My Friend Mister Rogers

Tom Junod remembers his friendship with Fred Rogers 16 years after Fred’s death and considers how Fred would have responded in today’s world, filled with regular mass violence and a growing lack of civility in political discourse and protest.

Author: Tom Junod
Source: The Atlantic
Published: Nov 7, 2019
Length: 28 minutes (7,113 words)

The Family Vice

Tom Junod reflects on his father’s gambling habit: “…he made people think he was a gangster when really he was just a mark.”

Author: Tom Junod
Source: ESPN
Published: Jan 21, 2019
Length: 12 minutes (3,214 words)

The Falling Man

Richard Drew’s photo of the man falling from the Twin Towers: in the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it, though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are our most intimate connection to the horror of that day.

Author: Tom Junod
Source: Esquire
Published: Sep 11, 2016
Length: 29 minutes (7,385 words)

The State of the American Dog

“This is a story about an American dog: my dog, Dexter.” Through his personal story, Junod examines how pit bulls became so feared, so abused, and so neglected in the United States.

Author: Tom Junod
Source: Esquire
Published: Jul 16, 2014
Length: 25 minutes (6,430 words)

There’s a Whole New Way of Killing Cancer: Stephanie Lee Is the Test Case

Stephanie Lee, a 36-year-old Iraq War widow with two children is diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and told she has just a few years to live. A group of pioneering cancer specialists at the Icahn Institute at Mount Sinai use genetic data to figure out alternative treatments to “the standard of care” that could give her her life back:

His name was Ross Cagan. He did not work for Schadt; he worked as a professor at Sinai. But they met every week, and after Schadt called on October 1 to tell Cagan about Stephanie Lee, he listened to Cagan’s idea for her. A month earlier, Cagan had started doing something that he said “had never been done before.” He started creating “personalized flies” for cancer patients. He took the mutations that scientists like Schadt had revealed and loaded them into flies, essentially giving the flies the same cancer that the patient had. Then he treated them. “Why a fly? You can do this in a fly. You can capture the complexities of the tumor.”

A day after Cagan spoke with Schadt, Stephanie became the fifth person in the world to have a fly built in her image—or, rather, in the image of her cancer. In an ideal world, Cagan would have created as complex a creature as possible, burdening the fly with at least ten mutations. He gave Stephanie’s fly three, because “Stephanie is on the shorter course. We’re making the fly as complex as possible given her time.” By October 11, however, Cagan already had “one possible drug suggestion for her”—or one possible combination of drugs, since he always tests at least two at a time. “In this center, the FDA will not allow us to put a novel drug in patient. To get a novel drug into a patient, we have to do a novel combination of [known] drugs. We have to use novel drug combinations that people have never seen before.”

Source: Esquire
Published: Nov 20, 2013
Length: 60 minutes (15,090 words)

‘He has a long neck, upon which his long head, adorned by long ears, wobbles like a tulip’

Tom Junod’s profile of George Clooney, in which the actor takes on Russell Crowe, Tesla and Leonardo DiCaprio:

"And the thing about playing Leo is you have all these guys talking shit. We get there, and there’s this guy, Danny A I think his name is. Danny A is this club kid from New York. And he comes up to me and says, ‘We played once at Chelsea Piers. I kicked your ass.’ I said, ‘I’ve only played at Chelsea Piers once in my life and ran the table. So if we played, you didn’t kick anybody’s ass.’ And so then we’re watching them warm up, and they’re doing this weave around the court, and one of the guys I play with says, ‘You know we’re going to kill these guys, right?’ Because they can’t play at all. We’re all like fifty years old, and we beat them three straight: 11–0, 11–0, 11–0. And the discrepancy between their game and how they talked about their game made me think of how important it is to have someone in your life to tell you what’s what. I’m not sure if Leo has someone like that.”

Author: Tom Junod
Source: Esquire
Published: Nov 12, 2013
Length: 24 minutes (6,061 words)

Theater of Pain

A look at the culture of playing through your injuries in the NFL:

“But when you’re always hurting, how do you know when you’re hurt?

