What Can We Learn From Fort Hood?
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
We know that Major Nidal Hasan is now charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder at Fort Hood 10 days ago, and the overwhelming weight of the evidence leaves little room to doubt that he walked into a crowded soldier readiness center with two guns and proceeded to open fire. We don't yet know why, whether Major Hasan's motives stem from mental illness or radical politics or both. There are also questions about the role that Major Hasan's religion played in his beliefs, in the way he was treated by his colleagues and the Army bureaucracy before the event and by the media and public opinion afterwards. Also, in retrospect, should we have seen this coming?
Today, an expanded version of our weekly Opinion Page. We'll read excerpts from several writers, hear from two as our guests, and we want to hear from you. What lessons should we take from Fort Hood? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, as U.S. troops pull out of an Iraqi city that was a flashpoint, soldiers and civilians there discuss was the war worth it. But first the lessons of Fort Hood, and we begin with NPR's Daniel Zwerdling, who's been speaking with military psychiatrists and officials who worked with Major Hasan. He's joining us here in Studio 3A. Danny, nice to have you with us.
DANIEL ZWERDLING: Hi, Neal, thanks.
CONAN: And a lot of the debate about the alleged shooter is centered on whether or not Major Hasan was mentally ill. What do we know about his mental state?
ZWERDLING: Let's start in the spring of 2007, and then we can work our way back because in that timeframe, a new boss of all the psychiatric residents at Walter Reed took over. His name is Scott Moran(ph). He told me he cannot talk, he referred me to public affairs, but I'm basing everything I'm about to say now on sources who worked closely with Nidal Hasan, worked with his supervisors, were privy to meetings where they discussed him and that sort of thing. Okay, so this Scott Moran comes in, the new boss of psychiatric residents. He starts, like any boss does, he looks through the personnel files, and he says we've got to get rid of this guy Nidal Hasan. He had one of the worst records of any psychiatric resident in years and years and years.
And here are the sort of things that bothered the boss and others: He they say he was a bad doctor. He would proselytize to patients. He was caught saying to at least one patient: Islam will save your soul. When he would be the guy on call, you know, it's an emergency, you've got to call the doctor, the psychiatrist, get him to help, he wouldn't answer the phone. He would show up for work late. His third year of his residency, and this is when the psychiatrists start pretty much building their own patient schedule, according to the records, he was seeing about one patient per week. And I've asked other therapists about this, and they just, their jaws drop, and nobody could account for his time. In addition to that, there were these issues about his apparently extremist Islamic beliefs. And everybody I've talked to has said look, we never had any problem with somebody being Muslim. In fact, there was a very popular Muslim psychiatrist who was elected as chief of the residents by all the other psychiatrists there.
But what bothered them about Nidal Hasan was that he would be in the hallway, they would be walking to a clinic, or they would be working silently in a room, and according to my sources, suddenly, out of the middle of nowhere, he would start haranguing them about what they interpreted as being his hostility toward hypocritical Christians. And one psychiatrist said now, you have to understand, it's not like you, Neal, and I and some of our colleagues are sitting around in our cubicles chatting about religion, and suddenly, you know, the big mouth starts saying let me tell you what I think. This would come out of the blue, where people were not talking about religion, and he would start haranguing them, and
CONAN: This raises two questions, one of which is this psychotic behavior and the other of which is how come he didn't get fired?
ZWERDLING: So Scott Moran, according to my sources, says let's get rid of him, finds out there are huge, bureaucratic impediments. You have to build a very careful paper trail. You have to show all kinds of evidence that prove the person's a bad psychiatrist. Nidal Hasan then could have hired a lawyer. He could have contested it. It could have dragged on and on in hearings. And they decided look, he's about to go off on a fellowship in late 2007 at the military's medical school. Let's let him go there, and let's hope he does better.
CONAN: Somebody else's problem.
ZWERDLING: Well, that's what it seems to be, and when he arrives at the military's medical school to get a master's in public health and do some research, they start worrying about him right away. And in the spring of 2008, they are so worried that there start to be a series of meetings and conversations among psychiatrists who supervise him saying is it possible that Nidal Hasan is psychotic?
