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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.


  • May 18, 2008

    Nixonland, Then and Now

    "Nixonland" – that's Rick Perlstein's term for the political world where candidates win power by mobilizing people's resentments, anxieties and anger, where politics destroys is victims. Perlstein's new book is Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.

    Do we still live in Nixonland?

    Yes we do. I don't mean that the political anxieties and passions today are as great as they were in the late sixties. But the way Richard Nixon used the sixties to define the ideological contours of American politics is still with us. On right wing radio today, they keep talking about how snobby and elitist the liberals are -- just like Richard Nixon did.

    Jon Wiener

  • April 20, 2008

    McCain’s Medical Records: Why the Delay?

    The mainstream media ask Obama why he doesn't wear a flag pin, but they aren't asking McCain why he doesn't release his medical records. McCain, who would be the oldest man ever elected president, had surgery for melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer, eight years ago - the scar is still prominent on his face. He has promised several times to release the records, but each release has been postponed.

    It makes you wonder: is there something in McCain's medical records that he doesn't want you to know?

    The McCain campaign's explanation: his doctors are too busy. "The reason for the delay is because they want to gather all his doctors for a press conference to answer reporters' questions," CNN reported, "and May is the soonest that can be done." Three doctors are expected to answer questions, according to the Arizona Republic.

    Jon Wiener

  • April 10, 2008

    Obama and the Palestinian Professors

    Ten years ago, Barack Obama went to a lecture by Edward Said, the prominent Palestinian intellectual. Should that be page one news now? The LA Times thinks so – they ran a story on their front page on Thursday on the event, headlined "Campaign '08: Allies of Palestinians see a friend on Obama."

    Obama's attendance at that speech is news today, of course, because of the Jewish vote. The Times made that clear when it quoted Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who expressed "concern" about Obama's "presence at an Arab American event with a Said."

    Said, who was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University before his death in 2003, is identified by Times reporter Peter Wallsten as "a leading intellectual in the Palestinian movement." It would be more accurate to call him "a Palestinian and a leading American intellectual." The author of more than a dozen books, his 1978 book "Orientalism" became the founding work of the new field of cultural studies, and is now assigned at hundreds of colleges and universities and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

    Jon Wiener

  • April 6, 2008

    Communists in the Schools: Controversy in California

    The California legislature is considering a bill to repeal the law, passed in the heyday of McCarthyism, that permits the firing of Communist Party members who teach in public schools and community colleges. The mainstream media hasn't noticed, but Fox News, conservative think tanks and the right-wing New York Sun have complained loudly that the repeal "will promote communism in the public schools" (from the Fox News report).

    The bill, proposed by a Democratic state Senator from Long Beach, Alan Lowenthal, would also eliminate the state's loyalty oath. Currently public employees are required to swear that they do not belong to any organization "advocating the forceful or violent overthrow of the government of the US" or of the state of California.

    With support from both of California's big teachers' unions, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association, the bill passed its first committee vote, 5-3, on April 2. The Democrats control the both houses of the state legislature, so the chances for passage seem good.

    Jon Wiener

  • March 20, 2008

    George Bush: No Gene Kelly

    When New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote recently that George Bush has "turned into Gene Kelly," she set off a firestorm of protest from fans of the late dancer, director and choreographer.

    Kelly's widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, declared that "If Gene were in a grave, he would have turned over in it."

    In a letter to the Times, she wrote that "when Gene was compared to the grace and agility of Jack Dempsey, Wayne Gretzky and Willie Mays, he was delighted. But to be linked with a clunker -- particularly one he would consider inept and demoralizing -- would have sent him reeling."

    Jon Wiener

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  • March 17, 2008

    Clinton’s Iraq Vote – Five Years Later

    The fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war provides an appropriate moment to revisit Hillary Clinton's argument in favor of authorizing Bush's use of force, and to contrast it with the case made at the time by Bush's opponents.

    In the last few years, Clinton has defended her vote by arguing that "if I knew then what I know now, I would never have given President Bush the authority" to attack Iraq. But a majority of Democrats in the House knew enough "then" to vote against the resolution - as did 21 out of 50 Democratic senators.

    In Clinton's Senate speech, still posted on her senate website, she began by accepting Bush's premise that "if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons." The question, she said, was whether war was the appropriate means of stopping those developments.

    Jon Wiener

  • March 11, 2008

    How the Spitzer Sex Scandal Could Help Hillary

    A woman president is not going to be Client 9 of the Emperor's Club VIP sex service.

    A woman president is not going to get arrested for soliciting sex in a rest room at the Minneapolis airport.

    A woman president is not going to be caught sending hot text messages to young congressional pages.

    Jon Wiener

  • March 5, 2008

    Hillary Wins; Limbaugh is Laughing

    Tuesday night was a good night for Rush Limbaugh. "I want Hillary to stay in this," he said on Fox News, because "I want the Democrats to lose. They're in the midst of tearing themselves apart right now. It is fascinating to watch, and it's all going to stop if Hillary loses."

    Limbaugh was interviewed Feb. 29 by Laura Ingraham, guest-hosting on the Bill O'Reilly show on the Fox News Channel.

    "If Obama is the nominee, we are doomed, " Limbaugh said on Feb. 6 to a Republican caller to his radio program.

    Jon Wiener

  • March 3, 2008

    Obama and the Jews

    Now it's official: page one of the New York Times reported on Saturday that the Jews have a problem with Obama.

    The Times story, by Neela Banerjee (is that a Jewish name?), did not exactly say there was a "problem." It said there was a "challenge" for Obama: "navigating" the "treacherous paths" that lead to "winning the trust" of Jewish voters. That task, the Times reported, is "all the more difficult" because of the "tenuous relations" between blacks and Jews.

    Not until paragraph nineteen, deep inside the paper on page A12, did readers learn that the Jewish vote is "hardly monolithic."

    Jon Wiener

  • February 29, 2008

    Samantha Power: Obama and Me

    Samantha Power is Barack Obama's senior foreign policy adviser, but when his office first called her in 2005, she thought, "who is this guy?"

    Her 2003 book on genocide, "A Problem from Hell," won a Pulitzer Prize, and she's a professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard. In a recent interview I asked her why Obama called her. "His office said he had just read my book, and he wanted to talk about, literally, 'a smart, tough, and humane foreign policy.' No one from the US government had every called me - no mayor, no school board head."

    And why didn't she know who he was? "I had been out of the country, in Sudan, at the time of Barack Obama's national coming out, which was the Democratic National Convention of 2004." When she asked around, she heard he was a great speaker. "So I went onto iTunes and downloaded his speech and got on the shuttle down to Washington and listened to the speech on the plane. And I had a cry. I couldn't believe the speech, couldn't believe the country he was telling me I lived in.

    Jon Wiener