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Isaac Chotiner Interviews Historical Figures

The infamous New Yorker interviewer takes on history’s monsters and rogues.

In recent months, Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker has become justly famous for his polite yet brutal interviews in which he eviscerates his wealthy subjects by relentlessly reminding them of things they have said or done in the past. Chotiner is a joy, and we are lucky to have him in our current obsequious climate. But did you know that Chotiner has been showing hypocrites their own asses for centuries? That’s right: Isaac Chotiner, an immortal antagonist of the powerful, the smug, and the obtuse, has been mastering his art for millennia. We present to you now some excerpts from his greatest historical interviews.

Henry The Eighth

Illustrations by Jesse Rubenfeld

CHOTINER

But you did kill Anne Boleyn.

HENRY VIII

Not at all. The executioner killed her.

CHOTINER

But you gave the order to have her executed.

HENRY VIII

In a manner of…look, when you’re a king, you sometimes have to make choices…I’m not saying they’re good choices. I’m not saying they’re smart choices. But they’re the decisions you have to make, because no one else can make them. That’s the burden of being a king.

CHOTINER

Well, one argument would be to spread the decision-making around, so that one man doesn’t constantly end up making bad or stupid choices without consequence.

HENRY VIII

I would not make that argument.

Oliver Cromwell

CHOTINER

Now you’ve been accused of hating the Irish, and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of killing, starvation, mass exiles, and forcible land grabs have occurred in Ireland under the Model Army occupation.

CROMWELL

That’s a very unfair characterization. Yes, we’re in a time of war. But I’ve warned all my officers that any violence against Irish civilians, unless they are in league with the Cavaliers, will be punished.

CHOTINER

Have any officers in fact been punished?

CROMWELL

I am not aware of any acts that would warrant punishment.

CHOTINER

But there were 1500 civilians massacred during the siege of Wexford, for example.

CROMWELL

They were in league with the Cavaliers.

CHOTINER

Would you say that all Irish people are in league with the Cavaliers?

CROMWELL

All? Perhaps not. But many, yes, unfortunately.

CHOTINER

And yet on another occasion you stated that “I had rather be overthrown by a Cavalierish interest than a Scotch interest; I had rather be overthrown by a Scotch interest than an Irish interest and I think of all this is the most dangerous.” Aren’t you suggesting here that the Irish are inherently your enemies, whether they’re in league with the Cavaliers or not?

CROMWELL

The Irish have shed plenty of English blood.

CHOTINER

That doesn’t answer my question.

Thomas Jefferson

CHOTINER

So, all men are created equal, with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

JEFFERSON

I agree with that.

CHOTINER

I know you agree with it, because you wrote it. I guess what I am wondering is how you square that with literally possessing human beings.

JEFFERSON

Well, I said all men are created equal, so, obviously a lot depends here on our definitions.

CHOTINER

Okay. How would you, personally, define “men”?

JEFFERSON

As you know, I can speak and write in a lot of languages—six languages! I can’t say much for the practicality of Anglo-Saxon (laughs). Anyway, what I’ve learned in my study of language is that words are fluid. The Declaration, the Constitution—these are meant to be immortal documents, but also completely reactive to the views of worthy men. I’m sure that, say, 80, 200, 250 years from now, America will not be divided by the question of who or what persons are created equal, and what rights are inalienable.

CHOTINER

Do you or the other Framers anticipate any problem with an enduring system of government that was devised solely by a tiny group of wealthy, white male landowners?

JEFFERSON

(laughs) Who else should have been included?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

ROUSSEAU

The bounds of possibility, in moral matters, are less narrow than we imagine: It is our weaknesses, our vices and our prejudices that confine them. Base souls have no belief in great men; vile slaves smile in mockery at the name of liberty.

CHOTINER

Ok, but I really want to come back to the fact that you’ve repeatedly impregnated your common-law wife and forced her to abandon the babies at foundling hospitals.

Attila the Hun

CHOTINER

So when the Emperor’s sister Honoria sent you her ring, what made you believe she was proposing to you?

ATTILA

I knew she wasn’t. It was just convenient for me to pretend she was my betrothed and needed to be rescued, so I had an excuse to invade Rome.

CHOTINER

When it comes to Romans, do you feel comfortable admitting—

ATTILA

Murdered the shit out of them.

CHOTINER

You’re referring to the sacking of Rome. You didn’t actually—

ATTILA

Burned that motherfucker down.

CHOTINER

I have to say, this is refreshing.

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