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tv   Josh Levin The Queen  CSPAN  July 21, 2019 2:10pm-3:00pm EDT

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process becomes more political. >> at 11:00 p.m. eastern, kimberly offers her guide to reading and understanding the u.s. constitution. in her new book, how to read the constitution and why. >> the question i get a lot on television and regular conversation is, can he do that? can the president do that? my answer is, that's the wrong question. the question is, if he does that and we've had until now present to don't cross the boundaries, what's the consequence? what are the processes for holding a president accountable? >> watch booktv every week and on c-span2. - - every weekend. >>. [inaudible conversations] >> greetings.
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can you hear me? is that okay? elizabeth taylor, delighted to be here be a creative director of the festival and the book review. really happy to be here. welcome. it's the 35th annual printers row lit fest. it's presented by the planning board and i want to give a special thank you to all of our sponsors for their support this year. it's been an amazing year. people really stepped llup. especially when trust as our programming sponsor. the mccormick foundation. alpha wood sofoundation. the chicago tribune. 3l real estate and c-span's booktv. today's program will be broadcast live on c-span2's
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booktv. if there's time at the end of the q and oka, we encourage you to use the microphone over there in the center. so that the whole viewing audience will be able to hear your question. and also, as a reminder, we request that you silenced cell phones if you have not remembered and turn off those camera flashes. and i'm so thrilled to be here. it's an honor - - [indiscernible]. so, "the queen"ú, the forgotten light behind an american myth. a real story of a woman who became a national symbol of welfare fraud. - - has recovered a remarkable
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counterintuitive flip of the story. it's so twisted and complex that it's amazing that he figured it out. it has defied so many historians for so long. on "the queen"ú, it reads like a detective story and a biography of linda taylor. at least that's how she was known for much of her life. and when she was making headlines in particular. josh places together the story of her life. he finds out that whatever financial fraud she perpetrated, they pale in significance to other clients. this woman known as the welfare queen were in the jim crow south. a hellacious upbringing. well documented. she landed right here in
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chicago and became the source of the welfare queen myth. a myth so manipulated by journalists and politicians. reverberate today. and it shows how stereotypes take hold and shape the american imagination. so in the way, the queen is a biography but also an important social history. it's a cautionary tale of the power of a single narrative to take shape and have an important, in this case distractive influence in the world. josh is the editorial director of sleep and he worked five years. and i think that's probably a minimum.
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it probably understating it has the research is incredible in this book. the reporting is extraordinary. found out kind no one else has looked at. he's interviewed people who have been ignored. it's just a remarkable feat. and it's an honor to speak with him about it and after the program. i hope you will go to the independent bookstore in the back and josh will find a copy. if i, thank you. [applause] - - goodbye, thank you. >> i really like the book if you didn't guess. >> thank you so much for the kind introduction to that was s great. keep going. [laughter] >> first, i will get you to work in that work, it's a beautifully designed for by little brown.
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and edited by the wonderful vanessa mobley. but would you please read the cover? information. >> yes, so there's this block of text at the top of the book and what it says is in the 1970s, linda taylor became a for wearing cadillac driving symbol of the undeserving poor. but the original welfare queen was demonized for the least of her crimes. taylor was a con artist, kidnapper, and maybe even a murderer. this is a never before told story of a single american character locked in the rest of the create a vicious stereotype. >> so that sets us up.
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1976, he is 80 names, 30 addresses. 15 phone numbers. but who was she? first of all, set the stage. can you bring up that to the 70s and reagan campaign? >> in 1976, reagan is running for president for the first time he'd been a two-term governor of california his candidacy wasn't really taken all that seriously. gerald ford was the incumbent. in reagan's own party so this was a very underdog challenge. reagan is in new hampshire. he's trying to go from being this kind of unserious contender to somebody who is seen as a legitimate challenger. he's going from the small towns to small town in new hampshire. and he hits upon this anecdote
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that becomes this crowd favorite. where people really respond to it. the story he tells isabella cool" woman in chicago. he doesn't say her name, he doesn't say the phrase welfare queen but he does say he had - - he uses 80 names phone numbers and addresses. he says if you add it all up, her tax-free income annually was $150,000 welfare and social security i was able to find a recording of him saying that at a luncheon in north carolina actually.when he says that, the crowd just gasps so hloudl that it reverberates in the room. and reagan is an amazing political performer and it's all about the performance.
