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Who is Roger Stone? Fascinating facts about man arrested in U.S. election tampering case

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Colourful, controversial Roger Stone arrested in U.S. election tampering investigation; Oscar nomination pits rising director against grieving family; a look at women who are composing music for films.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

U.S. political consultant Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Donald Trump, speaks to reporters after appearing before a closed House Intelligence Committee hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26, 2017. He was arrested Friday as part of the FBI's investigation. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Roger Stone is, without a doubt, the most colourful alleged conspirator to date in the U.S. election tampering investigation.
  • The Oscar nomination for a short film called Detainment is pitting a filmmaker on the rise against parents reliving an unimaginable tragedy.
  • Women who compose music for films are still a relative rarity in the industry, but they're optimistic about the future.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


The weird world of Roger Stone

(Caution: this article contains a naughty word.)

Roger Stone had been predicting his own arrest for months.

He was so certain that it would happen on a Friday — the day special counsel Robert Mueller tends to convey grand juries in search of indictments — that he stopped making weekend restaurant reservations.

Although it's fair to say that this morning's 5:30 a.m. wake-up call from heavily armed (and currently unpaid) FBI agents at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., took him by surprise.

Roger Stone speaks at the American Priority Conference in Washington on Dec. 6, 2018. Stone has told Congressional committees that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in order to not testify in response to committee requests for documents and testimony. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The 66-year-old Republican operative, pundit and occasional White House advisor becomes the 37th person to be indicted or plead guilty in Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Stone now faces charges of lying to investigators, obstructing justice, and witness tampering.

But he is, without a doubt, the most colourful alleged conspirator to date. And the only one to rate his own Netflix documentary.

Stone is a longtime political provocateur. He was sued over a flyer sent to 150,000 New York households during the state's 2010 election that called the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, Warren Redlich, a 'sexual predator.' Stone says he had nothing to do with it. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Exhibit 1 remains the tattoo of the smiling face of Richard Nixon between his shoulder blades, a reminder of his beginnings as a political dirty trickster in the service of the late Republican president.

(Stone maintains that he never played a part in the Watergate break-in, but his FBI file offers a lengthy litany of political misdeeds, including planting false information, spying on opponents, and making pay-offs.)

Stone proudly claims to be the father of negative advertising in U.S. politics, employing it during his work on behalf of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — even if he has sometimes shifted the full blame for the infamous Willie Horton ad onto his late friend Lee Atwater.

His links to Trump date back to the 1990s, when he lobbied on behalf of his casinos. And he was among the billionaire's earliest political backers, working on his mostly fanciful campaign for the Reform Party presidential nomination in 2000.

Stone is a clotheshorse, boasting that his New York apartment is stuffed with more than 500 suits and sport coats, and offering fashion advice like "plush velvet conjures up kings and opulence. Crushed velvet conjures up pimps and hookers," via his web columns.

(Fun fact: he was once famed for his distaste of socks, which got him in trouble with Nancy Reagan.)

Stone attends the 'Get Me Roger Stone' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on April 23, 2017, in New York City. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Fe)

Stone has suggested that much of his public persona is an act.

"Don't confuse Roger Stone with the character I play," he told the New York Times in 2017.

But he has a history of making intemperate public remarks, and was banned from Twitter after a series of profanity-laced threats against various CNN personalities.

Today's indictment suggests that he is no less volatile in his private emails and texts, citing a series of increasingly hostile messages to others in the Trump/Wikileaks orbit, culminating in a vow to kidnap one man's therapy dog.

Randy Credico takes his dog Bianca out of a carrier after a hearing at the U.S. District Court on Sept. 7, 2018, in Washington. Credico, a comedian with ties to Roger Stone, was subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before the grand jury. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In recent years, Stone has found a home on far-right conspiracy websites like the Daily Caller and Infowars. And he has occasionally seemed to be estranged from reality.

Stone claims that he survived a 2016 assassination attempt — via radioactive polonium poisoning — suggesting it was a bid to "frame Russia" and feed the Trump collusion narrative.

