Author Lee Pfeiffer offers his opinion on the James
Bond rumour debacle and the decline of modern journalism...
Opinion - Live And Let Lie
17th October 2005
MI6 announces a new feature today. Periodically, MI6 will
be presenting editorials and opinion pieces about issues relating
to the world of James Bond. The series begins with a column by
author Lee Pfeiffer.
LIVE AND LET LIE: JAMES BOND AND THE DECLINE
OF MODERN JOURNALISM
OPINION BY LEE PFEIFFER
Now that the announcement has finally been made that Daniel Craig
is indeed the new 007, thousands of fans are undoubtedly licking
their wounds over the fact that the most qualified candidate will
not be strapping on Mr. Bond’s shoulder holster. I speak,
of course, of the acting dynamo Rikki Lee Travolta who, according
to his publicist’s seemingly omnipresent press releases,
had been the beneficiary of a groundswell of grassroots fan support,
as evidenced by the tidal wave of editions of “Casino Royale”
that his fan base allegedly sent to him. Over 135,000 according
to his press release. An amazing feat given that it’s doubtful
135,000 copies of the book have been in print in the last quarter
century. I had never dreamed that Fleming’s seminal novel
was so available to the public. At my corner drugstore it seems
every book has to be written by Stephen King or have Fabio on
the cover. We were also told that Mr. Travolta was a member of
the legendary acting family - you know, similar to the Barrymores
and the Fondas. Now, I had only been aware of the Travolta who
scored big in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease”.
However, I freely admit to being a bit out of touch with contemporary
pop culture (I’ve largely sworn off t.v. in protest of the
cancellation of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” back in
’68). I discovered it was easier to locate Saddam’s
Weapons of Mass Destruction than the credentials of the other
Travolta acting legends. Thus, I went to reliable old www.imdb.com
to examine their achievements. Ah yes, there was Joey Travolta,
one of the stars of the immortal “3 Ninjas Kick Back”
and several female Travoltas who coincidentally had career highlights
appearing in small roles in films starring….John Travolta.
Rikki Lee, however, is different. According
to his official bio, he “worked” with Ron Howard.
This magnificent collaboration consisted of Mr. Travolta’s
stint as an uncredited double on Howard’s 1999 film
“EdTv”. The multi-talented Travolta has also
authored a novel about “has-been and never-were actors”
(to comment on this would be like shooting a fish in a barrel,
so I’ll respectfully decline). A cynic might say that
a press agent hatched this entire hype about Rikki Lee Travolta
being on the short-list of Bond actors, but I don’t
believe it despite the fact that his name might be more
appropriate on a “Beach Blanket Bingo” remake
than a cinematic translation of Ian Fleming’s work.
I would prove the story is true by providing a photo of
Mr. Travolta sitting amidst 135,000 copies of “Casino
Royale” editions sent to him by his adoring public,
but –blast it all!- his PR people have announced that
all of these books have already been generously donated
to worthy causes. Just think—truckloads of Fleming
books being delivered to impoverished people, hurricane
and Tsunami survivors all around the world! Sadly, just
days before the casting announcement, a stunned world learned
that Mr. Travolta had removed himself from the role of 007.
This bombshell obviously resonated at the Eon offices in
Piccadilly, causing the nervous and undoubtedly panic-stricken
producers to quickly fill the Travolta gap with Daniel Craig.
Bond fans can only ponder what might have been, as nothing
exemplifies British culture more than the name….Travolta!