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and he gets this feedback is like him i'm a keep telling this but he tells it over and over again. he had the ability to make it like this fresh outrage every time he told it. >> he really tapped into this moral outrage this idea but he was getting something for nothing. i didn't realize that the origin of the story which became a very defining moment was in >> she first becomes a public figure in september 1974. and she becomes a public figure thanks to the chicago tribune which writes about her by the pulitzer prize winner george - - who identifies her as a woman who is receiving welfare checks
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under multiple different names despite the fact she drove a cadillac and she was about to leave for a ac. hawaiian vacation. >> very quickly, the story changes from one about institutional problems to one about this woman and the tribune writes about linda taylor dozens upon dozens of chimes. within a few weeks, the term welfare queen appears in a headline in reference to her. >> was there ever an attempt that you could find to kind of really talk to her and get
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anything, the real story? >> the tribune as far as i could tell never got an interview with her. she did speak to the chicago defender. a black newspaper here in chicago. in her version of events was that she was a victim. she was being persecuted by the police and by prosecutors and that she hadn't done any of the things she was accused of doing. whereas in the tribune, their thsources were, the same police prosecutors, government officials who called her the biggest welfare sheet of all time. they basically would level accusation after accusation about her. and - - of the tribune didn't really get at the truth value
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of any of this stuff. for them, it was more just in the realm of, this is what the people say she did. and it wasn't just welfare fraud. there were accusations about kidnapping, homicide. they just kind of kept piling ndand piling on. >> she was a victim but also victimized which is a really complex pursuit. you mentioned a story - - i'm thinking of what the american media - - did they catch on to this? >> yeah. jet would cover her. mostly aggregating what was and other outlets. but that's how i first got on the store. friend of mine sent me a link to a story in jet that had the broad outline. the fact that she was term to the welfare queen.
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the cadillac, dollar figure. before i saw that story, i had no the term had been associated so directly with this individual. and that's the root of my obsession with this story was in the story that was in the black press. >> which is important i think. you went back and sort of looked at her childhood in jim crow south. can you talk about that? how her childhood shaped her. >> sure. so she did grow up in the south. she was born in a town that i also never heard of that has a fantastic name of gold dust, tennessee. which is where you want your life to start, you would think. he - - he was born in 1926
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point she grew up in a white family that had originally been from alabama. they had been from apart in alabama in the north of the state where white separatism was essentially official policy. where black people were literally not allowed to be in this part of the state. and so, taylor came to understand and believe that she had a black father. and that this was a secret shame in her family. it circumscribed her life in all these different ways. she was essentially denied an education. because of it. certain members of her family would not associate with her at all. one of her cousins told me about a family gathering she members attending. this would have been in the 1930s probably.
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where taylor was just sitting outside this gathering in a car by herself and nobody talks to her and she doesn't talk to anyone. so, she's in that situation where the people that are supposed to love and care for her and protect her reject her. and she becomes kind of a vagabond and live this really - - use. she moves out t west when she's very young. she ends up in california. her story is marked by race and all these different ways but i was able to find a record of her marriage when she was in california. she married a white man. her race was marked as hawaiian which is kind then looking into it for, california had of been on the books at that time. been listed as mixed
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race for black, that her marriage would have been illegal. and it was legal at that time for a hawaiian person to marry a white person. so these are the sorts of tribulations that the legal regime in these different states she had to deal with. >> did she perceive herself as african-american? do you have any sense of how she regarded herself? >> it shifted over time which was interesting to me. in the 1970s, she professed she was black. and she was certainly perceived that way by the press and by i think, folks for example. - - welfare had become so racialized that even saying welfare recipient.t. the imagined recipient, even though the majority of
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recipients weren't black. the public perception was, you are talking about a black woman. but there were times in her life when she represented herself as whites. and then when she first became this public known figure. one of the first articles about her noted that her ability to shift her race was part of her deception and made her devious. but she could change her race by changing away. she could be black and white and latina. it wasn't, that fact wasn't n'treated with complexity or sensitivity. the story of her race is extra ordinarily complicated. but yeah, in the 70s, it was seen as this is part of her criminal background. >> how did she get to chicago? why did she end up here? >> so, after she moved out
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west. she actually ends up back in the south around arkansas, missouri, tennessee. by the mississippi river. her stepfather had been like a laborer on cotton plantations. that's how she grew up. she ends up back in that environment. there's a story in the book that i just found unbelievably fascinating about how she became acquainted with a black family in arkansas. how she helps the family get out of a really terrible situation where they were sharecropping and constantly in debt and were being abused by this plantation owner. and she, by the force of her will and personality manages to extricate this family from that situation. and they all come up north together. they go to pure, illinois and she's in your area for a couple
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years. so that is the journey that takes her to chicago. chicago is the place - - she lived for about 15 years and a place where she establishes a foothold. with reagan calling her a woman in chicago. a place where she's fixed in time in memory relay. >> this is such a complex story. it's not been documented before. your ability to create a timeline - - how did you work on this? can you illuminate supportive some of your sources fit how you documented it.
