LOS ANGELES, NV – The red and blue divide in America has never been bigger than it is today. Our polarized country clearly can’t see things the same way when it comes to even trivial things like what to laugh about or who is considered a celebrity. I thought there was a slight divide 20 years ago but today it’s miles wide.
Nowhere has it been as obvious as with a show like Tiger King. My interest in the show was actually very recent (I binged it in the 2021 Christmas holidays after Season 2 came out) and it propelled me to reach out to the stars of the show thinking it would be a good boost for the entertainment publications I wrote for. I interviewed John Reinke from Tiger King and I believe it was a strong interview which was ultimately thought provoking. For many publications, it was great and I got many compliments for stirring a fruitful discussion.
But not for one publication. Well initially the editor loved it until her audience reacted like a typical woke cancel culture mob would. Ultimately this cost me a regular gig with them, a Hollywood based entertainment based online paper, which actually opened up a fascinating story I must document.
As a freelance journalist, I pitch my articles to several publications. My writing mostly centers around political issues but at times it crosses over to entertainment. Mainly controversies like Simone Biles or Stephen A Smith, which were the subjects of two articles I wrote last year that crossed over to entertainment.
So the Hollywood based startup paper approached me to join their writing team. I thought it was a strange but fascinating request. I’m willing to expand my horizons and I appreciated this publisher bringing me into another world despite my political leanings. It was flattering and I agreed to help her paper.
I started to get the hang of it and it was good to get my feet wet in a newer world. I was also happy to bring in my own relationships such as friends I have in entertainment like interviews with my friend Greg Upchurch of 3 Doors Down or charitable causes like fighting human trafficking in the Philippines. For me, it was just as much about adding value and new cool things to my publisher who I appreciated and wanted to help grow her paper with good unique content.
A few assignments came down the pipeline of emails she would email me. These included many PR emails around political events on the left such as Democratic special elections, coverage of the Women’s March or actors that were foaming at the mouth about Donald Trump. Guess what I did when I encountered political comments I disagreed with? I ignored the negative comments, scrolled along or moved along and recognized, “hey it’s Hollywood.” I’m ok to disagree and still be friends.
Little did I know that resentment was already building with some of the writers and her board. The publisher, on some strange occasions, came to me with sudden random parameters. First of all, I am a volunteer and you’re using my content. So telling me not to submit certain content or pictures of me and the “talent” was slightly weird and out of line. But no biggie. I’ll submit it anyways. If you don’t want to publish it, delete away.
But if that’s the stuffy brand you’re pushing, it tells me you’re more concerned with style and not substance. I get that it’s Hollywood, but don’t expect me, who’s very clear about who I am and also aware of my rights and status as a freelance freebie contributor, to be jumping in joy at random killjoy rules. I’m smart enough to read between the lines and see that there was a subtle jab at me. But I ignored it and moved along, continuing to do good (free) work.
Another instance that was unnecessarily dramatic was when I interviewed two doctors from an opportunity the publication put on their wire. Those biotech company doctors had found a solution for COVID and had some sour comments about Democrat Senators who’s office staff laughed at them and ignored their solution because COVID was too good for them. I quoted them verbatim and the Hollywood publication editor was clearly put in an uncomfortable situation because someone on their staff or board was unhappy about the article and wanted it removed. The publicist for that event who had a longstanding relationship with the paper had to jump in and defend me. Remember that I did not editorialize. Ultimately I applaud my publisher for not taking the truth down.
But the pressure would prove to be too much. The “board” or key members clearly did not like me. They remain faceless to me but their actions have reverberated. They never met me but I knew it became personal simply because I spoke uncomfortable truths or had a different viewpoint on things. Instead of being honest and clear, they could’ve said “we’re a liberal publication. You don’t fit”. They instead played the “journalism” and “professionalism” card.
Something was gonna happen anyways. I guess I gave them the perfect excuse. I was not even really aware of my attire. I had driven from Florida to Oklahoma, went into Walmart and got the first cold weather clothes I could find and that’s what I wore at the time. I was on a tight schedule and those were the only clothes I had.
I also submitted this specific video as an independent contribution that wasn’t directly tied to the publication. I thought it was timely and interesting. My focus is the truth. I’m not caring so much about how I look or my attire. I love freelance journalism because I get to go down rabbit holes on things I love and to learn. It’s about the content for me.
Tiger King was one of those instances. It was my new rabbit hole. So here I am doing these interviews out of my own dime over the holidays and reaching out to the stars and meeting them face to face to chat. I thought it was actually a treat for my publisher.
Simultaneously during the 2021/2022 holidays, my publisher wanted video interview content to expand her video platform. She left it up to me to submit good stuff. I had so much to choose from but I thought, Tiger King is hot. Guess what? I just did one in person with John Reinke in Oklahoma. So I submitted that, with the heart of giving her a cool boost and something different that was a reflection of me and my passions.
