Monday, June 24, 2013

Film Pairings — Ripped From The Headlines

Edward Snowden, Benedict Arnold or Paul Revere?
These films are so fresh, they haven’t been made yet.  But the plots are so cinematically fat, they will be made.  The first is the Edward Snowden Affair. A young man (think Justin Timberlake) brazenly reveals state secrets, packs up five laptops and finds his way to Hong Kong.  The problem is that while there are those who believe he is Benedict Arnold, others believe he is Paul Revere.  Both government officials and the established press found happiness together as they demonized young Mr. Snowden without telling us how he did “great wrong” to his country. 

Meanwhile, one has the notion that our national security is being run by Wile E. Coyote and we are being informed about it by dinner party journalists like Charlie Rose who seemed more concerned that Snowden was a college drop-out than the possibility that Snowden’s motives, however illegal, might possibly be honorable.  Politicians, many of whom I have supported, are standing in line, not to tell us what the hell is going on, but that Snowden is public enemy number one.  During the pile on, one prominent official said that Snowden’s decision not to go a country friendly to the U.S. is somehow proof of his villainy. Right.  A man charged with one count of theft AND two counts of espionage is going to hide out in Banff?  Or maybe Cancun? And really, is the country of Ecuador, his stated destination, trying to bring us down? 

It’s quite likely Snowden is in over his head.  How could he not be? In fact, that’s the real danger.  But the college drop-out — for a good or an evil we cannot possibly know yet — has already shown us that private, global corporations are trusted with secrets the American public knows nothing about.  He retrieved the secrets out of a system set up for maximum security, avoided capture and appears to be on his way to protected exile. 

The drama is set against a monumental, Bondesque background.  We even have a Dr. No with comic dictator Vladimir Putin, the super macho Stalin wannabe.  Throw in a pinch of Cuba.  And China — all of China, including spy-film friendly Hong Kong.

The second film is about journalist Michael Hastings, who wrote a story for Rolling Stone that tripped up super hero General Stanley McChrystal.  Unfortunately, we know how Hastings and the story ends — a high-speed fiery crash in L.A. at 4:30 a.m. not too long after he sent the following e-mail to cohorts and a blind-copy to an old friend:

Subject: FBI Investigation, re: NSA
Hey (redacted names) -- the Feds are interviewing my "close friends and associates." Perhaps if the authorities arrive "BuzzFeed GQ," er HQ, may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our newsgathering practices or related journalism issues.
Also: I'm onto a big story, and need to go off the rada(r) for a bit.
All the best, and hope to see you all soon.

Hastings was not universally appreciated.  New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan countered her own paper’s unflattering obituary, offering a partial defense of his take-no-prisoners approach to a story.

… he was a fearless disturber of the peace who believed not in playing along with those in power, but in radical truth–telling.

Michael Hastings:  Did He Know Too Much?
The L.A. Times has suggested that Hastings was working on a story about another popular general, and still another embarrassment to the administration — this time David Petraeus.  Was this the big story?

Both generals were deeply involved in the fight against terrorists and no doubt had considerable access to and influence on Intelligence, including what the U.S. is doing.

Set against the constant news about the gathering of meta data on everyone who uses a computer or phone, alleged spying of foreign governments and whatever else might be on Snowden’s laptops, Hastings story already has more depth than most crime or spy movies.  (From personal tragedy — his fiancée was killed in an ambush while riding with a convoy in Iraq as she returned from a teaching gig — to great success in book publishing.) His star, however controversial, was on the rise.

His last email is a key to the story.  Some might see it as paranoid and make the argument that his excessive speed was a reaction to an erroneous perception of persecution.  Those less trusting of folks like the LAPD and the FBI might think someone other than the 33-year-old Hastings, himself, held the smoking gun.  He was an experienced war correspondent.  If he was paranoid, there might be good reason.

Probably the most disturbing element in the story to surface so far is that a video exists of Hastings’ Mercedes speeding through an intersection moments before the crash.  Apparently someone happened to be recording that particular L.A.  Intersection at 4:30 that particular morning, capturing the lone speeder, actually the only thing moving at all.  The point of the video seems to be that for as long as 34 seconds after Hastings went out of the frame, there were no cars in his wake.  No one was chasing him is the conclusion we are supposed to draw. Or should we? Why was this guy there?  And what was he videotaping in the dead of night?  His presence to dot the “i”, so to speak, is more disturbing than if there was no one to prove he wasn’t being chased.  And these days, chasing is passé.  If someone engineered Hastings’ dramatic death, one would expect use of more sophisticated technology.

According to reports, the FBI said they were not investigating Hastings.  The LAPD, who investigated the crash, said there was no evidence of foul play.

But back to the movies.  We are faced with Smiley’s people and the hall of mirrors.  Certainly this is the stuff of conspiracy.  But we have to admit that the timing of events and all these connections, and the desperate huffing and puffing of our celebrity senators create a fascinating if not frightening premise for drama.

As you create your own movie and choose your own the villains and heroes, you might want to sit back with a whiskey on the rocks and consider such things as Booz Allen being hired by our government to run our security systems and companies such as Black Water, a private military company, to handle what we don’t want our own military to do, or perhaps know about.  And given the damning rush to judgment against Snowden by the media, we might want to rethink the notion of journalists as “media watchdogs,” but rather “hello kitties.”  Hastings, no matter how he died, remained a watch dog. The story on Snowden is still unfolding.

1 comment:

Ronald Tierney said...

Here are some interesting, related stories: