The fear and reward of doing real journalism abroad

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Journalist Gianna Toboni of Vice returns to discuss with Nestor her real brushes with the bad guys of the world and the rewards of doing the tough kind of journalism when danger calls from Mexico to the Middle East.


people, story, places, families, maryland, journalist, talking, moving, child, baseball, years, read, frontlines, risk, frankly, hear, texas, vice, trans, life


What about w n s t test the Baltimore and Baltimore positive 31 years as of Tuesday I’ve been doing this crazy radio show we’re gonna celebrate in style on Thursday. All are brought to you by the Maryland lottery I’m giving away some holiday cash drops as well as our friends at Goodwill and when donation 866 90 nation we are bringing the Queen the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jeanne shock from the Go Go’s, to cost this on Thursday, we’re gonna eat some crabs, we’ll talk some rock and roll. Great documentary out on hammer jacks, where I was the backstage critic back 35 years ago, we’ll have some rock and rollers coming out on Thursday, celebrating 31 years. I love having different guests on and I’ll be honest with you back when I was considering this movement, from sports to doing other things. I love watching documentaries. I love journalist I love journalists who take risks. It is a week where I lost a friend of mine and grant wall. In Qatar. We’re still examining all that. But the risks that journalists take on and I this is one of the more this is a fun one because I found her on TV doing risky ish. And I said, Man, she’s something she added to Gianna to Boni has been working in vice for a number of years, but he’s worked at AlJazeera and all sorts of places. And I follow you on Twitter. And I always worry about your danger. And I see that a parched partially with a smile, but you are not afraid to go to places folks have never been and tell stories that others are quite frankly afraid to tell. And I always love having you on how you doing? How’s it How’s the family? How’s life in the Bay Area? Everything’s good. It’s always great to be on your show. Nestor, I feel your energy and it energizes me. So I’m thrilled to be back on your show. One clarification, I am always scared to go to those places. Oh, so you’re you’re like the artists that comes out and stinks for the crowd? That’s always nervous before like, the curtain opens a little bit. Yes, I’m not one of these like, you know, Fearless warriors that dives toward the front lines. I do the work. But I you know, and I think that there’s something about admitting the fear that is helpful, because it allows other people who may not, you know, feel the confidence to do the same thing speak up and say like, look, I’m I’m scared shitless to go, you know, to that frontline, or to interview that Hitman or whatever. I think it also allows us to assess risk property properly, and really, you know, ensure that we are doing everything we can to minimize any bad outcomes. Well, let’s just cut through it. I mean, telling the truth is risky, right? I’m a guy that’s been banned by the football team here for truth telling, right? So like, I can’t imagine when grant is over in Qatar after writing about abuses of migrant workers against the government LBGT rights, which you’ve also been on and trans rights, that it’s crazy world as my mother would say, right. But the notion that when a journalist dies in a press box at a World Cup game on the world stage after writing inconvenient truths, that his brother and everyone around him, including me is wildly suspicious. And I think you’ve been around the block enough to know that we probably should be wildly suspicious, shouldn’t we?


Yeah, so I was reading about great wealth death. I was. I didn’t know him. I know his work. And I was reading about him and saw his wife’s tweets. And I was just devastated. I mean, anytime a journalist dies, no matter the reason, it’s always just, it’s devastating.


You know, obviously, I had read what everyone else did that he wasn’t feeling well, that he had, you know, written that he had, you know, these intense cold symptoms on his website. But then, of course, as soon as I read that he had been arrested for wearing an LGBTQ supportive shirt to one of the US games and was detained for it. Certainly, my spidey senses, you know, went up and I started to wonder, you know, do we know the full story yet? Well, and you know, there’ll be an autopsy and all that on that case, I don’t want to take the morbid side of this. But I think I discovered you, like, in a cave talking to ISIS fight like literally and I’m like, wow, you know, and then I, I became a voice watcher, and a fan of yours and lots and lots of other people. You know, cook chef saw, you know, all sorts of interesting content that Vice puts out, but you, you seem to take on danger and take on. I mean, you’ve already mentioned hitman, and we’re two minutes into the interview here.


What’s the scariest thing you’ve done? I mean, you know, other than me coming to you when you’re talking to hitmen literally.


That’s a hard question. You know, I think a lot of times people think of, you know, the frontlines. ISIS frontlines is the scariest thing you could do or going into, you know, let’s say Afghanistan or, and for me, you know, I’ve interviewed ISIS fighters. I’ve done work in the Middle East, but the scariest place for me over the years has been Mexico. You


because there’s something about not being surrounded by military and being in a place where you know that there’s a lot of heavy drug use that you can’t really tell the difference from a cartel and law enforcement. There’s no one really to call if you get in trouble, right. And so we trust, the most courageous people that I know of, and those are local journalists in Mexico. And they are our guides there. And frankly, they’re the people who keep us safe. You know, we have been chased by the cartel and I have been really scared in some of those situations, but because of the locals who we entrust, we have, we have remained safe through all those experiences, somebody’s gotta go to all the top stories, right? And somehow you’ve taken this on what’s in you that makes this happen from a journalism standpoint of saying, Yeah, I’ll take that assignment I want to take I want to tell a story that nobody else could possibly tell, which I guess speaks to the heart of the journalist, right.


You know, I think that I put myself in the shoes of, you know, the mothers in Mexico, for instance, whose children have gone missing, and nobody’s looking for them, and no, law enforcement is helping them. And I’m a mom, and I, I would be completely insane. If that happened to me. I mean, I just, I cannot even imagine. And so, I mean, come on, like the least we can do is go down there and join them as they look for their children, and, you know, take on some risk that they take on every single day of their lives, and they have felt, you know, what that risk means, what the what the, you know, obviously, life and death impact of living there is. So I think that’s why I tell the stories, it’s like, imagine just being the person who was totally voiceless in a place that is so unjust.


It, you’d want someone to come down there and tell your story to judge only tells those stories, advice and other places. So I’ve risked this when I have you on I’m like, because I don’t greenroom. Many my guests sort of famously. And I follow up as the open ended. What are you working on? You know, I see what you’re doing out on Twitter and what you make public in regard to trans rights, which you’ve been very involved in Mexico, drug trafficking, but what stories are you telling that you can tell me about so far?


So we did a huge investigation on the anti abortion rights movement in the lead up to Roe v Wade falling, and we met the people who took down Roe v. Wade, I mean, the people who are responsible for that, who admitted that they had a years long strategy that was so meticulous, and frankly, so well carried out. I mean, they called their shot, and they did it. And we had full access to them. And it took years of relationship building and months of working on this story, to tell it, so that was one of the highlights of this past year. As you mentioned, I’ve been following families with transgender children in the US and this story I have followed for years. And the reason I think that it’s so important right now, and frankly, it’s a totally different story, is because you have families now that are at a point where their kids are being so seriously attacked by state legislators, and governors, attorneys, generals in states like Texas and Arizona, where they’re having to flee their states, or at a minimum, they’re having to face that heartbreaking decision of, do I, you know, leave my my family, my job, my life, my community, and, you know, flee to another state where my child will be safe. Or I do I stay here where I’m a little more financially protected, but where my child’s health and safety will be at risk. And it’s it’s heartbreaking. So that story’s coming out soon. And then I’m investigating a few things on death row right now, which I have covered death row for years also. And what I’m finding right now is frankly, stunning, and people aren’t talking about it. And it’s happening in states across the country. I’ll leave it at that but that’s a big one that we’re going to be airing next year. That’s a fascinating one because I have debates about that here and and I am famously left the Bernie Sanders on most issues but the death penalty is one where I am pro death penalty for people who kill my wife and right my wife, you know, like I but but what we’re I think you’re finding out a journalist find out that a lot of folks on death row aren’t necessarily proven completely guilty and in many cases are being subjected to things were years later DNA all sorts of things that come out that this isn’t a good idea for our society in many ways, and the judge and jury often aren’t accurate in doing these things.


