The fit list
Sarah Silverman and Jonah Hill took turns tearing strips off him. Hill came on stage and brought up the fact that a lot of movie stars have a ‘one for them, one for me’ approach – wear a commercial job so they can work on one they care about. “But not my guy James. He has his own philosophy,” Hill told the audience. “One for them, five for nobody.” It’s a good line. And Franco agrees that Hill had a point. “I was adapting William Faulkner novels and really dark Cormac Mccarthy necrophilia novels,” he says. “I would do a studio movie and then sometimes I would even pay for movies I wanted to do. “There’s this idea that producers are not about the art, they’re just about the bottom line. There’s some truth to that,” he adds. “But if you have a project that nobody will finance, especially someone like me who’s been in the business for 20 years – that might be saying something.” Dave is seven years younger, but James credits him as a positive influence. “He’s a lot wiser and more discerning, more practically minded,” he says. “He’s the perfect antidote for my artistic recklessness. One of the things he’s taught me is to work on projects that are right for us and are meaningful. By doing that, we will do our best work.” Work has always been Franco’s drug. He hasn’t touched pot since high school. But it’s easy to imagine that without enough projects to keep him distracted, that shy teenager might come back. The one who parties, gets into trouble. After all, they say you never kill an addiction – you just replace it with something else. “There you go, dude, that’s exactly what people do,” he says. “It is so hard to wake up to [addiction]. It’s so hard to see it. I thought I was living the life I always wanted to live. When I finally did wake up, I was completely isolated, emotionally, from everyone around me. “Whatever your religion or non-religion is, I truly believe we’re all looking for the same thing. We all just want to be happy or feel like we’ve contributed. And I’ve found that is synonymous with being present. That’s what I didn’t have before – when I was doing five billion projects at once, I was everywhere but present. “The curse of that is that I actually couldn’t enjoy my success. I was nominated for an Oscar, I was working with all my heroes. All the dreams I’d had as a young man had come true. And I still couldn’t enjoy it. It was never going to be enough.” For the first time in as long as he can remember, Franco is finding time for himself. “It’s really weird but this year had been the self-care year,” he says. “I was playing tennis today and if you looked at my life six months ago, you would never have seen me doing anything like that. What I love about things like playing tennis or learning to surf is I don’t need to be a professional at them. I can just do it because I enjoy it. Wow. What a concept! “I’m sure everybody has shit like this to learn,” he adds. “And it seems to me like I’m learning lessons a lot of people learned when they were 18. But whatever. Better late than never.” We might never really know who the real James Franco is. And it might not even matter. But like all of us, he’s just trying to find his way in life, feel comfortable being alone with himself. He’s not there yet, but he’s working on it. “I’m feeling a lot better, dude,” he says, almost to himself. “I can honestly say I’m really happy.” And, for now at least, maybe that’s enough. The Deuce airs on Showcase and Foxtel Now from September 11 “The most important element is transparency,” explains Qiu of her fact-checking methods. “Showing your process by using publicly available data and on-the-record quotes helps readers understand the logic. I also always attempt to reach out to the original speaker to ask them for evidence backing up the claim. The burden of proof is on the speaker, and if they can’t provide a good source, that’s a red flag.” Following her electoral loss, Hillary Clinton singled out Facebook, in particular, claiming ‘fake news’ stories on the social network had affected the information voters relied on. After the election, Mark Zuckerberg said it was “crazy” to conclude that ‘fake news’ on the platform had influenced the outcome. Nevertheless, Facebook responded to accusations that it facilitates the spread of misinformation. “We’re building, testing, and iterating new products to limit the spread of false news and help people find a more diverse range of topics, news stories and viewpoints on Facebook,” says a Facebook representative. “Our most recent measures include updating News Feed to reduce stories from sources that post ‘click bait’ headlines. We’ve also recently announced an additional update to the News Feed aimed at reducing the number of links to lowquality content such as sensationalism and misinformation.” Earlier this year, Facebook also helped establish the News Integrity