November 10, 2004
(this article was initially published in the Friends of 89.5 newsletter)
The Taylor Report, heard Mondays from 5:00-6:00 p.m. is one of CIUT's flagship spoken word programs. Show host and producer Phil Taylor has long and fascinating history as a social activist and journalist. Taylor grew up in California, but has lived in Canada for the past 30 years. He's been a US Marine, a newspaper journalist, and a television producer. He currently works as an investigator for prominent human rights lawyers including former US Attorney-General and civil rights advocate Ramsey Clark, and Toronto-based lawyer Charles Roach. Roach's work as a defense lawyer involved in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has given Taylor the opportunity to work in Africa.
Taylor's tenure at CIUT began when a guest appearance speaking about Palestinian rights led to his becoming a regular contributor to the programs Caffeine Free, then Peace Tides. The Taylor Report began airing in 2000. Friends of 89.5 editor Barbara Isherwood spoke to Taylor about how he puts the stories behind the news front and centre.
BI: What is the mandate of The Taylor Report?
PT: The point of view is that there are, in the field of human rights, peace and labour, stories and individuals that are not widely heard. We try to find those things we don't think the listener will have heard about, or we bring in the individual who is in the news and is not being adequately represented.
BI: Have you always been interested in the stories behind the news, the ones we don't hear?
PT: Yes, I've always assumed that there's more to everything. And I don't think we ever get it right, you always revisit it and get a new insight into some event or person who is big in the news. With contemporary issues, you're always being pressed to support a war, or applaud that a man has been arrested because he's a terrorist. I think we should be extremely skeptical and look. And if we think that something isn't being heard, we should be the ones to see that it is.
BI: Have you always been politically inclined?
PT: Both my parents were concerned about poverty, war and social discrimination. They were typical working class Americans, suspicious of power. They didn't believe people who made pronouncements. They spoke a lot of history. My mother had a very keen grasp of American history.
BI: Tell us about some recent guests of note.
PT: In the last days of the political crisis in Liberia, President Charles Taylor gave live interviews to the Taylor Report. Listeners heard the President speak frankly about dealings with the Bush administration and of his plans to step down. The Taylor Report also interviewed Ramsey Clark, former Attorney-General of the United States, who presented a case for charging the Bush administration with war crimes for its attack on Iraq. Closer to home the Taylor Report spoke to Peter Rosenthal about his successful defense of John Clark, accused of instigating the "Queens Park Riot". Robin Philpot of Montreal, author of a widely praised book about Rwanda, provided an informed and critical analysis of the role of UNAMIR and General Romeo Dallaire in the tragedy that unfolded in Rwanda in 1994. Also of note are conversations with Morton Sobell, a fellow co-accused with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who spent 18 years in U.S. Federal prison, and with Robert Meeropol, son of the Rosenbergs, who heads an organization which aids the children of political prisoners.
BI: Do you spend a lot of time working on these stories of your own accord?
PT: They tend to be what I'm turning over in my mind, and then I try to turn it into a program. What I'm doing in Africa becomes part of my programming, in that I now have developed contacts across Africa.
BI: Is that how you came to interview Charles Taylor?
PT: Yes. Here's a man who is a president of a country, and really no one wants to hear what he has to say. They sealed him off, and were setting him up to destroy him, might have been literally. I'm never sympathetic with the hunters. Everyone's congratulating themselves, "Oh, we've got this bad guy." I don't know whether they do or not, and I certainly didn't want to be party to gagging him. You want to know what they have to say for themselves. It might be repulsive or not. I also expected that he would be eloquent, and I knew, because of the way they were treating him, that he had many interesting things to say. I could see why they didn't want him talking.
BI: Do you ever get discouraged, penetrating so deeply into the tragedies of the world?
PT: No. You can see some intractable ones, like the Middle East, but I'm usually, happily, in a situation where I'm talking to people who are trying to solve the thing. They feel better saying it, and I think the listeners feel better. If what you are presenting is intelligent and speaks to people's values, you can't lose.
BI: What's your approach to interviewing?
PT: I try to reflect what you assume the listener is thinking. I try to make it a conversation, and usually, intuitively in conversation you're thinking, "he just said so-and-so, but I notice he didn't mention the other thing." I usually pick people I'm interested in, and I want them to be comfortable. I'm not a confrontational person. The object is not to have sound bites, but to have a conversation that will cover most of what this person's got to say. And if it doesn't, we'll do more. A half hour is barely enough time. Going into an interview with anybody who is sort of well known, you try to think of what it is they have not been asked about, or have them respond to contrary ideas.
BI: Do you have a long wish list of people you want to interview?
PT: Sure. It grows, it's like a tree. They're backing up, actually. I have to do one soon on the civil rights martyrs, the boy, Emmet Till, who was killed in the 1950s. His mother insisted on an open coffin - he had been lynched. Two hundred and fifty thousand people, black citizens of Chicago, walked passed his coffin. It made people so determined. There's been a film made, and there are dozens of angles. I want to do a story on that.
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