Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

The Pivotal Moment (with David Grann)

December 10, 2023
Notes
Transcript
The New York Times bestselling author David Grann (“The Lost City of Z”) joins Tim and JVL to discuss his time covering Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, and how the choice of Gov. Sarah Palin paved the way for the GOP’s embrace of Donald Trump.

Plus, David discusses his latest book, “The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder,” as well as “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” adapted to film this year by director Martin Scorsese.

Buy David’s books here: https://www.amazon.com/stores/David-Grann/author/B001YDEZJO?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:08

    Hello, and welcome to the next level Sunday interview. I’m your host Tim Miller. I was the co host in the saddle with Jonathan V last this week, because we are interviewing an old friend of his, an old basketball buddy. It’s hard to imagine JBL playing basketball, isn’t it? But you just gotta get that picture in your mind’s eye of him in the Larry Bird shorty shorts.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:28

    And the guest is David Grand. David is widely regarded as maybe the best non fiction writer out there right now. No shade to any of my other great non fiction writer friends. He was the author of killers of the Flower Moon, which has the Oscar bait movie that is out as I speak. Also, the author of the lost city of Zee, which I absolutely adored and the wager.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:50

    So, we have very, I think, interesting conversation about David’s experience reporting out, both the lost city of Z, which was, you know, looking at indigenous, Amazon culture, and Coastalflower Moon, which looked at this just horrible tragedy with the Osage tribe in Oklahoma. And so that is an interesting part of the conversation. But before he did all this, he was just a politics reporter hack like like us. And he did a lot of reporting on McCain. You know, we talked about that a little bit and had him kind of reflect back on that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:21

    And and before we get to David, I just wanna kinda highlight one element of that and something that he talked about that I think was really insightful. You know, John McCain, you know, there really was this kind of sliding doors moment where John McCain was, you know, thinking about elect picking Joe Liebermann, you know, he gets this pushback and ends up with Sarah Longwell And, you know, time and again in this O eight campaign, he kind of succumbs to the conservative blob. You know, he’s, because it comes to what the base months, whether it was speaking at Liberty University, picking Palon, tacking right on immigration, which I wrote about in in my book. And, know, there are other times where he did the right thing. Obviously, I love John McCain.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:03

    I dorm John McCain. He would I would trade John McCain for literally any Republican in the Senate right now, maybe short of mid. Probably not sure to admit, actually. But even still, you know, he made these trade offs in order to stay in power and and the trade offs didn’t work. You know, he didn’t get elected.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:18

    He ends up being shunned from the party, really. And, you know, had he kept his integrity in line on all of those choices he kind of would have ended up the same place, but then still been himself. Wasn’t gonna be president either way. He still would have had the adoring memorializing, which was well deserved after he died. I still had the opportunity to vote the way he did on Obamacare and and and the other key votes that he took.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:41

    And so you just kinda look back on that and the thing that is so depressing about it to me to look back on it with this kind of fifteen years of more data points, more information is we’re here this week with the Republican debate. And you have Nikki Haley out there. And she’s making the same exact choices and the same exact mistakes that John McCain made. You know, she thinks that she can win over the base of this party that doesn’t really want her by, you know, sticking true to our principles on a few things. Good honor on Ukraine and and good honor on a few other items where she’s in a buck to the party line, trans issues at times.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:23

    On the other hand, you know, she’s like doing the phony sucking up to Trump’s stick at times, talking about he was the right man for the moment, which is obviously preposterous. You know, she said during the debate, I’m taping this on Thursday. She said that during the debate last night that Ron DeSantis’ don’t say gay bill didn’t go far enough, which is just despicable, and it’s like you can’t even really believe how could you really believe this that you think that there should be limits on what teachers can talk about in middle school and high school with students, you know, that there should be blanket bands on talking about sexuality or gender identity with students that are learning about, you know, these issues. Like, the whole thing is preposterous. And She’s making in her own ways, you know, these Sarah Longwell esque choices, thinking that that kind of accommodation, you know, might allow her to win over enough voters to beat Donald Trump.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:20

    And it’s not gonna work. And we know it’s not gonna work because we watched it happen fifteen years ago. And, you know, if anything, things have only gotten worse since then. And so there is just this frustrating element that, you know, people within the Republican Party who know better who are not Jonathan Last populace. We’re not bigots.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:43

    We’re not isolationists. Continue to think that a strategy, which has failed time and again, might finally Bulwark for that might finally work next time. To hear David Grand talk about it, somebody who’s more of an outsider who kind of wrote about this, more of an observer and his just total frustrate, like, frustration is the right word. It just it’s just hard for him to even process. Like how it had gotten this far out of hand since the time when he was when he was covering McCain when when really there was this kind of sensible defensible almost.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:18

    Not the choice I would have made with Palen, but but a defensible logic at the time. In two thousand eight that, hey, maybe we can bridge these two elements of the party. Maybe Palin won’t turn into the monster she turned out to be. I mean, she really wasn’t, you know, the live owning freak show when she was governor of Alaska. She was kind of, you know, in in the John McCain mold in a lot of ways in policy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:40

    We can clear had they done any vetting? It became clear very quickly that that she was gonna, you know, kinda turned into the right wing reality TV monster that she became. But at the time, this is defensible, but we’re we’re sitting here now sixteen years later after Donald Trump presidency. Have I been saying thirteen years the whole time shows you how how far gone we are Sebastian that I’ve been saying thirteen years, I think, this whole time, when two thousand eight to two thousand twenty four, sixteen years, we’re getting old. Anyway, you’re not getting old.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:06

    I’m getting old. But We have all this data. We have a decade and a half of data showing the futility of this. And yet still Nikki Haley’s out there doing it this week. Still, you know, we’re being told by the same people that this is a thing you have to do to win And that, you know, national review folks are still making the case that this is a path forward that has plausible success that, oh, it’s only us people with TDS who can’t accept it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:32

    And it it’s just hard to stomach when we’ve all been through what we’ve been through, and we’ve seen where these kind of accommodations lead. So anyway, that is my riff. I think you’ll really enjoy hearing David’s reflections on his time on the trail with McCain and Palon. And then, man, obviously, the killers of Flower Moon is just a phenomenal story. You should go out and get his book.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:52

    If you haven’t, go ahead and watch the movie. Up next, Jonathan Last last of the Bulwark David Grand of the New Yorker talking about killers of the flower moon. I hope you’ll enjoy it. First up, our friends at acid tongue. Peace.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:22

    Hello, and welcome to the Bulwark Next Level Sunday interview. I’m your host Tim Miller here with my BFF JBL. And his old pal, I guess, his old basketball buddy, maybe, and one of the greatest, maybe the best, non fiction writer out there these days David grand. You might know him from the lost city of Z. Killers of Flower Moon, which has been made into a movie recently with a couple of people that you might have heard of, and his recent book, the wager.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:48

