City workers drape a tarp over the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Emancipation park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 23.
We value works of art, whether by Leonardo da Vinci, Mark Rothko, or Rosie Lee Tomkins, for both personal and historical reasons.
Artworks are the products of an individual person’s labor and the expression of this person’s personality and style. Certain art, also, appeals to us, individually.
Artworks also stand as historical evidence; they are artifacts of the conditions when and where they were put together. When an artwork is destroyed, we lose not only our knowledge of an individual artist — but also our relation to the past is changed.
The reality is different, though, when it comes to monuments.
Monuments — as a general rule — obscure the conditions of their own production; they redirect our attention to the person or event they memorialize.
Observers don’t generally view the monument thinking about the artists. Do you know, for example, the name of the artist responsible for the Lincoln Memorial, or for the monument to Robert E. Lee in park in Charlottesville, Va., in the news this month? More often, they are thinking about who or what it memorializes.
In addition, monuments are often constructed years after said event happens or said hero lived. One might be surprised to learn that both the Lincoln Memorial and Charlottesville’s monument to Robert E. Lee went up about 60 years after the end of the Civil War.
The curious thing about monuments — Vanderbilt University art historian Matthew Worsnick told me — is that it is almost as if they “slip into an archival box; they are treated as if they were a kind of evidence or relic of their subjects.”
When, of course, they aren’t. Not really.
The memorials to Robert E. Lee and Lincoln are very much the product of their own real time and place. The Civil War may have ended in 1865. But it is probably no accident that the Robert E. Lee statue in question went up in 1922, at the height of “Jim Crow,” or that the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated two years later.
But it is the distinct power of memorials — it is their point, really — that they obscure their partisan and parochial origins. In Worsnick’s words: “Memorials often skew the timeline, they muddy the historical waters. They do this through a tendency to conceal the circumstances of their own production.”
To destroy a Leonardo is to hurt Leonardo’s legacy, and to damage our grasp on his historical situation. But to destroy a monument to Robert E. Lee is to hurt his legacy, not that of the responsible artist — and it is to alter our felt relation to his time and place, rather than the time and place of the manufacture of his memorial.
There are all sorts of exceptions to these generalizations, and there may be all manner of ambiguities.
The Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, in Washington, for all that it is a memorial, is actually very much associated with Maya Lin, its creator — for example. And sometimes a memorial is truly a relic of that for which it stands as a memorial. Take, as an example, the Sarajevo Roses — scars created by mortar fire that were later filled in with red resin. The scars themselves actually date back to the siege of 1992-1995.
What is the upshot of these considerations for the ongoing debate about memorials to the Confederacy?
First, we must own up to the fact that the decision to let a monument stand — no less than the decision to take it down — is to take a stand on the subject matter of the monument. If you believe, as I do, that Robert E. Lee was a friend of slavery and an enemy of the United States of America, then the case for removing monuments to him is a strong one.
Second, there is no reason to fear that tearing down such monuments will, or could, cause us to forget. The monuments are not and never have been relics of those bygone days. They carry no information about the past they are used to symbolize, only about our own reverential attitude to that past. And that’s a reverential attitude it’s time to change, in this case.
Third, we must distinguish the objects — the actual statues — from their function as monuments. You can preserve the objects — the art and our felt relation to times past — without conserving their negative symbolic functions on public grounds. There are memorial parks in Moscow and Budapest, for example, where old Soviet monuments to Stalin and Lenin have been put on display.
If you think there are good reasons to preserve these reminders our national history — that we once thought it useful to create the monument — this can be done without keeping them in force as monuments.
Paul Manafort speaks on the phone while touring the floor of the Republican National Convention on July 17, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Last week in the Russia imbroglio: Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, got some bad news; members of Congress put social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, under the interrogation lights; and with all these many lawyers now running around — the meter is running too.
Much more below.
The Russia story is so vast, has been running for so long — and may continue for so much longer — that NPR journalists have been getting an update inside the newsroom every day to try to keep them in step. On the theory that other readers also might find the reports useful, here’s a version of our newsletter called “The Daily Imbroglio,” which also includes a look back at events from the past week you might have missed.
Reports: U.S. Government Surveilled Manafort … Sometime … Somewhen
Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was under U.S. government surveillance at some point, according to reports this week — although they do not agree as to the particulars. CNN was first out of the gate with its story about surveillance on Monday, which called what the FBI or other spy agencies were doing “a wiretap.” The eavesdropping took place before, during and after the campaign, according to CNN.
CBS News also cited a source confirming CNN, but not many other news organizations reported this development. That stood until Friday, when the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris reported that the U.S. put Manafort under surveillance after he resigned from the Trump campaign in August of 2016.
But the monitoring the Journal describes is very different. Not a “wiretap” like you might have seen on The Sopranos, where FBI agents listen in real-time, but surveillance after the fact, “possibly by obtaining copies of his emails and other electronically stored communications, or by having agents follow him or conduct physical searches of his property.”
