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Support for this podcast and the following message come from the Glenn Lovett's new Caribbean Reserve expression, a new single malt with a bold tropical twist. Learn more at the Glenlivet dotcom 20-20 imported by the Glenlivet distilling company, New York, New York. From W.H y in Philadelphia, this is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross on today's show. Miami Herald columnist and author Carl Hiaasen. His new novel is a hilarious mystery set in Palm Beach featuring wealthy widows, the president and first lady and some gigantic Burmese pythons.
It's called Squeeze Me. We'll talk about Hisam satirical takes on Florida life, about the toll the covid-19 pandemic is taking after the state open bars and beaches. And we'll talk about politics battles over voting in the state that are setting the stage for a dramatic election in November. Hiaasen says Floridians expect problems and just hope things are worse in another state so they don't get all the attention. Also, John Powers reviews a new documentary about a US supported coup which overthrew an elected government in Iran in 1953.
If you want to know what's going on in Florida, the land of hanging chads, exotic wildlife and baseball's biggest covid-19 outbreak, a good place to start is with Carl Hiaasen, a Florida native, a longtime columnist for the Miami Herald and the author of 15 novels. His latest is a hilarious crime story set in Palm Beach involving wealthy widows, the president and first lady, a scrappy wildlife relocation specialist, and some very large Burmese pythons, which probably have something to do with the title of the book, Squeeze Me.
We last spoke to Carl Hiaasen about his novel Bad Monkey, involving a showbusiness primate whose career was on the skids. We decided with Florida facing a viral pandemic and another potentially contested presidential election, it was time to talk again. Carl Hiaasen joins me via an Internet connection from his office in Vero Beach, Florida. Carl Hiaasen, welcome back to Fresh Air.
I'm glad to be here. This story is set in Palm Beach, Florida, which a lot of people kind of it's a name they hear. Maybe they confuse it with.
You know, Palm Springs described Palm Beach and this place. Why it's a good setting for the story.
Well, it's a it's an island. It's a barrier island right off of the city of West Palm Beach. And it's very exclusive. And it's lore goes back to the to the Kennedy compound and beyond. You know, when when JFK was president and Joe Kennedy had a place there. And then way beyond that and generations of wealth have have have fled to Palm Beach in the wintertime from the northeast. It's a sort of a traditional enclave for old money mainly.
And it's it's very beautiful and it's very silly at the same time, which is, you know, what attracts, you know, the eye of a novelist. I mean, it is it is a gorgeous place. But the the social scene is it's challenging.
If you're writing satire, you know, this story begins with the disappearance of a woman, a wealthy widow, who's a bit of a swinger. And she's last seen at a high end charity fundraiser on the grounds of a place called the Lippard House. The fundraiser is to raise money for was it irritable bowel syndrome?
Yes, it's obscene. It was called the you know, the wide eyed baseball. It's synonymous sort of with the with the disease or disorder. I'm sorry, I forgot to call it. Anyway, they have charity functions, you know, on a nightly basis in Palm Beach. So I had to sort of come up with some ideas for maybe some causes that had not been and had not been, you know, fully publicized. So I but it's hard to make up something wilder than what I mean, it's literally a nightly thing during the season, these big events.
And they raise lots of money for good causes, but all kinds of stuff goes on there and, you know, local island scandal and romance and intrigue. So it seemed like a good way to start the book.
All sorts of stuff goes on at these high end fundraisers. Well, yeah, you know, it's just the society world. I mean, you have you know, this is the this is this is this like the Hamptons with extra sunblock, really. And and there are more plastic surgeons per square mile in the Palm Beach, I suppose, than the Hamptons. But other than that, you know, it's it's a scene. So as a writer, you're attracted.
I don't get invited. Don't get me wrong. They're not they're not crazy enough to invite me to a lot of these events. But the ones I've attended have been colorful and inspirational enough that I sort of filed what I was watching away and thought this would be a fun way to open a book.
One of the things that's interesting is that the president and first lady are characters in this story because this president, like the current occupant of the White House, has a big place in Palm Beach. His is called Casa Bella Causa rather than Mar a Lago. Tell us a little bit about the president's connection with Palm Beach in your story. And these ladies who are so enamored of him, well, in the novel, the president vacations here frequently and he has he has a fan base in Palm Beach that includes this group of ladies who are incredibly loyal.
