’d expect to find in an urban park—particularly in Cleveland. The hyper-developed E. 4th street is just a few blocks away, the Quicken Loans Arena—ground zero for the main event—a few blocks beyond that. But even a short walk down Euclid will take you past wholly abandoned office buildings. Daher lives down in the city’s Slavic Village, “probably the most rundown neighborhood in the city,” he says. “A lot of people in my neighborhood are on drugs. White people rob each other, black people shoot each other.”

According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, more than 3,000 of the 12,000 homes in Slavic Village are vacant, and as many as 400 are unsalvageable. The median home price in Cleveland is a mere $51,200, which, as Bloomberg notes is the second lowest among the largest 150 cities in the United States. These are the conditions that usually lure people to vote Democratic. So why is Daher so set on Trump?

“He’s not Hillary.”

Daher’s a lifelong Republican—save for that brief hippie stint out in San Francisco. “California’s crazy. People are nuts. No, I can’t really criticize it. San Francisco’s nuts. I was in San Francisco and it was driving me nuts. I said, ‘I gotta get out of here.’ I couldn’t find a job and I came to Cleveland, oh I could find five jobs.” Granted, that was back in 1971.

His mom sent him off to kindergarten with an “I Like Ike” button pinned to his shirt. “When I was 14 I listened to Barry Goldwater speak; he was one of the biggest losers the Republican party has ever seen.

But Trump?

“No one democracy has lasted 300 years. When democracy becomes corrupt, it becomes anarchy. That’s what our country is reverting to—anarchy. I don’t know whether [Trump] would slow it down or push it. He’s not as politically adept as other candidates.”

Back in March, during the Ohio primary, Daher voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.”He’s a poor kid who was orphaned and he picked himself up from being an orphan to become governor,” Daher says. “He’s the kind of person who typifies Republicans; a man who’s a self-made person.”

Trump is not.

Kasich won Ohio with nearly 47 percent of the vote back then. But this week, he’s among the high-profile GOP’ers boycotting the convention solely on account of Trumpism and all the gold-plated baggage that comes with it. Whether Kasich continues to withhold his support in the general is another story. Daher believes that we’d be better off if the two final candidates were more moderate.”If John Kasich endorses Trump, Trump will carry Ohio,” Daher says. “If he carries Ohio, he wins. This has been a bellwether state. How Ohio went, that’s how the presidency went. We’re the middle of the country. I think people always vote their pocket book. Who would we want if we go to war? I think people would rather see a man. Look at England. Look at World War II.”

Daher’s eyes wander around the square. The California Highway patrol—one of several out of state groups here for supplemental support—marches through in full riot gear. In a couple of hours, a small group will sort of burn an American flag a few blocks away. Trump will circle the city by helicopter. Laura Ingraham will intentionally or not, throw out a Nazi salute. Ted Cruz will refuse to endorse Trump, then be booed off the stage. A kid will walk through Public Square with a sign that reads “Make America Vape Again.”

Then everyone will do it all over again for one more day, and everyone will pack up and leave Cleveland, and the the square will once again be empty.

“Our country is in a downward spiral,” Daher says. “I don’t know if any candidates can stop that. I don’t know if anyone besides Jesus Christ himself could save us. And if he did come back, he probably wouldn’t come back here. He’ll come back to Israel.”

How Exactly Does One Make America America Again?

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CLEVELAND, OHIO—You see the slogan everywhere. Inside the Quicken Loans Arena, an official Make America Great Again™ hat will set you back $25, or, like with any arena spectacle, you can snag bootlegs outside the venue for much less. But the font is always off, the stitching subpar, the capitalization inconsistent.

If there’s one key to Trump’s success over the past year and change, it’s consistency. He repeats his message, no matter how bigoted or racist that message may be on a given week. So it was more than a little jarring when RNC opening night speaker and former Happy Days star Scott Baio iterated The Slogan up on the arena stage: “Let’s make America America again.”

Baio was the second speaker of the night, following a tame opening by Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson, who sauntered out under the lights in a blazer, American flag bandana, and salmon-colored Going Out Shirt. “It’s been a rough year for media experts,” Robertson said. “It must be so hard to be so wrong about so much for so long.” He extended an olive branch to the “average American” who believes that the deck has been stacked against him, who feels like he just can’t win. “Donald Trump will have your back,” Robertson assured the gaggle of mostly white faces before him, and, more important, to the millions of mostly white faces watching him on TV, the same mostly white faces who watch his reality show about “real” life in the American south—white life.