    David, thank you so much for doing this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:50

    That’s such a pleasure. Nobody looking at this gas will say, oh, he once played basketball.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:55

    But it is triple.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:56

    In another lifetime, I could hit a layup occasionally.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:59

    I was confused about this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:00

    Did you
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:01

    have any reflections on twenty two year old JBL? Was he always dark as this? Was he as negative on the basketball court as he is in his newsletter?
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:08

    He was as intense as ever.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:12

    I was like a big puppy and, and this is, like, David and I were the young guys playing pickup ball with a bunch of, like, middle aged journalists. And it was, it was a good time. It
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:22

    was a good time, but I think the middle aged journalists were better than us, which was very sad.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:26

    But, yes. Yeah. Yeah. There were there were a couple who could play.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:31

    David, I want JBL to kind of take the lead on your, writing and movie career since he’s the nerd in those areas. But if you had indulge me, can we reflect back on your politics days a little bit first since this is ostensibly a politics podcast.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:44

    Yes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:46

    You covered in two thousand. You’re one of the first people on the McCain bus
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:50

    Yes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:50

    As I recall Yeah. With some of my buddies who are his, consultants at the time. And then you went back and kind of covered. Well, I guess it wasn’t really the end of McCain, but the end of the o eight campaign Yes. After he had sort of succumbed to the party Pumaz and to Sarah Longwell, etcetera.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:06

    Did you cover him again after that?
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:07

    No. That was the last time I covered it. Know, when he lost, I was there at his concession speech that he gave over Palending at first speech. I will say, you know, when I first started covering McCain, it was two thousand. And at that time, he had not yet taken off in the primaries.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:24

    He kind of became a sensation, but that had not yet happened when I got assigned to him. I was working for the New Republic at the time. And I remember when I showed up to cover him, there were only two reporters. It was me, and a young David Brooks for the weekly standard. And we travel with McCain, and and McCain back then was wonderfully accessible.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:46

    As many reporters knew. But he was particularly assessable then because there’s only two of us. So we just we traveled on a little plane with him, and Cindy was there, I think, for part of it, and ate with him, ate with, you know, the consultants were around as well. So, it was very different than when I showed up again. Because I didn’t cover politics you know, in in in later recent years, I had not covered politics a lot.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:08

    I was at the New Yorker. They asked me if I would do, campaign piece. So I said, well, I covered him before. I thought it would be interesting to follow him again. Although, it was a very different vibe when I showed up to cover the last campaign.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:22

    I think by then, the sense was that he was probably gonna lose, and the accessibility was gone kind of joys McCain that I had remembered kind of on the campaign bus back in two thousand was was really not as prevalent. Maybe it was behind cloned stores, but he wasn’t showing me as much to the rest of it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:40

    I don’t think so. I don’t think it was. Behind Coast stores. So I was curious now. We have we’re what fifteen years after that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:46

    And if you’re, like, looking back in retrospect, one of the things we talked about a lot, the Bulwark, obviously, since we’re working through how all this craziness came to be, Was it inevitable in your sense that McCain, like, succumbed to the, you know, forces of I don’t know, this kind of Frankenstein, evangelical populism of Sarah Longwell at the party elites, you know, and and was that kind of the trajectory thing were on, and and McCain was this lonely fighter against it. It’s one way to look at it. Another way is that maybe, you know, I McCain didn’t really stick to his guns as much as he could. And maybe there was an alternate history. Had he, you know, stuck out the more mavericky approach for all the things I hate about Trump.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:28

    Trump really didn’t kind of succumb to what the party people wanted. You know, and in a lot of areas, he still, like, has his weird heterodox views about leaving NATO and shit like that stuff that you know what I mean? And McCain kind of did. And so I I I wonder how you see that now, kind of a decade and a half
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:46

    a really good question. I I will confess. I haven’t thought much about it, but looking back, and as you asked me now, this is just kind of off the cuff. So it may change if I were to think about it three hours later. But I do think it was a very pivotal moment, in American politics when I think back on that moment.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:03

    And I thought what you saw with McCain is the internal division both within the campaign that I was picking on up and even with him to kinda go back to the two thousand, let loose, run that version of his campaign versus the coming to the populist pressures that were increasingly taking over the public party, obviously accelerated by his pick, pale, and he became the kind of progenitor of those forces. And you could see that divide. And I remember covering it, and it had a whiff of tragedy about it, both for him and both for American politics. And in his very fine concession speech, that was when you saw a glimmer of the McCain that had been kind of lost in the preceding months as he tried to accommodate himself. To these populist forces, again, at least as as I witnessed them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:58

    So I do think and I hadn’t really thought so much about this, but now looking back with hindsight that that, you know, not just as pick of Palin, but what represented in that moment and the succumbing to those forces. He was divided. You could he was unhappy. You could pick up those internal tensions as he tried to balance them. But it was a pivotal one because he did succumb to them in many ways, and he did obviously pick pale.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:26

    Yeah. One more thing on this and holding to challenge your memory. I was listening to some old podcasts of yours. You’re talking about how you’re reporting at the time about how, like, after the two thousand campaign before he ran in eight, he was, like, kind of seriously thinking about going an independent bid. I I he was thinking about lots of different things.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:42

    Have any recollections of that? I mean, talk about sliding doors. Like, you think about, like, had McCain, you know, gone that route rather than gone to Jerry Fallwell’s hair of anyone route. I don’t I don’t know. Maybe we end up in the same place with Toronto who the hell knows, but it it’s kinda interesting.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:56

    I don’t know. Do you remember that at all?
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:58

    Just a little bit with a flirtation remember, to be honest, I don’t remember that. Well, I do remember in two thoughts and especially when he, began to be kind of overcoming the primary. There were certain people within his circle, if I remember correctly, who, you know, wanted him to kinda stay on the campaign and maybe run as an independent from memory, I don’t think it was that serious, but someone might correct me on that how seriously it was engaged. And I also think the realities of American politics always seem to preclude that possibility as much as there’s always an excitement around it. I think back then, how realistic would have been for it to run this independent.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:35

    We’re probably small. But, there are a lot of sliding doors. I mean, he was basically taken out in South Carolina South Carolina proved to be in that two thousand campaign was a very pivotal moment and
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:47

    he was really taken out. It was a
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:47

    really ugly campaign. I mean, I there in South Carolina. I don’t know how many people remember it, but, I mean, it was about a slimy campaign. It covered. And I, you know, I haven’t been doing politics that long, but I’ve been doing it for at that point, probably about six years.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:03

    And, you know, and I covered some pretty slimy stuff, but that was a really nasty, underhanded dirty campaign. And then they they took them out, but that was a very kind of pivotal moment there too. So that’s another, kind of sliding. What would it happen? Had he not been taken out there?
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:19

