“Who the Fuck Cares About Adam McKay?” (We Do, and With Good Reason)

“But success, as we’re obliged to say in the personal-profiles business, has come at a price—bouts of depression, a heart attack, a rotating cast of therapists, a tortured relationship with his mother, and a bitter breakup with his former creative partner Will Ferrell. As it turns out, every movie is the most personal movie Adam McKay’s ever made—until it’s over and he moves on to the most personal movie he’d ever made. On one level, it’s the nature of his art—locating the pulse of the zeitgeist and making entertainment from it before the zeitgeist moves on. And McKay is nothing if not a topical writer and director. But it begs a question: How does Adam McKay move on from a movie about the end of the world?”

Author: Joe Hagan
Source: Vanity Fair
Published: Nov 29, 2021
Length: 26 minutes (6,522 words)

Cresting the Wave

“A surfer comes to grips with a dark family secret born from the swells near Bob Hall Pier.”

Author: Joe Hagan
Source: Texas Highways
Published: Oct 28, 2021
Length: 13 minutes (3,307 words)

‘All Roads Lead to Mar-a-Lago’: Inside the Fury and Fantasy of Donald Trump’s Florida

“Roger Stone, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Ben Shapiro—they’ve all made their way to the Sunshine State, fueling and profiting from a tabloid culture that turns politics into spectacle, arguably Florida’s greatest export.”

Author: Joe Hagan
Source: Vanity Fair
Published: Aug 10, 2021
Length: 24 minutes (6,221 words)

Fan Letters to a Troubled Country Music Star

Joe Hagan stumbles onto old fan mail sent to 1970s country-R&B star Charlie Rich. The fans share their most intimate secrets with a musician who had his own troubled life:

I felt drawn to Charlie Rich. For me, he was part of the landscape of family road trips in the late 1970s, lonely days driving with my parents in a VW van through the muggy Southeast in summer, across Louisiana and Alabama, up to the Carolinas and Virginia, as my father, a Coast Guard officer, moved me and my sisters from one military station to another. In memory, the sun sets in a Polaroid-orange glow over an Interstate horizon as the opening piano rolls of “Behind Closed Doors” come through the radio. Years later, Charlie Rich’s voice seemed to plumb some blue depth in me, a subterranean loneliness. But he was long dead by then and, unlike Tara, I was in thrall to a forgotten singer, left to chase a ghost: Charlie Rich, the tragic soul man whose legacy was largely forgotten after his brief period of fame. He was a major American artist whose life had traced the history of rock & roll, r&b, and soul; the definitive missing link between Elvis Presley and Ray Charles.

Author: Joe Hagan
Source: Oxford American
Published: Jan 8, 2014
Length: 32 minutes (8,114 words)

Long Night at ‘Today’

Turmoil at NBC’s “Today” show: How the dismissal of Ann Curry set off a chain of events that led to a ratings slump and now questions about Matt Lauer’s future:

“The producers of Today are employing every trick they know to rebuild the family’s chemistry, retooling the set, fiddling with the mix of stories, going for more uplift and smiles. But the show is still haunted by what happened, and is still happening, offscreen, the internal struggles and animosities casting strange shadows. Matt Lauer smiles for a living, but offstage he has been obsessed with the situation, brooding about his ratings and his enemies while trying to put forward his own version of events. If Lauer is guilty in the hosticide of Ann Curry (he’s certainly not innocent), he’s far from the only guilty party. For all the smiles, TV hosts often get offed, for all sorts of reasons. As Hyman Roth said in Godfather 2: This is the business they’ve chosen.”

Author: Joe Hagan
Published: Mar 24, 2013
Length: 26 minutes (6,556 words)

The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, 80-year-old Joe Arpaio has made a name for himself “for being not just the toughest but the most corrupt and abusive sheriff in America.” He’s now being sued by the Justice Department for civil rights violations against Latinos:

“Arpaio began focusing on illegal immigration about six years ago, after he watched an ambitious politician named Andrew Thomas get elected chief prosecutor of Maricopa County by promising to crack down on illegal immigrants. In 2006, shortly before the Department of Homeland Security empowered local law-enforcement agencies to act as an arm of the federal immigration effort, Arpaio created a Human Smuggling Unit – and used Thomas’ somewhat twisted interpretation of the law to focus not on busting coyotes and other smugglers, but on going after the smuggled.