But, yeah, Baio.

From day one, liberal pundits have taken the slogan to really mean that Trump wants to “Make America White Again.” In the eyes of more than a few Trump supporters, greatness equals whiteness, and vice versa. But after even more black men have been killed by law enforcement across the country, and retaliatory attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the Republican ideal of Respect is nearing the top of the GOP’s long list of endangered values. It’s not enough for America to be great again vis-a-vis white power; America needs to be America again via some en masse return to white norms, white culture, white tradition.

What does a hypothetical reversion to white dominance even look like in 2016? When the most compelling piece of pop culture is Beyonce’s Lemonade? When Trump’s blueish-green-smokescreen-silhouette surprise entrance makes everyone think of the video for Drake’s “Hotline Bling”? When tens of millions of Americans are running around holding out their phones playing a Japanese video game?

“America, the greatest country God ever created,” Scott Baio said.

“America is an easy place to get to,” Scott Baio also said.

What does it mean to be an American, Scott Baio?

“It doesn’t mean getting free stuff,” Scott Baio said.

Before his America-America line, Baio threw out the other slogan of the night: “Make America Safe Again.” On the surface, “safety” includes everything from Benghazi to bathrooms. But beyond that, safety is consistency. Safety is familiarity. Safety is comfort; safety is what you’ve come to expect from decades of the same.

Safety is interns shuttling trays of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee from the snack bar inside the arena. Safety is $4 bottles of icy Coors Light out in the official party plaza between the arena and Progressive Field, where the not-very-sensitively-named Cleveland Indians play. Safety is a country band cruising through covers as you and people who look like you eat mac n’ cheese and pulled pork at picnic tables in the swampy July heat. Safety is embroidered RNC koozies and Christmas ornaments. Safety is the name TRUMP in all caps on your shirt, on oversized banners, on vintage campaign buttons. Safety is TRUMP because TRUMP is familiar; TRUMP is familiar because TRUMP is white and TRUMP is loud.

Last night, an elderly woman stood in line for barbecue wearing a white sun hat with a Make America Great Again™ ribbon around the rim. She wore a red bandana around her neck and a sheer stars-and-stripes blue blouse. When it was finally her turn to order, she leaned in close and squinted at the young black woman working the register. There were five black women and one white woman slinging dinner at this particular stand. A black man hurriedly stocked hamburger buns. The burgers had temporarily run out, and the white people in line were increasingly pissed off. Their faces were growing impatient. This was their party, and they paid for this food, and what the hell was the damn hold up?

“[America] doesn’t mean getting free stuff,” Scott Baio said inside the venue. “It means sacrificing, winning, losing, failing, succeeding.”

The elderly woman in the white sun hat and red bandana was eventually handed her order. I did not hear this woman speak a word; I have no idea if she is racist. All I know is she is a self-identifying supporter of Trump’s movement. She walked away clutching her clamshell container, smiling, nudging her way past scores of white people who looked just like her. She felt safe. Everyone did.

You Won’t Truly Understand Gun Violence Until You See the Newtown Documentary

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AUSTIN,TEXAS—It’s a surreal experience to watch a movie about a mass shooting less than one mile from the scene of what many consider to be the first American mass shooting, on the University of Texas’ campus in 1966. It’s surreal to hear strangers weep and gasp within the first 20 minutes of a movie. It’s surreal to lock yourself into this visceral story about the brutal murder of 26 people, the majority of them children, and surreal to walk away with even less of an understanding as to why it happened in the first place.

The new documentary Newtown, which screened to a packed house at the Paramount Theatre during South by Southwest on Sunday afternoon, is not about Adam Lanza or his motivations. Nor is it a statistics-heavy look at American gun violence as a whole. Instead, the movie concerns everything that came after December 14, 2012, the day Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 children and six educators, and created a crime scene so awful that the relatively small number of people who saw it do not want the public to know the details.

