Early in the morning of November 4, 1979, an enraged group of medical and engineering students stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took the whole staff as hostages. The students were enraged that Jimmy Carter had granted asylum to the Shah, the former leader of Iran, viewing that as confirmation that the Americans were planning a coup against the Islamic Revolution in order to reinstall the Shah. None of this was true (the Shah was dying of cancer for one) but it didn’t matter. The students planned to hold the embassy for 2-3 days while they searched for confirmation that the embassy was housing coup planners and spies. The leaders of the Resolution, including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, however, quickly realized the embassy seizure was a political gold mine that allowed them to consolidate power and eliminate opponents. A completely botched rescue attempt further inflamed the Iranians. The crisis eventually ended with the election of Ronald Reagan, meaning the Iranians achieved their goal of keeping the hated Jimmy Carter to just a one-term presidency. The shameful episode was the first exposure to Islamic radicalism for many Americans, and it wouldn’t be the last.
444 Days in the Dark: An Oral History of the Iran Hostage Crisis
The madcap mayhem that is the Trump White House outdid itself in the last week of July, 2017. Brash Wall Street bad boy Anthony Scaramucci had just been named White House Communications Director and immediately made his consistently beleaguered predecessor Sean Spicer look immaculately competent in retrospect. Scaramucci’s profane arrogance and unrepentant unprofessionalism would get him fired before his official start date. Meanwhile, Congress desperately tried to pass SOMETHING about Obamacare, even voting to proceed on a bill of which few senators knew the details. On the eve of the true vote Republican leadership admitted they didn’t like the bill but wanted it passed anyway. They would fix it later. LOL. “Crusty” John McCain dramatically put an end to that madness. Trump went Trump, attacking his own attorney general and banning transexuals from military service via Twitter. He also gave a wildly inappropriate speech at the Boy Scouts Jamboree. Lastly, North Korea proved they could nuke the entire continental United States. All this in one week. The Washington Post recaps the week with an appropriate amount of bewilderment at the times in which we live.
‘The moment when it really started to feel insane’: An oral history of the Scaramucci era
On the eve of Obama’s second inauguration the New York Times put together what they called a “romantic” retrospective of his tumultuous first term. Inheriting an economy in free fall, and two expensive never-ending wars, put the brakes on the transformative agenda that got Obama elected. He did get Obamacare passed, and there were other successes as well, but the end of his first four-year run was necessarily consumed with avoiding the ignominy of being a one-term president.
Obama’s First Term: A Romantic Oral History
The Columbia Journalism Review provides a gripping chronological account by reporters on the scene of President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. There was the expected confusion and communication difficulties, but on the whole they got things about as factually correct as we do in the internet age. Their dedication to substantiated truth amidst a national tragedy is an honor to the profession.
The Assassination: The Reporters’ Story
archives.cjr.org, Winter 1964
The smoothest president in American history was also known as a baller. During his eight years in office, basketball was the official sport of the White House. A number of members of his staff were ex-collegiate or pro players, most famously his right-hand man, Reggie Love, who played with Shane Battier at Duke. The press was never allowed at the games, and it was a time for Obama to let loose a bit with competition and a bit of trash talking. GQ goes deep to uncover some great anecdotes about the games and the traditions behind them, including the poor staffer that bloodied Obama’s lip, or the time Obama left Chris Paul holding the laundry.
The Oral History of President Barack Obama Playing Pickup Basketball
Motherboard recounts the activities of a group of early cyberfeminists from Australia in the early 1990s as they elbowed their way into the boy’s club of the early internet. They did ask not permission, they were not demure, and aesthetically there is a correlation to be drawn with the riot grrrl movement in punk rock. Headstrong, intelligent women marching triumphantly into a male space and righteously planting their flag. Although cyberfeminism as a distinct movement faded before the turn of the century, it was an important early force that continues to evolve throughout electronic media. Motherboard‘s piece includes some examples of caustic visual art produced by the group.
An Oral History of the First Cyberfeminists
Kathe and John McKenna began taking homeless into their basement apartment in the mid-60’s, thus beginning a tradition that has fundamentally changed Boston. They bought Haley House in 1966 in order to provide more beds to the indigent. Then they started feeding the homeless. Then they provided permanent housing. Then they provided jobs. Today Haley House, in an age of the continually declining social safety net, is a core piece of that net in Boston, and now operates two successful eateries downtown: Bakery Cafe and Dudley Dough. Here is the story of good people doing good.
50 YEARS OF YEAST AND LOVE: AN ORAL HISTORY OF HALEY HOUSE
Louis C.K. famously grilled former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on whether he was, in fact, a reptile. This exchange grew out of one of the more grand conspiracy theories of our time, one nurtured by YouTube videos, and fanned by tin-hat internet commenters across the globe. Motherboard‘s Derek Read earns internet hugs for traveling into the belly of the beast to transcribe some of the more absurd and entertaining comments in an oral history of the shape-shifting alien invasion.
Our Presidents Are Reptilians: A YouTube Oral History
George McGovern was called “the most decent man in the Senate” by Bobby Kennedy. After his death in 2012 the Obama Administration called him “a hero of war who became a champion of peace.” The distinguished Senator mounted a grassroots presidential campaign against Tricky Dick Nixon in 1972 that resounds today because his progressive message of hope and compassion contrasted with Nixon’s fearful machinations. McGovern ran the only major party campaign against the Vietnam War. Vanity Fair does an outstanding job of retelling the story of the remarkable (if ultimately unsuccessful) campaign through fascinating anecdotes from the leading staffers and McGovern himself.
McGovern ’72: An Oral History
In 1993 Little Rock, Arkansas had the highest per-capita murder rate in the country. The influx of drugs caused former dance groups to evolve into hardened gangs desperate to protect their turf. The Arkansas Times provides perspectives from gang members, politicians, police, and others culled from 15 hours of interviews.
Bangin’ in the ’90s: An oral history
Police shootings have been one of America’s focal points in recent years and many have decried the lack of information and transparency from law enforcement agencies. The Washington Post decided to do something about it and created the first national police shootings database. Frustratingly, the numbers reveal important truths that should not have been obscured or hidden in a democracy: 1) More than double the annual police shootings reported by the FBI. 2) Nearly a quarter of victims were suffering a mental health crisis. 3) Unarmed black men were seven times more likely to die in a police shooting than white men. This is the oral history of important journalism being done.
Inside the Washington Post’s police shootings database: An oral history
Insiders from both sides reflect on the acrimonious 2016 presidential campaign and Trump’s ultimate victory.
How Donald Trump won: The insiders tell their story
Politico Magazine provides a heart-pounding recount of President Bush’s early reaction to 9/11, Air Force One’s dramatic journey, and the ultimate recognition of a new reality.
‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’
Trump campaign correspondents tell their war stories regarding covering the most hostile and anti-media presidential campaign in modern American history.
Covering Trump: An oral history of an unforgettable campaign
The Daily Beast provides a humorous tongue-in-cheek look at the ubiquitous dumpster fire analogy in coverage of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
An Oral History of ‘Dumpster Fire’
Howard Dean was a charismatic 2004 Democratic presidential candidate on the upswing when he unleashed an unholy howl ahead of the Iowa presidential caucus. The rest is political and internet history.
The Dean Scream: An Oral History
The gritty details and behind-the-scenes gossip of the stunningly incompetent Bush II presidency.
Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House
The Atlantic provides a “Best Of” for the Miller Center’s online oral history of the Clinton presidency.
The Secret History of the Clinton White House