Mark Bowden Talks Process Of Adapting Mueller Report Into Graphic Novel
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to go back now to the Mueller report, the nearly 500-page report about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That was led by former FBI director, then special counsel, Robert Mueller. It was the subject of breathless anticipation by some and fear and fury by others until it was finally released in redacted form in April. Mueller had been scheduled to testify this week before members of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, although that hearing has been pushed back.
In preparation for that hearing, though, a lot of people have been trying to get more people to focus on what's actually in the report instead of what political players are saying about it. To that end, the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., hosted an 11-hour relay of public figures reading the report out loud. But if the graphic novel is more your style, then you are in luck.
The news site Insider asked a journalist, Mark Bowden, best known for his book "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War," to adapt the Mueller report into a more readable novel-like form. And they also hired an illustrator to highlight key scenes. And Mark Bowden is with us now to tell us more. Mark, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for joining us.
MARK BOWDEN: You're welcome, Michel.
MARTIN: So the first, I have to ask, what was your reaction when you got the call to adapt the Mueller report into a graphic novel, of all things? I mean, that isn't the first thing that would kind of come to mind - right? - when you wake up in the morning. So what did you think?
BOWDEN: I thought it was a fantastic idea. You know, the Mueller report was something that I had read about and was curious about but frankly probably would not have sat down and read from beginning to end. And here was somebody who is saying, we want you to - we're going to pay you to read this thing and turn it into a story that people will really want to read. I just said yes right away.
MARTIN: Had you read it before you got the assignment?
BOWDEN: No, and it came pretty quickly after the report came out. But I think in all honesty it's doubtful that I would have waded into the whole thing if I wasn't doing it for this assignment. But it sounded like a worthwhile challenge. I was curious about the report. It was the kind of thing that I actually used to do when I was a newspaper reporter. I was sometimes called upon to pull together, you know, wire copy and reporting from a lot of different sources and compile a compelling narrative. And so it sounded like something I could do and that might be kind of fun and interesting.
MARTIN: One of the challenges for a lot of people is that it is, well, first of all, there's the prose itself, which is very lawyerly because it's all written by lawyers. But it's also filled with redactions, a lot of redactions, which is a challenge even for, you know, some of the people who have some sort of legal training reading the report. How did you deal with that?
BOWDEN: Well, if something was redacted, obviously, I didn't know it, and so I couldn't really write it. There were only a couple of instances where that happened. For the most part, you know, there was a lot of very dramatic material sort of buried in the report. And I think for a reporter, I mean, what a fantasy it is to have subpoena powers where you can get the chief of staff at the White House to sit down and honestly answer your questions or or, you know, the White House counsel or people who are currently serving. And here, you know, the FBI had subpoenaed all these people, and they told their stories. And, you know, while the report itself is not a very dramatic or interesting thing for most people to read, it contains a lot of really solid and fascinating material.
MARTIN: Well what stood out to you?
BOWDEN: The venality of Donald Trump, someone who has a very fluid relationship with the truth and who seemed to have no sense of his larger responsibility as president of the United States. So just the constant efforts to mislead, to deceive and to undercut what was, I think, a legitimate Justice Department investigation.
MARTIN: Is there a scene that brings this home to you? Is there something in the report that you remember writing it and thinking, yeah, this is - this kind of encapsulates what this is about?
BOWDEN: You know, there's a scene where I think it was The New York Times reported the exchange of emails that Donald Trump Jr. had prior to a meeting with some Russian agents at Trump Tower during the campaign. And they had promised to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, and Jr. replied that, you know, that sounded - he loves it. You know, he can't wait to do it. Well, this, you know, was something that when that story broke, the White House started to react to.
And I think Hope Hicks, who was then the communications director for the president, drafted a fairly mild-but-reasonably-accurate comment about it which the president took and just basically made into a lie. And so they added a word that sort of softened. But it illustrated for me the reflex to tell an untruth and to mislead the public.
MARTIN: Do you hope that people will read it now?
BOWDEN: Sure. I always hope that the people - that people read what I write. And, frankly, I don't encourage everybody to go out and wade through, as I did, all 450 or more pages. I don't really think it's necessary for an informed citizen to do that. But I do think that there is a value in telling that story in a context that makes sense, where you see how events unfolded, you get a sense of the characters who are involved, their motivations, what they said, what they did. That's all there in the report. But you have to kind of ferret it out. I wouldn't think too many people would have the time, patience or appetite to do that.
MARTIN: Well, now, having done all that, do you now want to watch the hearings yourself, or are you kind of over it?
BOWDEN: You know what, Michel? I have gotten to the point in my life where I watch and listen to very little. I read. I'll probably read about it the newspaper. In the morning after but. I'm not drawn to sit and watch things unfold on TV.
MARTIN: But also on NPR, though.
BOWDEN: Oh, yeah. I do listen to NPR, of course. Podcasts fill my time in the car.
MARTIN: OK. That was Mark Bowden, journalist and author of "Black Hawk Down," among other critically acclaimed works. At the behest of Insider, he wrote the Mueller report in an accessible forum which was then illustrated by Chad Hurd, an illustrator from the art department of "Archer," which drew out certain scenes from the report to bring them to life. MARK Bowden, thanks so much for talking to us.
BOWDEN: You're welcome, Michel. My pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.