Now, the word psychotic is something we throw around (unintelligible), but it basically means somebody who is out of touch with reality, and he also had other attributes. People who worked with him frequently give me these adjectives: loner, isolated, detached, aloof. They sensed hostility, you know, under the surface. But he would also be sometimes super, super polite, so polite that it would really bug people because it just seemed phony. And I don't mean to psychoanalyze him from afar, but the point is people had been building up all these concerns about him.
One psychiatrist started mulling aloud to some of his colleagues: Do you think, if Hasan suppose he's deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. Do you think he could actually leak secrets, military secrets, to Islamic radicals? And another psychiatrist who supervised him mused aloud to colleagues: Do you think he could even be capable of committing fratricide?
Do you remember the case in 2003, a Muslim soldier in Kuwait
CONAN: Just before the invasion of Iraq.
ZWERDLING: Exactly, set off hand grenades that killed two and wounded 14, and Hasan seemed to be obsessed with that case and wanted to talk about it and give it seemed to be on his mind a lot.
CONAN: And yet nothing was done.
ZWERDLING: I asked one of the sources who worked with him: Did anybody refer him to mental health counseling? Did anybody say, you know, we need a professional evaluation? And there was this silence, and the psychiatrist said, you know, I guess a lot of us sort of figured well, we worked with him every day, we're all psychiatrists. You know, so we were evaluating him. And I said wait a minute, but he said no, you're right, that's totally different than a professional evaluation. Not only did they not insist that he seek mental health evaluation, but every psychiatrist in this program can get umpteen hours of free psychotherapy, and apparently Nidal Hasan never took advantage of that program.
CONAN: We're doing an expanded version of our Opinion Page today. I want to read you this excerpt from a piece by Mark Benjamin at salon.com. He says the debate over political correctness in the Army is part of this. The overburdened military health system, he says, is the real problem quote, Hasan was a military psychiatrist toiling in an overburdened, desperate Army health care system that will hold on to any warm body with a medical degree. Remember the Walter Reed scandal, the horrific treatment of traumatic brain injury and PTSD that has gone on for years. Army medicine has been dropping the ball on these issues for a long time. Given that history, it's not hugely surprising they'd miss warning signs with Hasan and just let him go on being a doctor.
ZWERDLING: The political correctness Mark Benjamin is a terrific reporter. Political correctness is not quite what I heard but close to it. Some of his colleagues, some of Hasan's colleagues, appear to have bent over backwards to prove to themselves and to prove to their colleagues that they were not discriminating against him or being too harsh against him in any way because of his religious beliefs. And the way they would think of it is this: Okay, supposing he were Jewish, supposing he were talking about U.S. policy toward Israel and whatever, would we judge him this way? Would we be so hard on him academically? People really wanted to convince themselves that just because he said things about Islam that bothered them because they seemed extreme, they wanted to make sure they were not being too harsh on him for that reason. And I think I mean, I'm speculating here but it seems like they were bending over backwards to give him a second chance and a third chance and a fourth chance for that reason, not because of political correctness, but they wanted inside to feel like they were fair.
Back in 2007, a big report came out from the American Psychological Association about the terrible problems troops were having, and still have, at many bases getting help when they desperately need it for post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, traumatic brain injury and that kind of thing. And the APA said there is a huge shortage of mental health professionals in the military. It's going to get worse in general because people aren't signing up. The programs where we recruit new mental health professionals, we're just not getting the signups that we used to and that we need. And they also talked about a burnout factor, where mental health people who are already in the military were quitting earlier than they used to. They want to get out.
So it's been a huge problem, and I asked people: Did you ever talk at meetings, did you ever hear somebody talk at a meeting, about let's not get rid of Nidal Hasan because there's a shortage? And people have said to me: No, I never heard that. But one psychiatrist said: Nobody needed to say it. We all know it.
CONAN: One final question, Danny, and that is there have been some to suggest that somebody who counsels people who have been traumatized by war, people with PTSD, can gather some of that condition themselves.
