tv QA Malcolm Gladwell Talking to Strangers CSPAN June 1, 2020 6:01am-7:01am EDT
strategist michael strawn hopkins, and later with commentator armstrong williams. problemsction control in nursing homes with john dicken. watch "washington journal," live at seven: 00 this morning. join the discussion. ♪ susan: malcolm gladwell, book number six out this week, "talking to strangers." what is the premise of this book, your latest book?
malcolm: the premise of this latest book is that we're not very good at talking to strangers. i was struck by how many of the kind of contemporary high-profile controversies that we find ourselves in come down to the same problem, that two people who didn't know each other very well attempt to communicate and fail or attempt to understand each other and fail. bernie madoff, people had conversations with bernie madoff and never understood who he was. the jerry sandusky case at penn state. brock turner sexual assault case at stanford a few years back, these are failed communications. and the one that really, the book starts and ends with, the signature case i'm concerned with is the sandra bland case, which is one of those high profile encounters between african americans and law enforcement that was, excuse me, so much in the news a few years
ago, which was a conversation between a young black man, black woman and a police officer who pulls her over, and the conversation goes off the rails. and i wondered why is it, why is it that we're, that we fail in these conversations with strangers? that's where the book comes from. susan: each one of your books has explored an aspect of human communication. what is it about this topic that you keep coming back to? why is it so important to you? malcolm: i don't know. i just think it is endlessly -- no one loves a transcript more than me. i am keenly interested in how people express themselves and how they succeed and fail at that. i'm one of those people who, if someone is articulate, i'm all in. i find myself so -- one of the
people who interviewed me on my -- did a little press tour of england. and i was interviewed by the actor russell brand, who has a podcast, a big, popular podcast in england. and i had never met him before. only knew him from the movies, and he starts to talk, and i realize he is one of those astonishingly articulate people, and i was just kind of so in awe, and the whole i'm trying to figure out how, how is it this man has so commanded my attention and his choice of words -- i was having difficulty answering his questions, because i was so focused on like thinking about, oh, my goodness, i can't believe the brilliant way he phrased that, oh, i have to answer. so i don't know.
i'm just drawn to that, that whole aspect of human nature. susan: for our conversation, we have actually pulled some clips that helped to illustrate some of the things you talk about in the book. we want to start with the sandra bland story. this is very available video if people want to watch the entire video. we'll watch a small clip. let's watch and talk a little bit more about it. [video clip] officer encinia: are you ok? sandra: you -- you, this is your job. i am waiting on you. officer encinia: you seem very irritated. sandra: i am, i really am. i'm getting out of your way. i move over and you stopped me. officer encinia: you mind putting out your cigarette, please. sandra: i'm in my car, i don't have to put out my cigarette. officer encinia: you can step out now. sandra: i don't have to step out. officer encinia: step out of the car. step out of the car. step out of the car. get out of the car. sandra: don't touch me. officer encinia: get out of the car. sandra: don't touch me, i'm not under arrest, you don't have -- officer encinia: you are under arrest. sandra: i'm under arrest for what, for what? officer encinia: i'm going to drag you out of here. sandra: so you are fixing to drag me out of my own car. officer encinia: get out of the car. get out of the car. i will light you up. get out now! sandra: wow, wow!
officer encinia: get out of the car. sandra: for failure to signal, you're doing all of this -- officer encinia: get over there. susan: that interaction ended in tragedy how? malcom: three days later, she is imprisoned for resisting arrest, and then three days later, she hangs herself in her cell, you know, a tragic and unexpected result, but the whole, that exchange that we saw, which by the way, goes on and on and on and on. we saw a small snippet of it, that was the kind of -- when i first saw that online, that's when i realized what i wanted to write about, because if you break that exchange down moment by moment, you see multiple failures of understanding, of empathy, of a million things. so just, for example, in the segment we just saw, she lights a cigarette, and we now know that sandra bland was someone
who had struggled with emotional problems. she had a failed suicide attempt a few months earlier. she is upset and she also has several thousands of dollars in outstanding traffic fines. so being pulled over by a police officer is consequential for her. this has happened before. she is deeply in debt because of it. and so she is upset when she gets pulled over. and she lights a cigarette to calm her nerves, the way that many smokers will tell you that's why they smoke, right, to kind of calm down. so she is trying to stay under control, and unconsciously, i think, trying to signal to the police officer, i don't want this to go awry. i am trying to calm down. and he will not let her. he sees her lighting a cigarette as an act of defiance. if you watch the entire videotape, constantly you see that the two of them are talking
entirely past each other and that he is reading her disquiet and distress as evidence of something sinister, as evidence of her being dangerous or malicious or criminal in some way. it's this kind of epic misunderstanding. and i wanted to kind of -- so over the course of the book, i sort of try to break it down, and then by reference to other stories, come to an understanding of how it is a very, very straightforward conversation can end in tragedy. susan: so you write of this, you have been thinking about these concepts for a while, and that you watch this video countless times, and you kept finding yourself getting angrier and angrier. mine is a process question. it has been six years since you
produced a book, you have ideas germinating in your head. what about this crystallized, yes, this is a topic i want to explore? malcolm: well, i had been kind of drawn to all of those encounters, problematic encounters between african americans and police officers, you know, beginning with ferguson, because they all seem to me to be extraordinarily multilayered. on one hand, they were deeply personal. they were about police officers confronting someone, and something going, you know, something going wrong, someone getting shot. but on the other hand, ferguson is a really excellent example. you know, when the department of justice report comes out on ferguson, there's two reports. one report is about the actual conduct of the police officer and what happened between the officer and michael brown, and that report explains why the officer is not being indicted on civil rights charges, because it's unclear that he did anything that was in sort of obvious violation of the law.