They dress patriotically and flamboyantly whenever he comes to town. And they always try to be at the club when he's there. And they also throw an annual ball or a gala for him. And they they live for just seeing him on property. He's he's like one of the Beatles to them. And he and he and he always is kind enough when he's standing in line at the pastry table to wave, to wave to them as they sit at their own table in there.
They're wealthy, they're older. They some of them are divorced, some of them widowed, some of them both divorced and widowed. And they have a lot of free time.
And the book opens with one of them disappearing at this at this big fundraiser. And of course, it is. So it isn't just anybody who who vanishes. It's somebody who's particularly loyal to the president. So there's a higher level of interest taken in this disappearance. And there would be if it was just an ordinary citizen that vanished. This is this is one of his group. This is and I don't want to use the term groupies, but but it's one of his loyal female fans.
It turns out that the wealthy widow who's disappeared at this high end fund raiser met an end, which involves a snake, a huge Burmese python.
And in a way, pythons are kind of a kind of a central character in this story.
And that comes from something that's really going on in Florida. Tell us about pythons and their effect on the state.
Well, we've had all you have to do is Google Florida and pythons and you'll get one. Yesterday, a story ran. This is true. A story about a woman down in South Florida opened her washing machine and there was a big ass python curled up in a washing machine and they proliferated. They started out in the pet trade. And people they get this particular species gets huge and they let them they just let him go. And Hurricane Andrew scattered a bunch of sort of the reptile farms on the edge of the Everglades.
And they were destroyed during Hurricane Andrew and all the babies got loose. And ever since then, the Everglades and points onward have been these these snakes have taken over. And it's actually quite a serious story. They've devastated a huge part of the food chain in the Everglades, eat everything, including deers and alligators and any snake that can eat it. Adult alligators we're paying attention to. So those are real. Everything in the book about the pythons is absolutely true.
And they are moving northward as the climate gets warmer. They're moving northward out of the Everglades. And so, in my view, it's only a matter of time before they show up in Palm Beach. And I sort of wrote this book for four people who couldn't be there when it happens.
We don't know them actually eating a society matron, do we? Not yet know.
But they did find one that had a seventy four pound white tailed deer in it. And so my thought was that that's not a big jump up to, you know, a an heiress, a petite heiress and man being somewhat elderly, not particularly quick a foot. You know, if I have been a part of a group that held a python that was 16 feet, and I'll tell you, it's formidable.
And in this case, the society matron, Kiki Poo Fitzsimmons, disappears and I don't think is giving away too much. This all happens pretty early in the book to say that this huge python is discovered by the gardening staff, which noticed this massive bulge in the middle, concluding, oh, my heavens, that's keep you in the middle.
I know it sounds it actually sounds sick when you describe it like that.
I thought it would know it is a little funnier, but but the point is nature, you know, I mean, in all the novels I've written, nature is always sort of its own character. And I always root for you always just growing up in Florida, I always end up rooting for Mother Nature. And the pythons are not part of that. And and they really are kind of unstoppable. And so I just thought, well, what if this happens and what if it happens at one of these events, especially when you have the kind of security levels that you have with when when the president is in town and all that stuff.
So they just open a lot of sort of the subplot possibilities as well.
And, you know, one at one point, the novel that the first lady is in her in a motorcade going down the street in West Palm Beach, and they have to all break to a stop, which they never try to do in those motorcades because there's a big a big dead python in the road. And and that as actually happened and I mean, this is how prolific these things are, but those are scenes that you sort of pick up and figure out a way to use.
Maintaining appearances is important in Palm Beach and the groundskeeper of this place that hosted the event, the Lippitt House, the last thing that they need is to have the world learn that a guest somehow ended up being digested by a python is bad for business.
You know, this must be avoided at all costs. So they summon a wildlife relocation specialist who kind of becomes a central character in this book. Angie Armstrong, tell us just a little about her.
Well, I like I like her tremendously. When I started writing Squeeze Me, this character of the Wrangler. And we have these businesses in South Florida because there's so much interaction with wildlife still that you call up somebody, that you got a raccoon in your porch, you got a snake, you got, you know, a bobcat in your backyard. Whatever it is, they come and they're trained to humanely capture and remove these animals. But most of the businesses are run by guys, you know, the guys with gaily decorated pickup trucks that you can call critter removal experts.
But I so that was the character when I started. But then I thought got to be so much more fun and interesting if it was a woman. And I and so then I went back and started over with with Angie and I liked her tremendously. She's not very big and she, you know, she's not what you would imagine is someone that could could remove it, you know, a ten foot alligator from your swimming pool. But she can.
