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tv   Journalist Randy Shilts the HIVAIDS Epidemic  CSPAN  April 6, 2021 9:23pm-10:00pm EDT

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c-span 3. american history tv on c-span 3 every weekend documenting america's story funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span 3 as a public service. next on american history tv california state university professor andrew stoner talks about his biography of author and journalist randy shilts who covered the hiv/aids epidemic for the san francisco chronicle and died of aids in 1994 professor stoner describes, mr. schultz work to bring gay culture and issues to mainstream media indy reads books in indianapolis hosted this event. good evening, and welcome to indy reads books for those that aren't familiar with us.
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we are a non-profit and independent bookstore and a direct source of revenue for the nonprofit organization indy reads. our mission is to promote and improve the literacy and english language proficiency of adults in central, indiana. we sell both used in new books for all ages special orders for customers and host multiple events a week where largely volunteer run and are inventory is primarily made up of book donations for the community. if you'd like to support us, please consider making a purchase tonight a donation or volunteering your time as a bookstore volunteer or literacy tutor. tonight we have the pleasure of hosting dr. andrew stoner who will be discussing his latest book the journalist of castro street the life of randy shilts. dr. stoner is an indiana native and an associate professor of communication studies at california state university, sacramento. his books include campaign crossroads presidential politics and indiana from lincoln to obama and notorious 92 indiana's
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most heinous murders in all 92 counties among other titles. tonight his book can be purchased at the front register and proceeds will benefit both indy reads books as well as the author and please join me in welcoming dr. andrew stoner to the stage. thank you very much. i appreciate the opportunity to be back in indianapolis among familiar faces and to talk about a subject. i've spent about nine or ten years working on the topic. i'm going to talk about randy shields tonight was the originally my doctoral dissertation at colorado state university and through the help of some editors and a lot of hard work. we've got it into a readable fashion for we i think broader audience and so far then well received and i'm excited for the potential to what i what i call a reconsider randy shilts who was ultimately america's aids chronicler and and very important figure in journalism,
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but also in the movement for gay and lesbian the united states. what i would like to do is do two things. well, i have a regular that i do. for the about randy shilts and give you background that also helps walk you through the book, but i often get asked about why i was interested in writing about this. so i thought i might share a little bit of the preface from you briefly read from that so you can get a sense of why this topic was one of interest to me and in my degree pursuits and getting my phd in journalism and technical communication, and so i thought i would read for a few minutes from there and then go into my more formal part remarks. i remember the winter morning in 1994 when i heard the news report about the death of journalists and author randy shilts. i was in my tiny graduate student apartment in muncie, indiana getting ready for a cold walk to the bus stop and i was sat down on the bed and listened to discussion of shields and his work and i felt as if i had lost
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someone i new really well though. i'd never met him at all. his book in the band played on admined a strong impression on me schultz's writing style and his journalistic journalistic commitment to detail had impressed me. and the day of the announcement of schultz's death the man who wrote the most about aids who died of aids i decided to go looking for my paperback copy of the mayor of castro street because i was very eager to read more of his words and these about the life and times of gay icon and martyr harvey milk. and the time at the time of shields's death aids seemed like this trouble in some vexing issue that remained far away. it seemed like i'd never known anyone who had hiv or aids and people with aids were still distant ghosts and on television in magazine articles. in faraway places like san francisco and new york city. i had a rude awakening ahead of me as filters death from aids served as a forerunner to even more personal losses that would
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follow for me in the years to come among my own circle of friends. randy shilts represented so much of what i thought i might someday be a proud openly gay man who offered the world his words. which could move people and things in positive ways. shields was the journalists and the writer that i most wanted to be. it would be many more years before i could take up randy shields his words in any meaningful way, but they in my mind. what schultz accomplished with his writing becoming respected sought after expert on once hidden subjects shining a light in dark places was what i envisioned it meant to be a journalist, and i truly liberated member of the society as a gay person. the words on the pages that followed here needed to be more than just admiration and acclimation and needed to offer more critical review of shields. the necessity to take that more critical view grew not only from the academic requirements of writing a dissertation, but also to add meaning to the
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consideration of his work and finally because nothing short of a piercing honest. look at randy shilts would do. because that's the kind of journalist. randy shilts had been. while schultz was always a man with thin skin and easily hurt and felt slighted at any sort of criticism. he received he was sometimes equally determined to give back as good as he got. he knew that some of the things he wrote would insight anger, but he wrote them anyways. he also gladly soaked up praise and pay for a controversial story that exposed portions of the still a major emerging gay liberation movement that others would have preferred remained unexamined. he learned in his life that a wounded heart stands sometimes right next to the determined soul. and he discovered that the bomb for the pain that the world can inflict can sometimes be found in immersing yourself in your work and in your commitment to tell the truth and a desire to try to drive change and change the world.