the other, second department of justice report, which is perhaps more important, was the one about the ferguson police department and pointed out that the police department had been essentially a predatory force on the african-american community of ferguson. they had been essentially using their power and authority to levy fines on as many different people as they could in order to fill the city's coffers. the city was running itself on tickets. and so cops were encouraged to write tickets for everything. when you see the things that the police force had been engaged in the previous couple of years, your jaw drops. this is a town where the african-american community was so completely alienated from the police force because of the way the police force was behaving, and that's the context for ferguson. so really you have a -- if you only look at the encounter, you miss the real story, the real
story is what happened before, years and years and years of the police force essentially using the black community like an a.t.m. in the way that no police force is supposed to do. it is funny, so one of the d.o.j. reports that was exculpatory, and the other was so, was such a devastating kind of critique of what happened in ferguson, and they sat side by side. in order to understand ferguson, you have to read both. that struck me as incredibly interesting that, because i think we have a tendency sometimes, when we look at these kinds of encounters, to only do the first look, the personal look, to look at the interaction between the cop and think we can settle the issue if we can figure out exactly what happened in that interaction. but that -- ferguson reminds us that no, no, no, that just is the beginning of your job. you then have to take a step
back and say, well, what was -- what were the environmental conditions that surrounded and predated that encounter. and i wanted to do something like that with sandra bland, only go even broader and start pulling in, you know, madoff and amanda knox and all of the other cases i talk about as a way of shedding light on that encounter. susan: you spent three years, you write on this project. if you look at the extensive notes that you have on the back, lots of documents you read, you never met a transcript you didn't like, lots of travel and lots of interviews. i guess people wonder who follow you with the really limitless vignettes, or examples, case studies that you can bring on a topic, how do you pick the right one? malcolm: there is no procedure. it's an art. sometimes you're successful at it. sometimes you're not successful
at it. you look for -- i like to tell a variety of stories just to remind people that -- what the stakes are. if you -- if every story i told in this book was a story of an encounter between a young african american and a police officer, then people would think, oh, malcolm is just talking about, when he says he writes a book about "talking to strangers," he is talking about interactions between police officers and black people. i don't want that. i don't this to be -- i don't want to give people reason to pigeonhole this. i'm trying to say something that is actually quite broad about the way all of us talk to strangers. it's funny that i honestly don't believe, i think that many of us could have made the same mistakes that that police officer in that video made, that brian encinia made. i don't think he is an unusually inept or incompetent or biased or -- i think he is a police officer who is inexperienced and over his head and jumped to some
conclusions he didn't. but, you know, we all do that. that's the point of the book. we're making our mistakes in far lower stakes situations. we're not police officers with guns stopping people on the street, right. when i screw up in my understanding of a stranger, what's the consequence? someone doesn't like me or i feel uncomfortable. no one is dead. that's an important thing to keep in mind that this book is really meant to be, to make us all complicit in some of these tragedies. susan: one of the concepts that you say that we all do is that we default to truth. what does that mean? malcolm: so this is an idea that comes from a psychologist named tim levine, whose work i rely on a lot in "talking to strangers." he was trying to understand why, it is a puzzle that has obsessed psychologists for a long time,
why are human beings so bad at detecting deception. this has been studied a million different ways, but basically my ability to tell whether you're lying to me is scarcely better than chance. we're terrible at it, almost all of us, with a few small exceptions. that's puzzling because you would think we were good at it. you would think that that would be something that evolution would have selected for. and his explanation is that evolution does not select for the ability to detect lies. it selects for the opposite. it selects for people who are willing to believe, implicitly believe what they're told, because if you do that, if you trust, if you default to truth, as he says, then your life is so much easier. you can start companies. you can form groups. you can send your kids off to school and not worry. there are a million things you can do if you believe what