NPR has not confirmed any of these reports, and U.S. government officials have declined to comment about these kinds of law enforcement operations. A spokesman for Manafort, Jason Maloni, told NPR’sGeoff Bennett that if the stories are true, it’s evidence of abuse of power by then-President Obama and also evidence of criminal leaking by whatever sources revealed the surveillance was taking place.
Why would the Feds want to spy on Manafort? Former U.S. intelligence officials, including ex-CIA Director John Brennan, have said they’ve documented evidence of a lot of clandestine communications between people in Trumpworld and Russians. The latest data point came on Wednesday, when the Washington Post reported that Manafort had offered a private briefing on the U.S. election to to Oleg Deripaska, a Ukrainian billionaire friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The FBI wants to know whether Manafort was colluding with the Russians whose interference in the U.S. was aimed at helping Trump be elected.
That’s one example of what are believed to be tens of thousands of emails and other documents the Trump campaign has given congressional investigators looking into the Russia imbroglio — but it also confirms what Brennan and others have suggested. The frustration in trying to understand this story from the outside is how more evidence is deemed classified, possibly from Congress or the Justice Department, which U.S. spy agencies might not want to reveal because it compromises the sources or methods they used to collect it.
In Manafort’s particular case, investigators’ focus appears to be on alleged money laundering, foreign advocacy or other such crimes — sources told The New York Times that prosecutors working for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller have warned Manafort they intend to indict him.
Next In The Hot Seat: Facebook And Twitter
Russian influence-mongers used more overt tools to attack the election last year than anyone first appreciated, including Facebook ads, public accounts (of fake Americans) and others. And as NPR’s Ryan Lucas reports, members of Congress want answers about what social media platforms knew at the time about what was happening — and what they’ve learned in retrospect.
“The moves on Capitol Hill follow concerns that the social media giants have been less than forthcoming about how Russia may have used their platforms to try to undermine the American election,” Lucas writes.
“Facebook has acknowledged that it sold ads to some 500 fake Russia-linked accounts between 2015 and 2017. The ads addressed socially divisive issues like gun control, immigration and race relations. It also conceded in a statement that it may discover more.”
The Intelligence Committee’s leaders, North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr and Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, had been turning up the heat on Facebook especially: The social behemoth had shown the content of some ads to committee staffers in a briefing, but not permitted the Hill investigators to keep them. Burr and Warner said they wouldn’t abide any deflection or soft-pedaling, so Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday the company would turn over the contents and cooperate with the congressional investigations. More from Facebook.
In a file photo taken on May 15, 2012, a login page of Facebook reflects in a glass panel in Kuala Lumpur.
Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Here’s what Facebook does not want: Regulations it considers onerous. So company leaders are expected to go along to get along in the hope that if they’re cooperative and forthright, Congress will not mandate restrictions on the way it does business. That might not be good enough for Warner, however, who has broached the idea of new requirements for disclosures about ad-buyers or other such new policies.
All These Lawyers Are Getting Expensive
President Trump and several administration officials have retained their own lawyers in the Russia matter, and all that advice is not cheap. So donors are covering the costs: The Republican National Committee has directed more than $427,000 to attorneys representing Trump and Donald Trump Jr., Matea Gold reported in the Washington Post.
Separately, family members of former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn announced on Monday that they have set up a legal defense fund to help Flynn continue to pay the lawyers helping him in the Russia matter. Joe Flynn and Barbara Redgate, Flynn’s brother and sister, made a case based on Flynn’s record of service.
“Mike devoted 33 years of his life to our country serving in the United States Army, spending years away from his family while he fought this nation’s battles overseas, including the war on terror,” they wrote.
Attorneys say Flynn’s fund will not accept contributions from foreign nationals, anonymous givers or Trump’s business or campaign. But the fund is not expected to disclose how much it raises or the identities of its donors, as NPR’s Tom Bowman reported.
Mueller Wants White House Phone Records
Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House for records specifically about President Trump’s role in drafting Donald Trump Jr’s initial statement about the June 2016 meeting between campaign aides and a Russian delegation, reports Josh Dawsey for Politico.
Meaning what? Trump had a hand in drafting the original statement that said Trump Jr., Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Russians to talk about “adoptions.” But “adoptions” is the code word that Russians use when they talk about the 2012 sanctions imposed by the U.S. under the Magnitsky Act. So Mueller wants to know who in the White House was involved, what discussions took place and what the intentions of the principals were.
Rosenstein: Trump Knew Comey Ouster Wouldn’t End Russia Probe
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has told Mueller’s team that he believes Trump knew he’d encounter a political backlash by firing FBI Director James Comey, but that he didn’t expect it would end the Russia investigation, report Aruna Viswanatha and Del Quentin Wilber for the Wall Street Journal.