Above: Rikki Lee Travolta in a self
publicising shot as "Bond"
The above events might be written off as the byproduct of overly
zealous press agents. After all, Mr. Travolta isn’t the
only actor simultaneously trying to capitalize on a more famous
sibling whilst developing his own persona. However, the fact that
the international press picked up on it and routinely listed Travolta
as serious candidate goes to the heart of a far more serious matter:
a virtual breakdown in traditional journalism standards. It’s
been a long tradition to speculate who will be the next James
Bond actor and wild rumours are nothing new. In 1994, I dined
with Cubby and Dana Broccoli in New York when “GoldenEye”
was in pre-production. Cubby confided that evening that Pierce
Brosnan would be the new Bond, but of course it was all still
top secret. Cubby was a master at getting the press do his PR
work. He enjoyed the endless speculation from people who claimed
to have “inside sources” about the casting. The free
publicity was a producer’s dream. As if to prove the point,
the following day newspapers reported the latest rumours about
who would be the next Bond. They ranged from the sublime (Sam
Neill) to the ridiculous (Eddie Murphy, Sharon Stone). The newspapers
that dutifully reported this swill didn’t distract themselves
by showing any skepticism or challenging the sources for these
stories. After all, it was more important to sell a newspaper
than get the story correct.
Sloppy reporting in the mainstream media is nothing new. The
first installment of the laughable “Hitler Diaries”
were published in England in the early 1980s even though there
was enough time to stop the presses when it was revealed that
old Adolf’s memoirs were written decades after The Fuehrer
had been burned to a crisp in the ruins of his Berlin Bunker.
The New York Post famously reported on a headline in the late
1970s that The Beatles would reunite for a concert to benefit
Vietnamese boat people. The story was discounted by the next day,
but I’m still anxiously awaiting the retraction that I’m
sure The Post intends to run. The problem of erroneous reporting
would not be a major concern if it were relegated to unimportant
stories about show business. However, in the Internet age, the
pressure to fill 24-hour cable news slots and web sites has lead
to an almost complete abandonment of traditional journalistic
standards. The insatiable beast must constantly be fed. Thus,
the mantra of the media seems to be “Better to Be First
Than Accurate!”. This has manifested itself in embarrassing
public relations disasters among some of the most estimable news
organizations in the last year alone. The BBC aired flawed reports
linking the suicide of a scientist to Tony Blair’s Iraq
policies. Legendary American anchorman Dan Rather of CBS had an
inglorious end to a 50 -year career after rushing to the air with
a “scandal” about George Bush’s military record.
(The fraud was unveiled with 24 hours by the efforts of some amateur
Internet bloggers.) The Daily Mirror ran front page photos of
British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners that were later proven
to be fabrications and America’s “Paper of Record”,
the New York Times ran many front page stories by reporter Jayson
Blair, who later admitted they were largely works of fiction.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we heard stories and “eyewitness
reports” of wholesale murders, shootings and rapes- most
of which never occurred. In most of these cases heads rolled and
careers were ruined- and yet, the practice goes on unabated. There
seems to be a complete lack of skepticism, which should always
be a news organization’s first line of defense. It’s
truly a sad day when bloggers become more adept at sorting out
truth than news organizations with all of their resources. They
would do well to take a lesson from this web site, as MI6 routinely
reports the latest rumours du jour, but also provides valuable
analysis of that helps identify the veracity of the stories. If
only the mainstream media organizations showed such skepticism.
It would be unfair to criticize all reporters or news organizations
as being ineffective. Good journalists should be regarded as true
heroes, even though it’s unlikely you’ll find pinups
of them next to soccer stars on the walls of teenager’s
bedrooms. This week we saw a rare example of competent reporters
doing their job when President Bush’s “spontaneous”
chat with soldiers in Iraq was revealed to have been thoroughly
coached and rehearsed (complete with a stand-in for the president
telling a soldier what inflections to use when asking her question).
The resulting embarrassment will go a long way to insure the next
politician will think twice before attempting a similar stunt.
All too often, however, the media slants one way or another and
seeks to overlook egregious instances such as this if it perpetrated
by a political party or group with whom they sympathize. Going
after George Bush may be like snagging the low-hanging fruit given
his political woes of recent months, but how many reporters grilled
Michael Moore about the inconsistencies and fabrications of “Fahrenheit
9/11”? For the most part, he was able to present even the
fictitious aspects of the film as pure fact. When Carl Bernstein
and Bob Woodward uncovered the Watergate scandal- the most explosive
political story of the century- their boss at the Washington Post
Ben Bradlee refused to run the piece until a painstaking amount
of fact checking convinced him the allegations could be substantiated.
