The second part of EXPOSÉ’s “Think Like a Terrorist” premieres online today. Follow Carl Prine as he investigates the security of America’s railways, and hear how he responds to critics who say he is “helping the terrorists” by exposing our vulnerabilities.
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What was it like shooting the scenes in Pittsburgh?
So the first day I go there — I’ve never been to Pittsburgh in my life — I show up and the executive editor Frank Craig has me in his office. He’s this tough-looking editor … you know, like the J. Jonah Jameson of the Pittsburgh Trib Review [that’s a comic reference — he’s the editor from Spiderman]. He’s a smart, smart guy, he’s done great foreign reporting in Bosnia … And he basically said, “If we’re going to have TV cameras in here, let’s just tell the truth. We have nothing to hide. We can show anything and talk about anything.” Anytime I needed anything there, it was incredible … there was an attitude of transparency at that newspaper. We went in to shoot the printing press at 2 in the morning — we just wanted to get our couple of shots and go home. And there was this greeting committee. We could have made a whole documentary about printing presses that night. There’s a certain kind of innocence about Pittsburgh. People are just genuine there.
What was it like working with Carl Prine?
Carl is complex. I think he had a lot of reservations about the war in Iraq and how it was being prosecuted but he still went. I respect that. I just don’t understand it. He’s very ethical. He literally won’t let you give him an ice cube from your coke. He pays for everything. He won’t ever let his journalistic integrity be in question.
He is also incredibly polite. I would say he’s an officer and a gentleman, but he was kind of a grunt and a gentleman … [laughs]. If I have a question, or I’m trying to understand a bill, or a piece of chemical legislation, then the next day in my inbox there will be a flood of emails. One day I swear I got 45 emails from him. He has no sense of time and he might just be a robot because he doesn’t need to eat. I’d be like, “Oh man, I need to eat!” and he’d just [keep going]. Even his editors say he has enormous abilities and works harder than everyone else.
Carl takes so seriously the fact that he wants to blend in as if he is a terrorist. He wants to take it to that level. Sitting on the industrial edge of Las Vegas, not wanting to be caught by the cops … It was weird to be underground with him.
Did he talk about his experience in Iraq during his “stakeouts”?
He talks about it a lot. He would say: “This is like being on an ambush in Iraq or being on patrol in Iraq.” So it definitely comes up as a reference point all the time. I think it’s fair to say that Carl feels that in some way, somehow, the Iraq war is going to come home to the United States.
But a lot of his feelings about the Iraq war are very personal. I was with him for two weeks and it wasn’t until the last day that I actually interviewed him about the Iraq war in a hotel room. My editor felt it was better to talk about the war when he wasn’t in the newsroom and when he wasn’t at home. Somewhere where he could be free to talk about it. Which I think worked well.
What was the most challenging part of producing the two episodes?
Getting Senator Biden’s interview was really a challenge. He’s running for president and it was just hard to get his time. I called his campaign manager — this is no exaggeration — about twice a day for two months. At least 120 times. Just being polite and persistent. Finally we got the interview and it was pretty incredible — he referenced Carl Prine’s reporting as being important and the way to get this issue in the public light. What I was most struck by was after the camera was off, he kept talking to me for like half an hour. And the after-talk was even more intense than the interview itself.
I’m really glad I connected with the Exposé show. I did a pilot for HBO, which didn’t make it to the air, but got really close. It was called the Pitch Room. It was all about the behind-the-scenes of journalism. So when I got this call to work on this PBS show I was like: “Yeah. That sounds great.”
You know, there’s that saying: “The press is the fourth estate.” How true is that really when you have Michael Jackson and other stupid superficial stories that people are spending a lot of airtime on? Is it really the fourth estate? But when you look at investigative journalism — like take the Walter Reed scandal, or the Abramoff scandal — they are really questioning how democratic we are and uncovering things that lead to fundamental attitude changes on the part of the public and legislative change. So to get to understand how that world works is great.
For the vast majority of the audience — they don’t know this story. This ran in a medium-sized newspaper. So you’re telling the story again, but 90 percent of the people haven’t heard it yet. And you’re serving it up with a dose of personality that makes it even more accessible to people.
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JOE RUBIN has reported from five continents for programs such as ABC’s Nightline and PBS´s Frontline World. In 2000, on assignment for Nightline, Rubin immersed himself amongst the then unknown Otpor (Resistance) student movement that went on to oust Serbia’s ruthless dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Rubin’s other documentaries have ranged from a look at present day Cuba through the prism of vintage car mechanics (Nightline), to a recent investigation for Frontline World looking into the maddening hunt for the notorious Serbian war criminals, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. In 2004 Joe was a Knight Fellow teaching video journalism in El Salvador, Panama and Ecuador. Rubin was also a Pew Fellow in International Journalism in 2001. A versatile reporter, Joe has also written for the New York Times, Mother Jones, CMJ Music Magazine and reported for National Public Radio. Rubin also produced the episode “Nice Work If You Can Get It” for the first season of EXPOSÉ (formerly AIR).