Podcast Discussion: Netflix Original Documentary Nobody Speak- Trials of the Free Press

This episode, Anthony Venutolo and Jack Lugo talk about the Netflix Original documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press.” The new documentary takes a close look at the lawsuit stemming from the Hulk Hogan sex tape and the ultimate downfall of Gawker Media including several individuals responsible for that publication.

There are also broader implications that go beyond the surface of this case that the documentary chooses to highlight with varying degrees of success. Anthony’s 20 year experience working in newsrooms as a writer and web editor lends him a unique insight into some of the events that drive this documentary as well as many of the current relevant topics involving the media today.

This may be a complex and, at times, divisive topic, but we hope you find our observations of interest nonetheless. Grab yourself a drink (perhaps make it a double) and listen as we discuss this controversial yet fascinating topic involving the media, the First Amendment, the right to privacy, and how all of these issues converge in our complex society today.

Editor’s note: Anthony was having temporary mic problems that should be fixed by the next episode.


Trump: Is It Racism or Political Strategy?

If you’ve been compelled react to the recent bigoted statements of Donald Trump via social media, congratulations you’ve just handed Trump the victory he’s seeking.  Trump is no more than a narcissistic billionaire with daddy issues desperate for publicity and attention. He wants us to all be talking about him and it doesn’t matter whether our opinions about his positions are positive or negative.  In fact, it can be argued that Trump ultimately benefits from those of us who express moral outrage at his pigheaded proclamations.  His most recent outrageous statement about banning all Muslims from entering the country is not only indicative of his own flawed and prejudiced ideology but also far more indicative of his megalomaniacal need to manipulate the media into letting him dictate the tone and content of our society’s political discourse on a national level.  Unfortunately, even journalists with the noblest intentions cannot help but to play into Trump’s hands because it’s impossible to cover Trump in the media without sensationalizing the coverage.  That is exactly how Trump wants it, and this is how he intends to win the Republican primary.

In reality, I don’t think Trump believes half the verbal manure that has been spouting from his mouth.  Sure, there may be a part of him that may agree with some of the racist, chauvinistic, xenophobic, and sexist statements inherent to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, but I actually believe his sincerity when he denies being a racist. No racist ever believes he’s a racist.  What Trump is doing is very simple.  He’s pandering to racists by telling them what they want to hear. He’s doing what the Republican Party has been doing for decades.  They pander to their base because it’s the fundamentalist Christian lobbyist groups who fund their campaign and essentially bribe politicians and political candidates to say what the base of their constituents want to hear.   Republicans depend on the votes of poor, uneducated, white Christians to support their campaigns.

The Republican Party has been vastly co-opted by powerful lobbyist groups who want to dictate government policies based upon fundamentalist Christian beliefs.  As a result, we all lose because we have one political party controlled by extremists while the Democratic Party also suffers from its own internal shortcomings.  Rational fiscal conservatives cannot elect their candidates solely based upon their conservative economic vision.   They are forced to support candidates who must first pander to their base who dictate where the candidates must stand on broader social issues.  Hence, it’s difficult to find a Republican candidate who supports a woman’s right to choose. Even if they vaguely take a semi pro-choice position to appeal to female voters, they must emphatically stress their opposition to Planned Parenthood despite the fact that not one penny of federal funding to Planned Parenthood goes to fund abortions.  Instead, the organization performs cancer screenings, facilitates access to birth control, and helps to treat STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

What Trump is doing is in some ways politically ingenious from a strategic perspective.  He’s swooping in and clutching away the support of the more traditional candidates – candidates who would be sanctioned by the powerful Christian lobby groups – and appealing to the base of their constituents by pandering to them and dominating the tone and rhetoric of political discussion across all forms of media.  What this is doing is essentially stealing away thunder of the other Republican candidates and exposing the bigotry inherent to Republican Party politics.  Previously, the Republican Party preferred a brand of bigotry and chauvinism that was more covert.   When it comes to contending in general elections, it’s impossible to win without at least paying lip service to the notion of equality, liberty, and justice for all.  In the past it was enough for them to at least pretend as if Republican candidates cared about all its constituents even as they deployed deplorable practices such as disenfranchising minority voters with unfair voter ID laws while also gerrymandering district boarders to insure victory.  Now, Trump has forced (some might say bullied) the Republican Party into pressing forward with overt bigotry and chauvinism.  If you need to ask why, then you haven’t been paying attention to the media.   It all boils down to media coverage.  Trump must realize that what he’s saying is vile and wrong on every moral and ethical level, but he also knows that every racist, chauvinistic, bigoted statement garners massive attention and free coverage across every media platform.  That attention rallies his supporters who are the voters Republicans have traditionally depended upon due to their defiantly uneducated, uncultured, and prejudiced personal politics. Nevertheless, Trump knows that as long as he has their support, he can steal away enough votes to win himself the primary.