    What is an interesting question is could a figure have have stopped the forces? I know you guys focus a lot on this. I follow your work a lot. I don’t do politics anymore, but I follow-up. I
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:29

    do miss it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:30

    Not covering it so much. I like the city. Do you all cover it? But what is interesting is how much is there kind of contingency in history? How much could figures or moments have change the trajectory.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:46

    And I don’t know the answer to that question. The forces were obviously so strong. You could see them slowly incrementally consuming figures. And it keeps going further and further. We don’t think it would go and it keeps kind of going until it’s kind of eating itself.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:02

    I first started covering politics in nineteen ninety four, and that was the rise of gingrich. And gingrich in many ways helped unleash many of these forces. So That was kind of an early moment, but you could, you know, you just see it kind of progressing and progressing. Then you see the critical pivotal moment with McCain in PLN. And, of course, from there, you know, we are where we are today.
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:23

    Yeah. Do you guys remember who he wanted? I mean, in his heart, he wanted Lieberman.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:27

    He he wanted Lieberman. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:29

    I mean, and that is a lady or the tiger. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:31

    Yes. Yes. You know, and he clearly wanted Lieberman. You know, that was another, moment. When he kinda decided to go with the forces that be, you know, the calculus, the calculation.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:42

    And, you know, McCain was always a politician. I mean, he always was even in his Patrick days.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:47

    Yeah. He was pissed about it. I was I interviewed for my book some of his old songs. I was about the time, and they said, at this day, I q he, I almost didn’t campaign for a week. Like, he was so mad, and he was so angry when they kind of everybody around him forced him not to pick lieberman.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:59

    Okay. Well, from the from the uplifting, Republican descent into let’s move to something else JBL, that I think could lift our spirits, the raping and the pillaging of the Osage. How do you wanna do you wanna start?
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:15

    So there are people who who know you and love you, David, including those of us here where I am the president of the David Grand fan club. But for people who don’t know you, what they would know is right now in theaters, there is a movie directed by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo dicaprio and Robert De Niro called Killers of the Flower Moon, and this is based on a book. That you wrote. And I I’m gonna give just a very quick thumbnail sketch, unless you wanna do it. Maybe your thumbnail sketch would be better than mine since you actually wrote the book.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:44

    Could you just For, again, for people just tuning in.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:47

    Sure.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:47

    Give them give them the elevator pitch.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:49

    Yeah. So it was about a members of the OCH Nation who in the early parts of the twentieth century had become among the wealthiest people per capita in the world because oil deposits under their land in the year nineteen twenty three alone. There were about two thousand Osage on the tribal role, and they received what would be worth today, more than four hundred million dollars. And then they began to be serially murdered in one of the more monstrous conspiracies and racial justices in American history. And it would become one of the early FBI’s major homicide cases as well.
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:25

    This was a remarkable story for you to go and tell, and we’ll we’ll get to the story itself But just how did you fall in love with this particular story? Because normally, your MO as a as a writer and reporter is you find cracks and crevices of, you know, stories which maybe somebody knew a little bit about at the time, but have forgotten about but the where there’s still a lot to uncover. And you wind up uncovering a bunch of stuff in this, but how did you know going in? Like, Yeah. And when you were looking at this, what what brought you to it?
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:59

    Yeah. So, somebody, historian had mentioned the case to me and didn’t know much about it, but had mentioned it to me. And it prompted my interest. And then I tried to see if there was, you know, materials written about, and I really couldn’t find, much of anything. And so on my own dime, I decided to go visit those age nation out in Oklahoma.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:18

    At that time, I really wasn’t thinking about writing a book. I thought, oh, maybe there may be an article here, but I was interested enough to go. And I went out there. And the first thing I did when I visiting, you know, you do that thing. What you do, we should go visit a place.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:32

    You don’t need one. I’ll go to the Museum Museum, and I saw this large panoramic photograph on the wall that was taken in nineteen twenty four, and it showed members of the Jose’s nation along with white settlers. And I was standing there. The first thing I was thinking about was I couldn’t believe you could take a panoramic photograph like that back in the nineteen twenties because it was just so huge I just didn’t know that was even technologically possible. So I was kinda studying it there, and I then noticed that to the very left of the photograph when I was facing it, a part had been cut out.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:02

    And I asked to them museum director, Catherine Redkorn, who I was meeting for the first time, and she’s since become a good friend of mine. I said to her, you know, why is that part of that photograph missing. And she said, well, you know, to contain this figure so frightening she had decided to remove it, and then she pointed to that missing panel. And she said the devil standing right there. And she she went down to the basement.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:22

    She brought up an image of the missing panel, which showed one of the killers, of the OSage, during this period, one of the masterminds of several killings. And, you know, It’s very rare that a book has an origin story, but this book really had this kind of weird origin story, and that I just kept thinking about that picture that the Osage had removed and not forget what had happened, but because they can’t forget and yet here, there were people like me who had never been taught this and never learned this. We had basically wiped this from our conscience. So that was what kind of propelled me in many ways to address my own ignorance, which is usually what propels me on most of my stories.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:00

    So what was it? Was it Hale? Was he the in
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:03

    the picture. It was William Kaye Hale. That he was the devil in the photograph. That is correct.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:08

    So the official death toll on this as what? Like, twenty murders, but you think there are many, many more.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:14

    Yeah. So the official death tolls, you know, when you go back to the time and you read the FBI records and the criminals, the investigatory transcripts and the court records, was at least twenty four. The official death toll was at least twenty four. But when you really begin to dig into the case, you begin to get evidence of many more killings. And I can just illuminate a little bit about about that if you want.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:38

    I think it’s important. Because when I began the story and researching the story, I always say this when you begin a book or a project, you always have to keep an open mind. I had kind of assumed that this was, a criminal case about a singular evil figure Will Saletan Hill who had committed these crimes along with a couple of hench And I thought that because that was the FBI’s theory of the case, and when you read about it, that’s what was always said. But when I spent a lot of time, I spent more than half a decade researching the project, I would live out for a couple months out in, OSage territory on on the reservation, interviewing OSage shelters. And many of them would tell me about other suspicious deaths in their families that were not linked to ale.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:19

    And I also spent a lot of time in the archives. There’s a huge branch in the national archives out in Fort Worth, Texas, which is like something out of readers of the lost dark where they stick the lost covenant. You could fit about I don’t know how many airplanes in that room, but a lot. And, I was pulling records on what was known as the guardianship system, which was this very racist system which the US government passed in which because those say to wealth that the US government actually appointed white guardians to manage their fortunes, which was just you know, an important system. And I was pulling records on which I was looking for a simple fact about if a certain usage had had a certain guardian.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:58

    And I pulled all these records. And in one of the boxes, I had found this little booklet that was, it had a fabric cover and all that contained was the names of the guardians and whose Osages fortunes they had managed. And yet only other thing written in the book was if one of the Osages had died, some anonymous bureaucrat had written the word debt. And so when I was opening and I was looking at it, I saw a guardian who had about six o stage fortunes who they managed. I noticed the word dead, written next to the first name, the second name, the third name, the fourth name, the fifth name.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:28

