As even Jon Ronson himself has acknowledged in his book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, I played a major role in unearthing its extraordinary story. Why then, as Ive been asking in the British national press, have I received neither credit nor recompense for George Clooney's current movie of the same name -- which is being promoted as inspired by that same extraordinary story?
I am an investigative journalist and documentary producer with over 20 years experience, and the person to whom Jon Ronson dedicates his book 'The Men Who Stare at Goats'. Through most of 2003 and 2004, I worked on the Channel 4 UK documentary series on which the book is based, living a good part of that time in Los Angeles. (Though British, I have a Masters of Journalism from UC Berkeley).
A producer in documentaries can be different to a producer in movies. Sometimes s/he may be director, or a camera person, or an interviewer. In my eight years working with Jon Ronson I was all of these things, but (hailing from journalism), I mostly supplied and developed story content.
For 'Goats' I developed leads, took steers from sources, unearthed key materials, and actually carried out much of the investigation that yielded the remarkable tale that George Clooney and Grant Heslov quite rightly felt would make a great movie. Of course World of Wonder the production company behind the documentary would confirm this, as would Channel 4 UK. But Jon Ronson himself does too. If you turn to the last line of the book you will find these words:
'John's research and guidance can be found on every page'.
I am not going to pretend Jon's role wasn't crucial. He did a lot too, though usually by phone from England and between other jobs. He also did filmed interviews and ultimately spun our work into an entertaining and interesting book.
At the beginning, the project was about strangeness at the margins of George Bush's America. By the summer of 2003, we were looking hard at reports of 'torture lite' in Iraq; at Yale University's secretive Skull and Bones society (which had once had George Bush as a member); and at rumours of government psychics being reactivated to fight in the War on Terror. Then, pursuing steers provided to Jon by a former CIA psychologist called Dr Ray Hyman, I unearthed a mass of data about obscure military research into enhancing human performance in the early 1980s. This included Lt Colonel Jim Channon's remarkable First Earth Battalion manual, which envisioned a revolutionary new cadre of super-soldiers. It was that research which put us squarely on the trail of the real warrior monks.
I'm afraid Jon rarely, if ever, acknowledges it, but it was I who found and persuaded General Stubblebine to talk, and Glenn Wheaton, and Jim Channon, and John Alexander, and Dr Oliver Lowery, and Guy Savelli, and Pete Brusso, and 'Joseph Curtis', and Jamal Al Harith, and many other key players in the story. In fact everyone in the documentary and most people in the book. The relationships of trust I developed with these figures - not normally given to talking to the media - decisively contributed to the genesis of the 'Men Who Stare at Goats'.
I assumed in that period that I was working on a documentary only, and though dimly aware Jon might spin a book out of it, I simply wasn't party to the fact that he had tied up both the literary and subsidiary rights to the material being gathered for the series. In fact when he saw the full potential of the story - slightly belatedly, it has to be said - and that it could be his next book, I naively encouraged him. And though I didn't particularly like it, I didn't kick up too much of a fuss when, as happens in the book and elsewhere, he presented certain of my experiences as his own.
There is much more to be said about how I am airbrushed out of the book, and how similarly discomforting things occurred with other projects, but the upshot is that after that, I decided I needed to properly formalise our working relationship. Despite repeated efforts over the next three years though, it never happened. Then last year I made the shocking discovery that I had been completely excluded from the evolution and development of the movie itself. I took legal and professional advice and then tried one more time create some kind of contract. In February this year that effort was flatly rejected. It was only after further behind the scenes petitions failed, that I finally went public - the week of the film's launch.
I'm afraid Jon Ronson has had numerous opportunities and plenty of time to put this situation right. Quite what legal grounds he has for not wishing to comment are unclear, since our exchange of letters was, as I say, completed last February.
In the absence of answers from Jon, I detailed much of what I have stated above and more, in a letter I first tried to get to George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, director Grant Heslov, and BBC Films' producers over a month ago. A follow up letter, more or less reiterating the same thing, was addressed specifically to George Clooney not only because he is both producer and star, but because he has a well known concern for serious journalism. That letter has been in the hands of his publicist since at least the day of the movie's launch.
Since then, touchingly, several of the original Goat men themselves have contacted me to reaffirm my role. Last week Colonel John Alexander - one of the leaders - wrote to me out of the blue:
'If you want support for your position, tell reporters (or lawyers) to contact me. You were definitely the key person in developing the whole Goats project'.
In my view, Grant Heslov, Peter Straughan, the film's writer, and all the stars are completely innocent in all this. As with the public here, they just weren't given the full picture and were working in good faith on what is after all, a great story. George Clooney himself has a well-deserved reputation as both a great artist and an activist. So far as I know he - and all of them probably - are only interested in putting their names to projects of integrity and quality. That's why this is such a crazy situation - to maintain integrity here, this critical omission, ie my full part in it - needs to be addressed somehow or other. This is why finally, I'm putting my faith in the idea that once George Clooney's been properly informed about what's happened, he will step forward and get this bizarre situation justly resolved.