Mark Danner


April 2008, New York
Photo by Dominique Nabokov

Mark Danner

is a writer, journalist and educator who has written on war and politics for more than three decades. He has covered conflicts in Central AmericaHaiti, the BalkansIraq and the greater Middle East, and has written extensively about the development of American foreign policy during the Cold War and the post-Cold War era, focussing on human rights and democracy. He has covered every American presidential election from the 2000 vote recount in Florida to Trump’s “Capitol Coup” in 2021. His books include Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War (2016), Torture and the Forever War (2014), Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War (2009), The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History (2006), Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror (2004), The Road to Illegitimacy: One Reporter’s Travel’s Through the 2000 Florida Vote Recount (2004) and The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (1994). Danner was a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker and is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. Danner holds the Class of 1961 Distinguished Chair in Undergraduate Education at the University of California at Berkeley, and the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College.

Mark David Danner was born at Utica, a small city in northern New York State, on November 10, 1958, the son of Dr. Robert Danner, a dentist, and Rosalyn Sitrin Danner, a high school Spanish teacher. Raised in Utica and in the Adirondack mountains, Danner attended John F. Hughes School and Utica Free Academy, where he served as co-editor of The Corridors, one of the country’s oldest student newspapers, which was named, his senior year, the best paper in New York State. He was graduated in June 1976.

Mark and Samuel Wineburg 1976, Utica
Photo by Utica Observer-Dispatch

Danner entered Harvard College in September 1976. After majoring, successively, in philosophy, religion, and English literature, he took his degree in Modern Literatures and Aesthetics, an interdisciplinary honors concentration that combined comparative literature, philosophy and art history. He found himself particularly marked by an individual tutorial on the development of modern fiction with Frank Kermode, then visiting Harvard as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, by an intellectual history course on “Space, Time and Motion,” developed by David Layzar, by Stanley Cavell’s survey of modern philosophy and by a class in international relations taught by Stanley Hoffmann and Guido Goldman. After spending a year traveling in Europe and living in Nice, France, Danner was graduated from Harvard College, magna cum laude, in June 1981.

In September 1981 Danner began work at the New York Review of Books as an editorial assistant to founding co-editor Robert B. Silvers. In 1984 he became senior editor at Harper’s Magazine and, two years later, an editor at The New York Times Magazine, where he specialized in foreign affairs and politics and wrote pieces about the abolition of nuclear weapons and about the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Danner joined The New Yorker‘s staff in April 1990, five months after the magazine published his three-part series on Haiti, “A Reporter At Large: Beyond the Mountains” — and a few days after the articles were granted the 1990 National Magazine Award for Reporting.

The New Yorker, 1989
Photo by Anne Hall

At The New Yorker, Danner began contributing regular essays to the “Comment” section of the magazine, notably on the Gulf War. On December 6, 1993, for the second time in its history, The New Yorker devoted its entire issue to one article — Danner’s piece, “The Truth of El Mozote.” That article, an investigation into the notorious massacre in a remote Salvadoran town, was granted an Overseas Press Club Award and a Latin American Studies Association award. In April 1994, Vintage published Danner’s book, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War which The New York Times Book Review recognized as one of its “Notable Books of the Year.”

During the mid-1990’s Danner began reporting on the wars in the Balkans, writing a series of eleven extended articles for The New York Review of Books, which began with Danner’s cover piece, “The US and the Yugoslav Catastrophe” (New York Review, November 20, 1997) and concluded with “Kosovo: The Meaning of Victory,” (New York Review, July 15, 1999). The articles were recognized by the Overseas Press Club as the “Best Reporting From Abroad of 1998.” Danner also co-wrote and helped produce an hour-long television documentary for ABC News’s Peter Jennings Reporting series, “While America Watched: The Bosnian Tragedy,” which aired on March 30, 1994 (and was awarded an Emmy and a duPont Golden Baton). He later co-wrote and helped produce a second documentary for the same series, “House on Fire: America’s Haitian Crisis,” about the run-up to the United States’ occupation of Haiti, which aired on July 27, 1994.

Danner’s writing has appeared in Aperture, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Times Book Review, and on The Times Op-Ed page, among many other publications. His 16,000-word essay opposing NATO expansion, “Marooned in the Cold War: America, the Alliance and the Quest for a Vanished World,” which appeared in World Policy Journal in the Fall of 1997, provoked a prolonged exchange of letters and responses from Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Congressman Lee Hamilton, and Ambassador George F. Kennan. Danner has appeared widely on television and radio discussing international affairs, including on Charlie RoseBill Moyers, and The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, CNN’s PrimeNewsAnderson Cooper’s 360 on CNN, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, ABC’s World News Now and C-Span’s Morning Show, among many other programs.

