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Oliver Sipple

Thursday, September 21, 2017 - 10:31 PM


One morning, Oliver Sipple went out for a walk. A couple hours later, to his own surprise, he saved the life of the President of the United States. But in the days that followed, Sipple’s split-second act of heroism turned into a rationale for making his personal life into political opportunity. What happens next makes us wonder what a moment, or a movement, or a whole society can demand of one person. And how much is too much? 

Through newly unearthed archival tape, we hear Sipple himself grapple with some of the most vexing topics of his day and ours - privacy, identity, the freedom of the press - not to mention the bonds of family and friendship. 

Reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte. Produced by Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte.

Special thanks to Jerry Pritikin, Michael Yamashita, Stan Smith, Duffy Jennings; Ann Dolan, Megan Filly and Ginale Harris at the Superior Court of San Francisco; Leah Gracik, Karyn Hunt, Jesse Hamlin, The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, Mike Amico, Jennifer Vanasco and Joey Plaster.

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Daryl Lembke, Daniel Luzer, Ken Maley, Sarah Jane Moore, Dan Morain and George Sipple, Jr.


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Comments [20]

Christopher Holdorf from Orlando, FL

I would also like to know what that final instrumental music piece was at the was dark, minimalist synth-based pulses and droning, very emotive and beautiful.

Oct. 16 2017 11:36 AM
robin Hectors from Europe

What a story, thanks for this. I feel so bad for him...

Oct. 07 2017 12:31 PM
p.a. from Toronto,On

Gordon Pincent was brilliant! Wonderful choice.

Oct. 06 2017 08:15 PM
Elisa Menendez from Miami, FL

Thank you for doing this great story about this American hero.

Oct. 06 2017 11:37 AM
Stanislaus Goings from Chicago

Oliver Sipple was a "former marine" NOT an "ex marine" big difference. Change the caption on the photo at least. Great story otherwise.

Oct. 05 2017 11:00 AM
Brandon from Minneapolis, MN

This is one of the best stories your show has ever done. Excellent reporting by Mr. Nasser and your team. There was, however, one glaring omission to your reporting that caught my attention.

I'm no Ford historian but I'm surprised your story did not make any mention of Larry Buendorf, the Secret Service agent who saved President Ford's life from an earlier assassination attempt just two weeks prior. The praise and fanfare Mr. Buendorf received couldn't be any more different than what Mr. Sippple experienced. Not only did Buendorf receive official honors from the U.S. Treasury, Ford maintained contact with him over the years and even skied with him on occasion. Sipple, as we now all know, received an official statement to the press and a letter of appreciation. Why the disparate treatment? Sipple and Buendorf were both your salt of the earth Mid-Westerners and military veterans. They even had similar appearances. Buendorf, as you might guess, was heterosexual. I think a comparison of the two would have added a lot to your narrative. Thank you.

Oct. 04 2017 09:55 AM
Lana from Tokyo

I appreciate stories that make you think. It's not about emotions but more on morality and society. Thanks for this.

I feel for Oliver Sipple for getting screwed over for saving someone's life. I feel that then-President Ford, should have been aware of the ramifications on Oliver's life and maybe done something about it. Harvey Milk, or any of the people who outed him, have no right to do what they did.

Oct. 02 2017 11:39 PM
Rob T from Oregon

This is not about the episode but I have to say this. The podcast drove me nuts.
1. There is a past tense - please use it. It's there for a reason. For some reason there is a trend to use the present tense when talking about the past. For many of us this makes the narrative almost unbearable. Mr Nasser, this was an egregious example of denying the existence of a mandatory aspect of English.
2. Furthermore, Mr Nasser, "this" is not the indefinite article "a". There is a different use for both, they are not synonymous.

Given that RadioLab is a spoken medium I suggest that some effort is put into the quality of the English being used.

Sep. 29 2017 08:43 PM
Max Ferretti from Florida

Can you please link to (or post) the transcript of Mr. Sipple's statement to the press? You ended the episode on it, and it was beautiful and amazing.

Sep. 29 2017 07:10 PM

Thanks for this

Sep. 28 2017 08:46 PM
Peter Ross from San Jose, CA

That voice pro at the end as "Wayne Friday" narrated by Gordon Whatshisname was both compelling and super sobering — Good work to the both's O'yuh!

Sep. 28 2017 04:14 PM
Eric from Tulsa, OK

I know this has been harped on a lot, but I think it bears repeating. Where have the science based programs gone? I got hooked on Radiolab because of the stories about intestinal parasites, stress, brains, space, The Good Show, The Bad Show, etc.

Radiolab is turning into This American Life. I wanna hear less about feelings, and more about blood flukes.

Sep. 28 2017 10:40 AM
Jim from NYC

Guys. Love the podcast. I listen to it when I walk my dog around NYC, when I run, or when I am walking somewhere. Now the bad part. STOP THE DEAD AIR BREAKS! When you do that, I have to check my equipment to see if something failed. I do not think it is a dramatic pause. Even knowing you do it doesn't fix the problem as I often get a disconnect for a number of reasons. The quality of the shows is not enough to overcome the prank like feel these dead air breaks cause.

Sep. 28 2017 08:53 AM
Peter Ross from San Jose, CA

Oh the irony to reach one percent and be dubbed a one-percenter just like the president -- as Judy Tenuta says "it could happen!"

Sep. 28 2017 04:49 AM
Jennifer Park from Chicago, IL

I would also like to know the name of the song during the credits. Please?

Sep. 27 2017 09:11 PM
Helen F. from New York, NY

This was one of the most heart-breaking and tragic stories I've heard. Thank you to Laatif Nasser and Tracy Hunt for sharing the story of a Oliver Sipple. I am grateful for shows like Radiolab that are constantly expanding the breadth of material they bring to their listeners. Thank you.

Sep. 27 2017 10:16 AM
Alex from Earth

FYI you kept mentioning in the show that Mr Sipple was an 'ex-marine'; though I believe you meant 'former marine'. Someone who has completed their time and retired is a former Marine. Someone who is kicked out in disgrace is an ex-marine. Seems like a small thing - but it's a big deal to those guys.

Sep. 27 2017 09:12 AM
Chade from USA

Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.

Please get back to your core. Why does it matter that he is a sodomite? Sounded like a promising story at first.

Sep. 26 2017 06:06 PM
Mike H from Europe

Man, what a sad story, but I guess the world is full of them. Ford, who I always thought got a bad rap by SNL (best athlete Prez ever was made out to be bumbling fool), sure didn't acquit himself well. He should have called the father and said-

"I may not agree with this much either, but their are many forms of courage- Oliver showed some in his willingness to fight and be wounded in War, and again in saving my life in San Francisco. You know how war can change people. I want to you to dig deep and find the courage to respect him and accept him into your lives. I do. Oliver is an American hero." He should have had him over to the WH and given him some medal, but I guess he would have been afraid of inspiring copycats, which Moore already was.

Journo agreement aside, she was a crackpot witch who should have been executed. You should have said: I don't care what we promised- Why did you do it?

Sep. 26 2017 11:45 AM
Danny Caudillo from Porter Ranch, CA

Would love to know what that song at the very end is.

Sep. 26 2017 09:35 AM

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