ZWERDLING: I've talked to many psychiatrists inside the military and outside the military about this issue, and I can't find people who really find this to be a very credible issue here. Everybody agrees, look, we do get exhausted, we do burn out, some of us do get depressed, but we don't become unhinged that's a non-medical term, forgive me. And second of all, this is a sort of ironic thing, of all the psychiatrists in the military who might have been overburdened by people coming back and telling them about the horrors of war, Nidal Hasan was not one of them. In the last two years, until he went to Fort Hood this summer, his past two years, he saw almost no patients because he was in a research program. So he had almost no or zero clinical caseload since late in 2007 until just May of this year. So he saw way fewer cases of PTSD than the vast, vast majority of psychiatrists in the Army.
CONAN: Daniel Zwerdling, thank you very much.
ZWERDLING: Neal, thank you.
CONAN: Danny Zwerdling, NPR national desk correspondent, joined us here in Studio 3A. In just a moment, we'll be speaking with Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow of classics and military history at the Hoover Institution and with Asra Nomani, author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam."
We're doing an expanded Opinion Page this week, that on lessons learned from Fort Hood. This from columnist Irshad Manji in Toronto's Globe and Mail: Let's be clear. If an alleged criminal merely happens to be a Muslim, then religion may well be immaterial, but if his crime is committed in the name of Islam, then religion serves to motivate. In that case, the suspect's Muslim identity absolutely matters. Words, gestures, images should be analyzed fully, openly, honestly. The past few days have revealed much about the complex Major Hasan: a patriotic American dissenter, a brooding recluse, a kind neighbor yet occasionally haunted by fellow soldiers but more frequently haunted by his conscience and the religious direction in which it turned. While we should be careful not to reduce the story to Islam, let us be equally alert not to erase Islam altogether. Understanding is served by analyzing, not sanitizing.
So we're going to be more in that vein. Your calls, too, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last week, the U.S. Army charged Major Nidal Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder at Fort Hood. What lessons should we draw from his alleged actions?
This is an expanded edition of our Monday Opinion Page. We're looking at that question with columnist and historian Victor Davis Hanson, with Asra Nomani, who is the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam," and with you. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Thats at npr.org/talkofthenation, and let's get Victor Davis Hanson with us. He's a senior fellow in classics and military history at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, with us from member station KVPR in Fresno. Victor, nice to have you back on the program.
Mr.�VICTOR DAVIS HANSON (Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University): Thank you for having me again, Neal.
CONAN: And your piece in the National Review is entitled "When Anger Goes Cosmic," and what do you mean by that?
Mr.�HANSON: Well, we all know that of 300 million people, there are several hundred thousand people in the United States that get angry every year, and out of that group, a very small subset will resort to violence. The problem is that in that subset of disturbed people who will commit violence, we have a very small number of the Muslim population that tries to connect personal frustration or anger over their job or their inability to function well or personal problems whatever it is, they try to channel it into a cosmic cause.
In this case, it's radical Islam, which presents two problems for us is that one, we as a society bend over backwards not to conflate that small subset of angry people who resonate with radical jihadist themes with Muslims in general, and that's fine and well. But more importantly, we are afraid now that maybe radical Islamic jihadism counts on that tolerance and forbearance to A, ensure that some people who do connect their own frustrations will slip under the radar, and 2, that we as a society will not be able to formulate an opinion about it when somebody as blatantly as Colonel Hasan Major Hasan, you know, says Allah Akbar(ph) or has business cards with soldier of Allah or whatever, that we are becoming increasingly inept to do that.
And that's what the worry is because since 9/11, we've had I think it's 24 formal plots foiled, attempts to commit mayhem against civilians, and then we've had another, what I would call al-Qaidistic: individual, lone-wolf type of incidents, whether attacking a Jewish center in Seattle or San Francisco or the halal counter in Los Angeles or running over people in North Carolina. In all of these incidents, the perpetrators have tried to connect this seemingly random act of violence with a more cosmic theme of personal grievance against the United States and the West in general for its treatment of Islam.