And so I just the more she was around, I liked her as I was writing the novel and and she has a past and a history. And she she started out as a you know, as a veterinarian and worked with her dad and then went to become a state wildlife officer and got in some trouble with when she punished a poacher, that she caught and punished him in somewhat of an unusual way. And so she ended up in this job just driving this pickup truck, answering calls.
And so she gets a call that there's a python, you know, it's another python call. So she drives out to Palm Beach and finds out it isn't really just another python call.
She has a real sense of right and wrong. Did you spend time with people that do this business to prepare for this part? No, I have a friend.
I have a friend who who wrangles animals. He's not an animal removal expert, but he does it for movies and stuff, you know, and for documentaries. But I see the guys around and growing up down here, I've done I mean, a couple of months, you know, I mean, I've done some of it not not as a profession, but just out of necessity. You know, there was a you know, there was a possum under the barbecue, you know, a couple of months ago.
So I just grabbed them. I mean I mean, just you're just that's when you're a kid and you grew up in a place like Florida, you learn how to do that stuff. But now that's a whole little industry because so many people have moved here from up north. You don't get a lot of people that naturally know how to pick up a possum. You know, I mean, most people just pick up the phone, right?
How do you grab a possum by by the tail?
That's what I figured. And they're and they're, by definition, laying staircase just just in case.
By the time. But just in case by the tail. But, you know, I mean, I was a kid. I had pet raccoons. I had I mean, they were just wasn't you know, it was sort of on the edge of the Everglades where we lived. And it wasn't there weren't you know, there weren't skate parks and shopping malls and stuff. You just got on your bike and you went out into the woods. And so it is a different kind of childhood.
And I think that it has a part in all the books. I write even the kids' books, because I wouldn't have traded it for anything. But it certainly gives you a range of experiences that a lot of a lot of normal kids probably don't have.
There's a moment in the book where this wildlife officer, Angie, is lamenting the way, you know, out of control development has taken away habitat and endangered so many species. And I read that and I said, that's Carl Hiaasen talking.
Yeah, no, absolutely. It's it's something ever since people ask me when I started to feel I mean, I can remember being like six, six years old, seven years old and having the same feelings to just to see the development coming and see, you know, the places that were kind of wild and remote and special to me and my friends to see them paved over. I think it has a it has an effect. And it certainly certainly creates a you know, I think I think satire, a lot of satire comes from a sense of anger and injustice.
You know, it's supposed to be funny, but there's also I mean, it's the great thing is having readers who who know why it's funny, who are who get it, that it isn't slapstick. It's you know, it's it's it's a it's a form of commentary. It's also a form of, I think, grieving for for the damage that's been done to this place.
You know, Florida has long been fascinating and weird and a politically divided state. And this is a broad question. But how has nearly four years of the Trump presidency affected the state?
Well, I mean. It's hard to say if it's affected it worse than the rest of the country, but because he spends so much time here, I think his presence is is felt. And, you know, our governor, Rhonda Sanaz, is is a big Trump guy. And he's you know, he's he's like a little mini trump and in an extremely loyal and and so a lot of what's been happening in the last few months with the pandemic has been guided by him listening more to Trump than listening to actual people with medical degrees and the whole country seeing the product of that.
I was going to ask about that. The pandemic has blazed a unique trail through Florida in some respects. And your governor, Rhonda Santurce, who was a congressman until 2018, he was very active supporter of President Trump in Congress and then won a very close governor's race in 2018.
For people who don't follow this closely, just give us a thumbnail of how he has handled the pandemic and its effects. Well, I mean, he's he's you know, he's smart, dude, he went to he went to Harvard and Yale and he he he's, you know, he likes the numbers. So the numbers would be coming out early on in the pandemic, no matter how bad they were. He was able to say, look at this trend is going this way, this trend to just be patient.
We've got and then and back in May, he basically did a victory lap and said, look at we flattened out. We beat this thing. All you guys in the media said it was. And it just went on a rant about the media creating all this this hysteria about covid.
And then and then, of course, it went through the roof. There was he went up to the White House, did a little dog and pony show. He brought some bought some poster boards for the president and had a photo op and talked about how Florida conquered it all. And in Florida, we just exploded with the stuff because he opened up we opened up too fast with the state, opened up too fast.