Meaning what? Mueller is reported to be weighing whether Trump has obstructed justice: Comey said the president asked him to ease off of Flynn, there are reports he also asked other intelligence agency bosses how to get the FBI off the case and then Trump went ahead and fired Comey. Although Trump has said in subsequent interviews that he fired Comey (among other reasons) because of the whole “Russia thing,” Rosenstein may be trying to put in a word for his boss. He could be making the case, in so many words, that Trump isn’t guilty of obstruction because he didn’t actually expect that getting rid of Comey would get rid of the Russia matter.
Howard Students to Comey: You, Sir, Are Not Our Homey
The former FBI director addressed the students of Howard University in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Sept. 22, in the first of what’s set to be a series of speeches as he takes a lecturer post there. Comey has built a relationship with the president of the historically black university because, in part, he wanted to bring more non-white recruits into the FBI.
It did not go over well, as NPR’s Ryan Lucas reports: Protesters interrupted with chants of “no justice, no peace” and “James Comey, you’re not our homey.” They also sang the civil rights song “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, video games, books and Starblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic atPhiladelphiamagazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.
Adderall and Red Bull. Pringles and cigarettes and scotch. More Adderall and more Red Bull and, if you mix them in just the right way and shake violently for months, you might end up with a videogame.
I learned this recipe from Walt Williams, whose debut book, Significant Zero, is all about the making of videogames. And also about the making of Walt Williams who, for years, has been involved (both seriously, tangentially, and in every way in between) with the production of some of the best videogames ever created: Bioshock, Star Wars Battlefront, Mafia II, Spec Ops: The Line. Mostly Spec Ops, which is one of the darkest, most haunting, and most narratively daring games I’ve ever played. Spec Ops was Williams’s masterpiece and Significant Zero is the story of everything it took to make it and everything it cost him — beginning years before, ending years after. Sure, it’s a workplace memoir (more or less): A writer writing about writing, which can be the most annoying thing in the world. Except for one thing.
Walt Williams is basically a ghost.
He’s a writer in an industry that doesn’t understand writers. Or value them particularly highly. He’s a writer of stories that will never (or almost never) carry his name anywhere but in an endless scroll of credits that almost no one will watch. He’s a writer in a place that would be alien to almost any other writer working — where writing is done by committee, or gets thrown to the person who protests least, or who remembers this one really good Dungeons & Dragons game they played in high school, or to the person who can write a thousand different variations on someone saying hello without going insane.
In Williams’s case, he got it by being the loudest, angriest, most egotistical kid in almost every room he walked into for ten straight years. And also because he cared deeply about telling stories and their impact on the human condition and blah blah blah. But mostly because of the anger thing. And because, for a brief time, he carried a pink softball bat with him everywhere he went.
The book reads like Portrait Of The Artist As A Young A-Hole — a blow-by-blow accounting of how to survive and succeed in an industry that lives on 20-hour days and 7-day workweeks, that considers energy drinks and ADHD meds important food groups. Which, depending on how you look at it, is either laudable in its honesty about an industry that loves secrets or disturbing in its lack of authorial self-consciousness.
The book has moments of enlightenment, sure. But they’re raw and rare, as if Williams has only been recently granted a conscience and isn’t quite sure how it works yet. Like after weeks of running battles with the developers trying to hammer Bioshock 2‘s story into shape — after screaming matches and angry emails and spiteful re-writes — he comes to this conclusion:
“We’re always so afraid to be vulnerable, as if admitting our fear and uncertainty will somehow prove us to be unworthy. Instead, we puff out our chests and put on a show, because God forbid we admit to one another that we’re all making this up as we go along.”
There are several of these moments of over-the-shoulder introspection. They are (almost) all equally shallow. But that’s not the harsh judgement you think it is, because consider this:
What if Williams is literally right? What if that very simplistic fear — imposter syndrome, the concern that people will find out you have no idea what you’re doing — actually is the prime driver behind so much of what happens in the videogame industry? What if everyone is really just a kid who lied and faked and snuck and cajoled their way into their dream job, got promoted too far too soon, and is just desperately hanging on, trying not to go crazy before the story they’re telling is finished?
Because, really, that’s the world Williams presents. The first two thirds of Significant Zero play out like a heist story about a kid who stole his own dreams — who wanted to become an Air Force chaplain but instead became the man who made it okay for you to virtually murder a million people from the comfort of your own living room. There’s never a moment of comfort or respite, just ramping tension as he moves up through the ranks with the help of an older, wiser mentor and works himself nearly to death. In the back third, things calm slightly and become more introspective.There are moments of ridiculous bravado. It runs a bit heavy on the war metaphors. But Williams’s candor carries it. He loves what he loves and hates what he hates and shies from none of it — his love/hate relationship with the Player as gestalt, his feelings on Crunch and videogame morality, why we’re all so in love with killing onscreen. And his manic-depressive, workaholic, bitter energy makes the book a compelling look into a world that doesn’t like to spill its secrets to outsiders. It has a bright Hero’s Journey arc (complete with setbacks, small deaths) and the winning of boons through cleverness and combat. In the end, he emerges from his trails wiser, calmer, both more — and less — whole.