Republicans have a tough decision to make.  Do they defy their base constituents made up of poor uneducated white Christian voters by rejecting Trump or do they embrace the increasingly fascist ideology of the person currently dominating the polls?  In some ways, they are trapped in a conundrum of their own doing and I doubt traditional Republicans such as Dick Cheney and Paul Ryan, who both recently denounced Trump’s statement about Muslims, could do much to sway public opinion within the Republican Party away from Trump’s off the cuff reactionary sentiments.  This is a political party who had previously benefited from the poor essentially voting against their own self-interests based upon what was once covert prejudice and chauvinism.  Now that Trump has exposed the true underbelly of these attitudes is there a way for the Republican Party to go back?  Perhaps its time for the GOP to re-evaluate its stance on social issues and eschew the powerful fundamentalist Christian lobby groups who dictate their position on social issues.  Imagine how revolutionary it might be to see a Republican Party candidate who is progressive on social issues yet conservative when it comes to the economy. Wouldn’t that be something interesting? The American voters deserve to choose between candidates that they respect instead of casting their votes against a candidate with morally egregious social positions dictated by lobbyists.

The media will no doubt continue to relish in the frenzy of the Trump circus and it appears there is no return to the good ole days of the pre-Trump era of journalism when political scandals came and went in cycles.  Now it’s become all Trump all the time day in and day out.  This is exactly what Trump wants and this is exactly how he intends to win the Republican nomination.  Whether he does or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure.  Whenever Trump says something that riles you up and inspires you to denounce him, you’re probably feeding into the very frenzy he’s created.  The best thing to do is to keep in mind that Trump is only saying what the dregs of our society want to hear.  When we put it that way, maybe . . . just maybe . . . common sense will win out and the Republicans will get their act together and nominate a candidate that we might grudgingly respect even while tremendously disagreeing with the policy positions put forth by those Christian lobbyist groups, who are the true enemies of freedom by the way.

Yes, Of Course James Bond Could Be Black

idriselba-jamesbond-tsr  idris Elba as Bond

Ignorant comments made by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh have been circulating concerning the prospect of the choice of Idris Elba to play James Bond. This was after emails from the purported Sony Hack indicated that Elba appears to be a top pick made by Sony executives to play James Bond once Daniel Craig finishes his run as the iconic franchise character. I have personally chosen to refrain from reading the actual contents of the hacked emails because of the nature of how they’ve been obtained, but several news outlets have relished in releasing multiple stories picking apart whatever “insider” information they’ve combed through and capturing the attention of their readers with flashy headlines (ahem . . . cough-cough “Daily Beast”).   The recent story about Idris Elba as a future Bond will probably go down as a mere footnote in this larger media firestorm that has emerged from the Sony hack, yet it has become a hot topic of debate especially among Bond fans.  It has re-ignited certain debates about race in Hollywood and show business, and whether or not non-white actors will or should be considered for roles that might have otherwise gone to white actors in the past.

It’s an interesting topic to debate about no matter where you fall on the issue, but it’s also a controversial topic to discuss because certain opinions when taken out of context could unwittingly be perceived as racist. During his show Limbaugh said, “We had 50 years of white Bonds because Bond is white. Bond was never black. Ian Fleming never created a black Brit to play James Bond. The character was always white. He was always Scottish. He always drank vodka shaken not stirred and all that.”

Many news outlets have been quick to point out that Connery was the only Scottish actor to play Bond.  Pierce Brosnan is Irish, Roger Moore is English, George Lazenby is Australian, and current Bond Daniel Craig is English yet Limbaugh has never been up in arms about these non-Scottish actors playing Bond.  As for Bond’s Scottish origins in the source material, many have theorized that Fleming gave Bond his Scottish ancestry after Sean Connery was given the role.  Indeed, Bond’s Scottish origins are revealed in Fleming’s 11th Bond novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was written after Connery had been chosen to star as Bond in the first Bond film Dr. No.  There are some scholars who suggest that Fleming had decided on Bond’s origins before Connery had been cast, but judging from Fleming’s previous preference for American actor, composer, and singer Hoagy Carmichael for the role of Bond it would appear that Fleming was more concerned about the physical look of Bond rather than the ancestral origins of the actor who portrayed him.