So I think I appreciate


Did you mention that your pro death penalty? You know, I think around half the country is and I think that there are a lot of people who say that they’re anti death penalty, who don’t ask themselves, you know, what if you were the mom whose child was murdered in Uvalde, Texas, that question becomes a lot harder, you know, if you put yourself in the shoes of that person, and I think that’s important for all of us to do. This story involves mental health. And what I’m starting to understand is that there are severely mentally ill people on death row in America who are executed. They don’t know why they’re being executed. They don’t know what execution is. They don’t know.


They’re living in a different universe. And I think that, you know, now, even people who are pro death penalty, are starting to say, Wait a second, are we executing the worst of the worst? Or are we executing? You know, America’s most ill? Like the first time I had you on we’re talking about like college basketball or something relatively benign, against all of these topics, what what forces you to take on? Is this something that comes from the network and editorial, you’re one of the directors as well, that when you see something you’re not, you’re willing to say something when you see something, but more than that you’re willing to dive in? When these topics come up? How do you wind up on a story, you know, what’s the difference between being interested in something and being activated, to bring you to bring your network forward to try to treutel.


So, you know, I think that we’re always looking at what we think are, you know, the most pressing issues in the US and around the world, and, you know, specifically ones that people care about, and people want to learn more about, you know, it’s like that news story where you just you want to know, seven steps beyond what you read in the 400 word story. So I think that’s a that’s a big thing. But then, you know, there are tons of stories where we dive in, we start doing pre interviews, we start researching. And


we find that for whatever reason, we shouldn’t be telling the story, or we can’t get the access or whatever. So it’s, there’s definitely like a cocktail here, where we have to make sure that we are getting, you know, not just some random expert, but we’re getting the people at the center of the story to help us tell this story. We’re not going to tell a story where we just have the armchair expert, you know, opining on it, we really need the people at the center of it to to be the ones who are who are featured in it. We’ve also been at a point where you know, television changed and money’s changed, and who’s willing to cover story who’s willing to pay what’s necessary pay people like you and a crew and all the expenses involved to tell the stories talk about Vice a little bit. I mean, you’ve been there a period I use, so I associate you with Vice as much as any of the personalities that have been involved there. And I guess it’s evolved as well over the course of time from what the vision was to where we are, and how long has it been around now? It’s well over a decade right into its second decade, right?


Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. More than 20 years, it’s been around and I love vice. You know, I’ve worked at several other companies. And, you know, I came to Weissman. It was a very different place when it really was. And we’ve all heard it, you know, more of a boys club. And


I think, yeah, and now it’s different. I mean, the company has just fundamentally changed. But what hasn’t changed, is the commitment to tell these stories and the commitment to invest in young storytellers who are unafraid to tell the stories, that’s really important. You know, it’s like that may just kind of like sound like, you know, some kind of cliche that people have heard before. But look around, like, there aren’t many places that are investing in this type storytelling, where you can really have 30 minutes, 60 minutes to do an investigation on the anti abortion rights movement on the death penalty. And I feel so lucky to be able to do that. I mean, like, that’s awesome. And getting real viewership, you know, and, and effecting and influencing the national conversation around some of these issues. I think that’s really important. So it’s a great place to work. The trans kid issue that’s domestic you bid on that. And I have friends of mine. I had a tragedy near me a few weeks ago, involving a father who committed suicide, and I really haven’t talked about it on the air much, but I know a lot about it. And I also know what you speak of. I’m in Maryland, right? We’re thought to be purple. We just voted very blue. We are 70%. Democratic here, we’re going to have a Democratic governor now who is going to play out on the national stage in West more


states like Texas states like Arizona were the obvious fight that’s on for anything really read and trumped up over the last decade that these folks I can’t imagine that some of these really red places could ever get blue but every once in a while and no