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from an early age. he learned to take whippings and verbal abuse at home and dry his tears and somehow pulled himself together during the daily walk to school where he presented himself as an able interesting and engaged student who had overcome more than anyone could imagine but he remained determined to succeed. his rock ribbed intensity and his drive to succeed carried the sense of urgency. and as we know now it was because the reality of aids underneath was forcing him to work fast and furious. and he went after his work with a strong commitment to fairness and freedom and bullishly pushing forward always. i've attempted to explore these issues here while being true to a critical examination of his work and the impact. behind not only his words, but also his bulldozer approach to life. he's been with me throughout the threading i think especially so when i spent a week. or more in january of 2 2011
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with his archives. it is as scholar craig crudell divine that you've had i've had company in the dusty archives and had a the subject looking over my shoulder helping illuminate corners of the past through yellow and wrinkled papers brittle audio and videotapes. that are left over from his full yet interrupted life. and so from that with that preface i wanted to go ahead and tell you. some about randy shilts some things. maybe you already know and some you don't he's been gone 25 years this year. so every year fewer and fewer people know who were talking about and so i'm hoping that i can illuminate some information on that. this is the title of the book the journalists of castro street the life of randy shields. the title was selected because it plays off of his first book about the mayor of castro street the life and times of harvey milk and it comes to us from the university of illinois press.
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just a little bit about randy's life. he lived between 1951 and 1994 was born in davenport, iowa, but raised his entire life after that in aurora, illinois, which is a suburb of chicago and kane county. shortly after graduating high school in june of 1969 on the one year anniversary of robert f. kennedy assassination. he fled to oregon because he heard there were hippies there and people living free and open lifestyles and he wanted to escape some of the more rigid life he'd known in illinois. he was one of five sons in the shield's family us born in 25 year period in the shield's family, so they broadly spread out but the they were all very active boys and all of them fled aurora at the first opportunity they could when he got to finally into the university of oregon after one year at portland community college he decided to run for study about
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student body president his first year on campus and did so as an openly gay candidate under the theme of come out for shields. but she did not win the election, but i always and when i say that to my contemporary students now, they're like well, so what but in 1970 and 71 to be an openly gay student at college was a big thing and made you stand out and randy stood out and was well known on campus for being outspoken and eventually switched to a journalism major. he'd give up on politics as being able to changing thing and this reflects early in life had been a very goldwater republican and he slowly moved left and became more and more of a progressive and so but journalism seem to hold a great draw to him a great interest to him and its ability to maybe change the world. randy had somewhat of a naive view at times. he thought that if people just had more information if they just understood more they would accept more that people would be more willing to bring gay people into the fullness of life and
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include gay people in everyday life and he thought as a journalist that was part of his role to bring that information to people. i think he found that that was often a struggle because it wasn't quite so simple. he left college and his professors told me as one of the most talented majors in the department in journalism, and he was in a class with ann curry from nbc news, but left unemployed worked as a freelance writer for years. struggling to find full-time work because he wanted to do it on his terms to be an openly gay person a newsrooms at that time didn't have openly gay journalists. and he resisted suggestions from journalism professors and others that he you know, get out of the of the floppies and quit wearing flowered shirts and unbuttoned down to his stomach and and you know, we're assume the role of newsroom journalists and and