people tell you. you can go into a store and you can buy -- go to a grocery store and buy 100 items and be satisfied that the bill they give you at the end is accurate, right. it's an extraordinary thing. there are 100 opportunities in your shopping cart for someone to cheat you, but how often do you see someone in the grocery store say wait a minute, i don't believe it's $119, right. the only time i have ever seen anyone do this is actually my -- tangent, my father, who is a mathematician, had a gift for doing sums in his head, would count along with the checkout person, and only if they undercharged him would he correct them. this is in the days before the bar code scanners. i remember being a little kid and see him, and then he would say actually i owe you an extra 75 cents. he would fish it out. he wasn't doing it because he mistrusted them. he was doing it because it was a
power trick. the point is the reason we're able to do this as human beings, build these fabulous working societies, is that we trust, right, implicitly and automatically. so if you understand that, you realize that there is a cost of that, and this is his argument, the cost is that we will be -- we will occasionally be deceived. we're not good at spotting the scam artist. and that is, you know, that's why madoff exists. it's not because madoff is some kind of genius. it's because if you set out to systematically lie to people, you'll get away with it, at least in the short term. they're not going to catch you. right? we're not thinking, "is this guy lying to me?" we're thinking no, he has great returns, here's $1 million. that's the way we operate. susan: speaking of bernie madoff, dipping into c-span
video archives, we have a video of someone who is also in your book, henry markopolos. let's listen to what he has to say to the s.e.c. of bernie madoff. [video clip] henry: i gift wrapped and delivered the hugest ponzi to them, and they couldn't conduct a proper investigation, because they were too busy on matters of higher priority. if a $50 billion ponzi scheme doesn't make the list, who sets their priorities? [end of video clip] susan: you call him "holy fool." malcolm: yes, markopolos isn't the only person, but he saw the truth in bernie madoff 10 years before he was busted. he is going to the s.e.c. saying he is running a massive ponzi scheme, no one would listen to him. he is someone who does not default to truth. i refer to people like him as holy fool, which is a term, a russian term to describe the
kind of -- the crazy person who nonetheless has access to truth that none of us see, so the child who is not constrained by social convention in pointing out the truth, but the kid who says the emperor has no clothes, he is a holy fool. and markopolos is fascinating, because the question arises, do we want to be like him, he could see a fraud that the rest of us could not see. he had insight that the rest of us did not have. do we want to be like him, would our society be better if there were more markopoloses? i say no, that you don't want to be like him. he will tell you this, i sat down with him, we talked about it, he is someone who is extraordinarily suspicious and paranoid. he thinks there is a scandal under every rock. he goes around the world every day of his life, is filled with the great fear that he is being scammed. he goes to the doctor, and he lectures the doctor on, you know, all the ways, don't do
this to me and don't do this to me, i'm aware of all of your tricks. he, in fact, was so paranoid that after he -- after madoff was finally busted, markopolos came to believe that madoff was going to send hitmen to kill him, and then he became convinced that the s.e.c. was going to send a squad of attackers to break into his house and steal all his files. he stayed up all night with a gun trained on the door of his house. you don't want to live like that. there is a cost with having that kind of insight. that is levine's point, that insight cost is too high. you were much better off being gullible, or at least being believed, defaulting to truth, being people who implicitly believe, because liars like madoff are rare.
although we will be cheated once in a while, it is not the end of the world. and i actually think that is profoundly wise. susan: should we be better at listening when someone is saying "the sky is falling"? malcolm: that depends. the unknown question is -- how many times does markopolos say there is a fraud and there isn't one? so he just a few weeks ago actually came with an announcement that he thought that general electric was engaged in one of the largest accounting scandals of all time. it seems, i don't know yet, the story hasn't played out yet, but lots of people shrugged and said no, i think you are off the mark in this case. so i don't know. certainly we would do well to -- we shouldn't ignore them, but we have to understand the difference in the way that most of us are calibrated, and it's a good -- it's probably a good thing to be trustworthy, or certainly one should not take from the madoff scandal, i think, the conclusion that the financial engine needs to be even more heavily regulated.
if you reduce everyone in a complex industry to a state of suspicion and paranoia, then you destroy the thing you're trying to save, right. susan: our next example from your book is a very different kind. it's from michigan state and penn state, the jerry sandusky scandal and dr. nassar. let's watch the video, and we'll come back and talk about that. [video clip] jerry: he was coming to me with a concern about, you know, i guess in his words, somebody had talked to him about inappropriate behavior in the shower. >> and you told him -- jerry: i told him that it didn't happen, and there wasn't, in my mind, it wasn't inappropriate behavior. [end of video clip] susan: the court said differently, and he is now serving a long prison sentence.
