Can we finally tackle people violence? Plus, Hillary's hand in Russia-gate. And, Frank Langella.
By Gary Abernathy
Really fixing the violence problem is harder than a gun bill
The horrible school shooting in Texas on Tuesday was completely heartbreaking. There are those who say they’re tired of offering “thoughts and prayers” to victims of shootings. What they mean is that they want to do more than that. But let’s keep offering our thoughts and prayers. There’s no better solace for unfathomable grief than God’s comfort through prayer.
For the next few days, weeks, probably months, we’ll hear endlessly about the “gun violence” problem in America, with the insistence that we pass new laws. What we actually have is a people violence problem. Focusing on guns deflects us from talking about the real problem, which is much more pertinent but much harder to solve.
I’ve heard commentators refusing to say the name of the alleged shooter, which is Salvador Ramos, a resident of Uvalde, Texas, who recently turned 18. They say they don’t want to give him attention or make him someone who other depraved people might emulate or turn into a cult figure, as sadly happens, from Charles Manson to Ted Bundy and more. I understand that viewpoint. But that’s like refusing to mention John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald by name, reasoning that we should focus instead on the kinds of weapons they used.
No, Salvador Ramos should live in infamy, tragic as that is for his family. By refusing to name him, we minimize the human component of this attack, and give ourselves one more excuse to focus our attention on the weapon rather than the killer. Salvador Ramos killed children and teachers on Tuesday, say authorities. Salvador Ramos.
Whatever sickness of the soul led him to do it may never be fully known. It will most certainly never be known if we focus our attention on the weapon he used rather than on him. But we have clues to his development into the person who showed up Tuesday.
The Washington Post reports today:
Ramos, the alleged gunman, had attended Uvalde High School, said Santos Valdez Jr., 18, who has known Ramos since childhood. Ramos lived with his mother and sometimes his grandmother, who was a teacher at a different local elementary school, Valdez said.
The two were friends, Valdez said, until Ramos’s behavior began to change in disturbing ways. Once, Ramos pulled up to a park where they often played basketball with cuts all over his face. He said he’d gotten into a fight.
“Then he told me the truth, that he’d cut up his face with knives over and over and over,” Valdez said. “I was like, ‘You’re crazy, bro, why would you do that?” Ramos’s response: He said he did it for fun, Valdez recalled.
Most of the talk and analysis we hear is about gun violence. Our focus needs to be on what to do about the problem of people violence in our society. If we address that, we in turn address the gun violence problem.
I wrote a column in the Washington Post in 2018 after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, and noted one element contributing to our violent mindset:
In January 2017, The Post reported on a study in the journal Pediatrics that found that gun violence had soared in movies rated PG-13. “In fact . . . the amount of gun violence in the 30 top-grossing PG-13 movies now exceeds the gun violence in the top R-rated flicks. And it is continuing to rise,” the article noted, adding that “there is evidence that such scenes may contribute more generally to aggressive behavior and desensitization to violence.”
The attention of gun-control advocates is focused on the ability to buy a gun, which in fact represents the tail end of a homicidal journey. Curtailing the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment won’t reverse a mind that has gradually grown murderous.
Simulated violence from the entertainment world isn’t the only thing that desensitizes our society to violence, but it contributes. Also contributing is a spiritual chasm and a societal breakdown. Those problems cannot be solved with a piece of legislation, which some lawmakers are clamoring to pass so they can proclaim, “Look! We did something!” It’s understandable to want to “do something” that seems to fix the problem with one stroke of a pen. We’re lying to ourselves if we think that’s possible.
There’s not one side of this debate with people who care more than people on the other side. All Americans mourn what happened Tuesday, as they do other similar tragedies. Claiming the moral high ground merely alienates each other and prevents us from an honest discussion.
While professional athletes, coaches, actors and talk show hosts lecture us about gun violence, let’s hope that more and more people — if they really want to prevent such tragedies in the future — start focusing on the problem of people violence. It’s not something that comes with a quick fix. It will take a long time to turn around. That’s why there are many who don’t want to acknowledge it or address it. It involves examining our culture, our spirituality, our dehumanizing of life itself. It doesn’t lend itself to a catchy title on a piece of legislation.
It’s hard. Let’s do it anyway.
Hillary smack in the middle of “Russia! Russia! Russia!”