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>> there is a timeline in the back of the book. so if you're ever confused, look to the back. keep that bookmark. it was a really difficult task to construct where she came from, where she ended up and how her life ended. ...
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>> getting an enormous pile of paper and spending a long time sifting through it and trying to put stuff in some kind of order. >> it's complicated by the fact she went by so many different names. that must have been really -- >> it was complicated for multiple reasons because of that. so, to give people insight into how this reporting goes, in order to get paperwork on somebody from, for instance next fbi they need to have proof of death. and nat going to give you to their credit, information beaut living person. so when i was able to confirm she died issue found she died under the name constance floyd. no paper that the fbi has is
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constance notice. a name she came up with after he criminal splits were done and but i had a birth certificate for heir for constance wakefield and i had to construction this rickety change of documents, it's like, she's cons wakefield here, she ends up as constance floyd, another document says she's both those names and sended off and hope a bureaucrat would like kindly upon me and it worked in that case. some people were like, we don't believe you. in a lot of case is was able to get the information i needed. >> do you -- you did a lot of interviewing for the book. >> yes. >> but did you find any faithful, reliable sources? >> yes. so, people tended to have very
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short-term relationships with her, and she one someone who talked about her past. so, the folks i would interview would often have a very narrow window in which they could tell me about, yaw, a new linger springer in 1968 for sick months and he didn't pay her mortgage and he left. i don't know where she came from or where she went to. so people were generally reliable. just they were reliable but a very narrow set of information, and that's kind of how she wanted it. she was able, i think, to commit a lot of crimes, to scam people and con people, because she created these new personas wherever she went, and she had this ability -- a very strong
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emotional intelligence, where she could be whoever the person who was in front of her wanted her to be, and she would kind of get inside people's lives, and then destroy everything and then leave. and so that was a very consistent pattern, and people -- because this was typically for the people i spoke to a very memorable experience, it was imprinted so people could describe scenes and they could describe events that happened in a way that was very evocative. >> so she's -- all these frauds and also you point out in the book that also a more significant crimes against actual people. do that in your introduction. very artfully. want to talk but that introduction? >> sure. so, in the author's note for the
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book, i wanted to -- it's similar to what i was setting out to do with the text on the cover, because a big challenge for me in telling this story is that in explaining how this stereotype tame to be of the welfare queen i didn't want to somehow strengthen the stereotype or afemur it by this is -- affirm it by somebody that did commit welfare fraud, wore fur coats and drove a cadillac. all of that is true but i wanted to be careful in how i presented that as a singular story and not one that represented anything. so in the dig anything larger than herself. and so in the introduction i tell the story of patricia parks, won who in 1975 -- one year after taylor had been
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nicknamed the welfare queen by the "chicago tribune," taylor moved in with woman oh she met at church, friend of hers, and the exchange they had was -- taylor would move in and take care of her friend because patricia was sick, but she kept getting sicker and sicker, and she eventually died in june of 1975, and she was found to have died of barbiturate overdose and the tribune rote that taylor was a suspect in the death. it was being investigated as a homicide, and ultimately the prosecutor decide she didn't have enough evidence to charge taylor with this killing. i should also add that before patricia passion' death she signed over her estate to linda taylor so it's extremely suspicious and the prosecutor recognized that but still felt he didn't have enough evidence, and so i interviewed patricia
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parks' ex-husband who told me has was 100% shower that linda taylor killed his wife and also extremely sure that it hadn't been investigated or treated seriously because his wife as a black woman, and he felt like her race meant that as a victim, she wasn't seen as important. and this is at the same time when taylor's welfare fraud is being treated as the crime of the century; that this woman ended up dead in chicago and it's seen as not really a tragedy but more of a curiosity. oh, the welfare queen maybe killed someone. that's not -- it's not seen as something that even should attach itself to her story. this all happened before reagan mentioned her name, but reagan done talk about her being suspected of homicide, even ray rig's critics in saying that
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reagan got it wrong, they don't mention that taylor had been suspected of homicide so that's just totally forgotten and eraise from their story. >> the critics got it wrong what did day say the did. >> a lot of fact checking done during reagan's campaign. they're a story the "washington star" syndicate toted the "new york times" so it got a lost pray and the tone of the story is reagan sayses a bunch of stuff in his speeches. let's see if it's true. there's a whole succession of anecdotes that are checked and for the taylor one the thing that gets checked is he dollar amount. so, reagan says she stole $150,000 and reporter says actually she's being prosecuted for stealing $8,000.