It plays out, more than anything, like a videogame.
Miley Cyrus’ new album, Younger Now, comes out Sept. 29.
Pixel Dust Digital/Courtesy of the artist
Pixel Dust Digital/Courtesy of the artist
Chances are, you have an opinion about Miley Cyrus. The 24-year-old pop singer got her start as a kid on the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana in 2006. She released her triple-platinum debut album, Meet Miley Cyrus, in 2007 — and has rarely been out of the headlines since, for everything from drug use to sexualizing her image to charges of racial appropriation.
Over the years, she’s adopted and incorporated many musical styles into her hits. And with her sixth album — called Younger Now, out Sept. 29 — Cyrus has changed her look and sound yet again, trading in the hip-hop influences of 2013’s Bangerz and strange psychedelia of 2015’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz for a more stripped-down, country sound.
Cyrus spoke to NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about embracing all versions of herself, confronting controversy and drawing inspiration from her family — including her godmother, Dolly Parton. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read more of their conversation below.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Your new album is called Younger Now — and that’s apparently a reference to a conversation you had with your mom? Tell me the story.
Miley Cyrus: Well, it was during Christmas time. I was dressed as a reindeer, and I had blinking earrings, and I had the antlers on, and my sweater was blinking and all that — and my mom was like, “When did you become an eight-year-old?” And I said, “I feel younger now.” … I feel less like I have anything to prove.
I think when you are a teenager, young adult, you’re trying so hard to be cool or to prove something or to be something away from who you’ve been as a kid. And I guess as I’ve gotten older — what Younger Now says is, even though it’s not who I am, I’m not afraid of who I used to be.
You’ve been in the public eye since you were a child, and you’ve always had this poise and awareness of yourself as a public figure. Are you now reclaiming your childhood? I’m seeing all these references to Hannah Montana, andall the promotional materials [for Younger Now] has these adorable kid pictures of you in it. Who is that Miley?
Everyone that I’ve been — whether you are thinking about Hannah Montana or the music I made in the past — all of it has always been the truth. So I think people are saying “the new Miley” or “the more honest Miley” — I’ve always been that. But I’ve been honest for who that person was then.
At one point, it was fun for me as a little girl to get dressed up as a pop star, because I wasn’t one. It was fun for me to write about relationships in this innocent way, because I was young and innocent and discovering love and what that meant. And so now, I write about it in a more evolved way, or a way that feels happy or more confident. But that’s because as [I] grow up, I understand who I am in a different way. I’m happy to be who I am rather than running from it — but running from who you are is a total normal part of growing up, too, because you’re just trying to figure out what parts of yourself you like and what parts of yourself you want to work on.
Jean-Baptiste Lacroix/AFP/Getty Images
What kind artist do you want to be? You are only 24 — Madonna constantly reinvented herself; other artists drill down to their essence. Where do you see yourself on that spectrum?
I think I’m a person that evolves really quickly, and I change. And I think for me, I don’t change with the times or with fashion; I change by being active politically or philanthropically. I think that really changes the way that I reflect myself as well, and project who I am. Also, I think I’m very inspired by the surroundings of the real world more than the fashion on the street, or what the music is sounding like on the radio, or what I see on TV. I think that’s why people relate to my music; because in today, I’m experiencing humanity with all the other listeners.
Let’s talk about a track on Younger Now: “Inspired.”
I wrote that song for Hillary Clinton; I’d gone campaigning for her. And I was sitting in this line of really crazy traffic, and then I realized that I was in the middle of a funeral line. And I was behind a hearse, and all these people — I was looking into their cars, they just looked so devastated and so sad. And because I was sitting, I could really see them in their faces, and it just started making me think about life, made me think about my dad, and made me think about my mom, and all the things that really matter. And thinking about how much I have always loved nature; [the song] talks about the bees, and how there might be a day where we won’t have bees or blue skies or clear water or fish in the sea because of the way we abuse the planet.
We’ve got some questions from our listeners. Cassidy Hooper wants to know: What was the hardest song to record off your album?
I think “Miss You So Much.” Because I actually wrote that for one of my really close friends whose boyfriend surprisingly OD’ed. I wrote that song about how … once someone’s gone, they’re not really gone; if you love them, they’re here.
You know, my grandma’s in her 80s, and I had been hanging out with her the day I was going to record that song. And it made me kind of think about her, the more I started singing it. I started thinking about, “How can I miss you already?” Hopefully no time in my near future, but there’s going to be probably a time in my life where I’m not gonna have her. And [she’s] been someone that I really, really lean on. She’s my biggest — she literally runs my fan club. I mean that literally; she writes back to all my fans — she does all my fan mail. So it made me think about how you can miss someone when they’re still here, but you start thinking about a time when they might not be.