In 1998, Danner began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley as a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Journalism and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Human Rights. In 2000, Danner was named Professor on the faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley, and in 2011 he became Chancellor’s Professor of Journalism and English. In fall 2002, he became founding director of Berkeley’s Goldman Forum on the Press and Foreign Affairs, leading a series of debates and discussions on foreign affairs, journalism and politics. In 2002, Danner was named Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College in the Hudson Valley of New York State and in 2007 the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities. At Bard he teaches courses on literature, intellectual history, foreign affairs and politics.

With Davia Nelson and Cari Borgia

Danner began writing about the war on terror soon after September 11, 2001 and later began speaking out in opposition to the coming Iraq War, notably in a series of debates with Christopher Hitchens, Leon Wieseltier, Michael Ignatieff, David Frum, William Kristol and others. After the United States invaded Iraq, he reported on the war for The New York Review of Books and then published a series of essays there on the emerging torture scandal that began with the revelation of the Abu Ghraib photographs. In October 2004, he collected these essays and gathered them, together with a series of government documents and reports, into his book, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror.  Torture and Truth was awarded the 2004 Madeline Dane Ross Prize from the Overseas Press Club for best book on current affairs. In May 2005 Danner wrote an essay for The New York Review accompanying the first American publication of the so-called “Downing Street Memo,” the leaked minutes of a July 2002 meeting of high-level British officials discussing the coming Iraq War. The essay provoked a number of responses and led to two subsequent essays, all of which were collected, along with relevant documents and a preface by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, 2006 in The Secret Way to War: the Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History.

At Telluride, with Peter Sellars, Werner Herzog and Jamie Palevsky

In March 2009, Danner published an essay in The New York Review“US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites”, which revealed the contents of a secret International Committee of the Red Cross report based on testimony from “high-value detainees” in the “War on Terror,” who had been captured, held, and interrogated at secret US prisons. Shortly thereafter, he published a second essay, “The Red Cross Report: What it Means” and released the full text of the Red Cross report on the The New York Review website. Weeks later, in a decision senior Administration officials claimed was prompted by the disclosure of the Red Cross report, President Obama ordered released four Justice Department memos in which the Bush administration purported “to legalize torture.”

In October 2009, Danner published Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War, a large collection whose title was inspired by the observation of a former Haitian president that “political violence strips bare the social body, the better to place the stethoscope and track the life beneath the skin.” (The president, Leslie Manigat, was later overthrown in a military coup.) Stripping Bare the Body contains political reporting on wars, revolutions and other forms of violence from around the world, including the aborted 1989 election in Haiti, the genocidal civil war in the Balkans of the 1990s, and the invasion, occupation and counterinsurgency in Iraq, along with writing about the war on terror and the torture of detainees. Since writing about the 2000 vote recount in Florida, Danner has covered every American presidential election, including that of Donald Trump in 2016, Trump’s loss to Joseph R. Biden in 2020 and Trump’s attempt to hold onto power in the so-called “Capitol Coup” of January 6, 2021.

With Tom Luddy and Walter Murch at Telluride

Danner’s writing has received many honors, including a National Magazine Award, three Overseas Press Awards, an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, a Guggenheim and an Emmy. In June 1999, Danner was named a MacArthur Fellow. In 2006 he was awarded the Carey McWilliams Award from the American Political Science Association to honor that year’s “major journalistic contribution to our understanding of politics.” In 2008 he was named the Marian and Andrew Heiskell Visiting Critic at the American Academy in Rome, a post he took up again in 2010. Danner has had a longtime association with the Telluride Film Festival, where he introduces films and conducts interviews; in 2013, he became a resident curator at Telluride. He currently spends half his year at Berkeley, where he teaches courses on political violence, crisis management, and writing about war and politics in the Graduate School of Journalism and courses on literature and film in the Department of English. He has just completed an eight-episode television series, Corridors of Power, on U.S. foreign policy and genocide, that will air during the spring of 2023 on Showtime and the BBC.

Danner speaks French and some Spanish and German. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Affairs Council of Northern California, and the Century Association, and is a fellow of the Institute of the Humanities at New York University. He divides his time between the Bay Area and New York City.

— December 2022