what should we take away from this and also the michigan state situation? malcolm: yeah, so i have a chapter on the sandusky case. what interested me with the sandusky case is not sandusky himself, but rather what the prosecutors did after they convicted sandusky. they went after the leadership of penn state for failure to act earlier on to prevent sandusky's misbehavior, which i think is absurd. i go through chapter and verse why the prosecution was asking people in positions of leadership to do things that they should not do, that is essentially what the charge -- so the president of penn state was forced to resign and is still 10 years later, almost 10 years later, fighting a legal battle to stay out of jail.
the athletic director and the vice president of penn state both were convicted and sent to jail as a result of this scandal. in my mind, they did absolutely nothing wrong -- except that they did what human beings do, which is they defaulted to truth. they were presented with incredibly vague questions about jerry sandusky, and they chose to interpret them in the way that was most favorable to sandusky. they defaulted to truth when it came to this man who was in their employ. they said, you know what, i don't really know what that is. it sounds like maybe he is engaging in mildly inappropriate behavior, has boundary issues. let's just say he can't take showers at the penn state facility anymore. that decision landed them all either in prison or on the verge of going to prison. if you examine the case closely, what you discover is that this is a classic example of, as human beings, we are inclined to
shrug off. when you default to truth, you believe in the truthfulness of what you were told, until the doubts rise to a level so high that you can no longer continue to abide by that original decision. so there is a high bar. so you see that with madoff. lots and lots and lots of people on wall street had doubts about madoff, but the doubts didn't reach the point where they were willing to concede, make the enormous step to say he is a ponzi schemer. with sandusky, there were all of these kinds of whispers, and he was seen showering with young boys. but what was seen was incredibly vague, and even the football coach, who spotted sandusky in the shower, went home that night, told a medical doctor, who is a friend of his family, about what he had seen, and the
doctor, who has a legal duty to report child abuse, didn't report it. why? because he was too vague. i couldn't figure out what he saw. "it looked a little weird." he was upset about it. and then the same coach waits six weeks and tells joe paterno, the coach at penn state, who then tells the leadership the next day. their response is, well, if this was so pressing, why did you wait so long to tell us? he doesn't actually say he actually saw a sexual act being committed. he saw something that made him feel weird. why, what do we do with that, right? they default to truth. that's what we do as human beings. and the absolute last thing we want to do is to tell people in positions of running major institutions that they should start being paranoid about all of their employees. you cannot run an effective intellectual community if you are deeply suspicious of every act of, you know, inexplicable behavior, mildly inexplicable
behavior by your employees. you can't do that, nor can you, by the way, just the same way you can't run a regulatory agency, if every single even mildly, even mild digression from the absolute straight and narrow triggers a massive investigation. what you do is you act when there is an overwhelming amount of evidence. there was not an overwhelming amount of evidence in that case. and it is very easy in hindsight, i think, to get on your high horse and say these people should have been truth tellers. they should have seen into the heart of jerry sandusky. well, guess what? pedophiles go to extraordinary lengths to hide what's in their hearts. susan: you had to be working on this during the whole time of the #metoo revelations. how did that, which is not pedophilia, of course, but improper sexual relationships and advances, how did that figure into your thinking about this?
malcolm: that's interesting. so the problem, a good analogy, a good way of discussing this is to make reference to the other case you were talking about, the larry nassar case, which is a much more straightforward case than jerry sandusky, where here was a doctor at michigan state, who was treating young gymnasts, and he was sexually abusing them repeatedly over and over again, sometimes in the presence of their parents. and it took 15 years for him to be brought to justice, not because people in positions, in the case at michigan state, unlike penn state, people in positions of authority were being told quite explicitly that wrongdoing was happening, and they chose to either disbelieve it or shrug or look away. there i think some of the
leadership absolutely does belong in jail. there was the condition of being overwhelming evidence was met, i think, in the case of michigan state. what is fascinating about that in the context of #metoo is how long it takes people, even parents of children who are being abused, to take the charge seriously. in other words, it takes years and years and years and years and years for people who are intimately connected to these victims to kind of accept the fact that something as heinous as a sexual crime has occurred, and that, to me, is the same lesson, it's a lesson that runs throughout #metoo, that this kind of behavior has been going on for millennia, but in our society, it has been happening as long as women have been in the workforce. it has taken until now for us to take it seriously. bill cosby, or a better example would be harvey weinstein.
