It was not pleasant.
How many people were there?
About a thousand. They hated it. They booed and tried to shout me down...
And you could hear it loud and clear?
Yes. At one point they all got up and began singing God Bless America. They cut my microphone three times. Two young men from the graduating class got up in their robes tried to push me from the podium. I kept giving the speech. Michael Moore later saw a video of it and said, "I don't know who the actor is in your family, you or your wife." [Ed. Note: Hedges is married to actress Eunice Wong.]
So you kept bulldozing your way through all the sound and fury in the crowd?
And did you make it all the way to the end of your speech?
No, the president said I should, "Wrap it up!" after 18 minutes. Campus security escorted me off the stage before the awarding of diplomas. I was in an academic gown. I told them my coat was in the president's office. They said, "We'll mail you your coat" -- which they did. They took me to my hotel room, waited as I packed my bags and drove me to the bus station. I got on a bus to Chicago.
So you escaped the tar and feathers. But you certainly felt the madness that was sweeping America in those days.
Yeah. The amateur video footage of the speech spread like wildfire. My daughter was in elementary school at the time, and they were watching some PBS show, and suddenly her whole class goes, "Hey look, that's your dad!"
And what was the fallout at the Times?
The Times felt pressured to respond. The right-wing talk shows and cable shows lynched me hour after hour, day after day. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial denouncing me. The Times issued me a written reprimand. Under Newspaper Guild rules, this the final step before being fired. Violate the reprimand, and you're out.
What did they say was your violation?
I had impugned the impartiality of the paper.
By taking a strong stand against the war -- a war which they had helped start, and which they later condemned?
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