Jessy Briton Hamilton wants to know this: Your dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, came from humble roots in Appalachia. How do you see your heritage as part of your life?
I think my dad went kind of to this overnight — he would kill me for saying “overnight success,” because I know he had to work so hard. He literally lived in his car. But I mean, overnight success in [that] one day he was sleeping in his car and the next day he had one of the biggest songs in history. So I just think that’s really affected me, too. Know that everything can change, that you’ve got the control and the power to keep moving and to never give up. That’s his mantra: never give up.
You’ve gotten a lot of criticism for how you incorporated black music into your work, on the Bangerz album in particular. There is a lot of anger in the African-American community; The Root just wrote that your music has exploited black people for profit. Do you understand that anger? Do you accept it?
I respect that, and I can’t tell you that that’s my intentions. So I always feel, you know, apologetic and sympathetic to those who feel a way. But that’s not my intentions so I can’t say that I agree.
Are you still interested in that kind of music? You’ve sort of moved away from that in this album.
Yeah, but I think that that’s labeling. It’s like: that kind of music — like, what does that mean? I love music; I love all styles of music. I love Mike WiLL‘s music; I love Wayne Coyne‘s music. I love country music; I love Dolly [Parton]’s music. I love Leonard Cohen‘s music. I may be the only person that has Wiz Khalifa and Leonard Cohen on the same iPod. I don’t ever label music.
You are very vocal as a self-declared feminist. But you have also gotten a lot of flack for your performance with Robin Thicke at the Video Music Awards in 2013 of a song that some view as promoting rape culture. You know, it’s been a couple of years —
That’s so ridiculous, I’m sorry. Again, I empathize with people’s feelings, because opinions are a natural response in human beings. … But besides that, that’s so hurtful actually to take something that is good-intentioned — and what’s the difference of anyone else doing what they do in pop music? What’s the difference with Britney Spears coming oiled up with a snake, I mean, it’s like the same thing? It’s any pop singer. Look at Kathleen Hanna — that’s punk!
Your art makes people uncomfortable sometimes!
That’s what punk is all about. If you don’t piss somebody off, then that’s not punk rock, I guess. But I wish people wouldn’t be pissed off. There are so many real, true, problems in the world. If people would take their angst and their opinions and actually do something besides worry about what I’m doing. I’m a pop star. I’m good: I have a house, I have a roof over my head, I have food to eat. There are people without those things. Go and use your time and your opinion wisely, and get mad and call your senators about the things that matter.
I’m doing what I need to do. I’m working in my community. I’m changing the way people view sexuality. I’m working with suicide prevention programs. I’m feeding people that don’t have food to eat. I’m doing my part as a human. You better go do your part if you’re gonna even have one little opinion about what I do. You better be doing some great things for your community.
I’d like to ask about your godmother, the great Dolly Parton. What advice has she given you about navigating interviews like this one, or how to keep your career going for so long?
The best thing that she does is she’s not afraid to laugh at herself. And she pushed the boundaries for country music, by looking the way that she does, and saying the things that she says, and being sexual in that way. I mean, there’s no one that’s been able to make country music sexual more than Dolly! But she would say, “Well, that’s not why I’m doing this!” — I mean, she does it because she likes it. If you want to be pushing the boundaries, you have to like it. And to remember that you want to make music for the people that love your music for your honesty, and for your fans. Otherwise, just have fun and make the music that you love.
Web intern Steffanee Wang and web editor Marissa Lorusso contributed to this story.
Ray Halbritter in his office.
Courtesy of the Oneida Indian Nation
Courtesy of the Oneida Indian Nation
They say if you want something done right, do it yourself. But for Ray Halbritter, it was more a case of, “if you want something done at all.”
Halbritter, the CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, wasn’t seeing stories by or about Native Americans in mainstream media outlets, and on the rare occasion those places did try to write about indigenous people, the stories often got distorted.
So, in 2011, he acquired Indian Country Today — a 30-year old weekly newspaper that centered the voices of indigenous journalists. From there, he helped transform ICT into a multi-platform digital media network, which he says reached more than a million readers each month.
For the next six years, the journalists at ICTMN wrote about some of the most pressing issues rocking Indian Country, from the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline to presidential politics to murdered and missing indigenous women. They also celebrated indigenous communities by profiling Native athletes, doctors and actors.
But on Sept. 4, Halbritter announced the network was ceasing active operations. The business model, he says, was too expensive to be sustainable.
But Halbritter believes the need for strong reporting on Native America is as urgent as its ever been.
I spoke with Halbritter about the past, present and future of Indian Country Today Media Network. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
So Indian Country Today Media Network is shutting down, for the time being. What happens next?
There are some methods by which Native People are still getting some media. But we are exploring media opportunities that can meet the journalistic and organizational standards that we had set for ourselves. But the business model was just costly, and it just was not functioning well.