“You don’t. Not always, anyway. ‘A lot of times you don’t know exactly when the injury happens, because you’re taking drugs like Toradol or another kind of anti-inflam, so you’re feeling good,’ says Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. ‘Or maybe you’re dealing with a previous injury, like an ankle, and you’re taking Toradol, so you’re feeling a little bit better, but now all of a sudden everything is feeling a little bit better. Plus, you have the rush of adrenaline — so the injury might hurt a little, but you don’t really realize it. You might not feel it till the next day, or you may feel it that night. Because your mind-set is to play through everything you can, unless you cannot. And usually, it’s been my experience that when you come off the field after an injury, the trainer or the team doctor is meeting you. They’re like, ‘You haven’t moved your arm in thirty seconds. What happened?’ And you’re like, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine — leave me alone.”‘”

Author: Tom Junod
Source: Esquire
Published: Jan 19, 2013
Length: 23 minutes (5,947 words)

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama

[Not single-page] The origins and consequences of the Obama administration’s focus on drone strikes to kill enemy combatants:

“Of course, the danger of the Lethal Presidency is that the precedent you establish is hardly ever the precedent you think you are establishing, and whenever you seem to be describing a program that is limited and temporary, you are really describing a program that is expansive and permanent. You are a very controlled man, and as Lethal President, it’s natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidency. It’s even natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidencies of other countries, simply by the power of your example. But the Lethal Presidency incorporates not just drone technology but a way ofthinking about drone technology, and this way of thinking will be your ultimate export. You have anticipated the problem of proliferation. But an arms race involving drones would be very different from an arms race involving nuclear arms, because the message that spread with nuclear arms was that these weapons must never be used. The message that you are spreading with drones is that they must be — that using them amounts to nothing less than our moral duty.”

Author: Tom Junod
Source: Esquire
Published: Jul 9, 2012
Length: 41 minutes (10,371 words)

Counter-Terrorism Is Getting Complicated

[Not single-page] The case of the “Waffle House terrorists,” which included 73-year-old Fred Thomas and three other 60-something men charged with plotting to commit acts of terror—and an FBI informant previously arrested on charges of molestation:

“It is the central mystery of the case, one even more perplexing than the mystery of whether the old conspirators would ever have been capable of doing what they were talking about doing, or whether, if they weren’t capable, they could be guilty of any crimes. By all accounts, Fred Thomas had lived an exemplary life of loyalty and leadership, with a devoted wife, a son nearby, a secure pension income, and a dream home to show for it. Joe Sims, by all accounts, had lived a slippery and slovenly life that made him the equivalent of his cell-phone stamp — unknown. He was a man of unsavory associations and catastrophic divorces, a man who when he tells the truth, tells it slant, a man who stands accused of raping his stepdaughter in a house with her old swing set still planted in the backyard.

“And yet Fred Thomas called him and still has his phone number on his speed dial. When Sims called Thomas, Thomas picked up the phone, and even when Charlotte took an icy message, Thomas always called Sims back.”

Author: Tom Junod
Source: Esquire
Published: Jan 18, 2012
Length: 37 minutes (9,457 words)

Jon Stewart and the Burden of History

Stewart isn’t just being a bully here. He is being disingenuous, and he knows it. Worse, he’s tapping into the collective fantasy without knowing it. He’s the gunslinger saying he’s going back to the farm while at the same time putting notches in his belt. More precisely, he’s the presumptive Edward R. Murrow saying that he’ll go back to comedy once he cleans up journalism. But he can’t go back. He can’t go back to the pleasures of fart jokes and funny faces — the pleasures of comedy — because he’s experienced the higher pleasure of preaching to weirdly defenseless stiffs like Jim Cramer. He’s saying once again that he’s outgrown comedy and is no longer a comedian. But he’s not saying what he actually is, because then he’d be judged. And Jon Stewart, to a degree unique in the culture, exists outside the realm of judgment.

Author: Tom Junod
Source: Esquire
Published: Sep 15, 2011
Length: 29 minutes (7,393 words)