We do not see the blood but we hear the 911 calls and the police dispatch tapes. We see dash-cam footage and aerial shots from hovering helicopters. It’s a familiar scene, one that looks like Columbine—cop cars racing toward a school, officers with automatic weapons drawn, looming satellite vans, weeping parents, terrified kids. “Please, Jesus. Please, Jesus. Please Jesus.”Darkness and deadness in the eyes of first-hand witnesses as they soberly recall the day’s events. “I don’t think there’s an hour, or couple hours, where I don’t think about it,” Rick Thorne, a Sandy Hook custodian tells us. But the day, itself, which they all call “12/14” now, takes up barely 10 percent of the film. The remaining 90 percent is about Newtown from 12/15 through present day. All of the families’ stories are singular and yet they all blend together. It’s not about an event, it’s about how one event literally changed the course of everyone’s life. 

Except ours.

Newtown, in all of its unfathomable ugliness, was supposed to be the last straw, the one that changed everything. The rallying cry. If not re-upping the full assault weapons ban, then at least expanding criminal background checks. Some sort of progress. Anything. But none of that happened. Instead, we got Elliot Rodger and Charleston and Planned Parenthood. This December will mark four years since the shooting, and we just finished a period with 23 mass shootings in 20 days. The violence continues, unabated.

Then there are the practical matters. How do you bring yourself to empty your dead child’s chest of drawers? What do you say at a funeral mass for 6-and-7 year olds? Are friends and neighbors supposed to stop by or leave you alone? How do you put people at ease with your overwhelming grief? How do young surviving siblings live anything close to a normal life? How do you find closure when a real part of you doesn’t even want closure? Some parents still have their lost children’s heights marked in pencil on the doorways of their homes. One father saved his son’s bicycle helmet because it still contains a few strands of his long, blonde hair. He hides it in the garage; he plans to keep it forever. Another expresses that, given his son’s young age, he knew almost everything he had ever experienced in his short life. But he didn’t know what it felt like, or what was going through his son’s head, during the final hours, those minutes before he was pumped full of bullets for no reason other than being present for school that day. It is hard to listen to a father reminisce about the good times he had with his deceased boy. It is another thing to listen to a father tell you he wants to know exactly how it felt for his son to be murdered.

The film succeeds in its juxtaposition of Newtown as a then-and-now place. New-Town. Like Amir Bar-Lev’s Penn State documentary Happy Valley, it’s a story about a community, a “that could never happen here” town that meets its reckoning and never goes back to the way things were. In some shots, the lawns look particularly green and the suburban homes look particularly big and safe, while the archival footage of the day’s events is grainy and washed out. There is barely a score or soundtrack; the background silence is intentionally heavy. The takes are long and the camera focuses on faces, on eyes, on dragging a scene a few extra beats just to let a thought or statement hang in the air. It is not the type of film that beckons repeat viewings, but everyone should see it at least once. 

***

Two hours after the film let out, I went to a markedly different event on the other side of town (an outdoor barbecue). I stood in line for a burger behind a white-haired woman in a bulletproof vest over her orange blouse. She had affixed strips of electrical tape to the back that read “BULLETPROOF IS THE NEW BLACK.” Her name is Mary Kuse and she’s a UT alum; she graduated in ’86, some 43 years after her father. Her mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins are all Longhorns, too. Turns out, she had just come from the screening as well. The vest was a Christmas present; she’s outfitted it with the tape as a protest against Texas’ infamous open-carry laws. 

“I’m pretty much just sick of all the bullshit,” Kuse told me. “I don’t know how else to explain it. I haven’t lost anybody personally to gun violence, in my immediate family or immediate friends. But it’s the bigger picture of how rage and anger can so quickly lead to death if you have a gun in your possession, or if you’re so lackadaisical and allow your four-year-old to access a loaded gun in your truck, it’s just ridiculous. It’s the over-arching fear of everything in this world. And to add guns to the mix? Is just horrifying to me.”

The vest is hot, and it weighs quite a bit, she said. 

“I have two daughters who are college-age. I have one who goes to Texas State and I have one that’s going to be attending UT-Dallas in the fall, when campus-carry starts,” Kuse said.

“So I have concerns for their safety, their well being, their peace of mind, knowing that their fellow students could have guns on them when they’re trying to study and just get by in the world.”