election happens in Missouri, that gives you a little bit of hope or something happens in Arizona that you think for the people in that fight. And that’s a story you’ve been telling more recently. And I see you tweeting about it. If you’re in a state where there’s very little hope that things are gonna change, certainly during your child’s childhood, right? Moving, it just seems like the obvious thing that you would have to do but you chronicle the stories. I mean, I wouldn’t want to have to leave Maryland. I mean, maybe I would choose to leave Maryland. I’ve been here my whole life. But if the laws changed, that made it impossible for me to live my life the way I wanted to live, it doesn’t feel very American, but it feels like this. We do have to Americans now. Right? And for the families that you’re talking to, they need to go to a safe space there. There is no shelter in Texas for trans kids. Right? Totally. I mean, you know, a lot of people and I think it’s, you know, frankly, a lot of coastal people will say like, oh, whatever, just get up and move, you know, like Greg Abbott’s making your life hell just move. And these parents are like, single parents living paycheck to paycheck. And they’re literally like, how I like I can’t, how am I supposed to move? You know, this is not an easy decision. Because, you know, like, how am I gonna get a job? How do I put a down payment on a house or, you know, a deposit on? You know, they’re just so many hurdles for these families. But after the midterms, the families that we follow, there was there were two in Texas, there was one in Arizona, they all have trans kids, they all feel like their trans kids are being attacked by legislation by legislators. And they are, and they all had to make that decision. Are we going to stay here and double down and fight this fight in our state? Or are we going to flee to another state, and every family decided something different, and a lot of it was dictated by the midterms, was dictated by who won and in Texas, you know, we obviously saw Greg Abbott, one, beta O’Rourke didn’t, that would have been a big deal to one family if if that election went differently. So they’re getting up and they’re moving. They’re leaving everything and it will be financially devastating for them in Arizona. And when are they moving? By the way, where’s the safes? Where, where are people going when they get displaced in this way? So, you know, so they’re moving to places like Connecticut, and California, California, DC, but those are places where the cost of living is up to 40%. Higher than where they live right now. You know, so it’s like, it’s, it’s not an easy decision. It’s a lot more expensive, and that’s on top of moving costs, you know, so these families are in a tough position.


Anything you wanna say about baseball, I’ve never talked baseball with you. I hear through the grapevine that you got to baseball. My last name is Aparicio. My people came from Venezuela dropped me off here in the 60s. So I have a Hall of Fame baseball lady. So when I knew you had a little baseball and yeah, thought, I bet you’re probably pissed about the Aaron judge thing, right?


Okay, so I have to admit that I’m not as ready as I should be. I’m a Giants fan. I know that he came close. They were jerseys printed and everything. You know, you guys had fun. You were winning all sorts of you got SEAN MILLER from us. 35 years ago, things have never changed. You least you have good games to listen to him when your team stinks, you know.


But I have to say my brother works for the Boston Red Sox. He’s he’s high up there on the front office, and he loves it. And he does a great job bringing in their new players. So So I do hear about about baseball, and more money than we have in Baltimore. We hear that all the time. You know, gee, I hope you have safe travels. And I don’t even know where you’re headed next, but it’s probably someplace semi dangerous, and I don’t worry about you and and follow you out on Twitter. And I really appreciate that you every couple years. You make a little time and come on here. Tell me what you’re up to. And I really appreciate your network advice and every time I put it on, there’s something interesting happening advice 24 hours a day always.


Thanks for having me on. Always great to be here. Nestor always good to have Gianna to Boney on she is a producer correspondent with Vice News. You can find her out on the interwebs out on Twitter, any place that interesting people go and tell stories that lots of other folks are afraid or too intimidated or not well supported enough by their network or news organization. John is great guests. We appreciate her. I appreciate everybody coming out for my 31st anniversary this week. On Thursday. We’re going to be a Costas celebrating witchiness shock from the Go Go’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from my hometown of Dundalk. We’re going to have some crab from crab cakes, probably some beer might even spiker eggnog before it’s all over. So I brought you by the Maryland lottery. I have some holiday cash drop giveaways to give away and goodwill and our friends at window nation. I am Nestor we are wn st am 1570, Towson Baltimore. We never stopped talking little vise little Baltimore

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