CONAN: And therefore, we should pay attention to that and watch patterns is what you suggest.
Mr.�HANSON: Yeah, I think that there was enough patterns in the case of Major Hasan to have acted in a way much differently than we did, and then the reaction toward it was also symptomatic of our inability to confront the issue, when the chief of staff of the Army said that it would be - that the loss of diversity might be a more troublesome price to pay than the actual violence itself or that people are arguing whether a person who openly evokes radical themes is really acting in a radical fashion in accordance with radical Islam.
I think we have an inability as a society to confront that danger, and the problem is that you don't need most of the vast majority of American Muslims are peaceful, and they're no different than the religion practice as far as anybody else. But if you have a small subset, and you have - you're working with a group of two or three million people, then you're going to have to be careful when somebody who's disturbed starts to resonate with bin Ladenism or Dr.�Zawahiri's theories.
In this case, Major Hasan was communicating, I think it was with Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen, the same type of radical Jihadism. And that should set off warning signals because there's a pattern there, and we have no margin of error. People's lives are in danger, as we saw at Fort Hood.
CONAN: Let's introduce Asra Nomani, who's, as we mentioned, the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam." She's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Good to have you on the program again, as well, appreciate it.
Ms.�ASRA NOMANI (Author, "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam"): Thank you.
CONAN: In a piece that you wrote, called "Inside the Gunman's Mosque," for the Daily Beast, you go inside the Muslim community and say there is an effort, to some degree, to, well, in the name of unity to pretend that this doesn't happen.
Ms.�NOMANI: Yeah, you know, so much of our conversation outside of the Muslim community has been a sort of banishing of Major Hasan away from the community over these last days, this attempt to say that he's not a Muslim.
CONAN: He's not really one of us.
Ms.�NOMANI: Right, and I say that let's be honest. He is a Muslim. He represents a very real ideology inside of Islam. He may be a lost sheep. He may be a black sheep, but he is part of the flock, and he is somebody that we have to understand. We have to try to figure out how to convert somebody like him to interpretation of Islam that is peaceful and that can live with coexistence with others.
My sadness on this Fort Hood tragedy is that Major Hasan represents a casualty to me in this war of ideas inside of our Muslim world.
CONAN: The war of ideas within the Muslim world.
CONAN: You cite a series of conversations he had with a man at a local mosque not far away from here in Washington, D.C., when he worked at Walter Reed.
Ms.�NOMANI: Yeah, you just had this wonderful telling of what Major Hasan was like inside the halls of Walter Reed. Well, he would get in his car and go down the road to the Muslim community center in Silver Spring, and there, he would have very honest conversations with this man that I've been talking to inside the community for years. And he would have a very clear acceptance and embracing of puritanical, literal interpretation of Islam that said that jihad was a holy war, that said that you should cut the hands of thieves, that sanctions polygamy, all of the spectrum of interpretation that goes along with a very literal interpretation of the Quran and Islam.
CONAN: And yet when leaders are asked about that, there's no word of it.
Ms.�NOMANI: Right. We want to say that he doesn't represent us. He doesn't represent Islam. Well, to me, he is emblematic of those that we have lost when we try to have a peaceful interpretation of Islam prevail in this world.
CONAN: Well, let's see if we can get some listeners in on the conversation. Again, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Let's go to Pat(ph), Pat with us from Prescott, Arizona.
PAT (Caller): Hi. When I first heard about this shooting incident, I immediately thought of the one that happened in Baghdad in May, when - I think the guy's name was Sergeant John Russell, walked into the PTSD clinic in Baghdad and shot up the psychiatrists and stuff that were there, and I believe he killed five people.
And anyways, Hasan's unit, some of those health care workers I believe are actually going to that same Baghdad unit, where this sergeant previously shot, you know, basically did an act of fratricide, you know, whatever it was, six months earlier. And I just can't believe nobody's kind of put these two in context, especially given that Hasan's unit is actually going to this other mental health clinic in Baghdad where there's a history of, like, soldier-on-soldier violence, and
CONAN: Yet, he had not been to Iraq himself. He'd had no experience of that.