In today’s news media, if the facts can’t be checked
by airtime, then run the story anyway. Retractions are rarely
given even if careers and reputations are ruined.
I anticipate the situation will only worsen as the old-line traditional
news reporters continue to retire or be forced out the door. Once-vaunted
American news networks are now relegated to endless coverage of
missing teenage girls (all blonde, pretty and white, by the way.
Missing minority teenagers need not apply.) Rumours circulate
that the once great CBS News (the subject of George Clooney’s
acclaimed new film “Goodnight and Good Luck”) may
be headed by a former MTV executive in order to make the news
more relevant for the youth market. On both sides of the Atlantic,
news organizations dutifully promote entertainers in the guise
of a legitimate story. Who needs to know about such mundane matters
as the nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea when we can
hear Paris Hilton’s deep thoughts?
The Bond casting saga is just exemplifies all of this in a microscopic
way. Last April I was traveling in England with my business partner
Dave Worrall. He received a phone call from a frantic newspaper
reporter who needed to know the inside story of who would be the
new Bond. When Worrall said he didn’t know and wouldn’t
divulge the information if he did, the man expressed frustration.
This was Friday afternoon and he said he had no leads at all for
finding out the scoop. On Sunday morning I opened the newspaper
only to find this gentleman had amazingly found an unnamed source.
The story was printed that the new Bond would be announced that
week at a big press conference in London. Not to be outdone, a
rival paper issued its own story saying that Clive Owen would
be announced that week at a big press conference in London. As
with The Beatles reunion, I’m still waiting for retractions
I’m also amused when the media employ the services of freelance
“experts” on certain topics who seem to have little
or no knowledge of the subjects they are employed to speak about.
I still recall New York t.v film critic Pia Lindstrom (daughter
of Ingrid Bergman) reviewing “The Living Daylights”
and consistently referring to the actor who portrayed the villain
as “Brad Whitaker”. Whitaker, of course, was the character
played by Joe Don Baker, who was already a well- established name
in the film business. However, such distinctions never seem to
disqualify one from being a film critic in the most prestigious
broadcast market in the world. In the immediate aftermath of the
Daniel Craig announcement, CNN dragged out a pop culture “expert”
who assured us that with the exception of Pierce Brosnan, all
of the prior Bonds were unknowns when they got the part- including
Roger Moore. Yes, old Roger was a virtual unknown- except to the
millions of fans he had amassed worldwide from playing The Saint
for many years prior to taking on the Bond role.
The lesson is clear- one must look skeptically at all aspects
of news coverage from benign fluff pieces about show business
to the far more important coverage of international politics.
An uninformed, disinterested public is a PR spinmeister’s
I understand that Warner Brothers is preparing a major motion
picture biography of Ian Fleming. I hope Rikki Lee Travolta’s
fans don’t mind sending him replacement copies of “Casino
Royale” as my unnamed sources tell me he’s a shoo-in
for the role. I only hope the publishers can quickly get another
135,000 copies into print!
About The Author
LEE PFEIFFER is the co-author (with Dave Worrall) of “The
Essential James Bond: An Authorized Guide to the World of 007”
(Boxtree, London; Harper Colliins, New York). He is also the editor-in-chief
of the film magazine Cinema Retro (www.cinemaretro.com).
Commencing in February, 2006 he will be teaching a course titled
“Cold War Cinema” at New York University.
Shortly after this article was printed on the MI6 website, it
was discovered that The
Daily Texan newspaper of Austin, Texas announced the new 007
in a story headlined: "Craig David Named New James Bond".
Asked to comment, Lee Pfeiffer replied: "As if to illustrate
the point of my article, it's now apparently asking too much to
even get the headline of a story accurate. Every writer, including
myself has made errors in stories or books. However, the sheer
magnitude of the problem is growing exponentially. The fact that
they couldn't get Daniel Craig's name right after he had become
the subject of an international media frenzy speaks volumes about
the sad state of accuracy in the media today."
views of this columnist and those expressed in this article are
not necessarily those of mi6-hq.com or its owners.