“The move may have been indefensible from a legal standpoint, but it was political gold: Arpaio quickly ramped up his arrest numbers, bringing him a round of fresh media attention. The sheriff made a splash by setting up roadblocks to detain any drivers who looked like they could be in the U.S. illegally – a virtual license to racially profile Hispanics. Reports of pull-overs justified by little or no discernible traffic violations were soon widespread: Latinos in the northeastern part of the county, one study shows, were nine times more likely to be pulled over for the same infractions as other drivers. Arpaio’s men, the Justice Department alleges, relied on factors ‘such as whether passengers look “disheveled” or do not speak English.’ Some stops were justified after the fact: A group of Latinos who were photographed sitting in a car, neatly dressed, were described in the police report as appearing ‘dirty,’ the ostensible rationale for the pull-over. Testifying on the stand on July 24th in a federal trial over his department’s blatant record of racial profiling, Arpaio himself acknowledged that he once called the crackdown a ‘pure program to go after the illegals and not the crime first.'”

Author: Joe Hagan
Source: Rolling Stone
Published: Aug 2, 2012
Length: 24 minutes (6,027 words)

A New York Times Whodunit

Why was New York Times CEO Janet Robinson fired? A look inside the political battles and financial troubles that led Arthur ­Sulzberger to let Robinson go (with a $24 million exit package):

“Interviews with more than 30 people who are intimately familiar with different aspects of the Times’ business (none but a spokesperson would speak for attribution—this is the paper of record, after all) have made it clear that Gonzalez’s rise and Robinson’s fall, and the ensuing leadership vacuum inside the paper, were symptomatic of larger forces at work. Even as a new pay wall was erected on the Times’ website last spring to charge customers for access, the company’s performance, including an alarming dive in print advertising when other media companies were beginning to recover, was faltering, and Sulzberger was under pressure both financial and familial to throw Robinson overboard.

“As the paper’s stock price has declined in recent years, there has been increasing unease among the Ochs-Sulzberger clan, who control the paper through a special class of shares. Three years ago, facing huge debt problems, the company suspended the lucrative stock dividend that once flowed quarterly to the family’s 40-plus members, intensifying the need to solve the intractable advertising problems of the newspaper in the digital age and figure out a way to turn the family’s cash spigot back on. Janet Robinson, the company’s advertising brains, found herself caught between her increasingly remote boss and a frustrated family worried over the future of its 116-year-old fortune.”

Author: Joe Hagan
Published: May 28, 2012
Length: 20 minutes (5,085 words)

Truth or Consequences

The untold story of George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. Hagan revisits the mystery that led to the downfall of CBS’s Dan Rather—with new details on what may have really happened when Bush suddenly stopped flying in the spring of 1972:

“The CBS documents that seem destined to haunt Rather are, and have always been, a red herring. The real story, assembled here for the first time in a single narrative, featuring new witnesses and never-reported details, is far more complex than what Rather and Mapes rushed onto the air in 2004. At the time, so much rancorous political gamesmanship surrounded Bush’s military history that it was impossible to report clearly (and Rather’s flawed report effectively ended further investigations). But with Bush out of office, this is no longer a problem. I’ve been reporting this story since it first broke, and today there is more cooperation and willingness to speak on the record than ever before. The picture that emerges is remarkable. Beyond the haze of elaborately revised fictions from both the political left and the political right is a bizarre account that has remained, until now, the great untold story of modern Texas politics. For 36 years, it made its way through the swamps of state government as it led up to the collision between two powerful Texans on the national stage.”

Author: Joe Hagan
Source: Texas Monthly
Published: Apr 16, 2012
Length: 41 minutes (10,415 words)

Tweet Science

The intense pressure to convert Twitter into a profitable business, and before a tech bubble pops, is palpable here. And it’s happening as the company struggles with an interlocked set of existential questions, starting with the most basic one possible: What is Twitter? Initially, the idea was of a kind of adrenalized Facebook, with friends communicating with friends in short bursts—and indeed, Facebook rushed to borrow Twitter’s innovations so it wouldn’t be left ­behind. But as Twitter grew, it finally ­became clear to Twitter’s brain trust that the relevant analogy was not a social network but a broadcast system—the birth of a different sort of TV.

Author: Joe Hagan
Published: Oct 3, 2011
Length: 24 minutes (6,151 words)

The Dow Zero Insurgency

The nothing-can-be-believed chaos of the financial crisis created a golden opportunity for a blog run by a mysterious ex-hedge-funder with a dodgy past and conspiracy theories to burn.

Author: Joe Hagan
Published: Sep 27, 2009
Length: 21 minutes (5,337 words)