PAT: That's absolutely not my point. I was I'm trying to say that we've had these fratricides before, and there wasn't all this, you know, do you know what religion John Russell was when he shot, you know, when he shot his own soldiers
Ms. NOMANI: And thats why
PAT: and his brothers in Iraq? Like you know
CONAN: I get now I get your point, Pat. Let's get a response from Asra Nomani.
Ms.�NOMANI: I very much understand what you're saying, and it's very much also the critique of a lot of these Muslim organizations that say why bring Islam into the equation here. But the reason why I very humbly suggest that we have to understand and try to really incorporate our understanding about Islam in here is because it's clear that Major Hasan's ideology was a clear indicator of why he did what he did. His ideology sanctioned, in his own mind, this act of violence, and to me that's why we have to include this conversation about religion in this tragedy.
CONAN: And Victor, at the same time, we can't ignore the fact that there are fratricides that have nothing to do with religion or ideology.
Mr.�HANSON: There are, but there's two points to be made again. If Mr.�Russell in Baghdad had said that he was doing this because of radical environmental issues or he was against abortion, that would make our antennae rise a little bit because he was trying, again, channel a random act of violence into some sort of political agenda, A. And then, B, is there a history of similar incidents - that when people try to do this? In the case of Major Hasan, unfortunately, as I said, we have both formal and informal radical jihadist efforts since 9/11, probably altogether over 40 in which individuals or groups of individuals have tried to commit mayhem and violence in a systematic fashion, you know, either as lone wolf or as a part of a cabal.
So, again, its a not good logical trope to just say, well, theres random violence by everybody. We had things in the post office 19 - as you know, 70s and 80s - I think it was 25 incidents. And we reacted because there was a particular type or particular profile and a particular complaint, and thats what you try do when you look at these things to prevent them. But if youre just going to say that every time someone shoots somebody or runs somebody over or tries to break into a Jewish center and emulates bin Laden or resonates with his ideology, if youre just going to say, well, hes no different than a radical environmentalist or a radical Christianist(ph) who does this at a much less frequent - much less frequency then its - were going to get nowhere. Were just going to be inept and were going to be a deer in the headlights and say its - we would rather err on the side of feeling good about our tolerance than we are about the safety and the lives of innocent individuals.
Theres something amoral about this whole discussion that weve seen in the last week. But we were concentrating on whether its fair or not in the way that we adjudicate Major Hasan. But nobody of the 300 Americans knows the names of the 13 that were butchered. We dont know the names of the 31 that were wounded. Were not concern about what happened to them and at least to the effect - the extent that we would do something to prevent it. Were more worried about whether feel good about ourselves and we are tolerant enough. And thats something thats quite pathological.
CONAN: I wonder if you have a response to that, Asra.
Ms. NOMANI: Well, you know, it may seem politically incorrect again on this point, but I could tell from the clothes that Major Hasan was wearing when he went to the convenient store to get his morning run of coffee, what ideology he practices. He wore his pants higher than normal, theyre sort of like what you call, you know, high waters in America. And that is part of an interpretation of Islam that says that the Prophet Muhammad wore his pants high and thats the way we have to do it today. Its part of a profiling, you could say, but these are the kind of cultural cues that I think as a society we need to believe that we have the right to examine because they become cues to ideology.
CONAN: Were talking about lessons to be drawn from what happened at Fort Hood 10 days ago. Our guest, Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow in classics and military history at the Hoover Institution, and a syndicated columnist. And also with us, Asra Nomani, contributing writer to The Daily Beast. Her most recent post is Inside the Gunmans Mosques(ph) and shes with us here in Studio 3A. Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: And lets get another caller in, Ayshar. Ayshar(ph) with us from Phoenix.