i lived in new york. i know people in the film industry. it has been an open secret for years and years that he was doing -- that his behavior was unconscionable. i heard people talk about it, you know, 10 years ago. the "new york times" five or six or seven years ago tried to do a story on it. just couldn't get people to speak on the record. i mean, there is nothing -- this wasn't something that popped up in 2018. this was an open secret in these worlds for a decade or more, but it takes an extraordinarily long time for people to come to grips with the enormity of this crime and to kind of find a way to do something about it. that's, to me, the intriguing lesson. susan: last example from this, because our time really evaporates quickly, another person in the news right now, khalid sheikh mohammed, his
military court judge just set his trial date for january 2021. let's watch the video, and let's -- help us understand what you -- how he fits into what you are talking about here. [video clip] >> i have dealt with 13 or 14 of the worst ones, k.s.m., zabeta, i have dealt with a lot, and none of them refuse to identify what they have done. so we weren't looking for confessions, because confessions won't stop attacks. what stops attacks is actionable intelligence. the way that you can get the actionable intelligence dealt with is by to get through these enhanced interrogations, get them working with you so that you can use social influence after that to get the information that you want. [end of video clip] susan: one of the lead interrogators of k.s.m. malcolm: yes, who i talked to at length as well and who i found
genuinely interesting and fascinating person who was asked to do an extraordinarily difficult job, which was to interrogate some of the most hardened terrorists in the world. what he was doing is a very good example of he had to talk to strangers. the enhanced interrogation post-9/11 is a textbook example of what my book is about, which is the difficulty of seeing the truth or truly understanding what someone, what a stranger is saying or telling you. in his case, he is quite open about it, resorted to some, well, enhanced, i was going to say extreme measures to try to facilitate the communication with the stranger, with the terrorist. and the question i raise in the chapter is, what happens when you do that?
so faced with the same problem that all of these cases i have talked about are faced with, which is you have someone you don't fully understand and you are tasked with getting the truth out of them, finding the truth and we see how the police officer botches it with sandra bland. he totally misunderstands what she is about. we see that with the other examples. in this case, though, the added element is there was coercion, physical coercion and emotional coercion was added into the mix to try to enhance the truth discovery process. in that chapter, the point of it is to say that's not without its cost either. the issue with using physical coercion to get someone to talk, it's in using coercion, you change their memories, so you affect the information you're getting.
so the crucial question and it's impossible to answer with certainty, but the crucial question is, so then is the cost of coercion worth its benefits? so i can definitely make you talk if i water board you, like right now, you would talk. but in the act of water boarding do i affect your ability to remember what you did, right, what there is to talk about. in other words, do i harm the conversation in the process of trying to facilitate the conversation? so you have this tradeoff and is it a good one? that's a question that i don't think the proponents of -- well, the proponents of enhanced interrogation answer that question very differently than the opponents of it. my feeling and my conclusion in the book is that i tend to side with the opponents. i tend to believe that the costs
of coercion are really high, higher than we realize, and i talk at length to a psychiatrist who studied this very question and i think he is quite convincing that you're really in unchartered territory. you don't know what to make with the information that you retrieve through physical coercion because it's so compromised by that act of coercion. susan: just being able to skim the surface of your numerous case studies in here, bring it all full circle. what do you want readers to understand about your thinking and what they should be thinking about in their conversations with strangers? malcolm: i want people to have -- i end with a call for caution and humility.
i want people to slow down to understand that the task of getting to know a stranger is very, very difficult. it cannot be done quickly or easily, that some of the things you do to speed it up make the problem worse and that we need to be, devise systems that account for that weakness. the last quote of the book is about policing and law enforcement strategies. what does law enforcement look like if you take the task of talking to strangers seriously? the answer is police behave in a different way and are far more selective in how they use the most proactive tools of law enforcement. the lesson of sandra bland is not the police officer needs to be a better conversationalist when he stops people, is that he -- it is that he shouldn't have stopped her. you should only stop someone when there is an overwhelming reason to believe that some possibly criminal thing might be taking place. he had nothing. all he had was that he drove up behind her and she didn't use a turning signal and that she was a black woman with out of state plates.