Richard Linklater’s New Movie Is His Funniest Since Dazed and Confused

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AUSTIN, TEXAS—Everything about Richard Linklater’s work is cyclical. Linklater—perhaps the only person who could pose a challenge to Willie Nelson as The Unofficial Mayor of Austin—premiered his new film Everybody Wants Some!! at the city’s historic Paramount Theatre to kick off the 30th South by Southwest Festival last night.

First things first: The movie is funny as hell.

It’s a sex-drinking-stoner comedy about an unspecified Texas college baseball team during the few days before fall semester. It’s an ensemble cast of unknowns, and it sufficiently lives up to its auspicious packaging as a “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused. And while the two films are both set in Linklater’s home state and take place four years apart (1976 for Dazed, 1980 for Everybody), there are no overlapping characters or plotlines. Save for drinking all night, blazing, dragging main, trying to get laid, trying to figure out why you are so desperate to get laid, drinking all day, having existential conversations in the cool morning light, then going to class drunk. Plus: stoner conspiracy theories!

Linklater has always been a master of natural dialogue, but, as he’s done before, he lets his period-appropriate soundtrack do a lot of the work here. Linklater’s musical choices drove Dazedforward (think “Slow Ride,” “Low Rider,” and “Tuesday’s Gone”) and they are the backbone of this film (it’s 1980, so we have disco collars and “Heart of Glass,” “Ladies’ Night,” and “Shake Your Groove Thing.”) Early in the film, a five-man riff on “Rapper’s Delight” spirals into perhaps the most memorable car-singing scene of any film since Wayne and Garth belted out “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

And while you probably won’t recognize a single face as the film breezes by, just take comfort knowing that those who saw Dazed in theaters back in ’93 probably had the exact same experience. Back then, Ben Affleck had but a few minor credits to his name, Parker Posey hadn’t yet reached her indie darling status, and it was literally Matthew McConaughey’s second movie. But the anonymity of the cast works here, and Linklater knows it. Instead of cringing as, say, Miles Teller rides a mattress down a flight of stairs like a bobsled, or Shailene Woodley strips down for a mud wrestling match, we just sit back and watch a bunch of regular kids act like kids. The actors (almost all young men) are but one element of Linklater’s larger nostalgic snapshot, where every fridge opens to a six pack of chilled Lone Star or Schlitz. There are crates of vinyl and hot pants and humming neon bar signs. There’s ping-pong and foosball and mechanical bull riding. There are dick-taps and jock-strap moonings and bloody knuckles. So much of the dialogue is eye-rollingly immature (“Cock gobbler!” “Cock jockey!”) and yet it’s still so very authentic. Even the actual baseball in the film moves at a refreshingly slow and natural pace, with foul balls and extra beats between pitches.

Shortly before the film’s opening night premiere, Linklater was summoned to the Paramount stage by Austin Chronicle co-founder Louis Black, who made a documentary about Linklater and his influence on Austin culture that is screening throughout the festival this weekend. He touted Linklater’s decision to remain in Austin after his early-’90s success, when de-camping for New York or L.A. would have made a lot of sense. “The consequences of that decision are reverberating today,” Black said, bragging that a mere five years after the festival expanded from music to film, you had auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh hanging around because of “Rick,” as he’s known locally. Linklater was meek in his pearl-snap Western shirt, jeans, and black cowboy boots last night. He held the mic with one hand and stuffed the other in his pocket. He brought out his ensemble cast one-by-one like a proud dad. Most of them already seemed buzzed. At least one shimmied to the back of the theater double-fisting icy cans of Lone Star.

There’s a particular humanity that Linklater finds and brings out in the people he works with, a particular eye for talent and strangeness. He found it and nurtured it in Ethan Hawke, who only gets better during each of their collaborations. He found it in McConaughey, who, for his second-ever movie role, took the character of Wooderson and ran away with it. McConaughey’s still-quotable one-liners are part of what gives Dazed its staying power, its success, its ability to inspire a “spiritual sequel” like Everybody. Back then, McConaughey was just a handsome blonde with a Texas drawl; not quite jumping out of the frame as a future Oscar winner or star of a critically acclaimed, cerebral HBO drama. But there he was, more than two decades later, with a ponytail and mustache, sipping beer like Wooderson and carving empty cans of Lone Star into mini sculptures. Linklater knows how to tell a good story, even if that story is about pretty much nothing and takes place within a very short period of time. He knows music, he knows comedy, he knows talent. One of the wet-behind-the-ears kids in this movie may one day be an Oscar winner (maybe even the kid who left the stage double-fisting Lone Stars), because everything about Linklater’s work is cyclical, and because time is a flat circle.

