2020年3月6日 星期五

The Daily: The Hunt for Tape

How we tracked down a campus speech from 1988.
Joe Biden and his son Hunter in March 1988.Adele Starr/Associated Press

On Tuesday’s show, at minute 11:12, you hear a piece of archival tape. It’s the kind of historical audio we play all the time, in this case of former Vice President Joe Biden, delivering a speech in the late 1980s.

But the process of obtaining that tape was anything but typical. Here’s the story.

About 7:30 p.m. on Monday, we were deep into making an episode about a Virginia voter named Brian Keane, a politically moderate suburbanite whose decision-making seemed to mirror that of many Super Tuesday voters.

During the interview, Brian had recalled meeting Biden on the campus of American University, where Brian ran an undergraduate political union. Biden, then a senator from Delaware, was there to talk to the students.

Clare Toeniskoetter, one of our producers, lowered her headphones and wondered aloud: “Did audio from that decades-old speech exist? And if so, could we put it in the episode?” She asked a fellow producer, Robert Jimison, who was working from New York, to investigate.

Robert began hunting online using American University’s website. Our guest, Brian, had told us the speech was in 1989. So Robert began there, searching every corner of the web for a speech from that year. Nothing. Finally, he discovered a newspaper clipping mentioning a Biden speech at American University — from 1988. Brian had misremembered the date. This was a breakthrough.


But so far, there was no evidence of audio. Robert searched every conceivable audio archive. No dice. Then he tried the university’s online library catalog.

It turned out that the library had a single DVD of a speech by Biden, from November 13, 1988. Eureka!

But it was marked “campus only.” Hmm. What did that mean?

It meant we needed special permission to get it. By now it was 8 p.m. and the library was closing at 11 p.m. We needed this DVD immediately. Robert called the library. A student employee answered but said he could not help without the permission of his manager, who had gone home for the night. The student did not have his manager’s phone number. D’oh!


Clare sent the boss a message on Facebook. The manager said that the DVD belonged to the undergraduate student union that had sponsored Biden’s speech and could not be used without its explicit permission. So at 9 p.m., Robert tapped out a Facebook message to the American University student who now ran the group and crossed his fingers.

At 9:45 p.m., the student replied. He said that “The Daily” could use the audio from Biden’s speech and sent an email to Robert granting us formal authorization.

Progress. But we had a new problem. How would we get our hands on the DVD right away?

Another producer, Sydney Harper, happens to live in Washington, D.C. Clare called her. Would she be willing to go over to American University to record the audio? Sydney was on a bus heading home. She hopped off and re-routed to the university.


Sydney arrived about 10 p.m. and encountered yet another challenge: getting Biden’s speech off that DVD and into a form we could use for the show. She rented a DVD player from a student library worker, connected it to her computer and transferred the audio to her laptop.

By now, it was nearly 11 p.m. Sydney hit send to New York, where Clare was waiting, unsure whether the audio was high-quality enough. Clare opened the file and hit play.

“Good evening and welcome to tonight’s program,” the recording began. It was Brian, then a nervous-sounding college student, introducing Biden to applause. Then Biden delivered his speech, in crystal clear audio. Clare began to isolate clips from the speech and layer them into the episode.

If it sounded effortless, it was anything but.

Talk to Michael on Twitter: @mikiebarb.

The story behind our Super Tuesday episode

On Tuesday’s episode, you heard from Brian Keane, a 52-year-old Democratic voter from Arlington, Va. Many listeners wrote in, wondering why the episode homed in on the voice of only one voter.

In the lead-up to Super Tuesday, we worked with politics reporters and data journalists at The Times to identify the types of voters who would be crucial in determining the breakdown of the primary. Our colleagues pointed us to three demographics: affluent suburbanites in states including Virginia and North Carolina, African-American voters in Southern states, and Latino voters in Texas and California.

We set up interviews with three voters across three states. But in the span of 48 hours, after Biden swept South Carolina, Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. Amy Klobuchar followed. Then came Beto O’Rourke’s endorsement. The moderate wing of the party was scrambling to rally around Biden.

We folded our original plan to focus on this moment. The story of Brian from Virginia, the last person we interviewed, captured the anxiety of establishment Democrats that was playing out in real time and the coalescence that was clearly underway.

On ‘The Daily’ this week

Monday: Joe Biden’s lopsided victory last week in South Carolina altered the course of his race for the Democratic nomination. Alex Burns looks at how it happened.

Tuesday: Can Trump destroy Bloomberg? Can he destroy Biden?” Ahead of Super Tuesday, our producers traveled to Virginia to speak with a moderate Democrat mulling over these questions.

Wednesday: Alex Burns unpacks the results of Super Tuesday, which made the Democratic race effectively a two-person showdown: “We may be headed for something of an immovable object, unstoppable force situation.”

Thursday: “There’s a sign here that this has been spreading throughout the community undetected for weeks.” Mike Baker on the first coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Friday: “Their daily reality after the signing has been no different from their reality before the signing.” Mujib Mashal on why the peace agreement between the U.S. and Taliban has not led to peace in Afghanistan.

That’s it for The Daily newsletter. See you next week.

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