The investigative journalist behind the best-seller “Fast Food Nation” will be speaking at a City Arts and Lectures discussion at Herbst Theatre on Thursday. Schlosser’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Nation and Atlantic Monthly. He lives in California and is currently working on a book about America’s prison system.
You are often compared to Upton Sinclair. Did you model your writing after his? It’s hugely flattering to me although I don’t know how he would have felt about it. I never consciously set out to model myself after Upton Sinclair.
How do you see the state of today’s investigative journalism? It’s a mixed deal. On the one hand, this is the golden age for investigative reporting — there is no shortage of muck to rake. On the other hand, it’s much more difficult to get support for long-form investigative journalism. The thing that’s been inhibiting long-form investigative reporting is fear — fear of being sued, of being unpopular, of being criticized by very powerful groups.
You are working on a book about America’s prison system — tell us more. At the heart of the book is the question: How did the land of the free become a nation behind bars? In my lifetime, we’ve gone from about 300,000 people behind bars to about 2.2 million. Nobody has ever locked up so many people before.
You don’t seem to like it here. Have you ever considered moving to Europe? The people who don’t like me called me communist, socialist and un-American. I think that’s crazy — I love this country, that’s why I bother doing this work. If I didn’t love it here, I wouldn’t investigate all these social problems. Journalists aren’t supposed to be cheerleaders.
Check out more 3-minute interviews from our San Francisco newsroom.