    All six dead. I thought, well, that’s nuts. And then I began looking through the booklet. I saw another guardian who had a dozen Osage’s fortunes that they’d managed, and they had about a fifty percent mortality rate. And on and on it went.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:39

    Now no doubt some of these deaths were down causes, but it defied any natural death rate. And when I looked into some of the cases, I could find trails and clues and suggestive pieces of evidence pointing to poisonings or murder. And so this little booklet really revealed the systematic hints of a systematic murder campaign. It was documents like that interviews what they would say is that basically destroyed my original conception of the book. So after about a year and a half, I began to write a different book and really suggested me that death toll was far higher, than two dozen.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:14

    What the exact death toll is is impossible to say because these crimes were not properly investigated at the time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:21

    And these guardians weren’t going back to, like, the theory that there was, you know, that Hale kind of orchestrated everything. It was coordinated effort. It was happening independently. They were. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:32

    Like
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:32

    yeah. So so Hale was a a a flamboyantly brutal killer. I mean, just and he targeted one family and a and a few others as well, but primarily one family, the family of Molly Burke. And with his nephew began to just eliminate them one by one. And this just, you know, there was poisonings.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:56

    He blew up a house and you, you know, and and you see the movie or you can see photographs of the of the explosion in the book, and you see the house just in wreckage, killing Molly’s sister. In that case, her brother-in-law, and a maid who have been in the house. So but what happened was there’s evidence. These were inheritance schemes, and I think that’s very important to understand. Why were they inheritance schemes?
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:20

    Because the OSage when they negotiated their terms of allotment, which I won’t get into, but each OSage on the tribal role was given a head right And a head right was essentially a share in this mineral trust. So any oil wealth that came in, you received a payment. For your share. And a head right could not be bought or sold. It could only be inherited.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:46

    So what was happening is white settlers were marrying into OSage families and then plotting to kill people they were pretending to love, and sometimes even their children. He had all had his nephew marry into Molly Burke’s family and orchestrate this very brutal campaign. There is evidence that other settlers were marrying into families and killing one person in that family to steal the head right to inherit the money. And that’s where you see that they were not all coordinated with you. They were individual, but there was a culture that was fostering this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:23

    And there was this it’s very important to understand that what I began to understand through these interviews with those age elders and through these documents, was that this really was less a story about who did it than who didn’t do it, and that it really was about this culture of killing and culture complicity. And one of the things that’s so important to understand is that the people orchestrating these kinds are some of the most prominent citizens in society. I mean, there were prosecutors. There were businessmen. There were sheriffs.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:51

    There were guardians. And and, and they would refer to this kind of criminal enterprise. It’s just general pervasive criminal enterprise in the documents as the quote unquote Indian business.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:03

    Yeah. The other craziest thing about this, I mean, just for people that are coming in fresh, which I was over the Thanksgiving break. Like, this wasn’t in sixteen fifty. Not that it would have been okay in sixteen fifty. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:14

    But I, you know, but it this wasn’t a hundred years ago. Yep. Right? I I mean, like, so talk about just how that that FBI just hadn’t really formed in the way that we know it now yet, but it is kind of crazy to think about the fact that you were talking to people that Like, these are their grandparents. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:29

    Right? It’s not right. You know what I mean? Like, this is recent. This is present, actually.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:33

    This isn’t even recent history. It’s present.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:35

    Yeah. When I was doing the research, it was less than a hundred years ago. Now it’s about a hundred years ago today, but, you know, one of the people I tracked down was the granddaughter, Molly Burkehart. Margie, lovely woman. And, you know, I’ve met her, and she told me oral histories about her grandmother, Molly, and took me out to the graveyard where so many of her ancestors are buried who were killed.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:00

    You can see the graves of all Amali’s siblings and her mother. She said to me at one point, you know, she says I I didn’t get to go out with a lot of cousins. You know, I never understood until I fully understand what had happened, why I didn’t have cousins. And I remember her taking me out to, you know, where one of her sisters was killed. She took me out to where the bombing was.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:23

    And, you know, talking to her and talking to other Jose elders, you got a sense of how this was living history. This was very recent history. This was not colonial times. This was the birth of modern times that all this was taking place. And it makes it so deeply haunting.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:43

    There was a piece of testimony. I found that always stay with me. I don’t remember the exact words. So I will paraphrase it. But when one of the henchmen who had been hired by Hale, who carried out one of the killings, he said to an investigator And, again, this would have been in the ninety about nineteen twenty six when he was arrested.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:03

    We don’t look upon killing, an American Indian any different than in the seventeen hundred. And that reflected that attitudes that was taking place among these people. And so to understand these crimes, you have to understand that yes, Greed was obviously a prime motivator. They were trying to steal millions and millions of dollars. But what made the crime so systematic why they were so pervasive is it was that greed was conjoined with a dehumanization of another people where so many of the people carrying out these crimes did not look upon the OSage as human beings with souls and and dignity.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:47

    Tell me a little bit about, William Kaye Hale. So he is I I don’t even know if Robert Baron is the right term, but, I mean, there is a period in American life, through the nineteen twenties, nineteen thirties where you get people like Hale, and he sees everywhere. You see it in mining towns in West Virginia. You see it in the in the west, where you have a you know, a single figure, a single family who controls everything locally. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:11

    They own the business, they own the bank, own the graveyard and the funeral home. They are an assistant sheriff. They literally are the law. And, you know, And, you know, again, a hundred years ago, a person or a family could have local control unlike anything that even, like, Elon Musk could have today. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:30

    You know, today to be super rich is to be able to exert control on a national or global scale, but you can’t, you know, own a local place the way they could back then. In hails like that. Is he interesting at all or is is it the banality of evil with him?
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:44

    That’s a
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:45

    good question. He is interesting in the sense that he represents something. And I think understanding what kind of represents is very important. You know, he showed up in Osage County as a dirt poor, cowboy. You know, he basically had, you know, ragged.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:05

    He carried a Bible, apparently, with him, showed up on a horse, came from Texas. And then he gradually merges as his cattle baron. And as you say, is able to gradually kind of assume we get as tentacles into every element of society in this small area, you know, he is not just a powerful, business figure because he’s a cattle bearing, but he dominates law enforcement so he is a deputy sheriff who campaigns for what he calls god fearing souls and has influence over the direction of law enforcement in the community. He does patching it so he controls the local politicians to get elected So there is a kind of system there, a mafia, if you would like, of a, but a, but a kind of western settler mafia, that emerged. I always thought him was fairly psychopathic in the sense that he would pretend to love the OSage while plotting to kill them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:02

    There was always a lack of remorse in him when you would read the documents. But he
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:07

