Ad Policy

Jon Wiener

Contributing Editor

Jon Wiener is host and producer of “Start Making Sense,” The Nation’s weekly podcast. He teaches US history at UC Irvine, and his most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America. He sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act for its files on John Lennon. With the help of the ACLU of Southern California, Wiener v. FBI went all the way to the Supreme Court before the FBI settled in 1997. That story is told in Wiener’s book, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files; some of the pages of the Lennon FBI file are posted here. The story is also told in the documentary, “The U.S. Versus John Lennon,” released in 2006.  His work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times. It has been translated into Japanese, German, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Italian.

Wiener also hosts a weekly afternoon drive-time interview show on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles His guests have included Gail Collins, Jane Mayer, Joan Didion, Gore Vidal, Barbara Ehrenreich, Frank Rich, Seymour Hersh, Amos Oz, Mike Davis, Elmore Leonard, John Dean, Julian Bond, Al Franken, and Terry Gross.

Jon Wiener was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and attended Central High School there. He has a B.A. from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Harvard, where he began working as a writer in the late sixties for the underground paper The Old Mole. He lives in Los Angeles.

  • January 2, 2008

    Hillary’s Man Problem

    A lot of men don't like Hillary. A lot of men say they don't want to vote for Hillary--even Democratic men. The new Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll, released December 28, shows that only 19 per cent of Democratic men favor Clinton in upcoming caucuses and primaries--less than one in five. The implications for Hillary are ominous: since she can't expect Republican men to vote for her, how can she win the election?

    That poll focused on likely voters in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, but other polls asking a national sample about the November election have come up similar results. A Washington Post-ABC poll in November found that, in a Clinton-Giuliani matchup, men preferred Giuliani 51 to 44. In a CNN poll in October, only 41 per cent of men said Clinton is someone they admire (compared to 57 per cent of women).

    Why do so many men dislike Clinton? Is it simply because she's a woman? Susan Carroll, Senior Scholar at the Rutgers University Center for the American Woman and Politics, told me that politics provides a more important explanation than sexism: "Men are more likely than women to identify as Republicans," she explained. "Men are more likely than women to prefer Republican candidates and their policy positions. Men's partisan preferences are the main reason why many of them wouldn't vote for Clinton. Many of the men who say they won't vote for Clinton wouldn't vote for any Democratic candidate, man or woman."

    Jon Wiener

  • December 27, 2007

    What Hillary Hasn’t Done in Foreign Policy

    During the eight years Hillary was First Lady, she didn't deal with terrorism, Osama bin Laden, or Al Qaeda.

    She wasn't a decision-maker on any of the other big foreign policy issues of her husband's presidency: whether to send troops to Bosnia or Kosovo, whether to bomb terrorist bases in Afghanistan or suspected terrorist sites in the Sudan.

    She didn't deal with the problems in the CIA and other intelligence agencies. She didn't work on nuclear proliferation. She did not deal with genocide in Rwanda.

    Jon Wiener

  • December 24, 2007

    The FBI Plan to Round Up 12,000 – in 1950

    A week after US troops were sent to fight in far-away country, the FBI proposed to the president that 12,000 people be rounded up and detained as "potentially dangerous" to national security. Almost all of them were citizens, and the FBI proposed that the president suspend habeas corpus to make the roundup constitutional.

    The president, however, was not George W. Bush, and the war in question was not the war on terror – it was the Korean War.

    The plan, outlined in a 1950 letter from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to an assistant to President Harry Truman, called for "permanent detention" of the 12,000. That was deemed necessary to "protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage."

    Jon Wiener

  • December 6, 2007

    Arguing About Gitmo

    Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in what may be the most important constitutional case of the decade: whether the men detained at Guantanamo have a right to a fair trial before a real court. I spoke with Erwin Chemerinsky about the case – he's professor of law at Duke, and Dean of the new UC Irvine law school; and he represents one of the Gitmo detainees whose case is before the court, Salem Gherebi.

    At issue is the Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress in 2006. Chemerinsky called it "one of the worst laws in all of American history with regard to civil liberties." The provision before the court yesterday says that no non-citizen held as an enemy combatant shall have any access to federal courts, including by writ of habeas corpus. They can go through a military proceeding--if one is convened by the government – and then they can get reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.

    The key issue, Chemerinsky said, "is there's nothing in the Military Commissions Act that requires that a military proceeding be convened. The government can hold all of these people for the rest of their lives without ever bringing them before a military tribunal. Then the have no ability ever to go before a federal court." And no matter how long they are held, they can't come to federal court with a writ of habeas corpus.