And it was Barres Beaches, even Disney World. Right. Bars, beaches. Yeah, it was it was a cluster. And and the result was that no sooner had that happened within weeks they were shutting down bars and they were become more restrictive on some of the beaches. And there still places where this was going on. And now now they've had to go back and shut down the bars and they're even yanking liquor licenses of some of these places. But to hear him tell it, it's just been a natural trajectory of the of the disease, which is baloney.
It could have been prevented. In the meantime, we're now over at work.
We're going to coming up on 9000 deaths in the state of Florida. Nine thousand deaths. And those are seldom mentioned when when Ronnie gets up to give his pep talk once a day that the deaths are seldom discussed in.
And, you know, we seem to have sort of written off the elderly. There's a sense of, oh, well, they were going to die anyway. But that's not true. Some of the folks that this is ravaging, the nursing homes and the care facilities, they weren't sick. They were just their only crime was being old.
And for every one of those eight thousand plus who have died, there's there's families that have been devastated. And because of this and so there will be I mean, there is being a political cost to this sort of, you know, this rosy glass, glass half full attitude. Now we're opening the schools and and guess what's going to happen? I mean, guess what's going to happen with the covid testing in the public schools? It's just, you know, and it's it's sad because there will be the cost of this is not just in teachers leaving because they're scared and kids who desperately need to get back to school not being able to the the cost is there's an actual cost in human lives that isn't funny.
And it is and it isn't anything but callous and cold blooded to say this is going to be the cost of keeping a few tiki bars open. Yeah, we'll just we'll just take the hit, will bury a few people and keep the tiki bars open.
You know, you mentioned that he is in some ways a lot like President Trump. It is very close to President Trump.
And I read that in the early weeks of the pandemic that he tended to rely on a very narrow group of people.
I mean, I guess his wife and his chief of staff still does. So I'm just going to ask if that had changed since obviously know things have gotten more serious.
We have a we have a we have a surgeon general in the state nobody's heard from. We've got no, it's it's been strictly political. In fact, they they they said when they ordered all schools to reopen the individual counties, could it not? School districts could make the decision to keep classrooms closed if their county if their area of the state was having a spike, all they needed to do is get the health department, their local health department to approve it.
And then the sentence went to the health departments and said, don't approve it. So what he said publicly and then what was done was to basically muzzle the health departments in every place is different. Every part of Florida is a little different. There are counties in Florida where it might be safe to physically reopen schools. And of course, in South Florida, they're delaying they're doing online, but they still have to open some of the buildings. And everybody wants the kids to go back to school.
Everybody wants the schools to reopen. But you don't want your kid to get sick or to bring a disease home that that that kills one of his siblings or his grandfather or his grandmother or an aunt or their parents. I mean, that's just common sense you don't want. But at this point, the local health departments can't give advice to the local school districts about whether it's safe or not. The governor's people won't let them. So that's where we are.
And there's not a medical voice to be heard on this anywhere in Florida at the sadness. It's just a bunch of political hacks around it.
Carl Hyacinth's latest book is Squeeze Me. He will be back to talk more after this break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is fresh air support for this podcast, and the following message come from the Glenn Levitt's new Caribbean Reserve expression, a new single malt with a bold tropical twist that is selectively finished in barrels that previously held Caribbean rum, offering a sweet and smooth taste. Learn more at the Glenlivet Dotcom, the Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve, single malt Scotch whisky.
Enjoy our quality responsibly. 40 percent alcohol by volume 80 proof 20-20 imported by the Glenlivet Distilling Company, New York, New York.
We're speaking with Carl Hiaasen, a native of Florida who's written about the state's politics, culture, wildlife and development for decades. He's a columnist for the Miami Herald and the author of 15 novels. His latest is Squeeze Me.
It's been 20 years since the Bush Gore presidential election came down to the Florida recount, but the state has kind of remained a place of closely contested elections. I mean, the last two presidential races, the last three governor's races were margins of about one percent. What should we expect in November?
Oh, everything's going to go smoothly and wonderfully here. What do you think you'd expect? Here's what we do every every four years in Florida. Collectively as Floridians, we all pray that it doesn't come down to Florida. We this year, our bed, we're betting on Georgia. Georgia looks like it's going to screw this up even worse than Florida did. And we're looking for another scapegoat. We do not want to be the butt of Colbert's jokes every night, but the odds are of it going smoothly here.