The biggest trial going on right now in the U.S. doesn’t involve Johnny Depp. It’s a case almost entirely ignored by many in the media, but it’s a trial which is revealing, without contradiction, how much the Hillary Clinton campaign — and Hillary Clinton herself — were behind creating and spreading the lie of Donald Trump colluding with Russia.
It’s important to remember just how much “Russia! Russia! Russia!” dominated the news during Trump’s first two to three years in office. The left — including most mainstream media outlets and journalists — spent day after day, week after week, month after month, repeating and “analyzing” the lies, becoming echo chambers for the Clinton propaganda machine.
In a nutshell, the federal trial of Michael Sussman — Hillary Clinton’s campaign lawyer — finds Sussman charged with lying to the FBI when he said he wasn’t working on behalf of a client when he brought “evidence” of Trump’s ties to Russia to the bureau. That’s clearly been demonstrated to be untrue.
As opinion writer Kevin Brock wrote in The Hill:
(Special prosecutor John) Durham’s prosecution team expertly introduced evidence refuting Sussmann’s claim that he was simply acting as a concerned citizen, and not on behalf of any client, when he passed on information to the FBI about supposed links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The prosecution was able to 1) establish that Sussmann made that claim in a text message to then-FBI general counsel James Baker; 2) secure Baker’s testimony to that fact in trial; 3) show that Baker immediately reported Sussmann’s claim to others in the FBI as reflected in notes of other FBI executives; and 4) show that Sussmann billed the hours of his interactions with the FBI to the Clinton campaign, his client.
Clinton defenders are attempting to downplay Durham’s investigation and the first trial to spring from it. Brock makes a very important point about why it matters so much, although it should already be clear enough:
Everyone knows that politics is a contact sport and “dirty tricks” and “October Surprises” are routine ploys. But most of these result from opposition research that uncovers information linked to some true fact, such as a DUI arrest, an extramarital affair, a youthful indiscretion, or a cringeworthy photo with some undesirable person.
The Sussmann trial is helping to document a different approach by the Clinton campaign. According to Durham, they simply made up a stunning scale of false allegations and disinformation, unprecedented in presidential politics, in their attempt to sway the election and then, having failed, to undermine the new administration to which they lost. This has cost the country dearly.
That last part is the worst. Again, aided and abetted by a willing and/or gullible media, the perpetrators of this fraud attempted to undermine the Trump administration long after the initial goal — defeating him at the ballot box in 2016 — eluded them.
CNN, one of the MSM outlets actually covering the trial, along with the Washington Post (there has been only sporadic coverage in the New York Times, nothing since May 19 as of this writing; how much time and space did they devote every day for two or three years to publishing the Russia narrative?) reported the following:
Hillary Clinton personally approved her campaign's plans in fall 2016 to share information with a reporter about an uncorroborated alleged server backchannel between Donald Trump and a top Russian bank, her former campaign manager testified Friday in federal court.
Robby Mook said he attended a meeting with other senior campaign officials where they learned about strange cyberactivity that suggested a relationship between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which is based in Moscow. The group decided to share the information with a reporter, and Mook subsequently ran that decision by Clinton herself.
"We discussed it with Hillary," Mook said, later adding that "she agreed with the decision."
…Slate published a story on October 31, 2016, raising questions about the odd Trump-Alfa cyber links. After that story came out, Clinton tweeted about it, and posted a news release that said, "This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump's ties to Russia."
Got that? Hillary Clinton approved leaking the story about Trump, then tweeted about the leak, pretending it was all news to her.
Whether Sussman is convicted will be as much about the finer points of the law and how a jury sees illegality versus dirty campaign tricks, which are not necessarily illegal. But the service has already been provided — shining a light on how “Russia! Russia! Russia!” came to dominate the media and distract America and the world for far too long.
Trump and others were scoffed at for blaming Hillary and claiming she was behind it. Now, too many of those who enabled it are just ignoring it. Why not? Their plan worked, after all.
Fired by Netflix, Frank Langella refuses to feign contrition
I recently re-watched “The Americans,” a series that ran on FX from 2013-2018 about Russian spies living in America during the 1980s, posing as normal American citizens, raising children, and running a business. Similar things happened (or happen) in real life.
Lora and I watched it during its first run, and consider it — as do many critics — on a par with great shows like “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men.” I re-watched it over the last month or so, and I was reminded how much I enjoyed the recurring character of Gabriel, a spy who served as the handler for the main characters. Gabriel was played by Frank Langella, whose presence in movies and television since the late 1960s always makes them more enjoyable.
