Providence, RI

In Rebecca Segall and David Holmberg’s review “Who Killed Emmett Till?” [Feb. 3] there are a number of errors, distortions, omissions by inference and untrue statements. I have never had contact with Segall. After speaking to film documentarians Christopher Metress and Keith Beauchamp about certain specifics regarding the Till case, which shall remain protected and confidential, I was contacted by Holmberg. I spoke to him on two occasions in 2002, but our conversations were never supposed to be “on the record.” In mid-January, after learning that I might be mentioned in a Nation piece, I contacted Holmberg. He was evasive. When I did obtain the article in printed form, I was appalled at what had been written and by what was ascribed to me and my work.

My assistants and I have investigated certain aspects of the Till case relevant to my film American Lynching, but our upcoming documentary is in no way focused on that event alone. Since I began working on this project in March 1999, I have interviewed witnesses, family members, friends, descendants of lynching victims and occasionally perpetrators of lynching events. Like any filmmaker or journalist, I strive to protect my sources.

Holmberg provided misinformation to your readers by not accurately quoting me and, in several instances, by misquoting me regarding my supposed subjects–from conversations that were strictly off the record. One individual erroneously mentioned by name in the troubling piece later contacted me by phone. “This article has ruined my family!” he said. I never identified any individual when speaking to Holmberg, neither confirming nor denying his speculative assumptions. I certainly did not quote any source by name at any time. Holmberg’s actions have cast The Nation in a dreadful light.



Montclair, NJ

At no time did I tell Gode Davis that our conversations were off the record. And he refers to inaccuracies in our piece but doesn’t cite any. Also, as we said in our story, the individual mentioned had been referred to in a 1970 newspaper story obtained by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp. Davis confirmed to me that he’d been dealing with a person by that name.

Davis is upset in part because I told him in our initial conversation that I was writing for another publication, which I was at the time. When that piece didn’t work out and I subsequently informed him I was writing for The Nation, he expressed concern that our review would jeopardize his ambitious film on lynching and perhaps compromise his sources.

As I told him then, I’m sympathetic with his concerns, but I don’t consider it journalistically responsible to indefinitely withhold possibly important information about a historically significant case. And as a practical matter, it’s not possible in a competitive journalistic environment. I did, however, ask a reliable law-enforcement source in Mississippi about Davis’s concerns, and he assured me his agency would not attempt to subpoena any material of Davis’s that did not relate to the Emmett Till case. I don’t think Davis has anything to worry about on that score.

As for compromising or jeopardizing his sources, that’s a risk journalists take every day when they decide to publish a story. It can’t be used as a permanent excuse for sitting on information that’s vital to the public, and in this case to the possible administration of justice and to history itself.



New York City

Re Alexander Cockburn’s “The Right Not to Be in Pain” [“Beat the Devil,” Feb. 3]: Since the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in the White House, I’ve watched with increasing horror and despair as my city was bombed, my retirement savings went up in smoke and my health insurance premiums doubled. I believe that Bush was directly, or at best indirectly, responsible for all these events. A more intelligent President, a President more engaged with the day-to-day workings of government, a President whose bellicose policies did not infuriate the rest of the world, might have prevented 9/11. A President who had any idea of what it’s like to struggle to earn a living might recognize that basic healthcare should not be a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Until now, I’ve done nothing about any of this because I believed there was nothing I could do. I chose to wait it out, to remind myself that if I’d survived Nixon, Reagan and the first Bush, then I’d (mostly likely) survive the second Bush.

A year ago, I received one more reminder that my government has essentially targeted my way of life for attack: My publisher, Ed Rosenthal of Quick American Archives, was arrested on federal drug charges for supplying people with medical marijuana in California, a state where medical marijuana is legal.

Rosenthal was recently tried and found guilty. When the jurors found out after the trial that he was authorized by the City of Oakland to grow medical marijuana and was not a common drug dealer, as the prosecution portrayed him, they apologized to Rosenthal. (The defense was not allowed to mention medical marijuana at the trial.) He is out on bail (despite the prosecution’s objections) and awaits sentencing in June. The judge in the case, Charles Breyer, is the brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Rosenthal faces five years to life in prison. I’ve just met with him in Oakland, and he’s in good spirits and believes he will win on appeal.

At a time when there isn’t enough money to provide sufficient security against future terrorist attacks (to cite one egregious example), for the government to be using any of its resources to prosecute a man who has dedicated his life to helping people in pain defines obscenity. I am now doing the only thing I can think of: I’m speaking out publicly against the Bush Administration. The prosecution of Ed Rosenthal is one more atrocity in a litany of major and minor atrocities committed by Bush as he leads the world toward ruin and degradation. We must find a way to stop him.


Columbus, Ohio

Alexander Cockburn has a valid argument for the legalization of medical marijuana. In conjunction, I offer a quote from Ralph Nader’s book Crashing the Party: “When the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, industrial hemp fell into the category of a similar prohibited product. It helped that the paper industry wanted this to happen because industrial hemp producers would be an undesirable competition.” No doubt the beer, wine and liquor industries hold a similar attitude toward Mary Jane smoking, hence the fierce paranoid opposition to anything approaching social approval of cannabis. So industrial hemp is the victim of misdirected prejudice, and our farmers are deprived of growing a crop that we import from other countries. Just one more instance of the plutocracy’s ineptness.