We know that today, the media is always developing, with the internet, with cell phones, with Twitters and Facebooks and Googles. And there’s a swirl of information around us all the time, instantaneously and individually, and that affects the kind of business model that we were initially involved in. So we are looking to find a way to — and we’re currently in some talks with some various groups and stakeholders — to try to get some insights on how best to repurpose this publication in a way that’s viable, both journalistically and economically.
And we need to be sure we can find a way to express Native American thinking and thought. The truth and accuracy about us is fundamental for our future and our relationship in this world.
What is missing in mainstream portrayals of Native Americans?
In media, Native people are often looked at as relics or mascots. And there’s so much more complexity, so much more beauty. There’s struggle and nuance to the Native American experience in this country.
We’ve experienced what it is to have people not understand you. Be afraid of you. Question who you are. We are real people with real lives. All of that is sometimes not understood, or even talked about or represented in mainstream media.
There was such a great need [for Indian Country Today] because the perception and image of Native people was very many times inaccurately portrayed, and as a result, the truth about Native people was not always presented.
You wrote in an open letter on ICTMN’s website, “We know that when we leave our stories to be told only by other media outlets, those stories too often go untold — or get distorted.” Can you talk about that?
I think, generally speaking, the result of having inaccuracy in media distorts the way people see us, and as a result, it affects the way we’re treated — whether it’s the DAPL pipeline that was being dealt with in Standing Rock, or the way people view and understand us dealing with the NFL team name in Washington that is a racial slur. We understand that in some cases, people really don’t understand what the issue is and why it is an issue. Some of our own people.
And there’s such a great need for people to understand one another, whether it’s large countries or small countries in the world. No matter how big or how small you are, we all live on this planet. We all share our lives on this turtle island, we call it. And as a result, we’re all here for a reason. And hopefully those reasons will be dealt with out of understanding and communication, in a way that benefits us all.
And it sounds probably as though that’s trite, and we all know that. But nonetheless, a lot of what happens to Native America is not done that way, in a way that allows us to be represented or at least understood.
In referring to Indian Country, you’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of groups of people. How do you speak to that many different cultures and groups?
Well, we just wanted to be a vehicle to allow themselves to represent themselves. I wouldn’t try to even suggest that I represent Indian Country or that our paper did, other than through the voices of Native peoples themselves. And that’s really what we’re trying to become. A conduit for their voice, for their representations, their stories, to be heard and told. But certainly it’s complex and nuanced. And there’s a great need to have that voice heard. That fire to continue to burn. And we will be doing everything we can to help make sure that happens in the future.
There were some giant stories out of Indian Country this year that made national headlines. So what was your favorite story that didn’t get a lot of press outside of ICTMN?
There were really so many. But I would say that the groundbreaking coverage, now spanning decades, on murdered and missing indigenous women, was incredibly significant, and still is. It was great to see [the movie] Wind River be created and produced, because it speaks to some of those issues certainly, and at the end talks about the fact that there’s no statistics on murdered or missing native women, the way there are for other races. That’s just sort of astonishing, some of the information.
We’ve also done some really great stories that are interesting and fascinating about the intergenerational trauma that occurs — the latest studies on intergenerational trauma. We’re tireless on our reporting on the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline. Certainly, the interview with President Barack Obama was a wonderful opportunity. So they’re just some of what I would say the more intriguing stories for a small publication like us.
Are there any stories that you’ve been dying to do with Indian Country Today that you didn’t get a chance to?
I think no matter how much we would like certain stories to be done, it really is so important that a Native voice is heard. That the fire of the Native heart is able to be expressed in a way by Native people. And while it may not seem dramatically different than what else is happening, there is a difference. You can trust me, there is a difference.
The critical issue to me, for Native America, I mean, they have highest teenage suicide rate in the world on Indian reservations. And that comes from, to me, a lack of self-esteem. A lack of even having an understanding, or a perception, or an image about themselves to see any hope for the future. What a hopeless statistic that is. And it is a statistic that says something very complex about our society, and about our problems that we have.
And who in the country really is delving into that and addressing that issue?
Two-year-old Robbie Klein of West Roxbury, Mass., has hemophilia, a medical condition that interferes with his blood’s ability to clot normally. His parents, both teachers, worry that his condition could make it hard for them to get insurance to cover his expensive medications if the law changes.
Jesse Costa/Jesse Costa/WBUR
Jesse Costa/Jesse Costa/WBUR
If Senate Republicans vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this week, it would affect the health care of pretty much every American.
Here’s a recap of four key flash points in the health overhaul debate with links to NPR coverage over the past six months, and our chart laying out how the Graham-Cassidy bill under consideration in the Senate addresses those issues compared with the Affordable Care Act.
