Nick Lemann is the Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism and a former New Yorker staff writer. While at Harvard – where he graduated in 1976 – Lemann served as President of the Crimson. He has worked as a reporter and editor at The Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Post, focusing primarily on national affairs.
Lemann is the author of The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, about the SAT, and most recently, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, about the failure of Reconstruction. At Columbia, where he was hired as Dean of the Journalism School in 2003, Lemann implemented a two-year curriculum and has focused on teaching alternative journalistic mediums in the Internet age.
Nicholas Lemann: I think the war on terror construct won’t seem that important. And I . . . When 9/11 happened we all believed, including me, that it would be . . . first of all that it was an epical event like Pearl Harbor; which now, you know, doesn’t seem to be the case; and second of all that there would be many more 9/11s, or several more 9/11s. And there haven’t been, and I hope there aren’t obviously. It may be with hindsight, which is always unfair, that people will say even though it was by far the worst terrorist attack in American history, you’ll have to explain to your grandchildren why there was such an extreme reaction to one terrorist attack; and why that, you know, seemed to “change everything” about American life and America’s role in the world. I suspect that that’s what we’ll think a generation from now.And then the other thing I think is I suspect – although this may be more of a hope, but I think I’m right – that when we’re sitting around with our grandchildren, the level of mistrust of the public sector will seem nutty in how high it was during this era.
Recorded on: 11/30/07