Behind the Scenes with Jon Batiste, Stephen Colbert’s Off-the-Wall Bandleader

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Monday. 1:52 p.m. Jon Batiste is backstage at the Ed Sullivan Theater, behind a drum kit in his shoebox of a rehearsal room, with four hours to go before tonight’s taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He smiles and nods hello to a visiting stranger but never stops banging out his shuffle beat—a second-line beat. Various members of Batiste’s band, Stay Human, trickle in and grab tambourines, and now it sounds like a full drumline, albeit one built on the clink of a dozen Salvation Army Santas. Batiste leaps up on the kick drum. Then he’s over at the upright piano. A vein in his neck bulges as he solos on his melodica, the thing that looks more like a kid’s toy than a serious instrument. His saxophonist blows a little flourish. “Yeah! Whoa! What was that?” Batiste yells. “Eyyyyooo-bahhhhh!” he screams back at the sax. He squints and scats a wheezy, high-pitched whine. Now he’s up off the bench, shaking his hips, pounding the keys, his deltoids flexing. In some other part of the building, Colbert’s writers are furiously finishing tonight’s script. But there’s no visible sheet music in this room. Batiste is calling out what he hears in his head and, moments later, it exists as sound. “It’s goin’ off!” he yells.

Batiste calls his style of jazz “social music,” and from his earlier days as a New Orleans jazz prodigy and Juilliard student to his first three months as Late Show bandleader, he’s been known for blowing up the line between performer and audience. “I wanted to figure out how to fill the studio with music in a way that reminds me of a street parade in New Orleans,” Batiste says. (More than thirty members of Batiste’s extended family play jazz in and around New Orleans.)

Unlike Shaffer and Letterman, Batiste and his boss don’t really banter; unlike the Roots across town at The Tonight Show, Stay Human doesn’t really play covers. Batiste is not there for set dressing—he’s there to do his thing: improvise. “When I first spoke with Stephen, his vibe was joy and love and uplifting feelings, and not necessarily about the type of music that you play,” Batiste says. For Batiste, that type of music is jazz—unequivocally American and notoriously inaccessible, yet it’s improv that binds him and Colbert together. “Stephen comes from a comedic art form of improvisational theater, and I’m coming from the musical art form of jazz.”

Batiste is a year shy of thirty. Miles Davis was thirty-three when he recorded Kind of Blue.Coltrane was thirty-eight when he cut A Love Supreme. Does Batiste feel young or old? “I feel like I’m just on time.” Back in the rehearsal room, the jam reaches its apex as one band member smashes his tambourine on the floor. Its wood frame splinters and silver fasteners explode all over the carpet. The room hollers. Batiste smiles. Then everyone picks up and starts playing again.

David Byrne and Friends Are Putting on a Show That Might Make Your Head Explode

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From his SoHo loft, David Byrne has an unobstructed view of a Foot Locker across the street. The elevator rumbles violently as it climbs three flights up before opening directly into the airy space with blond hardwood floors and oversize windows. Byrne, 63 in blue shoes, peers through the panes as Broadway traffic hums below. There’s an American Apparel down the street; a Duane Reade drug store at the end of the block; Bank of America to the south; Opening Ceremony around the corner. CB2’s just a few doors down, and Volcom is across the street from that, just north of the mass-market shoe store that currently occupies Byrne’s field of vision. “I see them occasionally taking their breaks in that kind of narrow space there,” he says of the store’s employees, for no reason in particular. The statement hangs for an extra beat. Was that a metaphor? Is David Byrne hinting at something? Did David Byrne, New York icon, decades-old scenester, House-Burner-Downer, Psycho Killer…er, just summarize his beloved city’s dire gentrification problem in but a passing phrase? (more…)