    Or maintain his innocence all the way.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:09

    Right? He maintained his ends all the way. And he rep and he and he kind of reflected this kind of twisted booster philosophy. When we get to what he represented, it was this kind of ideology that he was both kind of bringing civilization. He was the avatar civilization.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:25

    While destroying what had been there. And that it was kind of justified. It was this very twisted ideology that he represented. You almost have to record Carthy to get close to it. But that is kind of what he embodied and represented.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:39

    Interestingly enough, I think his nephew gets to another element of your question, which is really important. His nephew was Ernest Burkehart, and he was the one who marries Molly Burke and and has children’s with her while he’s helping his uncle hale, you know, carry out these plots to kill these family members. The evidence with Ernest is you can see that he had a conscience in the sense that he was aware of good and evil. He was aware of right and wrong. And yet he was weak and he becomes deeply complicit in these crimes.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:17

    And I thought in some ways under standing earnest is as important as understanding Hale who kind of orchestrate the crimes because he gets to that question of complicity. When you have systemic crimes, when you have crimes that are not just okay, an individual one and did something. And you could kind of say, okay. There’s something wrong with that individual. We can kind of separate them from ourselves and punished they’re removed.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:44

    But when there are systemic crimes, meaning they are cultural, they are embedded within the society. They are widespread, whether you’re looking the holocaust or whatever you’re looking at. But where there are systemic crimes, they’re not individual crimes. You have to have Ernestborough parts. You have to have what I refer, what people refer to in the holocaust as the willing executioners, the people who go along.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:08

    Who who open the train doors, who load the bodies in, but then go back to their families and pretend to live ordinary lives. The people who are aware, they’re not Hitler, they’re aware of right and wrong and yet they are complicit and go along. And so Hale, a earnest reflects that kind of banality, the way that evil kind of went through society. So you kind of have to understand both, I think, to try to understand what really took place. They’re both representative in their own ways, if that makes any sense.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:37

    It’s like fast forwarding to twenty twenty three. I assume that, you know, some of these inheritance schemes worked. Right? Like, some of this money has gotten into the hands of descendants with white settlers. It seems like there are oil and gas interests that were involved in this scheme.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:54

    What percolates down to today as far as people that still have Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:58

    Not to
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:59

    be been all the baller than there yet. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:00

    There’s still people receiving blood money. There really are. And, because, again, these were inherent schemes. People who perpetrated these crimes, meant some of them got away, some of them passed down the head rights. So there are people who still own a fraction or a portion of a head right that was stolen through murderous crimes and are still receiving much less money because the oil deposits are not generating the same level of wealth that they did in the twenties, but are still maybe receiving twenty thousand dollars a year of blood money.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:31

    And was any of that tied to, like, the Sinclair’s or the Conoco, you know, like, the big Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:35

    The big oil. You
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:35

    know, interests that were in the region?
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:37

    Yeah. It’s a That’s a really good question too. Like, how high up did this go? You know, this again took place in a time when, you know, the some of the largest deposits not the largest positive belief in the United States at one point was sitting under OSage territory. And, you know, they would hold these auctions for all these oilmen oil would attend.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:58

    And you had the Sinclair’s got JP Getty and his family for struck oil in OSH, territory, and they would attend these auctions bidding on leases for as much as a million to two million dollars. You know, had the Phillips brothers of Conoco where they So you had all some of the most famous oil barons that we know of today. Were present at that time. I never found any direct evidence implicating them in a specific crime. But one of the things that I was struck by was there was a pervading and pervasive silence from them, at least that I could find.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:37

    I never found comments from them in the newspapers. I mean, they were going to these areas when everybody knew the murders were taking place. I mean, there was a bombing I mean, they literally blew up a house in town. I mean, these were small towns. And, and there were lots of little newspapers in the community.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:53

    I mean, they this was the day when it’s hard to believe that the small. And when I go back to where they when I was doing archival research, it’d be like six newspapers covering, you know, a town of three thousand people are sending. I mean, it’s just kind of amazing, and the names were kind of wonderful, all these papers. And, so, you know, they knew about this, and I could never see them. I never heard any of them speak out.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:12

    So, again, doesn’t mean one of them didn’t, and I just didn’t see it. But there did seem to be a general complicity in silence if nothing else because nobody wanted to rock the boat and people were getting wealthy.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:27

    Alright. Let’s move on. I wanna talk about Lost City of Z for a little bit, which I think is the book that made your career. Is that fair to say?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:35

    Well, it was my first book, and, yeah, it certainly got me on the path to becoming, you know, an author.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:41

    Brad Pitt plays you in the movie. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:43

    Yes. He was I was too handsome for, yes, Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:46

    Yeah. Nobody’s requesting.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:48

    Fall Giovanni wasn’t available and, you know.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:52

    So you’re at the New Yorker and it this is David Remnick, not Tina Brown. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:57

    Or do
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:57

    I have that role?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:58

    David Remnick hired me. That’s correct.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:00

    So how do you pitch that? You say, say, David. This is, like, in the insider magazine. Tim, this won’t make any sense to you. But what what you do when you have a long form idea is you go to the editor and you pitch this piece you wanna do, but it’s a weird thing because you have to have a little bit of something.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:16

    But what you’re doing is you’re selling, like, the I’m gonna go discover what the story is. And you say also the New Yorkers get a conde n ass is gonna have to send me down to the Amazon, and I’m gonna trek through the Amazon, and I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find this lost city of z and Percy faucet’s bones, and trust me, it’ll be great, David.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:37

    He also don’t really look like an explorer offense. I don’t, you know, I don’t wanna, for people that are listening on the podcast.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:43

    We grew
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:43

    up, what? Upper West,
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:45

    I was living in at the time. I I remember, you know, trying to, you know, build up my muscles for that trip. I would take the stairs instead of the elevator in my building. I had some really funny pitch meetings over the years at the New Yorker, because, you know, I I don’t know. I just come up with these hair brained schemes that I have.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:04

    My, immediate error is is probably it’s just one of the great editors of all time, that’s amazing Daniel Salaski. And then, and and then David Redmond who’s in charge of the magazine. And so I would kinda go into these pitch meetings into David’s office, Daniel, he’ll be there. And, yeah, I’d start, you know, I remember this one. I said, okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:23

    So, you know, I I had this idea, you know, this explorer disappeared in the nineteen twenties and the Amazon looking for this city, which he called the Lost City of C. I’m like, okay. Alright. And, well, what happened to him? I said, Oh, well, he disappeared with his, his son and his son’s best friend.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:39

    And I say, and I said, no, but don’t worry. You know, other people have done this, I mean, over the years. Well, what happened to that? Well, some of them, you know, kinda disappeared or killed or we don’t really know what happened to them. And David’s like, Anthony.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:50