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wouldn't compromise on those things eventually was hired by the advocate wrote for years for them. also contributed the bay area reporter and was hired finally by kqed television in san francisco for a public television show called newsroom, which there's a a screenshot of their he lost his relationship with the advocate in a battle with the publisher at the time of gentleman by the name of david goodstein and was banished from the pages of the advocate for many years until goodstein sold the magazine to someone else. newsroom went for many years, but they lost their grant from the ford foundation. so he was on he opened the 80s unemployed again. and still looking for full-time work. interestingly the same time the san francisco chronicle had decided that they needed a full-time or more regular coverage of the gay community that had become a very powerful political economic and social force in san francisco. and randy lucked out and got hired for that job as the first
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openly gay reporter on a mainstream daily newspaper a large newspaper of the san francisco chronicle. and so from there, it's career really took off. he was with the chronicle up until the time he died. he was with the chronicle at a key period he had been at kqed to keep period as well. had covered the assassination of harvey milk and mayor moscone and that had led him to be offered the opportunity to write the biography of harvey milk that was then made into 2009 the film milk by oliver stone and excuse me. and so he had a lot of talent that people recognized early on he was actually though assigned city beat reporting so during the loma prieta earthquake for example, 1989. he was coordinating all of their coverage of the damage in san francisco and oakland but during this period living in the caster. we began learning that other gay men were were starting to get ill and some of them were being
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to die from very exotic sorts of causes in some cases carposi sarcoma or really a very virulent strain of pneumonia the pneumocystis pneumonia that normally people had good resistance to in their immune systems. and there still was no name for what was going on this the reality that people in new york and san francisco and los angeles gay men were showing up ill eventually this grant to other groups particularly intravenous drug users. female sex workers and haitian immigrants combined with gay men you're talking about not a very powerful group in the reagan 80s. and so shields became frustrated by the slow reaction to the number of people who are being impacted by this disease on a regular basis and again writing about he did not write the chronicles first article about aids, but he wrote their second one and 1982 and it appeared on page six of all places. so it was still not a front-page
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story for san francisco. eventually would become so as tens of thousands of people died and randy just covered all of us even before there was even a name for this disease first started out. it was first known as gay cancer, then it was gay related immune deficiency or grid and then eventually once the human immunodeficiency virus was discovered in isolated hiv that then caused aids the name evolved toward that and that's when randy decided to take up in 1985-86. the idea of a book about aids and how america had responded and he found very little interest or support among publishers for that. but saint martin's press finally. and decided to go ahead and include or pick up this topic for him. and it is still the first and most comprehensive coverage of
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the issue of aids even though a lot of the clinical and medical information and scientific research that's included has been overcome by time and new information the the issues related to how society reacted how communities reacted is still viewed as essential reading for understanding this period of american history. there were some key points that shields used to drive band in addition to the fact that there was a growing infection in death rate that continued to climb every year one. is that the world health organization and us government health organizations, including the cdc and the centers for disease control were slow to respond to this disease because of who it was impacting that there may have been political problems with the victims of this disease. and so there wasn't particularly as great a concern if it had started to spread in other communities. he noted that it concern did grow once hemophiliacs began to be affected quite a bit by hiv infection.
