Found Theater: Richard Holbrooke’s Last Words
REPORTER: Attention. Attention please. Richard Holbrooke is dead.
REPORTER (Washington Post): As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”
REPORTER 2 (NY Daily News): Richard Holbrooke spent his last breaths pleading for an end to the U.S’s nine year campaign in Afghanistan–
REPORTER 3 (Foreign Policy): Did he oppose the war? Was he–Holbrooke the dove?
REPORTER 4 (New York Post): HOLBROOKE: DEATHBED PEACE PLEA!
SPOKESMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Oh, fuck.
REPORTER 5 (The Spectator): The “you” refers to Pakistan! The New York surgeon operating on his heart was born in Pakistan! And everyone agrees that Afghanistan can’t be “solved” without Pakistan!
SPOKESMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Excuse me, gentlemen? It was a joke. Ha-ha.
REPORTERS: A joke?
ANONYMOUS AIDE: Mr. Holbrooke was not a starry-eyed peacenik.
SPOKESMAN (P.J. CROWLEY): It was humorous repartee. I think the context was, you know, finishing the job.
WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: And as for Mr. Holbrooke’s final words, I think his comment simply demonstrates his committment to his work.
REPORTER (Washington Post): Mr. Holbrooke was speaking not to his surgeon, but to an Egyptian-American internist, Dr. Jehan El-Bayoumi.
REPORTER: Another Arab?
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: I went to the University of Michigan.
TALIBAN SPOKESMAN (QUARI YOUSAF AHAMADI): According to credible news agencies, Richard Holbrooke is dead. He had been suffering from a heart’s disease.
Emergence of this untoward phenomenon as an off-shoot of the Afghan issue is not a strange thing. Former Soviet leaders Brezhnev, Konstantin Cherninkove and Vladimir Andropov all had heart attacks in a short time distance. They relieved themselves of the Afghan mission by retreating into the lap of death.
REPORTERS (to DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI): You were there. What did he say?
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: I don’t remember. I was thinking about his heart.
REPORTER: You remember.
REPORTER 2: Don’t Arabs have long memories?
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: I can open him up. I can look at his body. The aorta. The myocardium. Don’t ask me what he said.
REPORTER: You heard it. You were there.
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: I haven’t been confident about a diagnosis since my third year of residency. That was when I conducted an autopsy on a man who died of congestive heart failure. That’s what all the tests said. And then I looked, and what actually killed him was lung cancer with lymphangitic spread. It can mimic heart failure on the most sophisticated tests. It has nothing to do with the heart.
REPORTER 2: Did his family sue the hospital?
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: He would have died no matter what the treatment was. I believe in autopsies. Bodies, once you open them, they don’t lie.
Journalists, I find, also enjoy autopsies. They open invisible bodies. They saw the air.
REPORTER 1: You’ve been in the news before, haven’t you?
REPORTER 2: She’s Hillary Clinton’s physician.
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: Secretary Clinton and I have a lot in common. We both like pantsuits.
REPORTER 1: That’s not what I was talking about. Remember back in 2004, when we found out that Dick Cheney’s doctor was addicted to pain meds? Xanax, codeine, Ambien, Stanol, this nasal spray. He had paid $46,000 in two years for the stuff. A GWU doctor. You turned him in.
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: He used my name to write the prescriptions.
REPORTER 2: This was the doctor who told America that, after three heart attacks, Dick Cheney was still “up to the task of the most sensitive public office.”
REPORTER 1: And then Cheney has his fourth heart attack–
REPORTER 2: –and nasal-spray junkie reassures America that Cheney’s ready to go back to work.
TALIBAN SPOKESMAN (QUARI YOUSAF AHAMADI): Brezhnev. Cherninkove. Andropov. A few months ago, an American four stars general, David Peteraeus, fainted during a Senate hearing–
REPORTER: Do all politicians have fragile hearts?
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: Smokers have fragile hearts.
SPOKESMAN (P.J. CROWLEY): The medical team said: ‘You’ve got to relax.’ And Richard said: ‘I can’t. I’m worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan.’ And they finally said: ‘Well, tell you what. We’ll try to fix this challenge while you’re undergoing surgery.’ And he said: ‘Yeah, see if you can take care of that.’ .
SPOKESMAN (P.J. CROWLEY): Holbrooke always wanted to make sure he got the last word.
REPORTER 2: He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize seven times.
TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: He never won it.
JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: When I talk to the family, I never say “autopsy.” It’s a harsh word. I say “aftercare.”
TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: The protracted Afghan war had a lethal dent on Holbrook’s health. His life of toils and fatigues ended after admission into a hospital. We believe Holbrooke’s timely death could have a didactic effect on the American strategists.
REPORTER 3: What can Richard Holbrooke’s death teach us about life? NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on the role of stress prevention and getting enough sleep. Could the 69-year-old Holbrooke have used these simple tactics to prolong his life?
TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: It was a heart’s disease.
REPORTER 2: Were Richard Holbrooke’s final words a joke? We report, you decide!
REPORTER 1: And what about Holbrooke’s surgeon?
DR. FARZAD NAJAM: My name is Farzad Najam. I was featured in the 2003-04 edition of the National Register’s Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals–
REPORTER 2: And before that?
DR. FARZAD NAJAM: I received bachelor’s degrees in medicine and surgery from King Edward Medical College.
REPORTER 2: In Lahore, Pakistan–
DR. FARZAD NAJAM: A school founded in 1860.
REPORTER 1: After the death of King Edward VII in 1910, the college was renamed in his honor. He died just soon enough to avoid World War I. They had called Edward “the Peacemaker.”
REPORTER 2: On a typical day, he smoked 20 cigarettes and 12 cigars.
REPORTER 1: The day he died, the King suffered several heart attacks, but refused to go to bed saying, “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end.”
REPORTER 2: Nice.
REPORTER 3: I like it.
REPORTER 1: Then he called in his 42-year-old mistress.
REPORTER 2: We report, you decide.
REPORTER 3: “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end.”
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: We told him he needed to calm down.
LES GELB, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Afghanistan is no longer a vital interest of the United States. Of course, I feel for the Afghans; but I feel far, far more for Americans….
DR. JEHAN EL-BAYOUMI: That’s all we were saying: calm down.
A note on the text: this post is an experiment in found theater. You could also call it a reporting-based fantasia–not fact, exactly, though mostly built of facts. The majority of the text is drawn directly from last week’s news articles and opinion posts. Any line that follows a hyperlink is either a direct quote or a pretty faithful paraphrase of what an actual person actually said, or, in a few cases, facts about them from a credible online source. The King Edward anecdotes are history that actually happened, at least according to Wikipedia. Lines without any hyperlinks are my interpolations–unsourced and totally made up. (For instance, I have no idea if Dr. El-Bayoumi likes pantsuits, or what she has said or would say to journalists.) This is obviously an odd fusion, but I hope it’s also a transparent way to play around with the real language of news.
One of the obvious inspirations for a news/theater fusion on this topic were the verbatim sections of The Great Game: Afghanistan, which I saw when it came through Berkeley on its American tour.
All thoughts (on form or content) welcome.