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Editor’s Choice: The Best Interviews of 2018

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A look back at our editor’s choices for our favorite Merion West interviews of 2018.

8. What Feminism Means Today: Speaking with Christina Hoff Sommers

In this August interview, Christina Hoff Sommers joined Merion West to describe her unique approach to feminism, how to keep politics out of the world of ideas as much as possible, and how segments of today’s feminist movement fail “to acknowledge that men struggle just as much as women.” She also took time to comment on the #MeToo campaign, invoking a story of Matt Damon’s ABC News appearance and subsequent controversy as an example of her belief in finding reasonable middle grounds when considering complex issues.

7. Politician Profile: An Interview with Lincoln Chafee

Former Rhode Island Senator and later Governor Lincoln Chafee joined Merion West in June to discuss the differences between serving as the head of a state’s government, as compared to being a United States Senator, the causes of polarization in national politics today, and his proudest accomplishments during his political career. Governor Chafee also argued that social and economic issues sometimes aren’t as separate as they might appear, and that the two very much can influence one another.

6. Nassir Ghaemi: Can Mental Illness Make More Effective Politicians? 

Tufts University psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi chatted with us about his 2011 book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, which contended that there is a link between certain mental disorders and effective political leadership. Dr. Ghaemi discussed the methods by which he developed his profiles of the mental states of past leaders and how he chose which political leaders to profile. Lastly, he commented on the so-called “Goldwater Rule” of whether psychiatrists should diagnose individuals they haven’t themselves examined, a topic that has been in the news due to conversations about President Trump.

5. Interview: Jay Bahadur, The Man who Chronicled the Somali Pirates

Jay Bahadur, who left home at 24 to live among the Somali pirates, spoke with Merion West in May about the journalistic and human tactics he used to encourage pirates to open up to him, common misconceptions about piracy in the region, and the geopolitical climate that has allowed piracy there to survive as it has. Bahadur also discussed how piracy can be used as “hook” of sorts to encourage people around the world to take a more active interest in the various problems facing Somalia. He also discussed the financial difficulties of being a freelance journalist in the 21st century.

4. Interview with Sen. Isakson: Combating Veteran Suicide and Addiction

Discussing an issue near and dear to the Senator’s heart, Johnny Isakson, himself a military veteran, shared the efforts being made to help veterans struggling with mental health issues and addiction. In his April conversation with Merion West, the Senator discussed the most pressing challenges in delivering care to veterans, before empathizing the need to reduce stigma so as to encourage veterans to seek care. He also described his plans to visit every American military cemetery before the expiration of his term as chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

3. Staying above Partisanship: An Interview with Joe Lieberman

Speaking with Merion West just before the death of John McCain, Senator Lieberman and Erich Prince chatted about examples of bipartisanship in the Senate, as well as acts of political courage in resisting gridlock and division. Senator Lieberman also described in detail the No Labels initiative to encourage more moderates to run for office, along with his thoughts on how to reduce polarization.

2. The Man Who Chronicled the Abuses at Holmesburg Prison

Allen Hornblum left a comfortable job at the Philadelphia Sheriff’s office to write the previously untold story of how a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist spent more than two decades testing various drugs on inmates at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison. His account, which would become the 1998 book Acres of Skin, became partially a more general story of how those in positions of power can take advantage of those who are more vulnerable. Scattered throughout the interview was Hornblum’s assertion that many publishers feared going forward with his manuscript due to concerns of ruffling the feathers of major institutions like the University of Pennsylvania.

1. Interview: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographer of Seton Hall Dorm Fire

In this powerful and emotionally-telling June interview, Matt Rainey, who received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for portraying the recovery of two students badly burned in the Seton Hall dorm fire, discussed aspects of the philosophy of photojournalism. He commented on how a photographer ought to make himself as least obtrusive as possible, as well as the unique relationships he developed with the two injured students. Like Jay Bahadur, Rainey commented on the financial difficulties that so often accompany a career in journalism today. Perhaps the most powerful part of the interview concerned treading the delicate balance between art and exploitation when photographing victims of tragedy.

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