    Jon Wiener

  • November 16, 2007

    Obama and Islam

    Barack Obama represents "the only hope for the US in the Muslim world," according to Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Because Obama's father was a Muslim, he "could lead a reconciliation between the Muslim countries and the US." With any of the other candidates as president, Hersh said, "we're facing two or three decades of problems in the Mideast, with 1.2 billion Muslims."

    Hersh, who writes for The New Yorker about the Bush Administration in Iraq and Iran, spoke to my history class at UC Irvine on Tuesday. In Obama's 2006 book The Audacity of Hope he wrote that his Kenyan father was "raised a Muslim," but says he was a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met. His parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced.

    Of course if Obama did win the nomination, one can only imagine what the Republicans would do with the fact that his father was a Muslim. We've already had Mitt Romney smiling next to a campaign sign in South Carolina that said "No to Obama Osama."

    Jon Wiener

  • Ad

  • Autobiography and Memoir November 8, 2007

    Judging Thomas

    A close look at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reveals a deeply conservative and increasingly bitter man.

    Jon Wiener

  • November 1, 2007

    Is Hillary the Next Grover Cleveland?

    "We hope we're about to elect FDR," New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman told me earlier this week, "but we might be about to elect Grover Cleveland." He said he was referring to the front-runner, Hillary Clinton.

    Grover Cleveland, for those who don't know their 19th century presidents, was the only Democrat who made it to the White House between 1860 and 1912, the decades when Republican big money ruled the country. Cleveland, elected in 1885 and again in 1893, mobilized the army to crush the 1894 Pullman strike of railroad workers, and joined Wall Street in supporting the gold standard. "He was what they called a ‘Bourbon Democrat,' as in the French royal family," Krugman explained. "He wasn't that different from the Republicans at the time."

    Krugman said it appears that the key issue in the 2008 election will be health care, and that the Democrats have a health care plan that will work. His "biggest concern," he said, was "whether the next occupant of the White House will triangulate it into oblivion." He reiterated that he was talking about Hillary.

    Jon Wiener

  • October 24, 2007

    Hillary Day at the Nixon Library

    "Hillary's fear of humiliation, her fear of secrets being revealed, absolutely permeates her life," Carl Bernstein told a packed auditorium at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, earlier this week.

    Bernstein is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter on Watergate, and author of a new book on Hillary, A Woman in Charge. His appearance in Yorba Linda was a historic moment of sorts, as he himself noted: if he had said in 1999, when he started doing research on Hillary, "that I would be invited to speak at the Nixon Library, and that I'd be talking about Hillary as possibly the next president of the United States, I'd be accused of smoking something--and inhaling."

    The event marked the transformation of the Nixon Library from a private institution run by Nixon loyalists to a public one run by the National Archives, under the direction of historian Tim Naftali. Bernstein spoke to a full house--300 people--including many students from nearby colleges getting extra credit for showing up.

    Jon Wiener

  • October 19, 2007

    “[Expletive] the Jews. They Didn’t Vote for Us Anyway”

    Has George Bush ever been to a bar mitzvah or eaten a blintz? Rudy Giuliani has -- dozens of times.

    The Bush family has been never been very popular with Jews, but Giuliani won a big majority of the Jewish vote, in the world's biggest Jewish city, both times he ran for mayor. He's the Republican front runner; if he wins the nomination, could the Republican relationship to Jewish voters be transformed? That question lurked in the background when Giuliani and other GOP candidates spoke earlier this week in Washington at a forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

    The traditional Republican stance was expressed eloquently back in 1992, when James Baker, at the time Secretary of State to President George H. W. Bush, said "[Expletive] the Jews. They didn't vote for us anyway."

    Jon Wiener

  • October 15, 2007

    Jews, Jesus, and Republicans: Playing Ann Coulter’s Game

    When Ann Coulter remarked on CNBC that Jews should become Christians, it wasn't "a faux pas," and she wasn't being "an idiot," as many commentators suggested. Instead she was playing her game -- provoking her critics to get her into the media spotlight that helps sell her books.

    That raises the question: should the Republican candidates be asked whether they agree with Ann Coulter that America would be a better place if we were all Christians? Or is that simply playing Ann Coulter's game?

    Many people are playing her game this time around: Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, denounced Coulter for speaking in "the classic language of anti-Semites throughout the millennia." The National Jewish Democratic Council asked broadcast news organizations not to give Coulter airtime. Then right wing talk radio got to yell at liberals for trying to deny Ann Coulter her right to free speech.

    Jon Wiener