    He was like, okay. Alright. Alright. And then I said, and they’re, like, looking at me and I said, well, how long are you gonna be gone for? So I don’t know, like, maybe two months or something.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:58

    And they’re, like,
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:59

    You know
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:59

    what I mean? And I said and also, I I may need to get an extra life insurance policy. You know, because I just had, you know, a baby, and I wanna make sure in case something happens to me that, you know, they’re takeouts. Okay. And then they said and and then they’re like, alright, godspeed.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:14

    And I I at least joke. I said either they were the most understanding and visionary editors I ever had, or they just basically wanted to fire me, and this was the easiest way without having to do it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:24

    I’m sorry. Can interrupt. I’m sorry. I know that this is JBLs at the wheel here, but what was the pitch meeting with your wife like? Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:32

    So that my wife who is the same one in the family, and is a journalist doing a producer. Her thing was just so funny. She said, so I started to pack for the trip, and she started to, like, She’s like I was just like taking clothes that, like, from Brooklyn I had and and, like, you know, I had, like, you know, like, ratty, like, sneakers. And she’s like, David, like, you gotta go to, like, you gotta get some stuff. Like, you gotta get equipment.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:55

    So she’s, like, near her office was, I can’t remember what that place call that was like It’s
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:00

    an rei.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:00

    It’s an rei. Yeah. It’s an rei.
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:02

    This is I was gonna ask him about this literally because one of my favorite scenes in this amazing book It’s towards the very front where you walk into an REI, and you’re talking to, like, the gear guy there and saying, well, And he’s like, where are you going? You’re like, the Amazon. And he’s looking at you, like, this dude’s gone.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:17

    This dude’s dead. Well, and the funniest part is too, you know, I’m such a loser. So I went into the REI store. And I, you know, me, I’m just kinda looking at it. So I don’t camp.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:25

    I don’t hike. I I mean, I I I literally I hate bugs. I never camp. Maybe when I was little, but, you know, I had it in forty years. And, I go into the store and so, you know, my, I’m just gravitated to, like, things that seem really cool.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:38

    Like, oh my god. Look. Like, this like, you push some button and things come out of it and, like, really high-tech ridiculously invented things. That would seem really cool to someone with a camp and the guy in the right guy looked at me and he says, you’ve never camp before. Have you?
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:54

    And I said, no. They starts taking out these high gizmos that I had found. Like, I thought I was, like, going to James Bond queue. You know, I thought q is gonna be, like, outfitting my expedition and, like, a spaceship would come.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:07

    He’s like, socks. He’s like, you need some
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:09

    good socks.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:09

    He said, he said, you need socks. And he’s like, and we gotta you some mosquito netting and you’re gonna need some boots and you’re gonna need this kind of wool socks. And so he he outfitted me and, that idea. But I will say somewhere back in this room somewhere, but but the most foolish thing I ever did on that expedition, just to underspot, I’m really going on and on about how stupid I am. But in any case, I for some reason, whenever I went on a reporting chip, I always would bring my laptop, my computer with me.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:35

    So I decided to bring my laptop will be now this was, like, two thousand and five. And I recently went and held it. That that laptop from two thousand three at the top I had it for a couple of years. You know, it weighs, like, it it it it’s like lifting, like, like, an oven or something. I mean, it’s like the heaviest thing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:54

    It’s, like, it’s hard to believe when you see how technology how crazy it’s, like, listen. So in case I put this in my backpack, and I gotta take this to And so I brought this laptop with
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:05

    To the Amazon.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:06

    To the Amazon. And then at a certain point, I’m humping through the Amazon with, you know, for weeks and weeks and I have this laptop, and it’s so damn heavy. But I didn’t wanna get rid of it and have my stuff on it. I would, like, carry it on my head through swamped. I’m not kidding.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:20

    I had it on my head at one point, and I was just carrying along. And then, of course, I finally finally get out of the Amazon. I get home. I the the the computer survived. I turned on it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:31

    It it it broke, and it it never worked again. So I I always keep it around as a That’s amazing. I keep it around as a testament to my a full Charlie Sykes
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:39

    I do do a little bit of camping and outdoors
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:42

    and
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:42

    stuff, and the prospect of going to the Amazon terrifies me. Did it terrify you while you were there? And
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:47

    weren’t you lost at one point?
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:49

    Yes. I did get lost at one point, and that was pretty terrifying. And it did give me a glimpse. I mean, you know, what’s interesting is I tend to not think about things when I’m doing my these expeditions or these missions. I think, well, I just need to get there.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:05

    And I just kinda I’m a little like Magoo, which is probably I date myself now. Most people remember Magoo. But the cartoon character, but I just kinda go. But then what will often happen is if I come back, I then began to learn more I remember with the with the Lost City and C, I had a fact checker for the book. And one of the the people in the book I wrote about was one of Foster’s companions, like, the British or who disappear.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:28

    And it gets these, like, these little things like with these bots. I don’t even know what they call them. They would would fall on their skin and then worms, but burrall under the skin. They were these awful awful wet, and his whole body gets taken over by these worms, and you have to pull them out. And so one day the fact checker came into my office and said, you know, I wanna show you something.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:47

    And they had found a video on YouTube of somebody in, you know, more recent times. So one of these words pulled out of their back. And it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen. And I said, thank god. I only saw this now because I’d seen that before.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:00

    I never would have gone. So I so sometimes ignorance for better or worse, ignorance is not a bad thing. It’s better not to know. I am terrified of snakes. So, and and I dreaded seeing it in content.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:11

    Thank god. I didn’t see one.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:13

    Wait. Can I do one more or less these things? I’m dying to ask you this. I read this, like, in two thousand six. I was, like, refreshing myself on the plane last night, but, Like, the interesting thing to me about that story, right, is that, you know, this guy and, you know, in the exploratory times, whatever we’re calling this in the sixteen hundreds is going to find the city of Golden maze.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:33

    Right? And then you fast forward four hundred years or however many hundred years There was this accepted conventional wisdom, right, that, like, yeah, there was some society there, but, you know, the thing he was looking for was a myth and a society can’t get created in this type of environment and you need certain type of conditions for an advanced society to create and your investigation kind of uncovers that, like, maybe faucet was actually on to something. And that the book kind of ends with that. Right? And so I’m curious, like, now where it’s been sixteen years or whatever.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:06

    Like, have there been more discoveries in that regard?
  • Speaker 3
    0:46:09

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:10

    Have you followed that story.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:11

    Yeah. Very much. So, glad you asked that. Yeah. When I began that book, I was originally kinda more interested in kinda what had happened to faucet wide what was his fate, what had happened him and his son.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:21

