October 9, 2006

Marble's Memorable Mississippi Moment

Gelf interviews the doctor who told Dick Cheney to go fuck himself.

Carl Bialik

"Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney."

Ben Marble, a Mississippi emergency-room doctor, spoke those words in front of television cameras—and his own hand-held—within earshot of Vice President Dick Cheney during a press conference and photo op on Sept. 8, 2005, 10 days after Hurricane Katrina struck. The statement, inspired by Cheney's own statement on the Senate floor the prior year urging Sen. Patrick Leahy to "fuck yourself," immediately became iconic for summing up criticism of the administration for its post-Katrina actions. And Dr. Marble seized on the resulting notoriety, with mentions in the press dutifully catalogued on his Web site and a gig writing for Op Ed News.

Spike Lee and Ben Marble
Spike Lee with Ben Marble, who memorably crossed paths with Dick Cheney last year.
Marble resurfaced recently in Spike Lee's HBO documentary about Katrina (see Gelf's review here). Gelf emailed with the doctor about his appearance in the film, the impact of his profane comment, and his music and artwork. His responses were edited for clarity.

Gelf Magazine: Were you surprised to be included in the film?
Ben Marble: Well, one day out of the blue, I received three separate emails saying that Spike Lee was looking for me from people who had read it in an interview he did in the New York Observer. [Lee said to Marble, via the Observer, "if you are still walking amongst us, if you get this down in Guantánamo with the other jailed peace activists and suspected Al Qaeda agents who have been jailed for five years and not charged with anything, please get a message to me!"] So that was sort of a surprise, but I had expected that sooner or later someone would try to contact me, but it was a surprise that that someone turned out to be Spike.

GM: Does New Orleans get too much attention in media coverage, compared to the Mississippi coast?
BM: Yes, because the eye of Katrina and the worst winds/storm surge hit the Mississippi gulf coast, not Louisiana. So the worst part of the natural disaster was in Mississippi, but the worst disaster overall was the manmade disaster due to the levee failure, i.e. the fault of the Army Corps of Engineers.

GM: Did you think your cursing would lead to media coverage and fame?
BM: Yes I knew it would be something that would get a lot of coverage. But I also knew I was speaking for a lot of Americans that day.

GM: Why do you think so many people are interested in what you said?
BM: Because they all know The Dick deserved it because of his lame actions.

GM: If you'd known the attention you would get, would you have said the same thing to Cheney, or something else?
BM: Perhaps I would have said "Go Fuck Yourself Dick" because that would have been a bit more comical, but at the same time the "Mr. Cheney" part of it just came out naturally and sort of showed the fact that, unlike these jerks, I actually respect the office he holds.

Marble's video of his seminal Cheney moment.

GM: Why did you bring the camera along with you that day?
BM: We were filming all the destruction.

GM: Do you think it's true what Cheney said, that he hadn't heard things like what you yelled at him?
BM: Well, he probably hadn't heard things like that yelled at him because he was nowhere to be seen for almost two weeks (the storm happened on the 29th of August and the day I ran into him was the 8th of September.) But if he was talking about the phrase itself, then he was just lying because I was quoting his own words to Senator Leahy.

GM: What's it like to be semi-famous for a profanity?
BM: Well, almost everyone knows about what I said, but a lot fewer people actually know my name. But it is kind of weird because if you do a Google search for "ben marble," you will get literally millions of hits and that is kind of crazy.

GM: Do you think this documentary will cause change?
BM: No, but I do think it will make average Americans have a better understanding of what happened with respect to the New Orleans part of the Katrina story.

GM: Did your actions cause change?
BM: Yes; I doubt the Secret Service will ever let anyone get within shouting distance of any microphones during any future limp Dick press conferences.

GM: Are you still performing music and painting?
BM: Well, yes, my indie rock band, dR. O, performed at CBGB in New York on Sept 11 and we may very well get to perform at the Voodoo Festival in New Orleans, which would be awesome. As for painting, most of my paintings had their frames destroyed in the tidal surge of Katrina but luckily the images are intact so I am considering an auction of a few of them to donate the money to The World Can't Wait, or perhaps another charity. I would have to reframe them but I have been so busy working at my "day job" in the ER I haven't had much time to paint any new stuff or fix the old. But painting is something I will always do.

Related on the Web

•Marble's website Hurricane Katrina Sucked.

•A pre-Katrina interview with Marble, "doctor, artist, musician."

•Biloxi Sun Herald staffers tell Columbia journalism students that the Mississippi Gulf Coast's struggles have been overshadowed by New Orleans's. "Spike Lee isn't planning a follow-up documentary in southern Mississippi," CJR Daily wryly notes.

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