Witnessing History at the Belmont Stakes

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ELMONT, NEW YORK—In the minutes before the Belmont Park starting gates clamored open Saturday, thousands of general admission ticket-holders craned their necks away from the track toward the stately grandstands. There, in an eloquent gray sport coat and powder blue tie, was former president Bill Clinton, waving and grinning ear-to-ear like Teddy Roosevelt on the back of a train car. The air at Belmont surged with electricity Saturday. All day and all week, we kept hearing that it could be a historic day, though we had also become so accustomed to saying “Maybe next year.” Like in 2014, when Belmont’s mile-and-a-half loop got the best of California Chrome. But something about Saturday afternoon felt different. (more…)

Can This Man and His Massive Robot Network Save America?

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Zoltan Istvan speaks in complete sentences, sometimes complete paragraphs, usually without stopping to breathe. He’s automatic. It takes him but a moment to process a question, then he’s off—spinning a web of complex information. He then starts building off that information. When he’s done, you have vastly more answers than you were originally searching for. (more…)

‘Iverson’ Is a Brilliant Portrait of a Tragic Hero

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There’s a moment in Iverson, a new documentary that airs 9 p.m. Saturday night on Showtime, where the former NBA star sits down for an interview with Chris Rock. It’s 1999. Iverson, nearing the peak of his success, is wearing all black, with multiple pieces of bling around his neck and a do-rag on his head. He slouches back in his studio chair. “Magic had a bad TV show,” Rock begins. “Shaq did the genie movie. How are you gonna embarrass yourself?” (more…)

50 Cent Explains Why Floyd Mayweather Will Beat Manny Pacquiao

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When 50 Cent is explaining something, like really getting into it, when he’s squinting and smiling at the negative space in a large open room, 50 Cent knocks his knuckles on your knee. You know how strongly 50 feels about a particular topic—food, women, working out, his own success—based on how many knocks. Or how long he lets his knuckles rest there. It’s not weird. It’s familial. Within minutes of shaking hands, 50 Cent is a friend you haven’t seen since college. You are the only person in the room. Timbaland is here. His investment partners are here. There are fake trees and blinding white lights and bottles of 50 Cent vodka (Effen) and 50 Cent songs playing at the 50 Cent photo shoot. But 50 Cent radiates tranquility. Positivity. He wants to sit closer to you on the couch. He’s in no rush to move on to the next thing. He loves to talk about all that he’s learned. And when 50 Cent knows something, really knows it, he leans forward and kind of stares at the wall. (more…)

Will Butler Does Not Wake Up on a Tour Bus

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Two weeks ago, Will Butler was onstage at the Ed Sullivan Theater in a black tuxedo, receiving an “Oh my! How ’bout that!” and a hearty handshake from David Letterman. On Thursday morning at South by Southwest, he’s wearing a sweatshirt with his name on it, wandering the Austin Convention Center trying to get to the second floor mezzanine, lost. He snaps a photo from an industrial storage area with air ducts and stacks of 3M boxes. “I assume it’s not back here where I am currently,” he texts. (more…)

The Worst Part About ‘The Jinx’ Is Also Why the Series Worked

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Had Robert Durst been arrested 24 hours later, he may have watched the surprising final episode of The Jinx inside his J.W. Marriott hotel room. Series director Andrew Jarecki claims that he knew Durst had been upset about episode five, which aired one week ago. Fans of the show also know that Durst is keenly aware of how his various transgressions have played out in the public space. Durst’s 2003 acquittal in Galveston, Texas, was grounded in his defense’s narrative that former Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro had tarnished Durst’s image and effectively run him out of New York. Durst cared enough about his high profile to disguise himself as a woman; to lie about his trip to Spain; to check into the J.W. Marriott in New Orleans under a fake name. (more…)

Why Did Everyone Stop Taking Real Lunch Breaks?

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Depending on the day’s temporary lunch invasion, I either slide my keyboard a few inches forward or a few to the right—far enough to make room for food, but close enough to still answer emails. On sushi days, I slip a brown napkin under the plastic tub of soy sauce in case of splashback, but most afternoons I just stick to the hot buffet. It’s faster. Various cuisines from various parts of the world (same cafeteria) in a disposable clamshell container; food I did not necessarily envision myself eating when I woke up that morning. Beef Stroganoff over egg noodles, jambalaya, make-your-own-tacos. The bottom of the box usually leaves a lukewarm layer of dew on that particular corner of my desk (front left, nearest to the trash can, faster clean-up) the same place where I eat my lunch five days a week. (more…)

I Paid for an Invisible Girlfriend. Things Took a Weird Turn.

