Shatner's sniper interview: going where no journalist had gone before

As an interviewer, William Shatner makes use of his Capt. Kirk appeal, this time getting notorious D.C. shooter Lee Boyd Malvo to open up.
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William Shatner

As an interviewer, William Shatner makes use of his Capt. Kirk appeal, this time getting notorious D.C. shooter Lee Boyd Malvo to open up.

For those who might have missed it, there was a noteworthy moment in journalism last week. William Shatner interviewed Lee Boyd Malvo, the young D.C. sniper who once lived in the Puget Sound area. That's right: Capt. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise talked to Malvo on the phone for 20 minutes. Malvo previously had not spoken openly to anyone, but for Shatner he elaborated on the snipers' intent to include two other shooters and expand their killing spree to several states. Now 25 years old, Malvo is serving a life sentence for a crime spree in 2002 in which 10 people were killed. Malvo used a rifle and silencer, shooting through the back of a car driven by his partner, John Muhammad. Shatner, who hosts a well-regarded interview show, "Raw Nerve," for the A&E cable network and its Biography channel, called Malvo as part of "Aftermath," a new program he's hosting on Bio. The phone call turned out to be so revealing that A&E made a separate one-hour show of it and ran it last Thursday. The program will air again on Bio next Monday (Aug. 9). It is not unusual for writers to be drawn to criminals. Charles Dickens spent evenings trailing the London police. Truman Capote traveled to Kansas, first to study the details of the Clutter family murders and then to focus on the literal murderers. Norman Mailer buckled himself to Gary Gilmore as Gilmore was about to be executed for murder. But in no case did those writers/journalists gain access and privilege by virtue of their own myths. As writers, yes. As public forces, perhaps. But as mythic characters, to the scale of Captain Kirk? No, this is a first. Shatner has opened a shutter, or perhaps vent, that had not budged before. The D.C. snipers were active at a horrific time for the United States, a time that had no room for homegrown terrorists raised in the back of a car. Once caught, the snipers were made to disappear, from mind or matter. Muhammad, Malvo's father-figure partner and militant manipulator, was executed last November. Shatner's interview gives context to Malvo. It may not make sense of what he did, but it gives at least enough detail to make the figure come to life. Malvo trusted Shatner to be Kirk. Shatner knows that he has a very particular and remarkable access, and plans to make a business of it. The show relies on access by fiction, access by fame within media, access by an alternate reality. Ronald Reagan became President of the United States on this very particular cloud, prompting Tip O'Neill, the legendary Speaker of the House, to say that Reagan was often an actor reading lines but a fine man who would have made a remarkable King. Realizing this particular access and code, what other media-mythic figures might be helpful to giving voice and intervention? Can you send Al Pacino/Corleone/Shylock to talk with Bernie Madoff? What about Ted Bundy — who would he have spoken to, perhaps Sharon Stone? Dennis Hopper would have been a great help in prompting the Oregon anarchists from WTO. Sean Connery would be perfect for the next spy or, meanwhile, a man of principle for Unabomber Ted Kaczynski (another of Shatner's scheduled subjects). It is an American technique, with its own remarkable power and influence — considerably more indigenous than water boarding and, for the sense of it all, something of an illumination.


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Peter Miller

Peter Miller is owner of Peter Miller Books, a store in Seattle specializing in architecture and design books. You can reach him in care of