A very, very slim, which was interesting because the president who says, you know, mail voting is fraudulent, but no evidence whatsoever that that's true. It's suddenly somebody sat him down and said, you are not going to win Florida without the mail in vote because your demographic wants to mail it in. So then he comes out, said, OK, it's safe in Florida's the one state that's done it. Right. And we all fell out of our chairs laughing.
Florida is is the one it's perfectly safe in Florida because he realizes that he's going to lose if there's without the mail and vote in Florida. Somebody finally did the math for him. And and so apparently all the other 49 states mailing voting is bad, but Florida is great. So, you know, it's can't it can't possibly go well, you know, because first of all, a pandemic, people are scared to go to the polls. This is going to be true everywhere.
So they're just even finding poll workers to go is going to be difficult because people are afraid of getting covid-19 they can't possibly go well here. And our only hope is that it goes worse somewhere else. So we don't have all the attention on the day after the election.
Well, that's not exactly encouraging.
You know, one of the things that has happened since the last election was there was a state constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences passed by an overwhelming majority of Floridians and ignored and and sabotaged as best every way that Republicans could possibly do it, as this isn't the first time a popular amendment has been subverted. And that's what they're trying to do here.
Well well, the specific issue here was fines and court costs that sex offenders may. Oh, right. You have to have those paid before you can register. And so far, that's held up in the courts, right?
It has held up in the courts. But that doesn't mean that I mean, I think the sentence is going to keep pressing. And I think, you know, this is part of the voter suppression thing and it is going on in the whole country. And so they'll spend a ton of money taking it from one court to another. But so far, the the legality of the amendment and of letting people vote, even if they haven't paid their fines yet because you've been in prison.
So you're not going to walk out and be able to write a check for your court costs. I mean, that's just not realistic and it's not fair. But they're going to take whatever they can. They're going to do everything they can to keep as many people as they can away from the polls. That's a given I don't know what how it's going to shake down between now and November, whether so far they've been you know, they've been the Republicans have been unsuccessful in court, but they're not going to give up apart from the pandemic and politics.
What else are you paying attention to in your column in the Herald now?
Well, there's I wish there were more to pay attention to than that. It's just it's because of these resurgence of the virus. You know, there was a time when you could go back. I mean, I used to write a fair amount about the environment and about environmental issues, but that hasn't been the focus of legislation. It hasn't been the truthfully, the general public has been more focused on their own safety, as they should be in the safety of their children.
So you're right about education. You're right about the sort of coping with the. Pandemic and then politics is all meshed into that, but other than that, there's there's not a lot you can you can write about this. And sometimes there'll be some you know, some of the travel restrictions. There's some. But it's all tied into those things because those are the that's the headlines right now. You've got this election.
My heavens, you have to leave the developers alone. Yeah.
I mean, it's killing me. But here, the other side of the coin is a lot of that stuff is slowed down, too, because of because of the economy, you know. So one of the things in Florida that we've written about and the Herald's done some great stuff on is the unemployment, the back up and unemployment payments because of this incompetent administrators of this of this website. Where you signing up? I mean, there's just thousands and thousands, thousands of Floridians who who had their unemployment checks delayed, including the ones from the federal government, because it comes through the state they were delayed on.
They still somehow still haven't gotten them yet. Months after this started, people that lost their jobs because the system, the website kept crashing, wouldn't let them on the stories. I mean, it's unbelievable how many people couldn't pay their grocery bill or the other rent for sure. Anything because they couldn't get their first unemployment check. That's been a huge scandal here. And the Sanchez has complained and complained about the company that got the contract to do that years ago, got the contract to run the unemployment program here.
And yet the same company was just awarded one hundred and thirty five million dollar contract for another job in his administration.
So to maintain Medicaid data, right? Yeah. Yeah. So I mean that to that stuff. That stuff is out there. I think there's going to be huge stories and lots of columns to write about. How much of this the the aid money, the you know, the the money that was given out to fight the pandemic was just stolen. We had that classic Florida story of the guy that, you know, got a bunch of money from the government claiming all these unemployed people claiming this coming in.
And he went out and bought a Lamborghini first thing he did. And it turns out he didn't have as many employees as he told. And yet he got the check and he went out and bought a purple Lamborghini or so. That's a classic Florida story. Of course, he probably moved here just to do that.
Florida is a state that kind of known for extremes, as you've said. And it's there have been some kind of notable details that have come out like like the guy who dressed up in a hooded black robe carrying a size, who walked around beaches. And then I just read recently that the sheriff of a central north central county issued an order banning his deputies and visitors to the sheriff's office from wearing masks.