those are not sufficient reasons to set in motion a potentially dangerous conversation. susan: why did you exclude from your book the way that most people interact with strangers in society today, and that's social media? malcolm: i have no interest in social media. susan: really? malcolm: i do in the sense we use it. does the world need another book on social media? i just sort of thought, you know of course that's important, i suppose, there are lots of books that talk about it. it's really unnecessary for me to weigh in. i think when you're writing a book, you have to ask yourself a question, where can i best contribute to this conversation? i don't think i would contribute by duplicating 1,000 other books that have been written about twitter in the last year-and-a-half. susan: it was interesting preparing for this, watching the reaction and the conventional media critics. the los angeles times wrote "at a time when the world feels
polarized, a book that examines the way we misinterpret or fail to communicate with others could not be more necessary." on the others, i was interested in the graphic in the "new york times," the business section which we can show it to our audience. it basically said gladwell is turning to dark topics and wondering whether or not your readers will respond. are you turning darker in your thinking about the world? malcolm: no, i don't think -- i mean, this book is not dark in the sense that it is trying to make the world a better place and trying to ask the question, what can we do differently to make sure that people like sandra bland don't have the same fate or that, i have a long chapter on the case at stanford, that is all about how can we prevent sexual abuse cases in
the future? those are dark topics, but the goal of the examination is positive, trying to make the world work a little better. i don't know whether -- i do think readers in these days are, these are sort of dark times. i think people are perfectly happy to talk about spies and frauds and police shootings and things like that. susan: when you started to dive into the stanford rape case, were you surprised about the statistics on alcohol abuse on american campuses? malcolm: yes. i wanted to write about sexual abuse as a classic example of -- campus sexual abuse cases, many of them, don't follow the trajectory of violent rapes, stranger rapes. they are about people meet at a
party, under relatively benign , have aances conversation and then something goes wrong, they start out in a very different way. i thought this would be an excellent thing to include in my book. i began to go into campuses and talk to people who have studied this issue. i discovered, to my surprise, that they really only wanted to talk about alcohol. to many people who study the problem, they feel they are dealing with drinking. that at the core of this is the abuse of alcohol on campuses and the consequences of drunkenness and that you can't talk about sexual abuse without talking about drunkenness. they came to convince me of that. the stanford rape case is a story about two very, very drunk people who meet on the dance floor and in the case of brock turner, his drunkenness contributes very heavily to him engaging in criminal behavior. in the case of his victim, her drunkenness contributes very greatly to the fact that she was
victimized, right? so you have -- and i think it's impossible to talk about how do we prevent this in the future without asking the question, how do we prevent people from being so drunk that on the one hand, they greatly increase their chances of being a criminal. on the other hand, they greatly increase their chances of being a victim. susan: i want for the audience put statistics from the national institute of alcohol abuse and alcoholism, it says that drinking by college students age 18-24 contributes to an estimated 1,500 student deaths every year. in addition, there are estimated 696,000 assaults by students who have been drinking and 97,000 annual cases of sexual assault on campuses. malcolm: the numbers are astonishing. many people of our generation, and i'm going to lump myself in, because i suspect you are much younger than i am, we forget
because when we were -- when we were of college age, drinking was quite different. it has changed quite dramatically over the last generation. the amount of hard alcohol is way up, hard liquor gets you drunker more seriously and far more quickly. the amount of binge drinking is way up. and most importantly, the amount of drinking by women is way up. whereas in my generation, it was unheard of for a woman to match a man drink for drink in a social setting, that is much closer to the norm. that has profound consequences for drunkenness for a variety of physiological reasons. women do not process alcohol as efficiently as men do and get much drunker on the same amount. this is a very -- those numbers you told me, they are
astonishing. i am struck by the absence of a meaningful conversation in this country about how dangerous drinking patterns are, and, two, i'm struck by the fact that, i quote this in the book, that when you talk to young people, people in college, they don't see this link between sexual abuse and their drinking. they see them as being disconnected. that is madness, absolute madness. susan: you have been exploring a number of these topics as well in your podcast which is on its fourth season? malcolm: just finished the fourth season. susan: just finished the fourth season. i want to play a clip from one of your podcasts or one of the chapters of the book and give people a sense of how you do that. let's listen. [video clip] malcolm: tensions rose, coming to a head on february 24, 1996. that afternoon three planes took off for the florida straits. as they neared the cuban