And after a 2017 hit-and-run traffic accident in Florida, Stone claimed that it was another attempt on his life by "deep state assassins."

It is therefore somewhat fitting that his arrest this morning was witnessed by another figure from America's cultural fringe, former NFL receiver and failed Dancing With the Stars contestant Chad Johnson.

Stone says he will plead not guilty to the charges, and has no intention of flipping on President Trump.

"I intend to tell the truth," he told reporters following his appearance before a Florida judge this morning. "I am one of his oldest friends ... I believe he is doing a great job."

Over the years, the political gadfly has coined a number of "Stone's rules," publishing them in a book earlier this year.

"It's better to be infamous, than never famous at all," might be the one he is clinging to today.


Detainment and a dumpster Fyre

This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced who it would honour on Hollywood's biggest night. In other words, it's time to figure out your Oscar ballots. The nominations are provoking the usual speculation around who got the nods, who got snubbed, and why — but one is fuelling an increasingly thorny controversy. It's over a short film called Detainment, and it's pitting a rising filmmaker against parents reliving an unimaginable tragedy, writes producer Tarannum Kamlani.

In 1993, Britain was rocked by a murder so shocking, so unthinkable, that it gripped the public imagination for years. Twenty-five years later, that case is back in the public eye because of a controversial film that's nominated for an Oscar in the best short feature category.

Detainment is the story of two 10-year-old boys who were captured on CCTV luring a toddler named James Bulger away from his mother at a Liverpool shopping centre.

They tortured him to death, and his body was found two days later on some abandoned train tracks.

This image from surveillance camera footage shows the abduction of two-year-old James Bulger from the Bootle Strand shopping mall on Feb. 12, 1993, near Liverpool, England. (BWP Media via Getty Images)

Irish filmmaker Vincent Lambe has made a 30-minute film based on the transcripts of interviews police conducted with the boys. That film is an Oscar nominee in the best short feature category.

Lambe says as a society we have a responsibility to move beyond treating the murderers as evil monsters and to try and understand what happened.

He also, by his own admission, did not feel the need or obligation to inform James Bulger's family about his film, since he based it on facts that are in the public domain.  

Bulger's mother, Denise Fergus, says she is disgusted by the film and its Oscar nomination. More than 160,000 people have signed a petition agreeing with her, calling for the Academy to rescind the nomination.

Lambe, for his part, has expressed regret since the controversy erupted and spread, but won't pull his film from contention.

The anger over Detainment comes the same week that Netflix apologized to the people of Lac Megantic, Que., for using images of the massive rail explosion that devastated the town and killed 47 people in two of its popular dramas, Bird Box and the series Travellers.

This image released by Netflix shows Sandra Bullock in a scene from 'Bird Box,' a post-apocalyptic survival film. (Saeed Adyani/Netflix via AP)

All of this got the Pop Panel team thinking: what are the real-world consequences of art appropriating lived experiences, especially traumatic ones?

And this doesn't just apply to Detainment — this year's Oscars includes a healthy crop of nominated films that draw from "real life" to varying degrees, including Green Book.

The film is set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow era in the southern U.S. in the 1960s. It tells the story of the unlikely friendship between black classical pianist Don Shirley, played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (who won a Golden Globe for his performance), and his racist Italian-American driver Tony Vallelonga, played by Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen.

The film, co-written by Vallelonga's son, has been denounced by Shirley's family for misrepresenting the pianist. They, too, were not contacted at all when the movie was being made.

And we couldn't talk pop culture this week without including the unbelievable story around the dumpster fire that was the Fyre Festival.

Billy McFarland, centre, the promoter of the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, leaves federal court after pleading guilty to wire fraud charges on March 6, 2018, in New York. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

The event, promoted by the rapper Ja Rule and a host of supermodels and social media influencers, became a disaster that the world watched and followed in real time as it unfolded — via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, of course.

This week Netflix unleashed a riveting documentary about the whole thing, as did Hulu. We unpack the fascination.

