Award-winning investigative journalist Jonathan Franklin’s book, 33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners, is the result of rare but hard-earned access and smart sensitivity to the men who underwent this incredible ordeal. “Some curtains ought never to be pulled back; others deserve to be ripped down,” he tells PopMatters 20 Questions. Franklin travels throughout Latin America to produce reports for numerous magazines and newspapers worldwide. Check out, Addict Village.com, where he pens adventure and news stories from Latin America.
The Hugh Laurie-kinda lookalike has a knack for finding humor in the funniest places. Anybody who’s seen Oliver Stone’s South of the Border knows that Hugo Chavez can be funny (Franklin thinks Chavez would make a good stand-up comedian). But Pat Buchanan? Who’d have thought…
33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners
(Penguin; US: Feb 2011)
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Keith Richards’ book, Life. The tears were pure laughter, especially when he talks about being given a parrot that talked all the time. It was so annoying, he said, that it never shut up, and it was like living with Mick Jagger.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Dr. House. I must look like him, as I was swarmed in Los Angeles International Airport by Japanese school girls who thought I was Hugh Laurie. I even signed autographs as Dr. House. When I go to weddings, they think Laurie showed up. I should ambush one of his award ceremonies and make a mad acceptance speech on his behalf.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Anything by Manu Chao or The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars What 14-year-old boy didn’t have fantasies about being abducted by Princess Leia?
5. Your ideal brain food?
A ten day road trip with Pat Buchanan. I am an avowed liberal; he is a devout conservative. We both have a sense of humor, and it would be a classic cultural clash, a mélange of debate, ideas and revelations. I have interviewed Pat at length, and he is one of the funniest guys I have ever met.
Or Hugo Chavez. Say what you will about his role as president of Venezuela, but his one-on-one conversations are scintillating. He could easily have been a stand up comedian or lounge singer.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I wrote 33 Men in eight weeks. Not only was it a combination of simultaneously writing and interviewing, but as I dug deeper into the miners’ story, I found the key to their success was the ability to place their individuality on the back burner and bring forward the sense of a collective group responsibility. Even in the direst moments, the miners were able to focus on the needs of the entire clan.
Now that I go back and review this entire drama, it is an honour to have been there and to have chronicled a rare moment of global altruism. Good news stories are rarely featured in the world press. This was one of those rare moments.
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
I would like to be remembered as the reporter who snuck back stage to all the off limits shows, be it the Vatican dressing room, the Pentagon war room, or the Celtics Locker Room. Some curtains ought never to be pulled back; others deserve to be ripped down. When appropriate, I want to be the curtain remover.
Here at the Chilean mine drama, I was given front row access. Although 2,000 reporters were there, I was among the only print journalists to be given front row access. Still, being back stage does not mean you have free hand to write everything that passes before your eyes. I believe that exclusive access comes with heightened responsibilities—there is a fine line between reporting the inner details of the miners’ rescue and disrespecting their right to privacy.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I am still awed by creative geniuses that can turn that back of the napkin fantasy into an empire, be it Jobs (Apple), O’Neill (surfboards) or Groening (Simpsons). Just knowing that the potential exists to catapult great creativity into a billion minds, is the beauty of living in our now wired world.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 by Hunter S. Thompson. Before it was chic to bite down and rip chunks out of Richard Nixon, Hunter S. Thompson sunk his eloquent fangs deep into the suit of perhaps our most dangerous president. Anyone who takes the time to go back and read that book will see a classic work that is part anthropology, part sociology and huge doses of humor all wrapped in laser-like political observations.
Or Critical Mass, the San Francisco-based bike protest that has now gone to the far corners of the world – thanks to Chris Carlsson for that one!
10. Your hidden talents..?
I could have been a top notch spy. People confess the most amazing secrets to me, even when I am not fishing for those nuggets. I must look trustworthy because I sit there with a video camera or a tape recorder while the stories pour out.
Recently I was interviewing four hitmen in Caracas, Venezuela, and they kept telling me details about their “career” as killers. The video camera was running! That story was called “Camping with Killers”.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Something I actually followed came from the Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, when he wrote an ode to living the moment with his famous advice, “Don’t carry an umbrella.” It’s a metaphor for letting the rain hit you on the head, for travelling lightly, and for ignoring most of what passes for common sense.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I grabbed a case of beer off a delivery truck in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as a teenager. Never did we so celebrate a cold beer. There’s something about free booze that always tastes better.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
I feel best in a ragged pair of red Honda Motorcycle pants. I have taken them to Machu Picchu, to the Knob Creek Machine Gun festival, and backstage to Cirque du Soleil – just the right touch to make you untouchable. No one quite dares to throw you out, because perhaps you are a world class motocross racer.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Jimmy Cliff….c’mon, the guy is 80-years-old or something, and he bounces around the stage like a teenager. He’s inspired a half dozen generations with his songs and is the king of cool, without a doubt.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I would move to San Francisco circa 1963 to witness the early whirrings of a cultural revolution. Or, San Francisco circa 1995 to watch the internet revolution take off. Those explosive years pre-Google in San Francisco were another revolutionary moment.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
When you have already raised six daughters through infancy, including four in diapers at the same time, there are few situations that can faze you. That said, when the stress gets too hot, my secret remedy is a long hot shower and a tall glass of Santa Teresa rum, the world’s finest medicine.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
It is key to have certain vices that can be rationed but also enjoyed. My love of Santa Teresa rum also comes with strict guidance: don’t overdo it. Otherwise the thrill wears off. I am a bit Spartan in that I like to keep my vices at arm’s length. When I finally reach out, they are that much tastier.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
San Francisco. Ground zero for great ideas, cultural collisions, amazing Mexican food, and art films too honest to be shown in mainstream cinema.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
“Take off the gloves, Obama.” Don’t confuse conciliation with cowardice. A hard left hook can be both surprising and effective—use it. Better to go down with your values intact than to compromise yourself into mediocrity.
I have little faith in Washington to solve problems, and I think the nation ought to be decentralized and run from the state House and not the White House. Federal power and federal intervention in daily life is madly out of control. Most Americans are practical problem solvers. We need to get the decision-making process back to common sense.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’m writing daily to finish up the paperback edition of 33 Men, my book on the Chilean miners. The paperback edition reveals the full story of the 33 miners that the daily television and press never uncovered. I continually get to hear the miners’ story and am able to add this tale of survival and heroism. The world is filled with heroes and amazing stories, but the press rarely lets us hear these tales.