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the he also took on the news media in terms of their inability or unwillingness to cover anything related to gay people you were talking about hiv and aids you had to talk about how it's transmission which included gay sex for example and so newspapers weren't used to that sort of coverage. they weren't used to writing about such things. and so the news media was a little slow to follow up on exactly. what was going on and the chronicle led the way on that and randy pushed and pulled the san francisco chronicle into a leadership role on this issue. well beyond what you saw at the new york times the washington post or elsewhere? he also noted that loathsome feelings and hatred toward gay people were quickly attached to people with aids whether they were gay or not, and there was a lot of hysterical talk in the period about quarantining people with aids and about somehow curtailing them in society so that that they could be controlled that they're that
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their risk was even greater than before and as you know the narrative. on gay people has often been that they are a threat to society or to family and this further that narrative. schultz's research also led to criticism of the gay community and how it responded to the issue and this is where some of the most lingering criticism for shields remains in the he shined light on aspects of the gay liberation movement to that point which made people a little uncomfortable. in reality the gay liberation movement to that point had been a sexual liberation you're talking about a group of people whose sexual expression had been illegal prior to the 19th mids 1970s 1980s in most states. it still was something that could if you engaged in homosexual contact you could still be arrested and put in jail or lose your job or have other social penalties to pay.
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so it's not a coincidental that there was a lot of expression of sexual freedom in the early days of the gay liberation movement schultz is one of the first though to begin raising important questions about is that all there is and we know now of course there are many social economic and cultural issues that have flowed things like employment rights marriage rights. things are adoption and parent parental rights for gay people have all flowed since that time and also have very little to do with sexuality other than just having to not have a system that discriminates against people on the basis of sexual orientation. but by shining a light in that area including writing a lot about std rates among gay people for example in the years leading up to aids brought criticism to shields at that time and continues. the biggest problem rising from that was the a creation or the
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the reporting on a character who is based on an actual person called the patient zero and he ends up being an important figure to considering randy shilts, although he was not necessarily an important figure in schultz's mind. he ultimately was one of the figures that helped sell and the band played on. who was patient zero his name was gaytan duga who was a canadian airline stewart? who lived between 1953 and 1984 and died three years before shields' book came out? he was a very cooperative person with the centers for disease control and other investigators who were trying to figure out what is this disease he turned over is black book those days when people didn't have phones. with all the numbers that he turned over his black books. he submitted to blood testing he participated in an extensive interviews and was at the center of a cluster study done in los
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angeles of 248 men who tested positive. for whatever was to become hiv. and he was connected to 40 of those 248 people so and he was coded in the study by the research you are interviewed as oh for outside los angeles because he was from canada and didn't live in los angeles county, but that very quickly began to be interpreted as patient zero as opposed to oh and schultz made that mistake as well. and so what you get is he's transformed into what essentially is a typhoid mary character of the 1980s. you have the new york post. with its headline the man who brought us aids and star magazine calling a monster. these headlines. however come in october of 1987 three years after dugah has died, but at the time of the release of schultz's book. when schultz's book is being
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released. most reviewers are taking a pass. they're not interested in reviewing it. it aids is an incomplete story. we don't know where it's going. you know how big it's going to be. there was not that much interest in it. his editor shares the book the manuscript with a publicist who creates a press kit that centers on the issue of patient zero and they decided that the story begins and ends on that hook that people will be interested in if we can begin to help them understand. where did aids come from and so what is created in his patient zero this monster like character who brought aids to america and it was a very problematic shield spend a lot of time trying to tamp that down and get back to the major themes of the book that he thought were more important in terms of the government's response. the gay communities response the media response to this issue and less on on this idea of patient zero he viewed it as a storytelling element, but it did explode and and he did allow for
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that publicity to go forward and never live to correct the issue because we know by 2016 researchers at the university of arizona conducted tests that cleared gaytan do as patient zero that the particular strain of hiv that he carried was introduced the united states as early as 1970 when he was just a little boy and never ever visited the united states before so he was not the person who brought aids to america aids had been in america prior to that time and there we know now, of course there are many types of hiv strains. so it's it's rather absurd to think we can connect a pandemic on a continent of two or 300 million people down to one person. it's just not possible to do. and so this is where schultz's the post posthumous review of shields' work has been most critical there are books and then a documentary coming about patient zero and about the problematic creation of that
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character and that how do god was set up as being somehow different from many other gay people in that era or it really any person in their 20s who is interested in in expressing themselves, sexually and otherwise meeting new people and exploring life and do god had not lived his left necessarily a whole lot different than anyone else. he just had been a lot more cooperative with the investigators. and so there's been an effort to reclaim gaytan dugas reputation and my effort has been also to not reclaim necessarily randy's reputation but to clarify our reconsider that one of the most important things he's not here to have updated the story the story stops in 1994 when randy shields dies of aids his last book written in the last year of his life was called conduct unbecoming about the struggle for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the us military and this had become a big issue through the 1992 presidential campaign with clinton and george hw bush.