Langella is a renowned stage actor with multiple Tony awards. He first came to national prominence portraying Count Dracula, both on Broadway for a wildly successful run in the early 1970s, then in a screen version. Critics called him the “sexy Dracula,” and the play and movie both emphasized the vampire’s romantic conquests as much as his more monstrous tendencies.
Through the years, Langella has gone back and forth from stage to screen. In more recent years, he effectively essayed Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon” (which he had also done on stage) and won a Screen Actors Guild award in 2020 for his portrayal of the judge who presided over the Chicago 7 trial in, yes, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
I had read reviews of a 2012 memoir Langella had written called “Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them,” wherein he serves up gossip and insight into famous people he has known throughout his life, from actors to politicians. My interest piqued by re-watching “The Americans,” I decided to search again for those reviews to remind myself whether I really wanted to order the book.
Turning to Google and searching Langella’s name, I was startled to come across recent stories detailing his abrupt dismissal from the starring role in a Netflix production of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I’m usually attuned to entertainment news, but somehow I had missed this.
Here’s how Deadline had reported the news about a month earlier:
Langella was the subject of an investigation, which has been completed, sources tell Deadline. It determined that Langella had been involved in unacceptable conduct on set. As a result, a decision has been made to recast the role of Roderick Usher, I have learned.
The Fall of the House of Usher is about halfway through production. The scenes already filmed by Langella will be reshot.
Unacceptable behavior? In today’s #MeToo environment, that could mean only one thing. I soon came across a column by Langella wherein he defended himself, and provided more details. You can read it here in its entirety, but here are some key excerpts:
I have been canceled. Just like that.
In the increasing madness that currently pervades our industry, I could not have imagined that the words “collateral damage” would fall upon my shoulders. They have brought with them a weight I had not expected to bear in the closing decades of my career. And along with it has come an unanticipated sense of grave danger…
…On March 25 of this year, I was performing a love scene with the actress playing my young wife. Both of us were fully clothed. I was sitting on a couch, she was standing in front of me. The director called “cut.” “He touched my leg,” said the actress. “That was not in the blocking.” She then turned and walked off the set, followed by the director and the intimacy coordinator. I attempted to follow but was asked to “give her some space.” I waited for approximately one hour, and was then told she was not returning to set and we were wrapped…
…That afternoon, I was fired. I was not given a hearing with Netflix. My request to meet one-on-one with the actress was denied. The directors and the producer stopped answering my emails and phone calls. Within 30 minutes of my firing, a letter went out to cast and crew and a full press release was sent immediately. My representatives and I were given no opportunity to comment or collaborate on the narrative.
I cannot speak to the intentions of my accuser or Netflix, but the impact on me has been incalculable. I lost a thrilling part, the chance at future earnings and perhaps face a stretch of unemployment. Netflix terminated me after three months of work with only three weeks left to shoot, and I have as yet to be fully remunerated for my services. Most importantly, my reputation has been tarnished.
As can be gleaned from the account above, today’s Hollywood employs “intimacy coordinators” to “block,” or plan, move by move, touch by touch, every intimate scene. There is apparently no room for improvisation. Langella, 84, has been in show business more than 60 years now, and as he often describes in “Dropped Names,” direction throughout most of his career has been less controlling, more open to interpretation by the actors.
In our woke and litigious world, “intimacy coordinators” are probably a good idea, and sticking to the plan is probably the right course for actors these days. But a short time later, with word spreading that Langella was consulting attorneys, the full pile-on began. Subsequent stories strongly inferred that, hey, this wasn’t one incident. Why, Langella’s behavior has been horrible — reprehensible! — from Day One.
He told a raunchy joke. He made inappropriate comments about sex. He touched and hugged. And so on and so forth.
Forgive me for being skeptical that Hollywood is suddenly filled with actors, technicians and others who are so sensitive to foul words or naughty jokes that they must cover their ears and run to safety. Have you watched anything coming out of Hollywood? Count the “F”-words, gratuitous scenes of sex and nudity, profane imagery, etc. per hour of the average television show, let alone the movies. The notion that Frank Langella could suddenly begin to shock or disturb his fellow actors and others on a Hollywood set with dirty jokes or inappropriate comments — perhaps keeping them all from their 8 p.m. bedtimes so they don’t miss Sunday School early the next morning — borders on a fantasy equal to anything a Tinsel Town scriptwriter could conjure.