coastline, two cuban air force mig fighter jets shot down two of the planes out of the sky killing all four people aboard. the response to the attack was immediate. the united states security council passed a resolution denouncing the cuban government. a grave president clinton held a press conference. pres. clinton: ladies and gentlemen, i have just been briefed by the national security advisor on the shooting down today in broad daylight of two american civilian airplanes by cuban military aircraft. [end of video clip] susan: so a podcast, and this is also going to be your audio book, allows you to do, as we've been doing today, putting real video and audio into the subject matter. how does that enhance the experience for your intended audience? malcolm: yeah, so we did, well, i'll speak first to the audio book, so i have been doing this podcast for four years, and i have learned a lot about how different storytelling is in the
podcast form. it's much more emotionally immediate, and the idea that you can hear -- once you can hear someone's voice in your ears, i feel they're summoned in a much more visceral way than reading about them on the page. it wasn't obvious when i started it that's the way it would be, but you can -- with a podcast, you can move someone to tears whereas -- easily, where it's quite hard to do on the page. it's much harder to do in print. just by people are so emotionally connected to the things that come in that channel, so when it came time to doing the audio book for "talking to strangers," because so much of the material in the book is so emotional, we decided to make the audio book like a podcast. so what we just listened to was a clip of one of the chapters of
my audio book, and you heard that little clip from bill clinton. well, throughout the book, if i'm interviewing someone, you hear the person i'm interviewing. when i'm describing what happened to sandra bland, you hear that tape we just saw of sandra bland and brian encinia. when brian encinia does his deposition in the case, i walk through the deposition expanding his behavior, you hear it in his voice. i have the tape of the deposition. all of that means that the experience, i think, is just a lot more powerful, and people who have listened to the, some of the people who have listened to the audio book and read the book -- it is a small number, but there is some -- they tell me it is almost like two different books. you're drawn to two different things and your reactions are very different. susan: do you have more fun working on the podcast than you do the labor of writing a book? malcolm: yeah, because in the podcast, you can do really goofy
things. i do goofy things in the podcast that you couldn't -- i have a podcast episode on the two chutzpah, they have different meaning and pronunciations. it was a lark. i'll never write that in a book. there is a kind of playfulness that comes in a podcast format that's not really available in serious nonfiction. susan: looking up the numbers, there are 750,000 different podcasts and 30 million episodes that people can avail themselves of. how do you see this whole podcasting market shaking out over time? malcolm: well, the vast majority of those podcasts don't earn any income for the creator and don't really have that many listeners, so the tail, we're talking about a phenomenon that has a very, very long tail, much like the book business does, only it's longer, because the cost of
producing a podcast is smaller than the cost of producing a book. anytime you have an industry where the costs eventually are essentially zero, you're going to have a very, very long tail. you have tons and tons and tons of entrants. that doesn't have to shake out, because, you know, it's like people do podcasts for all kinds of reasons, and maybe having listeners and making money is not central to a lot of those people in the long tail. the issue is about the small number of podcasts that command a decent amount of viewers. the issue is that -- are those numbers going to grow? will a podcast like joe rogan's podcast has -- i'm assuming he has 5 million downloads per episode. are we, in the next 20 years, will there be, you know, five
times as many podcasts with 5 million downloads a day, or will someone like joe rogan go from 5 million to 20 million? that's interesting -- what happens to the growth at the far end of the tail? the sheer number of podcasts i don't think is terribly meaningful. susan: your partner in the podcast is jacob weisberg, someone you had a long relationship, and in a sidebar to one of the reviews, it was mentioned that you felt that he was a game changer for you in your journalism career. can you talk a little bit about your relationship to him and what he brings to the table? malcolm: so jacob, when i first moved to washington, d.c. in 1985, jacob was -- answered an ad to be a roommate in my house in mount pleasant. i met him for the first time, he was at that point taking a year off, he was taking his year off from school. he took a break between his junior and senior years,
interning at the new republic, and he introduced me to people at the new republic, and i began to freelance there. he was the one that got me my start in journalism. we remained close friends ever since. he has been running for many years, he ran the "slate" group, "slate" magazine and all of the podcasts associated with slate as part of the "washington post" company's digital arm. so he is quite a -- he both has extraordinary editorial sense, but also, unlike me, he knows how to run a business. so he and i started this podcast company called pushkin, and he is the c.e.o. and i'm arm candy. he does all of the kind of serious heavy lifting, and i, well, i produce my podcast for it, but i'm a name on the masthead. there is no one in the world i'm happier to defer to than jacob.
