Bad Boy Kummer: The poster for the inevitable biopic
In the course of researching my new book on resignations, I’ve been wading through a lot of parting shots from journalists.
Well, they have the public forum. Most of us pass through our careers without leaving a trace. We speak as representatives. We curtail our language. We stick to the script. This makes workplaces strangely preliterate, at least in terms of studying them. In the absence of personal testimony, we need to turn anthropologist.
It’s not like that with journalists. Everything they write is a personal testimony. Their/our careers are (often, at least) all footprint. And sometimes, the testifying is all there is.
So I’ve been wading through the last flare-outs of Jonah Lehrer, Johann Hari, Jayson Blair and others. And those cases reminded me of another that I’d known more than a decade before. This case never got quite the fame in the English-speaking world; but then, if it hadn’t been for our anglophone insularity, perhaps it could never have happened in the first place.
It’s the strange, strange story of a Swiss-German Hollywood reporter called Tom Kummer. He was Germany’s man on the inside throughout the 1990s. Nobody – not the LA Times, not Vanity Fair – could get the access he got; or get the stars to open up like him. He interviewed Brad Pitt about his bogies; Courtney Love about dinosaurs; Sharon Stone about post-structuralism. The world asked: how did he do it? What was his secret?
Well, you can guess. But there was a twist to Tom Kummer’s story that nobody saw coming. I wrote a feature about him in Jack magazine back in 2003. So I dug it out. Here it is.
It’s not perfect. But it sure is weird.
This month, Esquire magazine took up the story of Outlaws Inc., publishing a three-page expose of the phantom cargo trade in the Middle East. You can read the feature for free here by clicking on the layout image below and opening it on your desktop.
Listen to the first discussion of Outlaws Inc. on Wednesday 1 June’s edition of Up All Night, BBC Radio 5Live’s night-time show – also available on BBC iPlayer. Matt talked to Giles Dilnot about the adventures, investigative work and accidents that informed the book. Once it’s vanished from iPlayer, I’ll try to post a recording of the show here, too.
I chatted to legendary director Oliver Stone back in 2003 for a great little magazine called Jack that I worked on. He was making his Fidel Castro documentary Comandante, and was, as I remember, a great guy. Someone once told me that talking to Stone would be “like talking to 20 different people at once, all of them highly intelligent, but all interested in completely different things”. Well, it was a bit like that. But more fun. As the interview went on, and much against the repeated protestations of a very anxious man called Brad whom I took to be his PA, Stone got more and more into our chat. We had a hoot, in short, and he ended up asking, in an odd (endearingly odd) approximation of a Brit accent if I fancied “hooking up for a pint in one of your pubs” when he next came over to London. Anyway, for this piece I got to quiz him about the people he’d worked with who’d left big impressions, from Castro himself to The Doors. And now, thanks to the new online mag from Jack‘s old supremo James Brown – a great little thing called Sabotage Times – the piece has been republished. I post it here just because it carries fond memories for me. Hope you like it. Mr Stone? Your round, please.
Stone with Castro in Comandante