My publisher agreed with the branding and was excited. I was excited with her. But in hindsight, I don’t think she even watched the video until it live-streamed. Cutting her slack, she is extremely busy but she knew Tiger King was hot. A lot of people from her audience tuned in. On that Friday night when it premiered, while the interview with John was streaming, she wrote me a very nice email, “Loved your John Reinke interview. I value you”. I responded back, “I appreciate you too. More to come.”
The next morning, a Saturday, the tune completely changed. “Umm people are complaining. John Reinke isn’t liked and lots of comments on your attire”. On Sunday, 24 hours later, I was terminated by “the board” due to my supposed unprofessional attire and causing “irreconcilable damage to the brand”, I was not entirely shocked but I thought the reasoning was quite disingenuous.
You never specifically told me what your brand was even when I asked you several times. You allowed a conservative to write for you. I have been up front with who I am. You didn’t screen the content before you published. And now, I’m not professional or journalistic and you’re going after my attire which was in line with Oklahoma? That was insulting. I am also insulted for red America. What makes a camo jacket, “southern till I die” hat and “let’s go Brandon” undershirt so terrible? Just be real and tell me your board doesn’t like middle America’s style, values and beliefs.
Their priorities strike me as off. Instead of seeing that I had a great interview with a Tiger King expert and star, which was kitschy enough for the owner/editor/publisher to get excited and compliment me initially, she allowed herself to be swayed by hateful people around her. These people left nasty comments on the YouTube interview, on my attire and attacked John Reinke, claiming he wasn’t liked. Says who? Half the country? How about the other half who love him?
What I realized was that the Hollywood audience was slanted and myopic. It’s the blue way or the highway. They didn’t care about the nuances of exotic animal ownership, what animal rights truly means, care about animals that were taken away from their owners, bullying of private businesses or the effect of the fame chasing on the life of an honest zookeeper like John who lost his beloved pets. Who cares about that when you can just pick on people around shallow things or say “he’s not an expert” because he didn’t get some dumb certification. Last I checked, practical experience counts for everything.
A balancing point of view, I believed, was valuable and important. And after all it’s also entertainment. Why didn’t the publisher leave it up? She was too scared of negative backlash. I would say that in itself is not terribly journalistic or professional.
It also told me her audience was hateful and closed-minded. They didn’t like my attire? I wore a camo jacket and I think it got warm enough where I removed it in the middle of the interview and my undershirt said “Let’s Go Brandon”. They charged that as an “incendiary political statement” that causes “irreparable damage”. Dramatic and overly hyperbolic, much?
Tiger King celebs like John Reinke and Tim Stark are apparently toxic and triggering to blue America. But thankfully, the love for them in red America is fascinating and persists. They haven’t even seen the interviews with Tim Stark I did. If John was triggering to them, their heads will explode when they hear and see my content with Tim.
Finally, I never saw these stars in a partisan light until this termination. But now it’s clear to me. Tiger King was a hit because red America saw themselves and their loved ones in the characters. Blue America was there to gawk at them hatefully.
It’s easy and intellectually lazy to be so bigoted and then never look at the humanity of those you vilify. I thought a journalists #1 job is to provoke thought and share the truth. My goal was to show the humanity of a man like John Reinke. I believe I accomplished my job.
Now my former publisher and her board was more interested in my attire than the blessing of a spirited discussion or the audience being put in a position to think about an issue in another way. As a journalist I will dress to relate to my interviewees. I will wear a suit when appropriate but I won’t dress in a suit at an animal sanctuary. That is awkward and creates distance, which would probably result in a crappy interview. I guess we have different views on what professionalism means.
Bottom line. My former publisher backtracked from an initial glowing compliment and threw someone she supposedly valued under the bus. She is not a bad person but she is weak. And the weak allowing wrong to happen is becoming all too commonplace. And it’s hurting journalism. It’s hurting our society. It’s hurting critical thinking.
I got a good run of over half a year dealing with that publication in Hollywood. My publisher was someone who gave me initial hope but sadly that hope has now dimmed. I will, however, continue to operate like a true journalist to present the truth and nuggets for thought and focus my energies pushing that.
I will also stand to defend those in Red America who are discriminated against and called nasty names just because of where they are from, their perceived political beliefs or their attire. God knows they don’t have a voice these days. So many in Blue America want to silence them and they’ve succeeded in so many ways. They have the megaphone and have tried to censor and invalidate anyone that even reeks of being from red America. I saw in the comments about John Reinke and others in Tiger King stuff I won’t repeat, but were ultimately removed when the video was taken off. Sad and disgusting. Attire is dead last on my priority list. There’s a bigger fight here for truth and equality, and against bigotry. #Priorities