susan: do you also have a cat called pushkin? malcolm: no, i have many things called pushkin. susan: why is that? [laughter] malcolm: i had a dog growing up. then we named them after russians, tolstoy, and then i used to call my apartment pushkin. susan: your apartment has a name? malcolm: sure, i'm english. though in england, i'm the son of an englishman who named everything in his life. he named his dogs, his garden carts, his rototiller, his cars, so it's second nature for me to give things names. people love the name pushkin so much that they petitioned that we call our new company called pushkin. susan: who was it, for people who don't know? malcolm: pushkin was a brilliant, maybe the most famous literate figure in russian
famous literary figure in russian history, after tolstoy. russian art love sam. late 19th century poet, lawyer, writer, intellectual. he was part black, which is, as i am, so he is a kind of wonderful role model. susan: this is our last dip into the archives and a bit of an apology. this is the earliest clip we have of you in our video archives. malcolm: oh, my goodness. [video clip] susan: i wanted to show you and folks watching a little bit of this from 1996. this is about personal history. what is this about? malcolm: my piece was about, a very good example of what i was talking about. my piece is about west indian, my family, which is half west indian, and talks about what the success in america. what does it mean? tell us about racism. [end of video clip]
susan: i wanted to show that, not because the clip was particularly poignant -- malcolm: times have changed. [laughs] susan: a bit to talk about your parents, a little bit more. in your acknowledgements, you tell us two things, first of all, that your mother taught you how to write, and you lost your father when this was being produced. will you talk about the contributions each of them has made to you as a person? malcolm: well, my parents, they were on the surface very different. my father was a mathematician, kind of a rational, physically fearless go getter, and my mother was a family therapist, and she is a much more kind of contemplative, soulful type. veryn some ways they are
similar. they were both very independent-minded, and they were self-sufficient, and my father in particular, and my mother as well, my father had a great sense of mischief. and i have inherited his sense of mischief. he never took either himself or the world that seriously, and he was playful in the way he thought about ideas, and i think at my best, i am playful about ideas, or at least i try to be. so that's from -- that's sort of my father's principal contribution. my mother has, she is a writer. she is an extraordinarily -- she speaks in beautifully perfectly formed sentences that i admired as long as i have known speech. they have both helped me be who i am. susan: do you find listening to
how she says things rather than listen to what she says? malcolm: my mother speaks -- she doesn't say much, so she expresses, so i do marvel at it. it's not like -- with russell brand, there was like an enormous outpouring of words to kind of analyze. with my mother, there would be, like, a sentence and a half. susan: while we're talking with how things change, where do you do most of your writing? do you write in your aforementioned apartment? malcolm: no, in the coffee shop. susan: one of the things that has changed over the course of your writing career, your celebrity. you have six books, five best sellers, you do extensive speaking tours, top 10 podcasts, so when you travel, people must recognize you. you have made a lot of money with the best selling books over the years. how has celebrity and wealth changed your life? malcolm: well, i mean, i don't worry about money anymore, but i never really did.
and celebrity, i don't really -- i mean, "celebrity" is an odd word, brad pitt is a celebrity. i'm not a celebrity. if brad pitt were to walk down the street, people would mob him. i don't get mobbed walking down the street. what happens to me is somebody would say, hey, i love your podcast, and keep walking. or they will say, you know, at the most someone might stop me and say can i take a picture. but it's always, it's not in the kind of celebrity "awe" thing, it's like i'm familiar to them. it's like -- i think of celebrity as someone who is up there, whereas people who talk to me are relating to me as a peer. it's like i have heard you, i have read your books, i have heard you on your podcast. it's almost like you're in my life, and they call me malcolm, and they act like they have
known me forever, and they sort of have. it is an odd thing. it doesn't feel like fame, it feels like familiarity, if that makes sense. susan: does it feel like a good life? malcolm: yeah, i don't have any complaints. susan: as you look at the millions of people that you reached in these three areas, podcasts, speeches, books, and the like, what do you want your body of work to do for society? malcolm: just encourage people to look at things a little differently. i always say, i don't really -- i'm not trying to persuade people of something or -- i'm just trying to encourage them to step out of their mindset for a moment, like just consider the problem from this perspective. you can go back to your old way of thinking in the end, but just pause for a moment while you read this chapter and/or listen to this podcast, and imagine what it would be like to think about this very familiar issue in a different way, the way
someone else does. that, i think, i think that is something i try to do in my own life, and i think that any kind of art improves the world, but it encourages people to adopt different perspectives, even if it's only fleetingly. that's part of what i think makes us better human beings. susan: thank you for spending an hour with us today. i appreciate your time. malcolm: thank you so much. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: all "q&a" programs are available on our website or as a podcast at c-span.org. >> next week on q&a, daughter of former alabama governor, presidential candidate george
wallace, she talks about her father's controversial career and political conversion after an assassination attempt. she also talks about her friendship with congressman john lewis of georgia. that's next sunday night at 8:00 eastern on "q&a." announcer: watch c-span daily unfiltered coverage of the government response to the coronavirus pandemic with briefings from the white house, congress, and governors from across the country. plus, join in the conversation on our live call-in program, washington journal. if you missed our live coverage, watch anytime on demand at c-span.org/coronavirus. announcer: "washington journal" is next with two perspectives on race relations in america first democratic strategist michael
starr hopkins. followed by commentator armstrong williams. and john dicken talked about infections in nursing homes. "washington journal" is next. join the discussion. host: one week ago today, african-american george floyd died at the hands of the minneapolis police. protests, civil unrest, and violence and reaction to that expanded to some 75 u.s. cities, building to a crescendo over the weekend. good morning, and welcome to "washington journal" for this monday, june 1, 2020. we'll start the hour asking you this hour about the president's leadership in response to the unrest, the president largely communicating, commenting on the issue saturday, some at nasa, and largely leaving his response to twitter. what are your thoughts?