Updated at 8 p.m. on July 14.
Sarah Milov was sitting at her kitchen table, nursing her baby, when she saw the tweet.
“It took substantial government support to create Americans’ dependency on tobacco,” wrote Nathan Daniel Beau Connolly, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. “@edward_l_ayres and I talk with @jeremyhobson about the regulation of tobacco on this week’s @hereandnow.” Connolly ended the tweet with a “shout out” to Milov, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia whose forthcoming book, “The Cigarette: A Political History,” provided virtually all the material for the segment, which aired on Thursday.
Unfortunately, “Here & Now” — a radio show co-produced by NPR and WBUR in Boston, which is syndicated to approximately 5 million listeners — did not grant Milov the same courtesy. The three men on the segment, two historians and an NPR host, never mentioned Milov’s name or the name of her book.
“Every single word they said was from my book,” said Milov in an interview with The Lily. While the historians did not quote directly from “The Cigarette,” she said, every cited fact was taken from its pages. “Then I got to the end of a nearly 10-minute segment and did not hear myself credited at all.”
Connolly and the other historian on the segment, Edward Ayers, are hosts of “BackStory,” a historical radio show sponsored by Virginia Humanities, and are frequently asked to appear on “Here & Now.” “BackStory” researchers helped prep Connolly and Ayers for the segment, providing them with talking points from Milov’s book, said Diana Lynn Williams, digital editor and strategist for “BackStory.”
“We regret the omission,” “BackStory” wrote in a tweet on Friday. “We want to be sure that BackStory always gives credit when it’s due.” In an interview, Williams added that BackStory takes full responsibility for what happened. “Somewhere along the way we dropped the ball,” she said.
Producers at WBUR also recognize that something went wrong. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t acknowledge the author who was largely responsible for much of the content,” said Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programming at WBUR. In an interview Saturday night, Fleming said his team had been working to add Milov’s name and book title to the webpage that links out to the radio segment. (As of this article’s publication on Sunday morning, there was still no reference to Milov or her book on the WBUR website.)
The omission of Milov’s name from the segment is particularly egregious because of the relative professional standing of Milov and the two male historians who spoke about her work. Both Connolly and Ayers are tenured professors. Ayers is the president emeritus at the University of Richmond, as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in literature and the National Book Award. Milov, on the other hand, expects to be up for tenure sometime in the next year; “The Cigarette: A Political History” is her first book.
“You could say I’m at a critical stage in my career,” Milov said.
Connolly understands how important it is for untenured faculty — particularly female, untenured faculty — to have their work cited in the media. “As scholars, we recognize exactly what’s at stake for junior people,” said Connolly, who acknowledges that the vast majority of the information cited in the segment came from Milov’s book. “At no point in the process were we trying to conceal the importance of Sarah Milov’s work.”
The missing attribution, Connolly says, can be chalked up to the format of a historical-radio-show segment, which he describes as a “synthetic take,” with hosts reading a variety of sources and then distilling what they know into a digestible narrative.
“When we were initially figuring out the format [for the shows], we would occasionally say, ‘so-and-so’s scholarship says this,’ but a lot of stuff would end up getting cut in the interest of time,” said Connolly, who specializes in the history of racism and capitalism in America. “It’s never been us claiming that we’re experts, we’re just trying to lay out the historical narrative for the benefit of the listeners of ‘Here & Now.’”
But this particular “Here & Now” segment was not a synthesis, said Milov. “They weren’t relying on multiple people’s work and synthesizing. They were relying entirely on my book.”
While Connolly says he cited certain facts from another female historian, Nan Enstad, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in addition to Milov’s work, he believes those sections may have been removed in the editing room.
The “BackStory” team was aware of Milov’s work because her publisher had sent them an advance copy a few weeks before the “Here & Now” segment aired, said Milov. (Her book does not come out until October.) Shortly after that, Milov said, her publicist got an email from a “BackStory” producer, who said the team was interested in doing a segment based on the book. Milov and her publicist agreed — on the condition that Milov would be credited.
“I forgot about it and went on vacation with my 5-month-old,” said Milov. She didn’t hear about the segment again, she said, until she read Connolly’s tweet.
Milov doesn’t blame anyone in particular for the oversight.
“I do not believe that anyone acted out of any sort of malice in this,” she said. The problem, she said, is likely systemic. The media hasn’t yet figured out how to present history with proper attribution. With audio, Williams said, it’s particularly “fuzzy” because, while radio stations and podcasts will often include a bibliography on their websites, there is no room for footnotes or links in the segment itself.
“If I read five books on the subject, I’m not going to say on air that I read these five people’s books. Historians [on our show] are distilling the scholarship that’s available to them,” said Williams. “It’s kind of an accepted practice.”
Milov hopes that can change, especially when a single source is relied on so heavily.
She still wonders why no one ever asked her to come on the show herself.
“I mean, my book is about tobacco and I live in Virginia. I would have been a reasonable person to talk to about this topic,” she said. “But they wanted the history guys.”
Editor’s Note: The names of the male historians were misspelled in an earlier version of this story. We regret the error. We have also updated the headline.