Pre-existing conditions. One of the biggest issues in the repeal/replace debate has been coverage for pre-existing conditions, genetic risks and chronic illness. Before the Affordable Care Act, insurers could deny coverage to people with diseases like diabetes or charge them much higher premiums. The ACA requires insurers to cover pre-existing conditions without charging more. The GOP bills passed or proposed would give states the power to waive that requirement. People with disabilities or chronic diseases, people who have had cancer, and parents of children born with health problems like late-night host Jimmy Kimmel say that could make insurance unaffordable.
Medicaid. The federal/state insurance program provides health care for 20 percent of all Americans, including 40 percent of children, half of all births, 60 percent of nursing home expenses and 25 percent of mental health care. The Graham-Cassidy bill would transform the structure of Medicaid, giving states control over how they spend federal funds. The bill cuts Medicaid funding over time. States that expanded their Medicaid programs, including California and New York, would face the biggest cuts, while Texas and some states in the Deep South and West would fare better.
Essential Health Benefits. The Affordable Care Act requires that insurers cover 10 “essential health benefits,” including maternity care, mental health, hospitalization, prescription drugs, emergency care, and children’s health. The GOP proposals would let states opt out of those requirements, affecting insurance sold on the exchanges and employer-based coverage. But economists say that won’t lower health costs as much as the bills’ backers may hope, since the three biggest drivers of health costs are hospital care, doctor visits and prescription drugs — three things states may be most reluctant to cut.
Uncertainty And Market Instability. As far back as April, insurers were worried that they wouldn’t have enough time to set rates for 2018. That fear has only increased. Earlier this month, entrepreneurs said the lack of clarity is interfering with hiring. Enrollment on the federal exchanges opens Nov. 1, though the Trump administration has cut advertising for open enrollment by 90 percent. Some private insurers are stepping up to fill the gap.
Harrison Browne, seen here playing for the Buffalo Beauts, says he feels lucky to be part of a league that accepts him and wants him to feel comfortable.
Courtesy of the National Women’s Hockey League
Courtesy of the National Women’s Hockey League
Last year, Harrison Browne was done with the National Women’s Hockey League, retiring at age 23 in order to undergo hormone therapy and surgery as part of his physical gender transition.
But earlier this month, Browne, a transgender man, made a surprising announcement: He would delay his medical transition to sign with the New York Riveters and play another season in the National Women’s Hockey League. The league doesn’t require that players identify as female, but says they must not be using hormone therapy if they are transgender men, meaning people who are designated female at birth but identify as male.
Browne’s tough decision sheds new light on how the strict line between male and female in the world of sports is blurring, as society grapples with new norms of gender identity.
Before the 2016 season began, Browne went to the NWHL to tell them he was transgender and wanted to go by male pronouns and the name Harrison Browne. This kind of “coming out” when it comes to gender identity is sometimes called “socially transitioning,” in which transgender people begin to express their true gender identity with others. By their old league rules, Browne’s identifying as a man wouldn’t have necessarily disqualified him from playing in the NWHL. But in a women’s league, it certainly raised questions.
What resulted was the NWHL adopting the first policy addressing the inclusion of transgender players in a professional sports league. The NWHL policy allows transgender men to play so long as they aren’t undergoing testosterone therapy and allows transgender women to play if they have declared a female gender identity and have testosterone levels “within typical limits of women athletes.” Non-professional leagues like the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA have recently adopted policies about including transgender players as well.
“For myself, being stuck in the binary of men’s and women’s sports is not ideal,” Browne says. “But I’m lucky enough to be part of a league that accepts me and wants me to feel as comfortable as I can. This is the first trans policy in professional sports, that’s huge.”
Historically, men and women were separated in competitive sport (when women were allowed to play at all) because of social constraints and the presumption that women were too weak to physically exert themselves. These days it’s accepted that regardless of gender you can be an elite athlete, but most sports are still separated by gender for the sake of good competition, as most men are bigger than most women and perform various athletic events differently.
Biologically, much of this size and performance difference can be explained by the fact that the average man has about 10 times the amount of testosterone as the average woman. The hormone is responsible for characteristics society tends to think of as male: like beards and deep voices, and also muscle mass and strength.
Testosterone, the hormone a transgender man takes to undergo hormone therapy during a physical transition, has long been considered an illegal doping substance in most sports leagues. So a transgender male athlete who decides to use hormone therapy could risk expulsion, or at the least accusations of exploiting an unfair advantage.
For years, professional sports has struggled with the fact that biologically, not everyone fits into a “male” or “female” box. And not everyone’s gender identity matches the physical body, genitalia, reproductive organs and chromosomes (or even set of hormones) they have. That’s led to instances of “gender testing” and even suspending and banning female athletes who have naturally high testosterone levels, like South African runner Caster Semenya, and Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, even though testosterone doesn’t automatically make you a gifted athlete (see: most men in the world).
The governing body for track and field that barred Chand and Semenya from competing has until the end of September to gather evidence as to whether women with naturally high testosterone have a marked advantage over other women athletes. But the preliminary evidence they’ve released shows only a slight advantage in certain cases — well below the advantage elite male athletes have over elite female athletes.