AYSHAR (Caller): Yes. Thank you. Well, the true interpretation of Islam, and if this man knew the true interpretation of Islam, which he doesnt, would have gone - would have prevented him from going into any army of any nation, not just the U.S. Islam teaches, as Abrahamic tradition says, that all humans are in one family. Abraham destroyed the idols that his Babylonians were worshipping and was exiled to Palestine. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, peace be upon Him, when he was born as an infant, stood up and preached I am the servant of Allah. He did not say, I am the servant of Rome. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, entering Mecca to the Kaaba, the first house our father Adam built to worship Allah, he destroyed the idols there which are -constitutes todays flags for all these nations. He destroyed every idol for every nation on Arabia.
CONAN: And Ayshar, Im just trying to get this down to a question that we can respond to.
AYSHAR: Basically, what Im saying is that Islam would prevent somebody from being nationalistic or considering himself apart from the other six billion people on earth. A person that goes into any army of any part of the world cannot be - his actions cannot be attributed to Islam. Obviously
CONAN: All right.
AYSHAR: he didnt know that Islam prevented him to worship the idol called the U.S.A. today or Palestine or Iraq. Thats why Saddam
CONAN: Ayshar, you have your
AYSHAR: for Islam
CONAN: Im sorry.
AYSHAR: thats why Iran (unintelligible)
CONAN: Excuse me, Ayshar. You have your own view of Islam but this does raise a question - Asra Nomani, you write about this idea of the Ummah or the greater Islamic community
Ms. NOMANI: Right.
CONAN: that no Muslim should take up arms against any other Muslim.
Ms. NOMANI: Yeah. Im glad everybody was able to hear that caller because that caller is sort of reflective of a position inside of our community that there is this monolithic understanding of Islam. And that, you know, that we have to have allegiance to the Ummah, with a capital U. Ummah means community. And that anybody who is outside of that is practicing something called sitna, which means chaos or conflict inside of our community. And so, this is a politics inside about legitimacy, authenticity and interpretation.
What we had was a caller who is very passionate about his interpretation of Islam. Major Hasan has his very passionate view. I have mine. And all of this coexists but sadly we do have this politics inside the community that wants to declare one illegitimate over another. And this is a tradition that weve had going back to the birth of Islam thats called the takfiri movement that says that one person is a Muslim or one person is not Muslim. And this is exactly the politics of our day.
CONAN: Lets see if we can get one final caller in. And lets see if we could go next to - this is Collin(ph). Collin with us from San Francisco.
COLLIN (Caller): Hello. I would take issue with Mr. Hanson. Essentially, its not just feeling good about ourselves or political correctness that we don't monitor government employees, including Army officers for their political beliefs. It's the First Amendment. If there were no other signs than Mr. Hasan having extremist opinions - where do we, in effect, draw the line? How
CONAN: I don't mean to cut you off, but we just have a little time left. I want to give Victor a chance to respond.
Mr. HANSON: The question's kind of incoherent. We already have ample precedents. Supreme Court says you can't yell fire in a crowded theatre, so we respect one's individual beliefs. But in the case of Major Hasan, he went way beyond that by sympathizing with suicide bombing, by suggesting his first loyalty was to radical Islam.
We really don't care as a society about Quranic exegesis, the particulars of that. That's up to a religious community. We only take it - we only have a right for some attention and scrutiny when that debate or that dialogue goes beyond the parameters of non-violence and starts to intrude into things like justifying mass murder or calling for attacks on the United States. If that -if we cannot, as a society, react to that, then we have no moral compass left because we're essentially saying to people we know that people are quite dangerous and prone to violence, but what they say and what they're proud of saying, what they post on the Internet, but we are not willing to do anything to protect people because we have a certain self-image about ourselves that we wont endanger. I think the caller was quite evident with that.
CONAN: Victor Davis Hanson joined us today from member station KVPR in Fresno. Thanks, Victor.
Ms. HANSON: Thank you.
CONAN: And we'd also like to thank Asra Nomani who joined us here in studio 3A. Her book is called "Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam." You can read her recent post at The Daily Beast, "Inside the Gunman's Mosque" at our Web site. Thanks very much for being with us today.
Ms. NOMANI: Thank you.
CONAN: When we come back, we'll talk about the Iraqi city of Samarra where the discussion is: Was the war worth it? This is NPR News.
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