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and so that's the thing that reagan got wrong. he exaggerated the spent of her welfare fraught. that's true. he did exaggerate the extent of her welfare fraud. i think the best estimate i was able to find was that the folks in the relevant agencies in illinois believe she had stolen $40,000 over a period of multiple years. so, it wasn't inaccurate to say that reagan was exaggerating but it was certainly incomplete to make the point that this is the only thing that reagan has gotten wrong about linda taylor, that he has said that she stole more than she actually stole. >> talk about the kidnapping. >> have to take a sip of water before i talk but the kidnapping. she was a serial kidnapper, i
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believe. she was also a serial kidnapping complainant so as part of her fbi filed i have a packet of documents where she fbi would say, she was going under -- not the name linda taylor at that time but they would say she is making another complaint that one of her children get kidnapped, and then the says her daughter was taken by somebody who left a ransom note. so she was kind of constantly had kidnapping on the brain. and then in 1967 she gets arrested for kidnapping by the chicago police, and i tell that story in the become. she was taking care of a young girl on behalf of an acquaintance and then moved and didn't tell this woman where she had taken the child. her son actually, taylor's son, who rescued the girl and brought her back to her mother, but she was never charged for this there are other -- there's another
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kidnapping i write about in the book, that she wasn't charged with. and then there's the extremely famous kidnapping in chicago, the frondak kidnapping in 1964 where a baby is taken, day-old baby is taken from his mother's arms by a woman dressed as a nurse who was never seen again and the baby was never seen again and the tribune again, multiple times in the ' 07s reports they the fbi re-opened the case because taylor is seen as the leading suspect. a man that taylor lived with in the '60s attests that she had taken the baby, she had dressed as a nurse that day. there's all this other kind of circumstantial evidence connecting her to it, but unsolved. she was never charged in that case either. >> and the baby? >> never found. >> fascinating.
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so, she was a victimizer and a veil. how did you -- when you were working on this book, were you wrestling with this duality, like, was that a real theme for you. >> the complexity of the story is what drew me to it. the complexity in terms of reporting and research challenge was i thought at the time a fun challenge. it was more fun sometimes than other times. but also the moral complexity and we were talking about the reagan -- the fact, checking thing and i think one reason why the complexity of the story didn't come out at that time was it wasn't particularly ideologically congenial to anyone to tell the full story because reagan wants to broadcast that she is this
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extraordinary welfare cheat because it helps him sell this larger point that the welfare system is broken and he's the person who is brave enough to identify the brokenness and also to fix it. and then reagan's critics are more concerned with making reagan look bad than with telling a full story -- a fuller story about this person who, yeah, maybe she's not as much of a welfare cheat but also been accused of kidnapping and murder, and so the thing that i think is really important, that was really important for me to get across in this story is that the fact that the welfare queen stereotype endured and the fact that linda taylor's name and story didn't, are indicative of the power of a distorted anecdote the power of a story
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and the fact that all of these vulnerable people, who in many ways -- the poor people, poor black women, they don't have the kind of platform that ronald reagan had or that the "chicago tribune" has, and so the kind of ease with which her story was conflated with the story of these people who are really innocent and law-abiding, was really striking to me and kind of horrifying in a lot of ways until i wanted to show her story in contrast with that. >> it is fascinating how these sort of -- these assertions become myths and then they became so persistent in the culture, and later you have -- let's end welfare as we know it, and that -- her story extends for decades in influence.
