The latest newsmagazine on HBO, "Vice," is raw, unapologetic and quite frankly dangerous as hell undertaking.
It is the antidote to the bland reporting of Anderson Cooper and the verbal bomb lobbing of Piers Morgan, and in a bizarre way, it may capture quite a conservative audience for only the fact it reveals how repressive, illiterate and downright Stone Age certain regions of the world really are.But everyone watching will agree on one thing at least: Shane Smith and his crew have big balls to do this kind of reporting in a world where adult men use the fear of God and convenience of rampant illiteracy to manipulate a boy into wearing a vest of dynamite to blow up the "infidels."
As a youth oriented new media brand, ďViceĒ branched into 34 countries, becoming a one stop shop for entertainment encompassing VICE.com digital channelís television production, a print magazine, a record label, and a book publishing division.
Friday, April 5, 11 p.m. sees "Vice" premiere on HBO. Along with Bill Maher, founder and host Shane Smith and ďVice's" chief creative executive Eddy Moretti are all executive producing. CNNís Fareed Zakaria is on as a consultant.
The premise has worked brilliantly in this format, of guerilla gonzo journalism that takes the brave step inside the Taliban's cave or dwelling, or goes deep into Filipino jungles seeking out Muslim rebels who make American God and gun nuts look like pussies.
In fact, all the stories I watched, the gun and assassination issues of the Philippines, the Taliban, North Korean escapes, India vs. Pakistan, were all fueled by a massive uneducated swarm of willing boys who are armed to the teeth. They even make the guns from scratch.
The effort works here because Shane Smith and his team are in this for the adrenalin rush of getting to the truth, and revealing the real story, the way reporters used to do their job in the field. The intense footage they get would give veteran reporter Dan Rather a woodie.
"Vice" has two segments during the 30-minute episode. The entertainment factor alone, editing it and framing the news stories for a generation who think Jon Stewart is a real newsman was smart.
It does not glorify the assignment, but shows the reporter making critical decisions to stay alive and out of harm's way. The series brings real information and opens the eyes of a jaded and completely tech saturated youth who have no idea what real sacrifice or hardship is, especially with Great-Granddad who served in WWII, dead and gone.
The stark reality of what happens after someone blows something up, whether itís localized in a suicide bomber's effort or a massive nuclear exchange, like the potential that exists in India and Pakistan, is what we have to worry about now.
You would never find anything as enlightening or education on broadcast news and for this, Bill Maher deserves a great deal of credit. His "Real Time" salon for years has brought both sides of the political divide to the table - and love him or hate him - he's created a conversation in this country that makes us all better informed, elevating political awareness higher than it has been for a long time. "Vice" hopefully will inspire kids to go back into journalism for the right reasons.
At the last winter press tour, I had a chance to ask a few question to Shane Smith about how they stay safe when immersed in these battle zones.
"Usually, Iím dirty. I have soup on my shirt, and I have chicken bone in my beard," said Smith. "They say, 'Thereís no point in kidnapping this guy'. We go in with smaller crews. We practice a type of journalism we call immersionism where we go and we stay in the area for long periods of time. We stay with local people. We have local stringers. We dress the part. We donít try to be intrusive. And we just try to be smart about it. Weíre not out we donít want to you know, weíre not action junkies or anything like that. We just want to get the good story. Smaller crews help, and now cameras can high quality cameras can be just a 5D. So itís not like it was before when you needed big cameras and lighting rigs and sound rigs and all that stuff."
I also was curious as to why the Philippines put America to shame with the gun lust.
Smith said, "Can I just thatís a great question because part of what we do in that segment is just sort of the battling that goes on in American politics because the Philippines politics and their type of constitution and political system was actually built by America. So a lot of the mudslinging that goes on is sort of a legacy that America left them. Now, whatís happened is thereís a lot of political assassination, and what they do is they have assassins who are 8, 9, 10 years old because then they wonít be jailed for life. They get very short sentences. But they also have very lax and liberal gun laws. So 70 to 80 percent of Filipinos own guns. So itís just everywhere, and the political system is very sort of contentious and everyoneís got guns. So it leads to massacres."
Smith continued, "We actually go to some of these underground factories where children as young as 11 years old are learning how to make weapons from scrap that canít be traced because theyíre used in assassinations."
Please make every effort to watch this.