Yes, he did stare, Billy, something out there. But Marion County. Yeah, that's he he was he said you can't wear mask in the sheriff's department.
You can't wear them on a normal course duty. And anyone who comes to the sheriff's department, for instance, if you want to come to file a police report, let's say your car was stolen or let's say, you know, you have any reason to come in, you have to take your mask off before walking into the sheriff's department. He's like he's like, if you elected the Tiger King sheriff, if that's what this dude would be.
Let me reintroduce you again. We're going to take a break here. We're speaking with author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen. His latest novel is called Squeeze Me. Since we recorded our interview, Sheriff Billy Woods has modified his ban on face masks a bit. Visitors to the Marion County, Florida, Sheriff's Department are now permitted to wear masks if they so choose. However, deputies and other staff in the sheriff's office are still forbidden to wear masks while on duty.
We'll hear more of my conversation with Carl Hiaasen after a break. This is fresh air.
Black voters play a crucial role for any Democrat who seeks to win the White House. But some big divides amongst that bloc and some serious ambivalence could determine who is elected president this November. Listen now on the Code Switch podcast from NPR. This is Fresh Air, and we're speaking with Carl Hiaasen. His latest novel is called Squeeze Me.
This latest book is dedicated to your brother, Rob, who was one of five journalists killed two years ago in a mass shooting at the Annapolis, Maryland Capital Gazette, where he was an editor and a columnist. He was your only brother, six years younger than you. Right. Just tell us a little bit about growing up with him.
Well, Rob, we call him Big Rob because he was the he was the baby of the family, but he was he was six foot five. And I just, you know, the gentle giant, as they say. And he was very gifted writer, a tremendous journalist. He worked for many years at Palm Beach Post, The Baltimore Sun, and then became an editor and columnist. And he didn't want to leave Maryland. He loved Maryland. And he went to the paper in Annapolis.
And it was he was in the newsroom that day and the day this guy walked in with a gun and just started shooting.
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For more information, a community of survivors of victims of mass shootings that went something like this happens whether it's in a workplace, whether it's in a factory, whether it's in at Parkland, wherever it is, it's hard to know when you're watching the news or appreciate is the ripple effect of these tragedies on families. It just goes on and on and on for every for every victim. There's so many people that are affected by the shooting and we've become part of that community and been able to appreciate what everyone else goes through.
Nothing's going to, you know, bring Rob back, obviously.
But all I ever wanted was for people to know that it was such a gifted and funny guy and a great writer. Tremendous, tremendous talent. And and and I just you know, there isn't a day that goes by that we don't think about him and try not to think about what happened that day, you know?
Right. You know, it's I know you've written a lot about mass shootings. And I think you went to high school not far from the Parkland High School. Yeah.
Both Rob and I and my sisters all went to high school with Plantation High School, which is not far at all from Parkland. And Rob and I had talked after the Parkland was a few months before the shooting in Annapolis. And he and I, of course, had talked about it and and having kids especially and just how you know, how shocking and overwhelming. And I don't care how many of these stories you cover. Right about. I mean, you know, we had the police shooting in Orlando.
There's just been so many of these horrible, horrible things. And and we talked on the phone and, you know, there isn't much to say except I can't believe it happened so close to where we grew up and everything. And then then, of course, it happened to him. Yeah.
I mean, your grief is now part of a national story. And I just wondered, God, what must that be like? And will you cover the next one differently or will you avoid covering the next one?
Well, as a columnist, you know, I it's not like you had to go to the crime scene, thank God. But you still have to try to put it in perspective. And I have written about you alluded road one took me a long time, a couple of months to be able to write about it after Rob died. And then and then in subsequent columns when there's been these other tragedies. Of course, I've I've alluded to the fact that I, you know, have some personal experience with this stuff, but I don't know that, you know, they're going to the thing is, they just keep happening and they're going to continue to happen.
And there's just there's just too many nuts with guns, too many. And and I you know, and I say that as a gun owner myself, I mean, it's just insane how easy it is to get a gun in this country and and whether it's an automatic weapon or a shotgun or whatever, it just it's just lunacy, how easy it is and how how easy it is for bad people to do it. And then people who have mental issues and I mean, we've heard these stories again and again about how how like the Parkland shooter, how his family, you know, everybody knew he was unstable and everybody was afraid this was going to happen.