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and clinton had pledged that he would eliminate the ban on gays serving openly the compromise that ultimately was reached was called don't ask don't tell you don't tell us you're gay. we won't ask you if you're gay that remained the policy of the us military until 2011 when president obama eliminated that with an executive order. but schultz's book came right on the edge of that discussion and was very helpful toward illuminating for people this cold concept of we're training military members to be experts in all sorts of skills and then as soon as we find out about anything about their personal life in terms of who they love or who they spend their life, and we're throwing them out and throwing away their careers. this was particularly the only work that shields was able to dedicate to any real. measure of coverage to gay women to lesbian women because they were suffering disproportionately the number of discharges from the military based on their sexual orientation and a lot of them
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being threatened with losing their families and their children because of their sexual orientation being exposed. and so this book was finished as randy was actually in a coma in a hospital and then he recovered from that for the better part of 1993. and but what's not able to tour the book, so if you see interviews from that period you'll see is doing them all from his home in san francisco. and then he finally died in february of 1994. at the age of 42 during this period the conduct came out there were a lot of questions about why randy had not been more forthcoming about his hiv status. he did not disclose it till it really was beyond his controlled to to disclose disclose it because he'd been hospitalized. so he and he mentions that he had not been up front about his hiv status not because of shame but because he didn't want the fact that the man who wrote the most about aids had aids. he knew that what was potentially a story that was going to overcome the story that
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he really wanted people to focus on which was his work on conduct on becoming and the and the effort of military members who happened to be gay to continue to serve in the us military. so he was as he said to the rolling stone magazine in 1993 was really concerned about his work being overcome by it. and in many ways it was. he still viewed the world at the end of his life very much. like he had when he first started in college, and that was i have facts and information to share the world can benefit from this information. and so if you place journalistic function in into the discussion, i think you find shield so across the objectivity line and into the advocacy role that he thought journalism could play it's much like walter lippman's ideas about the media playing a social a elitist function of explaining the world to the rest of us and if you think about theories about agenda setting theory very much falls into that sort of idea that not necessarily telling you what to
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think but helping you think about what to think about and pointing you in certain directions, and he offered a rather sad quote that he was at the really at the pinnacle of his career and could do almost anything. he wanted to in journalism at the life and at that point in life, but had this feeling that his life was finished without being completed and in fact it was and so my work has been to look at some of the the issues that have remained one is his clash with radical queer theorists and activists who viewed him as a gay uncle tom who viewed him as more interested in mainstream journalism and its demands than with advocacy. you also have people who say well he was too much of an advocate and not enough of a journalist and so he wasn't pure in that sense. so he has he has this mixed review going on and there's a struggle on where to place him ultimately in the the whole discussion of this era and i i think my book is meant to answer or asking me to ask the question.
