Say you wrote a book, an endeavor that takes time, talent, creativity, research, and more.
Now, let's say that in the months leading up to publication, a radio show covered your book's precise topic. The three hosts relayed the many treasures found in your book. While they were keen to share your historical findings, they failed to mention your book's title, or even your name. You, meanwhile, get erased from the narrative of your own work.
On July 11, this exact surreal scenario happened to Professor Sarah Milov. After she was tagged in a tweet, Milov discovered that her book The Cigarette: A Political History, out in October by Harvard University Press, had provided the backbone for an episode of Here & Now, a radio show co-produced by NPR and WBUR in Boston. But it wasn't cause for celebration. None of Here & Now's 5 million listeners would hear Milov's name, even though 10 ten-minute segment was comprised entirely of her research.
"They were relying entirely on my book," Milov said in an interview with The Lily, the first to notice and draw attention to the glaring omission. (Milov declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Within a day of the segment's release, the creators behind Here & Now recognized the omission. This particular episode of Here & Now featured Nathan Daniel Beau Connolly and Edward Ayers, the hosts of BackStory, a historical radio show sponsored by Virginia Humanities, in conversation with an NPR host. Milov actually had a fellowship at Virginia Humanities while writing The Cigarette.
On July 12, BackStory wrote an apology tweet (currently pinned to the top of its Twitter feed), saying, "Neither Sarah's name nor book were mentioned. We regret the omission." WBUR responded by updating its site to reflect the instrumental role of Milov's research in the making of the segment, and provided a similar apology: "We did not attribute the research to Sarah in the original broadcast that aired. We apologize for the error." NPR did not respond to Refinery29's request for comment.
On this week’s Here & Now, Ed and Nathan used the work of Sarah Milov (@allofmilov ) for the segment “America’s Complex History With Tobacco, From ‘The Marlboro Man’ To E-Cigarettes.” However, neither Sarah’s name nor book were mentioned. We regret the omission. 1/3— BackStory (@BackStoryRadio) July 12, 2019
How could an oversight like this have happened? Here's where the process of research and attribution got dicey. Connolly and Ayers prepared for the episode of Here & Now with help from BackStory researchers. The team at BackStory had definitely received an advanced copy of The Cigarette; in fact, the show's producers had contacted Milov earlier about doing a segment based on the book. Milov agreed, so long as she would be credited.
Clearly, she wasn't — though typically, episodes of Here & Now don't feature specific scholars. Instead, hosts prepare by reading multiple sources and creating a cohesive historical narrative. Connolly described this as a "synthetic take" in an interview with The Lily. However, this particular segment differed from other episodes of Here & Now in that it only used Milov's findings. According to Connolly, facts pulled from historian Nan Enstad's Cigarettes, Inc. were ultimately edited out.
BackStory, WBUR, and Milov all agree: It was a mistake. But it was still the omission of a woman's work — a woman who would have benefitted greatly from having her first book cited on a prestigious NPR show. Unlike BackStory's two hosts, Milov does not have tenure and is currently searching for full time employment in academia's notoriously competitive job market. BackStory had the chance of giving her a signal boost.
Ironically, Milov is probably getting even more publicity from the outrage than she would have by being featured on the show. Her book has officially gone viral. So, here's our signal boost: Whether you had thoughts on Stranger Things' smoking scenes or just got back from your Juul break, read Milov's book about the history of the cigarette when it's published in October. If the movie Yesterday questioned a world without cigarettes (and The Beatles), this book will make you realize just how different a world that would have been.