Andrew Chang is your Pop Panel host. He's joined tonight by author and journalist Stephen Marche, Sportsnet host and writer Donnovan Bennett, and making her Pop Panel debut is Toronto culture writer Stacy Lee Kong.

Hope you'll join us!

- Tarannum Kamlani

  • WATCH: The Pop Panel tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online


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Movie music

Women who compose music for films are still a relative rarity in the industry, but they're optimistic about the future, entertainment reporter Eli Glasner writes.

Let me tell you a secret.

When I'm working on an item or a film review, occasionally I'll pick a t-shirt to complement the story. It's just a way of amusing myself while making use of my extensive collection of novelty tees.

So when I was getting ready to interview Canadian composer Janal Bechthold, who writes music for films and other media, I couldn't help myself. I reached for my Star Wars t-shirt.

I mean, when it comes to film music is there anyone bigger than John Williams? The soaring strains of Superman. The triumphant theme from Indiana Jones. Darth Vader's ominous Imperial March. Would Jaws be so biting without his du-dah duh-dah du-dah?

But then, on my way to Bechthold's studio, I started to have second thoughts.

Here we are working on a story about the dearth of female screen composers, and I'm waltzing into her workspace with a shirt celebrating one of the best-known dudes in the business.

Nevertheless, we pull up to Bechthold's studio and she warmly welcomes us inside. She shares the space with some other composers, and it's packed with just about every instrument you can imagine.

Canadian composer Janal Bechthold chats with CBC's Eli Glasner (wearing his Star Wars t-shirt) in her Toronto studio. (Sharon Wu/CBC)

But there in the corner, I spy it:  a John Williams orchestral Star Wars score, proudly on display.

And when I sat down at a baby grand piano to ask Bechthold about her influences, the first thing she played?

The Star Wars theme. Like so many film composers, Bechthold admires what John Williams has accomplished.

Composer Janal Bechthold plays the Star Wars theme for Glasner as they talk about some of the most memorable movie music. (Sharon Wu/CBC)

Still, tonight's story looks at the fact that while the world of film is filled with well-known male composers, there are far fewer women to look up to. On Tuesday when the Oscar nominations were announced, all five nominees were male.

Not surprising, when you learn that of the top 250 films from 2018, only 16 feature female composers.

And yet many of the women we spoke with are optimistic about the future. Take a look at some of the biggest films of 2019, and it's women who are holding the baton.

- Eli Glasner

  • WATCH: Eli Glasner's story about women composing for the big and the small screen, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online


A few words on ... 

Getting a chance to play with old man Adams.


Quote of the moment

"After the July 22, 2016, release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1."

- The most intriguing part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of Roger Stone, a gadfly advisor to the U.S. president, alleging coordination between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks.

Robert Mueller, seen during a news conference at FBI headquarters in June 2008 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Father of man arrested in Kingston, Ont., probe says he's told it's 'about terrorists' (CBC)
  • Ebola spreads to high-risk area of Congo, says WHO (Reuters)
  • 2 UN peacekeepers killed in attack in central Mali (CBC)
  • Indiana school superintendent arrested for using her insurance to treat sick student (Time)
  • Envisioned 'octopus farms' would have detrimental environmental impact (Science Daily)
  • Drug dealer who wrongly claimed Novichok poisoning fails to show for trial (Sky News)
  • Death of Count of Paris sparks pretend game of thrones in France (Guardian)
  • Man says emotional support alligator helps his depression (AP News)

Today in history

Jan. 25, 1980: Wayne Gretzky looks back at his past year with the Oilers

The day before his 19th birthday, the Great One sits down and reflects on his first NHL season with the Edmonton Oilers. Among the highlights: being among the league's scoring leaders, and an ABBA concert where one of the "girls" — it's not clear if he means Agnetha or Anni-Frid — came out on stage wearing his sweater. All in all, he's happy he signed a 20-year, $5 million personal services contract with Peter Pocklington.

Number 99 talks about his time in Edmonton. 4:55

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.