At press time, Slate will publish a post headlined “The Slate Post You Are Currently Reading: An Oral History.” Within four hours of publication, it will fall off Slate’s Most Read list; within two days, it will completely sink into the vast digital backwater, accessible to people who search for it, but otherwise unread. It will launch no careers, fundamentally change nothing about the way we live or the stories we tell ourselves, and, in countless ways, it will completely fail to define our era. To help understand why, we conducted a series of interviews with the people behind “The Slate Post You Are Currently Reading: An Oral History” about its creation, its publication, and its complicated legacy.
Matthew Dessem (Nights and Weekends Culture Editor, Slate, 2016–2018): I remember it just as clearly as if it were this afternoon. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, working for Slate. Anyway, I needed a post and I didn’t much care what it was about, so I thought I’d try to make the snake eat its tail, so to speak. The rest came pretty easily.
Henry Kissinger (United States Secretary of State, 1973–1977): I am unfamiliar with this article and did not participate in its creation.
Matthew Dessem: The oral history format made the most sense to me, because I like to talk but hate the sound of my own voice. It’s always like, “Oooooh, who is that guy, his voice sounds all weird, what a weirdo that guy is!” You know? But by writing down what I say, then publishing it as text, I get the best of both worlds.
Henry Kissinger: What do you mean, the article hasn’t been published yet?
Matthew Dessem: The interviews were conducted on the afternoon of Aug. 18, 2018, in my home office in Los Angeles.
Henry Kissinger: How did you get this number?
Matthew Dessem: I was very interested at the time in articles that didn’t really say much of anything, I guess on the theory that modeling the kind of nihilism and despair that characterized the media environment on the afternoon of Aug. 18, 2018 would speak to readers who were also experiencing it? It sounds dumb when I say it out loud, and also when I type it out, and also when I read what I have typed, and also when I thought about saying it before I said it. Ultimately, I guess it came down to this: It was a slow news day.
Henry Kissinger: The evil I have done will long outlive me.
Matthew Dessem: Henry Kissinger didn’t want to participate, I assume. I mean, he didn’t participate, I didn’t even ask him to, on the theory that he wouldn’t want to. Maybe he did want to. I’d be pretty surprised, though. So just I made up the things I thought he should say.
Henry Kissinger: Send me to the Hague and lock me in a dungeon! I deserve no less!
Matthew Dessem: Once I decided to not interview Henry Kissinger, the rest of my non-interviews fell into place pretty quickly. Around Washington, if Henry’s not doing it, everybody wants to not do it.
Ida M. Tarbell (Journalist, McClure’s): I died in 1944 and would never endorse this kind of thing, even in a made-up quote. Henry Kissinger has done very bad things.
Matthew Dessem: I first read “The Slate Post You Are Currently Reading: An Oral History” while it was an early draft, scarcely more than a headline, but I knew right away I was looking at something that might provoke a few chuckles from a very limited audience the day it was published, then would quickly be forgotten by everyone, including me. Honestly, I can’t wait.
Henry Kissinger: War criminals shouldn’t be allowed to eat at restaurants!
Matthew Dessem: It was not a particularly exhilarating or memorable creative experience, and I think that comes through in the final product.
Henry Kissinger: My beautiful face thirsts for cream pies! Put them in my face! All the pies!
Matthew Dessem: In retrospect, I don’t know why it seemed like a good idea. Still, there’s no sense living in the past.