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can we distinguish between his obvious merit as journalist as a journalist? from the mistakes or the issues that he wasn't around to reconcile certainly knowing who he hit him as well as i feel like i know him he would not have let the patient zero issue remain unresolved. he would have revisited the issue and corrected the issue and probably his brother has told me that he was very sad about the attention that that was getting over other things that he'd written about and he did feel like the ultimate result had been a victimization of duga and that wasn't something he was happy about. and so i think it consideration is that we should take in his impressive credentials as successes along with his failures look at it all and so that's the attempt of the book is to be very balanced. and that we should acknowledge that he didn't live long enough to reconcile all these things, but that there's no question that he was there on the pulse of important issues. he was there at the start of the gay. political movement with harvey milk, he was there at the start
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of aids this huge issue that threatened to blow up the entire gay liberation movement and he was there on a big issue for the 90s in terms of what how gay people may openly serve in society and employment in this case the military interestingly his last work that he wanted to go to next was allegations of abuse and neglect of children within the catholic church. he was very interested in looking at how the catholic church had not responded to that sort of thing if you think about the decades that followed after 1994 that's been a very prime social issue that and cultural issue that we've had to grapple with and so i think it reflects shields is a pretty amazing character in terms of his ability to get a sense of what's bubbling under the surface. what's that next thing and i think we would have had a lot of wonderful wonderful writing in the subsequent years. ultimately, i think everyone as most people settled on the fact that randy is someone more celebrating there were 20 people inducted into the lbgtq hall of fame in san francisco and their
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and their image was placed on sidewalks in san francisco, and if you go to castro and walked on castro street at 18th street, you'll see randy's picture there. he's one of the first 20 notable gay americans who are so enshrined and so i'd like to think of him that way and do so though with the honesty and the completeness of of his whole story. so, you very much. if there were any questions i could answer try to answer them or or we can call it a day. yes, sir. you mentioned his brother how much insight did his family give you? i had the cooperation of his oldest brother gary shields. and his one of his youngest brothers reedshields who are the only there's only three brothers living his youngest brother.
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david is autistic and lives in a group home and is not available for interviews, but gary and reed were both very cooperative. they had very interesting perspectives on the family. gary is one of the is the oldest child his his family experience was very different and reads by the time read had grown was coming into adolescence the family began to settle down this parents marriage had resolve some of the previous issues. his mother's drinking had been brought under control and she'd stop drinking and so they were the experience that randy and gary had was a little different than what the younger boys had. but they are pleased to know that there's still people that remember randy and and still honor his work. did he always want to be a journalist and how early that avenue of expression hit him.
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it was in high school. was it in college? when did it happen? no, it was in college. he started out as an english major and i think the combination of understanding that a lot along writing and reading but also that there weren't a lot jobs for english majors. but also this idea that journalism could move people could change people. he had a big ego. he likes seeing his name in print he liked being the center of attention even ultimately was the managing editor of the oregon daily emerald, which is the student newspaper, oregon and so he carved out a good role from some very early on. i think that what he friends had told me at the end of his life. he viewed himself more as a columnist as opposed to a reporter columnist an author so he would be pursuing longer. form projects over the rest of his career if he were still with us today, you have given any thought to what he'd be doing where he'd be working what he'd be covering. i think he'd still be a pretty
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sought after figure and in his period he was on, you know, larry king and nightline and david brinkley and all of those shows of that era. so it was a very sought after television personality. so i think the cable television and the online world would have enjoyed randy's contribution considerably and he was well known to turn a good phrase as it were and so i think he would have made for good television i know from talking to his family and friends that he wanted to continue writing books. so what those topics would have been anybody knows but giving his track record. he had a good ability to figure out what people were interested in. all right. thank you very much. appreciate it. weeknights this month. we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of
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what's available every weekend on c-span 3 wednesday night. we look at crime and forensics bruce goldfarb author of 18. tiny deaths the untold story of frances glessner lee and the invention of modern forensics shows us several dollhouse-sized crime scenes that are used for training classes in the chief medical examiner's office of maryland. he relates the story of ms. lee who constructed the dioramas in the mid-1940s at harvard university and who helped pioneer the science of crime scene investigation. watch wednesday beginning at 8pm eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3. american history tv on c-span 3 every weekend documenting america's story funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span 3 as a public service.
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up next the 1918 influenza pandemic and how it devastated us civilians and soldiers during the final year of world 1918 influenza epidemic. >> i do believe that that's my cue to head over in this direction and i give our introduction for the next speaker


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