The Playgoer: fisking Lehrer

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Friday, March 24, 2006

fisking Lehrer

I've just listened (here) to Brian Lehrer's 25-minute call in segment on the "Rachel Corrie" story. And I'm disturbed by this supposedly "liberal" bastion being so: a) clueless about the basic facts of the story, and b) so wishywashy in the freedom of speech and censorship issues involved.

Here's some running commentary:
Caveat lector: all quotes are paraphrases, but pretty accurate.

-NYTW didn't "see" the play, as Lehrer, in passing, maintains they did. (They read it.)

-He plays an excerpt from an interview he did yesterday (news to me) he did with co-author Katherine Viner. He goes after Viner for questioning the whole idea community outreach! Lehrer wants to take her complaints out of context to make her sound unreasonable... Viner makes a simple, obvious, and essential point to Lehrer: "If they want Rachel's voice 'heard' they should put on the play." Lehrer's response: "(pause)...Uh, yeah. But does that mean you're against context, against outreach?" Admittedly, Viner comes off a little harsh in the sound bite. But it's out of context, plus Lehrer has boxed her in.

Remember--the Royal Court did plenty of talkbacks. And a whole Education Packet which is easy to get a hold of. (I will try to link or at least post excerpts.) In fact, even Nicola and Moffat acknowledged on Democracy Now they admired the RC's outreach/educational efforts. (Begging the question of course, why didn't you just use theirs???)

-Then Lehrer opens the phones with the very limited question: "So what about people involved in the theatre. Do you do outreach?" What??? So he's fallen for the NYTW line that they're the only ones that do this mysterious thing called "program notes" and "talkbacks". And if only these fussy artists understood! This has been a smokescreen all along.

-Highlight: Lehrer interviewed John Patrick Shanley recently, too, and got him on the record (a first!). Some snippets: NYTW's "motives not adequately known" but there's an "international gangsterism toward the arts at this time." Like with the Mohammed cartoons, where the Times showed "editorial cowardice" in not printing them. Disturbing not to air differences on religion "giving into intimidation." And no matter what happened at NYTW: "A certain degree of cowardice was involved." Good for Shanley! Especially since he himself wrote a play about Israel-Palestine, Dirty Story. But because that was an "allegory" it seemed to escape controversy. (If someone can take the time to more accurately transcribe Shanley's full statement I would really, really appreciate it. Post in Comments or email me. It's a statement that should be widely circulated. It happens about 7 minutes in.)

-Lehrer keeps asserting Viner "rejected" NYTW's calls for "outreach." Guess who that description favors.

- The CALLS: Naturally if Lehrer frames the question as "Ok, callers are you pro- or con- on 'outreach'" who's going to say no???

A brave caller makes the point that the crutch of outreach only insures "no controversial play will ever be done." To which Lehrer jumps in and says--"No! That's not what the theatre said. They said first do the outreach and then do the play."

Brian Lehrer--have you done any research--dare I say "contextualization"--of this story at all??? You must at least have some kind of staff there, right? Forget about reading this measly blog. But surely an NPR flagship show like yourself must read The Nation, right? I suggest you take a look...

Christopher Shinn saves the day, though, at 15:00. (Good call, Chris!) Also, a self-proclaimed "Zionist" stands up for "courage of conviction."

Another playwright ("Daniel") calls in to dis Shinn, but calls the play only a "rough draft" and a "workshop." I think he's taking the "W" in NYTW literally! (Let alone forgetting the play was done already--complete!--in London.)

Lehrer's recurring point is such a strawman. In his mind--and now in the minds of his many NPR listeners, unfortunately--the whole spat is Royal Court's fault for being unreasonable about doing talkbacks. He never mentions NYTW said "We're not doing the play now." NYTW was not doing the play on March 22 outreach or no outreach. A real distortion.

I cannot find an email for Brian Lehrer on the WNYC website. If someone can find please tell me so we can post it here. He needs to hear what he's got flat wrong about this story.

Interesting that many calls defend "the donors"! I agree nothing's been proven about donors. (Because no one's gone on the record.) But tells you something about the NPR audience.

One last canard repeated by many on the program I really want to dispel: The play is not "postponed." With the Royal Court not talking to NYTW, and actively seeking other venues, people at this point just cannot go on saying that. No matter what you think happened in February, it is "totally non-operative" at this point. If NYTW ever does miraculously do the show, it will not be a "resuming" but obviously a whole new negotiation.


Anonymous said...

Liberal humanism seeks to assert the values of "dialogue" and "community" and "healing" and "both sides of the story" and "tolerance" and "understanding" at every turn, at any cost. On WNYC, in NYTW, in the Congress... how could anyone ever question these wonderful principles of modern society? Look at the extraordinary country they have produced -- what a government! what arts! what an electorate!

Anonymous said...

It IS talk radio, after all. And, WNYC may be an NPR affiliate, but it is probably inaccurate to refer to it as an NPR program. I've never heard of the host.

I thought he was unfair to Katharine.

Nobody anywhere has actualities of people from Royal Court. Or do they?

freespeechlover said...

I wrote a letter to Lehrer in response to his questions to Viner. I found him to be a weirdly hostile interviewer--I thought Viner handled him well, though. I keep thinking about her laughing at him, and it makes me happy. I told him that the two words that came to mind when listening to Moffat's and Nicola's interview on Democracy Now! were "pathetic" and "anachronistic." I also asked him what was at stake for him in trying to "out" Viner politically? What difference does it make what her politics were? And if Lehrer is so concerned about Daniel Pearl's words, why doesn't he edit them and produce a show about them?????

What seems dead among these so-called liberals are the very principles of liberalism--including tolerance, individualism, pluralism. These people like Lehrer are creepy, precisely because they hold themselves up to some kind of liberal standard, yet are hostile to that standard, when it comes to any speech about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If I were a Palestinian American citizen living in New York, I'd be very umcomfortable with the way that segment of America is no where to be heard from in notions of "community" and "dialogue." Yuck.