Transgender athletes like Browne have been trying to find their rightful place in the gender-segregated sports world for years. First there’s the question of hormone therapy. Then there’s the simple fact that many transgender people are raised as children and young adults in a gender they do not identify with, so they may have started their sports careers, or even completed them, in leagues that don’t match their gender identities, making transitioning tricky — and sometimes very public.
After a journalist reported in 1976 that tennis player Renée Richards was a transgender woman who had previously competed in men’s tennis tournaments, the U.S. Open instated a chromosome test for the women’s tournament. Richards, who had undergone sex reassignment surgery, sued the U.S. Tennis Association for gender discrimination and won.
Today, Browne’s decision to stick with the NWHL, even though he had to delay hormone therapy, shows how even the most gender segregated arenas are attempting to make room for varied gender identities — but it also shows that there are no easy solutions.
In an ideal world, Browne could physically transition and continue to play his sport in a men’s league that matches his gender identity, as other transgender athletes have done. But, in Browne’s case, he doesn’t see that as very likely.
“Unfortunately, I am very small, even by female standards. I’m 5’4″ and weigh 115 pounds,” he says. “So unless I go through some really drastic changes under hormone therapy, I don’t really see that in the cards.”
National Women’s Hockey League Commissioner Dani Rylan says the league was certain they wanted to make room for Browne and other transgender or nonbinary players. “There was no hesitancy. We wanted Harrison and all players to feel protected. We wanted to be inclusive.”
The NWHL enlisted You Can Play, an organization that advocates for access to sports for LGBTQ people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, to help them update their league guidelines to make room for Browne and other transgender players in a women’s league.
“It’s a women’s league, so there was the balance of making sure that we are respecting women’s sports and athletes’ identities,” says Chris Mosier, vice president of program development at You Can Play, and a transgender athlete who has competed for the men’s U.S. national team for duathlon. “But we also wanted to make room for Harrison to make a social transition and asking people to address him in a way authentic to him. We had to put in writing where he fits in a league like the NWHL.”
According to the league guidelines: “The NWHL supports athletes choosing to express their gender beyond the binary of female and male.” However, the guidelines walk a thin line between making room for some people outside of that strict gender binary, like Browne, while maintaining the idea of a “level playing field” when it comes to biological differences as being almost wholly dependent on levels of testosterone.
Last year at the end of Browne’s season with the Buffalo Beauts, he released a YouTube video that showed how difficult it was to decide between hormone therapy and hockey. “I just simply can’t really go on moving on to these pivotal moments in my life…I’m turning 24 years old, I’m starting my career off the ice…And I do not want to start a job and pursue a career as a pre-op trans man that’s viewed as a woman in society. I get misgendered all the time …I played hockey for 15 years and made a huge career out of it…I milked it for as long as I could,” he said.
But during the offseason Browne realized he wasn’t actually done playing hockey. He canceled a scheduled surgery and put off hormone therapy. “It was a tough decision,” Browne says. “But I just started thinking about it and when it came time for me to really make the moves that would stop me from playing in the NWHL, I just felt I had more to give, hockey-wise and to the LGBTQ community by being active and staying visible and as open as I can.”
Mosier agrees that Browne’s visibility as a trans man playing in the National Women’s Hockey League, is important for the sports world. Young LGBTQ athletes are half as likely to participate in sports as their peers, he says.
“What this process with Harrison says is that with more visibility more people are feeling comfortable being their authentic self and continuing to play the sports they love,” he said. “Leagues and teams and organizations are in a position where they need to find spaces for trans athletes and understanding that we have been playing sports for many years and we will continue to play sports on all levels.”
Browne thinks putting off his physical transition and being open about his identity can help everyone understand transgender people with a little more nuance. He even welcomes the questions he gets when people who don’t know he is transgender ask how he plays in the NWHL.
“I think that right now, the images of trans people in the media that people are seeing show one aspect of a trans person who is fully transitioned and that’s what they think trans is,” says Browne. “When actually, gender identity is how you feel on the inside and there are many ways to transition, there are different stages of transitioning—you can socially transition like I am, for instance—and you might not ever physically transition. But just because you can’t see physical changes doesn’t mean you should discredit a person.”
Browne has already seen his gender identity celebrated by the NWHL fan base. Last season, he was one of four NWHL players voted by fans to play in the All-Star game, and his jersey was the third most purchased in the league. “Women’s sports and women’s hockey in general is a totally different ballgame,” he says. “It’s so LGBTQ friendly and inclusive and openminded.”
That support gave Browne even more incentive to play one more season, for the Riveters in metropolitan New York, where Browne will have even more opportunity to be seen. “I’m excited to see what kind of reach I can achieve,” he says.
Maggie Mertens is a writer in Seattle who has covered gender and sports for numerous publications. Follow her @maggiejmertens.