    And the more I did research, the more I became fascinated with this other mystery of could these very complex societies have existed, in earlier times into Amazon and constructed these very complex, architectures and civilizations. And the assumption, the long standing ascension was that was not possible because later explorers will kind of come into the area and they would see only kind of small, tribal communities and they thought the Amazon was too hostile place to support large civilizations, and there wasn’t enough food base to support them. And yet one of the explorers I wrote about is was a man named Michael Heckenberger, who had found evidence of these complex societies in the very place where faucet believed they might exist. Now they were not made of gold or anything like that. Kind of but, you know, they had causeways and moats And they disappeared right at the time the people disappeared or dated to kind of write when the early conquisto was first arrived in the Amazon a disease and wipe them out.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:25

    And it was discoveries like that. And as you asked, many discoveries since of these other complex society, archaeological ruins that are being discovered. In part, sadly, because of deforestation, they’re finding more and more, but there have been many more of these ruins, discover these kind of massive earthworks, complex irrigation systems, deeply engineered, that, you know, some archaeologists compared to, you know, the Egyptian pyramids. So, yes, there have been more discoveries, and these are kind of shattering the kind of long standing assumptions about what the Amazon and the Americas looked like before the arrival, Christopher Columbus, and also revealed a certain prejudice about the way early archaeologists had looked upon the indigenous people of the Amazon and a failure to understand the impact that disease had brought so that that when future archaeologists are kinda coming in and to the region or visitors. What they were seeing was the legacy of disease that wiped out and destroyed, so many people.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:33

    Up lifting. Yeah. And we haven’t even gotten to the Wager, which I think might be the darkest of all your books. So quick bit of biography. So you and I meet, we are both sort of young writers are a little bit older than me in DC.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:46

    You’re working at the New Republic. I’m working at the weekly standard. And so what we are both doing is basically, like, fifteen hundred word to two thousand word politics stories, which is what these weekly political magazines do. And then you leave the New Republic and you went to the New Yorker And I remember at the time thinking to myself, hung, that’s a weird move for David. And then I start reading your stuff with the New York.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:09

    That’s a weird move for David Grander David Remnik to hire David Graham. Which David
  • Speaker 2
    0:49:14

    Well, that’s why he sent me to the Amazon. He’s like, oh, mistake. I should have hired this guy.
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:19

    And, And I think the first of your pieces that I read there, and I may be wrong about this, is the giant squid hunter, which is about to start was that your first New Yorker piece?
  • Speaker 2
    0:49:29

    Was one of my first piece. It wasn’t the first. I did a couple two pieces freelance, and then that was my first piece on staff. Yes.
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:36

    So here is my analogy. It is like you are working at your normal office job. And you got this guy, David, at the cubicle next to you, and he’s really good at his office job too, and it’s great. And then he leaves for the NBA and you discover that David is actually Michael Jordan. And you’re like, what the fuck was he doing working in an office next to me doing these fifteen hundred word pieces?
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:57

    Because he’s the greatest basketball player in the history of the game. He should have just been playing basketball the whole time. The New Republic, this is
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:04

    not the fault in New
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:05

    Republic, but a a weekly political magazine is not set up to allow a writer to do what it is you do. And so did you know all along that that’s what you wanted to do? Cause you grew up in publishing. I assume that that sort of shaped your your world, your mom was like a legendary figure in in publishing in New York. When did you know that this thing that you do as the best, again, the best non fiction writer reporter of his generation.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:34

    That’s what that’s what David is. When did you know that that’s the field you wanted to label?
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:39

    Really quick. There’s no shame doing fifteen hundred fifteen hundred word articles about random congressional. It’s fine. Okay.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:45

    There are a lot of people who can do that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:46

    Alright. Anyway, go back to the question. I just wanna throw that out
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:49

    You know, writing is a is a journey, and I, you know, kind of early on had aspirations to be a writer. But I really never knew what form it would take. And I, you know, I would write poetry. I wrote some I wrote obituaries for a newspaper in Connecticut. High school graduations I covered, at a
  • Speaker 1
    0:51:12

    thought you’d be a good obituary writer. Did you have some good ones?
  • Speaker 2
    0:51:14

    Actually, you know, I think being an obituary writer is one of the more interesting, actually, good obits. I still am I have a real partial for the for good old opiates. But it also teaches you something fundamental, which is why they always give it to young cub reporters is if you make a mistake, you will hear about it if you have, it’s, you know, it’s to the poor grieving people who call you. You feel really awful and you say, okay, I better never make a mistake. Again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:51:37

    So I never kinda knew what form would take. And sometimes, you know, you don’t always control your forces. So I needed a job. I had kinda struggled to kind of freelance and new things. And the Hill newspaper had a was a new newspaper covering Capitol Hill was starting up.
  • Speaker 2
    0:51:54

    And so I took the job there. I was actually a copy editor, which is kind of funny because I have really bad eyesight. So people who’s laughing, they can barely see and then eventually there was an opening at the New Republic, and I went there. And so you’re kind of suddenly being carried by forces that you don’t completely control, whether you got a job at the hill. They say, oh, you cover Capitol Hill.
  • Speaker 2
    0:52:12

    I remember when I was at the New Republic, I kept saying, well, can I cover something else? And they were always like, no, you’re the Congress person. You cover Congress. That’s what YouTube You gotta go to Capitol Hill and go interview, Duke King. And I said, like, you know, there’s this weird crime and this,
  • Speaker 1
    0:52:26

    and there were some crimes there. I was just gonna have done Mark Foley maybe at the wasn’t that wouldn’t that have been,
  • Speaker 2
    0:52:32

    this time? I I wonder if Foley was actually a
  • Speaker 1
    0:52:34

    little after.
  • Speaker 2
    0:52:35

    A little after. But to your to your point, there was a pivotal moment in where kinda shaped me. It was actually at the New Republic, which is I was doing a story on congressman James Traffic. I don’t know how many people remember trafficking in with his with his crazy here, which turned out to be a to pay, who would drop the f bomb and say beam me up Scotty on the, house floor all the time. So I had learned that he was being investigated by the feds.
  • Speaker 2
    0:53:02

    And I went out to Ohio to do a story on him. I went to Young Stand where he was from, and I discovered in an archive, a transcript. And it was a transcript of a recording that was made by, of with traffic it when he was running for sheriff many years earlier, and it was made by two mobsters, orally the crab I think it was letting the crab, it might not. I’m trying to remember. They were the Kravia brothers, but they were the crab brothers.
  • Speaker 2
    0:53:32

    And there were two mobsters. One of them had since disappeared and quite literally been rubbed out ever seen again.
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:38

    And
  • Speaker 2
    0:53:39

    there was a recording of him when when they were meeting the secret recording, and then when they were meeting with traffic and we was running for sheriff, and they and here, I could suddenly hear traffic and talking about taking bribes from the mall, talked about people coming up swimming in the Mahoning River, if they crossed them, swearing every other word. And I said, this is the honorable gentleman from Ohio, and it was one of these kind of moments when I thought wait a second. This is how he really speaks. This is the power of archival information. But more than that, this is the kind of story I wanna tell.
  • Speaker 2
    0:54:17