Only those who were there know what happened for sure, and actors should certainly be gentlemen, not only when it comes to scenes with actresses, but with everyone else on the set. If Frank Langella was inappropriate he should say, “I’m sorry.”
But as Langella himself wrote, he’s not interested in following the fake contrition script suggested to him. He wrote that he was advised as follows:
“Don’t play the victim.” “Don’t sue. They’ll dig into your past.” “Sign the NDA, take the money and run.” “Do the talk shows, show contrition, feign humility. Say you’ve learned a lot.” Apologize. Apologize. Apologize.
That Langella isn’t interested in following that script, begging for forgiveness on a talk show circuit filled with its own hypocrisies, is laudable, even if it means the end of his illustrious career.
For six decades, Langella has been invited over and over to star or provide important support in an endless string of plays, movies, TV shows and other forms of media. The notion that he has suddenly become a boorish lout is difficult to believe.
“Dropped Names” is an honest, sometimes raunchy, sometimes profane, sometimes gossipy series of anecdotes about famous people Langella has worked with or known, almost all from old Hollywood and now deceased, people like Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Richard Burton, Rita Hayworth, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Perkins, Robert Mitchum, Charlton Heston, Jill Clayburgh, Elizabeth Taylor and many, many more. Most chapters are only a handful of pages, with quick but insightful tales of his encounters.
He gossips about their peccadillos and sexual proclivities, and calls them out for being jerks or saints, depending on his experience. But in almost every case, he finds their humanity and something good to say about them.
For example, Ricardo Montalban, the Latin lover of 1950s fare and, later, of “Fantasy Island” and “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” fame, was “a studied, empty vessel, concerned only with his profile and his panache.” But Langella adds that he was also “a decent man protecting his franchise.”
Olivier is described as pompous and theatrical, of course, but, “There was a great deal about him I found charming, delightful, and admirable.”
When the book came out 10 years ago, a Washington Post book review by Charles Matthews nailed it:
“Dropped Names” is a melancholy book, though it could hardly escape being so, of course, since all of the people profiled in it — save one, the centenarian Bunny Mellon — are dead. This is not to say that the book lacks some raucous and entertaining anecdotes, and some withering comments on people Langella dislikes, such as the acting guru Lee Strasberg, whom he calls “a self-serving charlatan.” He deftly deflates some monstrous egos, such as those of Rex Harrison, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. But he also demonstrates a great capacity for loyal friendship, as in his affectionate tributes to Alan Bates and Raul Julia.
On the face of it, this is a popcorn book: one to be dipped into for gossipy goodies. Who can resist flipping through it to see what Langella has to say about Jackie O. or Princess Di? But the book gains richness and depth by being taken as a whole, as a revelation that fame turns everyone — even politicians (John F. Kennedy, Tip O’Neill), royalty (Diana, the queen mother), writers (Arthur Miller, William Styron) and socialites (Paul and Bunny Mellon, Brooke Astor) — into actors, strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage.
I was pleased to read a column this week in the New York Times by Pamela Paul, who put the Langella-Netflix episode in perspective in regard to the #MeToo movement.
Part of the complicated fallout from #MeToo seems to be a lack of due process in responding to accusations. We’ve all heard stories of #MeToo overreach and backlash. Many people who work in the media or academia or entertainment, like me, have witnessed at least one person who has gone through some version of this. There are cases in which, whatever the accusers’ motivations, their claims are not found to be true or the punishment is out of proportion to the offense. Often the accused are convicted in the court of Twitter or ushered out by human resources and left to suffer the material and psychic losses. Public condemnation, even in the absence of evidence, can be enough to damage a life.
We’ve thought a lot, as a country, about what to do with the men who are guilty of sexual violence and harassment. We’ve thought about how seriously to take such accusations and what to do with the monsters. But we still haven’t thought enough about how to handle all accusations with proportion and fairness. And we haven’t thought much at all about what to do when we’re wrong.
Whatever happened with Frank Langella on the set of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” I hope he is accorded the same level of humanity that he generously exhibited toward the luminaries in his nuanced memoir. Will that happen? I have my doubts, and the evidence so far is against it.
Talking school shooting, Mooney ethics probe on ‘Talkline’
Hoppy Kercheval and I discussed the terrible Texas school shooting and the ethics probe of Congressman Alex Mooney (R-WV) on “Talkline” on WVMetroNews this morning.
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