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right? the whole welfare reform debate. >> yeah. so, reagan talks about her when he loses in '76 and then runs against successfully in 1980 and continues to tell the story temperature that campaign, and then continues to tell the story when he is in office and trying to pass his first budget, he dels the linda taylor story to newspaper editors and to congressional black caucus, which is a scene i find hard to imagine but it happened. he tells the story over and over again, and he succeeds in passing major cuts to food stamps and aid to family with dependent children and that story helps him make that case, and then when bill clinton runs for president, in 1992, welfare across pretty much every demographic group is extremely
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unpopular because of the fact that it had been hammered consistently so much for decades that folks who were getting government benefits were undeserving and they're cheaters,and so when he says the phrase, end welfare as we know it, according to folks who worked for his campaign and pollsters, by far and away the most popular thing he says on the trail and it's the lack -- i think it's the lack of specificity that is the key to at the phrase because it allows everyone to kind of create their own idea of what that means, and i'm not sure if clinton actually intended to do anything. once he is elected, they decide to focus on health care, which doesn't good super well, but -- doesn't go super well and then when republicans take over congress in 1994, newt gingrich
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and his pauls say let's end welfare as we know it. great idea. then he's boxed in and forced to do something, and it becomes a bipartisan push. the bill that eventually is signed that does end welfare as it had been known to that point is signed by joe biden and john kerry and it turned welfare, public aid, from something that was essentially if you were poor you qualified for it to something -- temporary assistance for needy families. it's temporary and it's a limited pool of money and doesn't necessarily -- you don't necessarily get it even if you would have qualified for it before. >> so, i'm sure you have questions, so anybody, bless step up to the microphone and in the back.
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so, she -- we'll keep talking. don't worry. so, she went to prison for welfare fraud and then -- went to florida, and she had been a stranged from her family. the trajectory of her life, but then her family took her back. can you talk about that? this end of her life. >> sure. so, her son, johnny, was someone i spoke with for the book. >> how did you find him? can you talk about that. >> how did it find him? >> host: yeah. >> man, it's a long story. how i tracked down her family was that in a court tile -- one of the best court files for her welfare fraud case there was a note in that case that wasn't necessarily attached to anything but just had a written out in
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script, linda springer, i've oklahoma, florida, and i -- live oaks, florida, and that hand been in the news college and i didn't know she had been in florida so armed with that name and location i wassible able to find this whole string of documents in florida, mortgages and civil claims where she had stolen from people and all of this whole like long trail that she left behind there, and i was able through that series of names and locations and addresses to track down -- to found her family, and her son had lived in chicago for a long period of time. he felt like she had basically ruined his life; that by virtue of being born into this family, he had been dragged around the
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country, he had been victimized by her. he had been abandoned by her off and on, and he was just -- windshield he had been able to -- >> she wasn't a mother. >> -- been able to live under different circumstances but the end of her life, any '90s she was institutionalizes by the state of florida and he decided to take her out of the institution and bring her back to illinois because she was his mother and he didn't want to leave her like that. maybe didn't want to leave her like he had been left. so many times. but i don't -- it's another way in which this is a very complicated story. it's extremely complicated for him and for everyone who knew her. >> yeah. you really sort of bring her to life and the time to life so well.
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i know we're probably -- you have a question and -- >> josh, i know that you spent a good amount of time working on this book and you just explained how you were able to interview and able to research. i'm curious as to how much the travel with your busy schedule, editing plates, working on hangup and listen, how much time did it really take for you to hit the road, being able to find the information. was it a lot of internet searching and interviewing by phone or do you have to show up in face-to-face interviewing? >> i spent pretty good amount of time on the road, and she -- given all the places that she lived, i went to florida, alabama, arkansas, tennessee, illinois, arizona, california. not for months at a time in each
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place but i wanted to be able to go and see what she had seen, and some cases talk to the people that she had talked to as far as the challenge of getting sources to talk to me, i wrote a lot of letters. i found that to be a successful strategy. and in some cases i would go and meet people in person, either to do an in-person interview because you can connect with people better that way, or sometimes i found as a reporter, people will be more inclined to talk to you if you take the time and the trouble to good show up. people can react to that one of two ways. sometimes they're not excited to see you but a lot of times will respect the fact you took the time come and visit them so i did that as well. >> question? >> hi. love the podcast that supplements the book so thank you for that. with this hold kind of wave of
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80s nostalgia, i tonya, and the wonder woman movie, would you like to see the queen as any other media, documentary, series, anything else? >> sure. bring it on. i mean, there is something very kind of cinematic about the story. i think it's challenging to tell it just because it does span such a huge amount of time, and she used so many different identities, and she -- there's so many different chapters of her life. so i feel like that's kind of beyond my expertise to tell anyone how to do it. but one thing that i will say as far as a documentary, for instance, is that for me i found the now was really the time to tell this story because a lot of the action takes place in
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1970s, you fast forward from there, 40-45 years, a lot of folks aren't around anymore. a bunch of people i spoke to in the beginning of my reporting have since passed away, and so i was -- some ways kind of disappointed i hadn't found the story sooner because there were people i would have like to have talked to especially ones who knew more about the early part of her life. she was bornin' 1926 and i was glad there were folks i was able to talk to now so the longer you wait, the fewer people around who knew her. >> so, we have time for one more question. so you'll have to fight to the microphone. >> hi, josh, thank you. i know some of the difficulty with your research was that there was not a whole lot of personal dialogue of hers or
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speaker views i forget the exact context but i think on trial from chicago there is one how you feel you're holding up and she said pretty well for a black woman. >> she said, she was asked outside of court appearance, how she was feeling and she said compared to some of you white people, i feel pretty damn good to be black. >> can you kind of -- what do you think she meant by that and i'm getting at, do you think she had sort of -- at the end of her life or trial she had a sense of get -- guilt, how she field of her whole trials and transcribe but places. >> as far as the quote goes i think she felt persecute it by white people at various points in her life and she felt she was persecuted because of her race, and her defense attorney told me that she also had this need to
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be defiant, that she didn't want to admit guilt or admit weakness, and so i think part of that with her just wanting to throw accusations back at those who were accusing her, and i think that gets at your second question as well, is that she never admitted guilt to anything that she ever tide. it was always -- she was being wrongfully accused or the people who were accusing her were themselves guilty of something. was -- it's certainly useful for me to know that's her experiment that's how she -- her experiment that's how she awe she world but i would never be able to look to her to get an accurate account or an account in which she would own up to guilt or complicity or
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anything. >> well, nearly out of time. please after this, go buy a book, read it, and it's a wonderful back, and one thing -- in one way linda taylor was a very lucky because she found you to write about her, and that is an extraordinary book and congratulations. >> thank you so much. [applause] >> you're watching boston boost on c-span2. booktv. television for serious rather. >> on "after words" this weekend, the federalist, mollie hemingway and judicial crisis network's carey severino examine the confirmation of supreme court justice brett kavanaugh
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and offer thought on the future of the court. also this weekend, "the new york times" carl halls discusses his reporting on the process to fill the lay yates antonin scalia's court seat and kim waily talk about her guide to reading and understanding the u.s. constitution. that's all this weekend on booktv. check your table guide or visit our web site, from more information. >> poock tv visited palm beach florida to her roger stone give his account of the 2016 election. here's a portion of that program. >> 2016 was the year in which the main stream media, abc, nbc, cbs, cnn, and to a lesser degree fox, lost their monopoly on the political discourse in america. only through the rise of a
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vibrant, robust, alternative media, based in the internet, was donald trump able to win because it gave him a platform for him to mount his counterattack and donald trump is the greatest counter-puncher in american political history. [applause] >> i sat in the the u.s. house judiciary committee meetings when i heard chairman jerry nadler say -- [booing] -- that the charges of conservative censorship by doingle and others were a right-wing conspiracy theory. to the contrary, we have seen the leaked memo, the leaked videos and experienced first hand the deplatforming of conservative voices, libertarian voices, republican voices, pro trump voices. in fact, all nonliberal voices.
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and millions of people, millions of supporters, of this president, have been deplatformed, in essence they're takeway the president's megaphone. we can -- megaphone. we cannot let monopoly control of coverage of the 2020 campaign revert back to the old fake news media. >> roger stone has appeared on booktv several times to watch this and other events vice-president our web site, book and put his name in the search at the top of the page. [inaudible conversations] >> hello, everybody. can you hear me okay? >> yes. >> my name is rebeca and i'm


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