Can John Oliver and Melville House Make Donald Trump — or President Obama — Read the Torture Report?


At the turn of the last calendar year, in what we called “a watershed moment in contemporary publishing,” Brooklyn-based independent publisher Melville House, working tirelessly (and sometimes without sleep) over a period of several weeks, published the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report. It was a groundbreaking feat for an independent press because (as we said at the time) the sheer size and complexity of such a publishing project typically precludes them from pursuing the release of such government reports. And, as Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson explained to us, the government typically releases major reports only to big publishers:

In the past, with these kinds of reports, for example with the 9/11 commission report or the senate investigation of the financial crisis, with those reports, the government gave preferential treatment to certain big publishers, whereby they gave them the reports early so that they could be published simultaneously with their release to the general public. They also gave some of those publishers money for production. I don’t know how they justified that. It seems illegal to me. These are public documents.

Thankfully, the gambit paid off. As we reported on December 30 of last year, the torture report sold out on the first day of its publication.

But the real marker of success was never sales; Johnson and Melville House wanted to drive the conversation about torture and American politics. (“We’re in this for a bigger cause than to just make money,” Johnson explained.) Well, this week several signs have emerged that suggest the torture report is doing just that.

On Sunday, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, in one of his now-standard weekly comedic broadsides, implored his audience to read the report on torture. Not only that, he also chastised current and former officials, including ex-CIA director Porter Goss — who is featured in the report 81 times — for admitting that they have not read the report, a document that its publisher rightfully called “one of the most important in our nation’s history.”

Oliver also pointed out that only four of the 50 or so candidates for the 2016 presidency have gone on record saying that they oppose President Obama’s executive order banning torture, even though, as he explains, John McCain and Dianne Feinstein had recently proposed an amendment that would put crucial parts of that executive order into law.

As of yesterday, that amendment — thanks in part to the brutal revelations of torture exposed by the report — has passed:

In a vote of 78 to 21, senators approved an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would restrict all government entities, not just the military, to using only the interrogation techniques described in the Army Field Manual.

Nevertheless, with so many presidential candidates somehow on the fence about torture — only Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Lincoln Chafee, and Martin O’Malley have openly supported the ban — Melville House has decided to send copies of the report to each candidate:

[W]e’ll be sending a box of copies of The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture (each box contains five books) to each candidate’s campaign headquarters (even, sigh, Donald Trump).

Will Donald Trump read the report? For that matter, will President Obama? As Senator Feinstein (who commissioned the report, calling it “the most important work of her career”) points out this week at the New Yorker , it isn’t at all clear that the president has read it:

Well, let me say that there are people who don’t want to look at the whole truth. And I don’t know whether the President read our report or not. I certainly haven’t heard from him since.