And they even called the FBI and said, this kid's going to shoot some. I mean, you have all that and you still. Can't stop it, so there's not an easy solution you can put into a column or into any kind of an op ed piece because the tragedies just keep coming. You know, I'm not sure that you add anything to the debate or help to help the feelings, except to keep reminding people that not all countries are like this.
Not everybody goes through this like we do in this country. They just don't. And it's it's it's normal. It becomes, you know, routine here. It's not routine anywhere else.
You know, the the column that you wrote after your brother's death, I guess it was in September, which and I think the shooting was in June.
So it was a little while. I really commend this to the listeners. You can find it on the Internet and in it before you reveal that your brother had died in the Annapolis attack. You mentioned the other four journalists who died, Gerald Fishman, John McNamara, Becky Smith, Wendy Winters. And then you note that your brother Rob was also killed. And you write, I mentioned him last because that's what he would have wanted. He also would have wanted me to write more about his colleagues than about him.
Do you want to share another couple of points that you made in that column?
Uh, I it's hard.
I well, I'll tell you two things that come to my mind if you want.
One is that, as you said, it was his wife, Andrea's birthday that he was murdered on and he left her present on the dining room table before he made his last trip to the newsroom. The other thing you wrote is that he was not somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, he was right where he wanted to be.
He was putting out the daily newspaper and that's he had stumbled into a crime scene. He did not he didn't come in. He wasn't coming in on his day off. He was doing exactly what he loved doing, which is sitting in the newsroom with other reporters and editors, putting out a daily newspaper for a community that he loved, the people of Annapolis. And I mean, he he he he he was devoted to those readers and that community. And that's he wouldn't have been anywhere else on that day.
So Atlanta CNN broke in with the story about the shooting.
I have to say that there was no I was praying he he was out to lunch. I was praying he wasn't there, that he had he'd stepped out or he used to go to the parks and throw a football around with some of the other guys or something. I was praying that. But deep down, I knew that's that he was there because he was always there, you know, and that's what that's what you do. That's if that's your job and that's what your passion is.
That's what you do. So he wasn't a random victim. He was. And he was killed because he was there because he was a journalist at a newspaper that this guy had a grudge with. And none of the people he shot had anything to do with the story that he was upset about, which had happened years earlier. None of the people there had anything to do with either editing or putting that story in the paper, but he just decided to shoot everybody anyway.
So and you made the point that there's a lesson here about the way we regard and treat journalists these days.
Yeah, I mean, this was at a time when, of course, Trump is not the first president to demonize journalists. I mean, that's not in my lifetime. There's a guy named Nixon who did a lot of that, too. I mean, the press is never beloved, has never been beloved institution. And you don't go into it as a as a profession because you want glory or adulation and you want people to look up to you or love you.
You go in it to to to write the truth, to put to put facts out there. That's what democracy can't function if the public is not fully informed and and if nobody goes into it to make money, by the way, because it doesn't pay, you know, very much it is. So the people that are doing it and doing the grunt work and they're there because they believe they believe that it's an important part of this of this country.
And to have a free press and they have to to get information into the hands of people who need it before they go to the polls and they go to vote before they take their kids to school, before all this stuff. It's just the bare essentials of a democracy. So, yeah, I mean, you know, it is it is bothersome that we now have not just contempt for the press, but, you know, and hatred. And these these these conspiracy clowns that see if they ever saw a newsroom really works would be it would be amusing to them.
I know I've spent time in newsrooms myself. I know what you mean. Well, Carl Hiaasen, I wish you comfort and good things for your state. Thanks so much for speaking with us again.
No, Dave, it was great talking to you. And and I appreciate you taking so much time.
Carl Hiaasen is a column. As for the Miami Herald, his latest novel is Squeeze Me. Coming up, John Powers reviews a new documentary about the U.S. supported coup which overthrew an elected government in Iran in 1953. This is fresh air.
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The new documentary, Couth 53, tells the story of how in 1953, Great Britain and the United States overthrew the elected prime minister of Iran. Coup 53 will be available for online screening starting tomorrow, with tickets purchased through one of 300 local cinemas the filmmakers are supporting. Through the effort, you can find out how to watch at CU 53 Dotcom. Our critic at large, John Powers, highly recommends that you do.
He says QU 53 isn't just important. It's as gripping as a spy novel.
Ever since the late 1970s, when the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah and took 52 U.S. citizens hostage, our two nations have been at loggerheads, watching decade after decade of mobs burning all the glory in the streets of Tehran.