    These are the stories I really wanna tell. And so I did that story. And then that began a slow, but it was a long process. You know, editors still would, you know, want me always to do a certain thing. And that was really the big change at the New Republic was David and Daniel eventually said, okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:54:35

    This guy’s got these weird obsessions. Let’s just let him do them. Let’s just let him do them. And I think that for me was it wasn’t just the support and the infrastructure It was a kind of willingness and openness to let me pursue my passions, which always kind of went against the grain, you know, because I didn’t really wanna cover the celebrity. Like, even when I covered the McCain, campaign, you know, I always wanted to cover the loser.
  • Speaker 2
    0:54:58

    I never wanted to cover the winner.
  • Speaker 3
    0:55:00

    Right. So, The wager. Yes. Your latest book. You do a lot of dark stuff.
  • Speaker 3
    0:55:05

    I think the wager is the darkest.
  • Speaker 2
    0:55:07

    And Well, it will make you feel better about your own life. I will say that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:55:10

    Coming from JBL, this is like an anti endorsement of this book. I just have to say, I mean, I’m sure it’s very good and very, you’re very talented, but if it’s too dark for JBL. That’s like, I can’t.
  • Speaker 3
    0:55:21

    I can’t. Alright. Don’t hear. Give the people the thirty second version.
  • Speaker 2
    0:55:24

    Yeah. So it was a story that took place in the seventeen hundreds when a expedition set off in search of a Spanish galleon filled with treasure. And one of the ships in the expedition was the wager. And after battling scurvy and typhoons that eventually get shipwrecked on a desolate island where the officers and the crew slowly descend into this obscene state at depravity with murder and mutiny and even cannibalism. Part of the story that so intrigued me was that some of them incredibly make it back to England.
  • Speaker 2
    0:56:01

    And after everything they’ve been through, they’re summoned to face a court martial for their alleged crimes. And, you know, the joke is, you know, we always say, you know, you gotta tell your stories in order to live, as Joan Didian said, but in their case, it’s quite literally true because if they don’t tell a convincing tale, they could be hanged after everything they’ve been through. So it sparked this kind of furious war over the truth. And it was at a moment in our history when I was, you know, we are undergoing our own perilous situation where we are filled with disinformation and misinformation. Quote unquote alternative facts and we’ve kind of forgotten our skepticism and our par empiricism to often determine the truth.
  • Speaker 2
    0:56:45

    And so I found in this weird story this kind of odd parable, which is, you know, it’s a craziest story in terms of adventure and and and survival, but it also had these other themes, which is what really drew me to it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:56:58

    So the the British Navy sends this this group of ships out because they’re at war with the Spanish. And they they have intelligence saying that there’s gonna be a Spanish treasure galleon down, off Coastapatagonia. We’re at the very southern tip of South America, and everything about this mission is tragic. Right? It’s a terrible idea.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:20

    It’s done at the absolute wrong time of year. Everything that could go wrong with it goes wrong with it. They can’t even get out court on time from from England. And this Paul of doom is just hanging over the enterprise from the very first moments. But I think in a weird way, we’ve circled back to your very first question about McCain and about larger forces.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:43

    And this is one of those things where again, they’re just larger forces at work. There are the paratives of empire, there is the logic of war. There is then we see this with killers of flower moon. Right? The there are larger systemic forces at work here.
  • Speaker 3
    0:58:01

    And I think maybe your books in a weird way answer that optical question. Right? You know, when you have these sliding doors and moments, can people change things Or are we all sort of, you know, really at the mercy of these bigger things that are happening around us?
  • Speaker 2
    0:58:19

    Yeah. Such a big question. I don’t know if I I wish I knew the answer. You can see how people can impose their will, for example, in the wager, in certain moments, and have demonstrations of heroism at time, but you also see them being subject to the whims of the systems that they are part of to the fates and the elements to a war that is bungle from the start, and is is not designed correctly. And you see people sacrificing and dying for a system that they’re not even fully conscious of when you read their records of these larger forces.
  • Speaker 2
    0:59:05

    And that was one of the things that struck me about the wager that, one of the lessons I took away from it, even in our own time, is I don’t know if I know the answer to your question, but I think it is important for us to be aware of these forces when we are within them. Because one of the things that struck me when I read the journals of these officers and crew of the wager is how often they are unaware of these larger systemic forces that are compelling them. And in many cases, ripping them apart and costing their lives, They’re often complicit in the system. They’re not in con fully conscious of.
  • Speaker 3
    0:59:46

    Do you
  • Speaker 1
    0:59:46

    ever consider for your next thing, like, a kilo and the b type story of, like, a young girl in her city who does well in a spelling bee, you know, some something a little awkward.
  • Speaker 2
    0:59:57

    My wife and kids are really advocating. Like, can I find something on, like, a nice island where, you know, you know, I visited Wager Island, which was crazy? They’re like, can you can you find a place where we could go, you know, somewhere maybe off the coast of France, so we could just spend a couple of years. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    1:00:14

    I always like to ask, before we go, just, any recommendation from you? Anything out there that you’re reading or looking at that you would point our our listeners to?
  • Speaker 2
    1:00:24

    You know, I just read, a really I thought remarkable book called The Smomers, he said, I believe it’s called, by Dennis Lehane, set as all his novels are in, the Boston area. All the stories are gripping, but it has a unbelievably vivid, female protagonist that will stay with me. And it explores a lot of these forces set during busing, in Boston at that period of, integration, it uses fiction, and the techniques of fiction. I think to explore some of these themes of racism, which we’ve been talking about today. I I thought it was, you know, I thought it was one of his best and really a great novel and also a great read.
  • Speaker 1
    1:01:04

    Appreciate that. Suggestion very much and you taking the time to spend with us. This has been marvelous. We could have done five hours maybe we can just get the gang back together for a little pickup hoops. Next time I’m, I’m up in New York.
  • Speaker 1
    1:01:17

    You never know. Anytime. I’d like to see how your skills.
  • Speaker 2
    1:01:19

    Yeah. Then, anytime. And then we can do it from firmry right afterwards.
  • Speaker 3
    1:01:22

    Yeah. We can go down to Seoul in the hole, see if they’ll let us run. Great.
  • Speaker 1
    1:01:27

    David Grant, thank you so much. For your time. Everybody got in watch, goes to the Flower Moon. If you’re really looking for
  • Speaker 3
    1:01:32

    some holiday cheer, check
  • Speaker 1
    1:01:32

    out the wager also in this Christmas Sarah Longwell, hopefully we can do this again.
  • Speaker 2
    1:01:39

    My pleasure. Thanks guys.
Want to listen without ads? Join Bulwark+ for an exclusive ad-free version of The Next Level Podcast! Learn more here. Already a Bulwark+ member? Access the premium version here.