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“Are you sure she’s fake?” my girlfriend asked. We had just walked in the door. It was late; we hadn’t eaten.

“Yes, she’s fake. She’s a robot.”

“Well, how do you know?”

I had created Zoe earlier that afternoon on Invisiblegirlfriend.com, a new website with the depressing motto: Finally. A girlfriend your family can believe in. The plan was to date her for one week. The site automatically generated her name, but I picked her hometown, interests, and photo. (more…)

‘Happy Valley’ and the Painful Ambiguity of Penn State Now

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Sue Paterno, in pearls and a red dress, a widow. Jerry Sandusky, first in handcuffs, then an ill-fitting sport coat, then a red jumpsuit. His face long and cracking, his dark eyes sagging like a beaten dog—more scared than shamed, more bewildered old man than cunning sexual predator. At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface of Amir Bar-Lev’sHappy Valley, a new documentary about the Penn State scandal that moves and feels like a drama. The film opens on the pastoral hills surrounding the 106,572-seat Beaver Stadium, the nucleus of State College, Pennsylvania. “It’s a tough life,” says the nasally Joe Paterno, sounding more like a grandma than a titan of American football. “We had Camelot,” his wife says later on, as if reading the line from a script. (more…)

How Parquet Courts Captured the Zeitgeist of Exhaustion

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The vast majority of us suffer from some form of content nausea, either minor or debilitating. Blame slow news days and trending topics that don’t deserve to be trending. In many cases, they don’t deserve to be topics. Content nausea creeps in the first day you realize the line between being “on” and “off” the Internet has vanished from your life—gone at the speed of an upswipe. It’s real and it’s awful. (more…)

How Your Office Became a Middle School Chatroom

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Most white collar workplaces are quieter than they’ve ever been. And yet, workers have never been more susceptible to getting fired because of loose lips. The Great Silencing—from email to instant messaging to text messages—has only grown stronger in recent years with the introduction of internal corporate messaging. Yes, offices have used memos and sticky notes for decades, and humans have been writing letters for centuries. But the idea of “chatting” with coworkers all day via direct messages as a means of both business and pleasure is a new, potentially risky way of life. (more…)

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Disappearing Act

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We’re used to seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman disappear. He disappeared behind dark-rimmed glasses and a whimper, way down in the soul of Truman Capote. He disappeared under scraggly hair and a moustache as a wisdom-spouting Lester Bangs. He disappeared in a polyester Oakland A’s jersey, arms crossed, pouting in the direction of Billy Beane. He disappeared with a bob haircut and a tank top, holding a boom on a porno set, lusting after Dirk Diggler.

And then he disappeared on February 2, 2014, inside a standard issue black body bag, horizontal, strapped to a gurney, rolling out of his New York City apartment under camera flashes.

What’s most troubling about watching Hoffman in the new film A Most Wanted Man—one of his final roles—is that, for the first time in his two-decades-and-change career, Philip Seymour Hoffman looks like himself. When we watch him huff and wobble through the streets of Hamburg, we’re watching a fictional performance from a real-life man who was rapidly deteriorating, and would soon be dead. (more…)

Embracing A Differently Abled Child

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Three months before his third birthday, Ron Suskind’s son Owen stopped speaking. He wouldn’t make eye contact, couldn’t sleep well—he retreated into himself. It was autism. Second opinions, special schools, and speech therapy soon followed. But then, unexpectedly, Suskind and his wife, Cornelia, and their older son, Walter, found a way to reach Owen through Disney movies. The Lion KingThe Jungle BookHerculesAladdin—the pantheon of cartoon protagonists whom Owen had watched before he began to recede helped him find his voice again. He would mimic the scripts; his family members would eagerly join the cast.

Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and former Esquire contributor, recently published a book about his family’s experience, titled Life, Animated. We called him recently to talk about raising a son who came to embody every prospective parent’s worst fear—and whether that fear is warranted at all.

(more…)