Many Americans have wondered why people in such a faraway country are so angry with the United States for an answer. You couldn't do better than to start with Coup 53, an exhilarating new historical documentary that unfolds with the pace and complexity of a thriller. Code directed by Taghi Amarone and renowned film editor Walter Mirch, COO 53, tells the story of Operation Ajax, in which Britain's MI6 and the American CIA engineered the forcible removal of Iran's elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq.
Although many of us don't know much about this 1953 coup. It's shock waves rattle our history to this day. Coup 53 is structured a bit like one of those John Le Carre spy novels, in which George Smiley goes around talking to people to tease out who did what and when.
We follow the likeable Amarante over nearly a decade as he roots around for information, a quest that carries him from National Security Archives in D.C. and dusty basements in Paris to glitzy apartments inhabited by moral monsters.
Along the way, he talks to CIA operatives, historians, espionage experts, TV cameramen, victims of Assad's ouster, beneficiaries of his ouster, and an array of ruling class Brits who are simply staggering in their complacency, racism and entitlement. What emerges first is the back story of the coup, which, like so much in the modern Middle East, is predicated on oil. Shortly after the black gold was discovered in early 20th century, Iran, a British oil company now known as BP, locked up a sweetheart deal for its exploitation here.
Reporter and historian Stephen Kinzer explains what that meant by a bit of testimony from a Brit who worked for the company.
Under the original agreement, only about 16 percent of the oil revenue was supposed to be given to Iran, but that 16 percent was going to be calculated by the British and no Iranian would be allowed to look at the books. We now know also that the amount was calculated after the oil company paid its taxes. Now, the oil company was owned by the British government. So when it was paying taxes, it was essentially paying taxes to itself.
We went to the files. We weren't handing over accounts, which they asked us for. I said I had no charge to have them. British companies, accountants, I was told from London.
So it was a lot of creative accounting. But in the end it was clear that almost all the money from this tremendous resource was going into Britain and almost none was coming back to Iran.
Naturally, Iranians resented this deal and the British habit of treating them like animals, Mossadeq was an area date and charismatic Persian, adored by the masses. And when he came to power, he nationalized the oil industry, expropriating the British oil companies assets. The outraged British decided to take Mossadeq down, though America was at first reluctant. Harry Truman got along with Masonic Dwight Eisenhower's team of Cold Warriors. Romney saw this nationalist conservative as a potential tool of Moscow.
He had to go. How that happens is the heart of the film, which paints a fascinatingly detailed picture of how, in practical terms, you go about toppling a popular foreign leader. It all starts with spreading around money and maybe arranging a couple of assassinations. The key figure in the operation was a mysterious MI6 agent named Norman Darbyshire, who talked to the media only once for a TV series on the British Empire. But before it could air, the British government removed his interview from the program and sought to eliminate the transcript of his words.
But in two fifty threes, big discovery, Amarone unearthed a photocopy of the original transcript and reenacts the interview with Refines brilliantly impersonating Derbyshire. For years I thought the CIA was the prime mover, the coup. But I was wrong. Whether out of guilt or craftsman's pride, Darbyshire wanted the world to know the truth. He explains how he and the British choreographed the fall of Mossadeq and blithely installed as prime minister the gastly general Fazlullah Zahedi, a notorious black marketeer who'd conspired with the Nazis.
Zahedi served at the whim of the then young Shah, whom the Americans considered gutless and spoiled, but now back to the hilt, even training his famously brutal secret police.
Britain in America has seemingly gotten what they wanted, including their cut of Iranian oil, but his coup, 53, reminds us history loves unintended consequences, although the British ran the coup. The Americans immediately replaced them as the dominant foreign power in Iran.
As for the Shah, his harsh reign eventually spawned the Islamic revolution, leading to more than 40 years of oppressive rule by mullahs who see the U.S., not Britain, as its prime enemy. Perhaps needless to say, they also took over Iran's oil industry. The reason for the coup in the first place.
John Powers reviewed the new documentary Coup 53 on tomorrow's show Exposing the Hiroshima Up. Writer Leslie Bloom tells the story of journalist John Hersey, whose reporting in 1946 revealed the death, destruction and radiation poisoning from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima that U.S. military censors had kept under wraps. Her new book is called Fallout. I hope you can join us.
Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller, our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support this week from Charlie Khaya. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Teresa Madden. They are Challoner, Seth Kelly, Joel Warfrom and Kayla Latimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly CVN Esper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show for Terry Gross. I'm Dave Davies.