en-commander-fleming                       Ian-Fleming-Dr-No-Set

Fleming, who initially disapproved of the choice of Connery to play Bond, had mostly modeled the character after himself as well as other men he encountered while he was a Commander in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division during World War II.  Fleming oversaw many secret operations taking command of a unit called 30 AU (30 Assault Unit), yet Fleming never went into the field himself. He spent most of the war planning these operations at his desk and relying on men under his command to carry out the missions he designed.  The character of Bond, some Fleming scholars have theorized, was essentially created out of Fleming’s fantasy of imagining himself out there in the field carrying out the various missions he designed during the war.  Of course by the time he wrote his first novel, the war had ended so Fleming used the Russians as a frequent antagonist for Bond instead of the Nazis since Fleming himself decided that the stories he wrote should be current.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that someone is racist if they don’t think Bond could be played by a black man.  There are those in the Bond fan community who may agree with Rush Limbaugh to a certain degree because of the literary roots of the character.  Ian Fleming did indeed create a British character named James Bond who is undoubtedly white in the novels.  There is no use arguing about that.  It’s also true that the source material which comprises the James Bond novels was written in the 1950s and early 60s when there was little chance for diversity in the British Secret Service.  The film franchise has wisely chosen to keep the settings of all the films contemporary, however, and over the course of 50 years each and every film has been representative of the time in which it was made – a zeitgeist if you will.  If one keeps that in mind, it certainly makes sense that a black British actor playing Bond at some point in the future could become a reality.  I would argue that today it would be entirely plausible for the British Secret Service to employ agents of various racial backgrounds so there is no reason why Bond couldn’t be portrayed by a black British actor.  If Idris Elba were chosen, I’m sure the filmmakers will make it seem as if he were tailor made for the role just as they’ve done with every other previous Bond actor.

Even the earliest 1960s films with Connery sought to update the source material from the novels which were written a decade earlier. Hence, you won’t find Bond riding a jetpack in any novel, but the novelty of it was used for the 1965 film Thunderball.  Indeed, the filmmakers over the course of 50 years have chosen to update, alter, or change much of Fleming’s source material entirely to the point where there are many films in the franchise that don’t really have much of any connection to the source material other than perhaps the title or a handful of scenes.  There are still quite a few nuggets of scenes from the books that haven’t made it into a Bond film even in an updated form. Much of the story in the novel Moonraker hasn’t been adapted in any way for the films even though Bond filmmakers made a film called Moonraker in 1979, which consisted of a 3rd act inspired by the film producers’ desire to compete with Star Wars.  Last time I checked, I don’t think Fleming ever envisioned Bond going into space, but the film is still accepted as part of the film franchise cannon. If one suspends disbelief a little it’s actually quite a good entry given the time in which it was made.

1965's Thunderball. Note 003 is a woman.  Credit to James Bond Radio and to Jeroen van den Brom who sent them the photo.

1965’s Thunderball. Note 003 is a woman. Credit to James Bond Radio and to Jeroen van den Brom who sent them the photo.

I believe the role should ultimately go to whoever is the best actor for the part regardless of race or even gender (as long as it fits within the plans the filmmakers have for the character).  It was recently revealed to me in a still taken during 1965’s Thunderball when all the 00 agents are gathered that 003 was a woman in that film. It’s one of those things where you have to pause the movie at the exact spot to catch though, but imagine the possibilities of a female Bond or even just a female 00 agent.   I think there’s an infinite amount of story potential to be harnessed if filmmakers and audiences were willing to explore such a prospect.

Of all the iconic cultural franchise characters that have been around for 50 years or more, I believe James Bond would be a great place to begin introducing cultural diversity.  I’m not sure if audiences would be accepting of a black actor portraying Batman or Superman in my lifetime, but I don’t see why non-white actors shouldn’t be considered for these roles.  These are fictional characters after all. Saying that James Bond, Batman, or Superman have to be white is the equivalent of saying Santa Claus has to be white.  Why can’t fictional characters be whoever we wish them to be? We live in a time far removed from when the source material for these characters were created.  As we continue to make these characters relevant to our time, why not be open to the possibility that maybe some of these characters wouldn’t be white if they were created today?

– by Jack Lugo