Initiative, “a global consortium focused on helping people make informed judgments about the news they read and share online.” A Facebook representative tells GQ it has also funded news literacy research in Australia. When it comes to refuting misinformation, Qiu says her fact-checking articles tend to follow a pattern that makes it easy for readers to digest. “I first state the claim with a brief description of accuracy – ‘this person falsely said this’ or ‘the claim was this, but this needs more context’ – usually bolded or as a subhead,” she says. “In the body of the fact check, I try to provide context for when and to whom the statement was made or at least link to a transcript or video. Then I devote a few paragraphs explaining why it’s false or misleading.” Qiu points out this can also often include using information that is technically accurate, but misleading – outliers on a data set, for instance. Those who disagree with climate change often use this technique to cherry-pick data that fits their view that the planet is not getting warmer. Since it’s so difficult to change people’s belief in misinformation once they have been exposed to it, Prof Lewandowsky is part of a group of researchers attempting to discover a fake news ‘vaccine’ that can inoculate people against misinformation before they receive it. “The basic idea is that you tell people ahead of time that they might be misled or exposed to false information,” he says. “We’ve found that it nullifies misleading information or, at least, reduces it dramatically.” One of his studies focused on the tobacco industry’s previous attempts to cloud scientific consensus on smoking and cancer. “We gave [participants] a story about how this happened in the ’50s and the techniques by which people were misled,” he says. “Then we presented them with similarly misleading information about climate change and we found that it no longer worked – that misleading information was basically
neutralised by telling people about the techniques that are employed by politicians or whoever it is.” While inoculating people against misinformation can be useful, Prof Lewandowsky says at least some responsibility lies with the reader. Being aware of dubious or misleading information is the first step. “Generally, people who are sceptical and who look critically at the evidence can do very well in discerning what information is true and what isn’t,” he says. “Scepticism is a good thing. But it’s important to point out that scepticism doesn’t mean that you just disbelieve everything – it means looking at the evidence and that you believe things supported by evidence.” Some have called this the post-truth era, a world in which discussions of issues are defined not by facts, but by feelings. British Conservative politician and Brexit campaigner, Michael Gove, said last year that people “have had enough of experts”. This new ecosystem, former President Barack Obama told the New Yorker, “means everything is true and nothing is true”. But evidence does matter. Expertise matters. Facts matter. Ultimately, the responsibility for being well informed rests not with companies but individuals, to question information and seek out sources that confront, rather than confirm, our existing points of view. If there is some comfort to be taken from the research of people like Professor Lewandowsky, perhaps it’s that the most important lesson in the fight against fake news is also the simplest – don’t believe everything you read. A short ride later, we’re thrust inside a gaudy, endless array of rooms – each impeccably furnished with marble and chandeliers. Al Muderis signals that he’s been inside the palace once before, a sort of child prop for a ceremony held for Saddam Hussein. In a large room off a main corridor, the IraqiAustralian finally meets the man who’s invited him back. Stoic and gentle, Haider al-abadi probes with questions on osseointegration. He queries the safety of the procedure, and marvels about the remarkable way in which bone fuses to titanium. “Have you seen The Terminator?” asks Al Muderis. Al-abadi looks lost. “What about Robocop, have you seen Robocop?” “Yes, yes I have.” “It’s just like that.” The Prime Minister’s primary focus seems firmly set on the personal wellbeing of the injured. “It’s very important for them to feel like they’re back to normal again.” The embattled Prime Minister’s eyes go warm and bright when Al Muderis pulls out a laptop and shows him a short clip of a once wheelchairbound patient walking again. “He’s an Iraqi, he trained in Baghdad, and he’s willing to help his fellow Iraqis,” the Prime Minister later tells GQ. “Every Iraqi is proud of him. He shows that Iraqis are very resilient.” Stepping back down the palace footsteps, Al Muderis closes his eyes and, for a moment, takes in the heat. The surrounding gardens are pristine and manicured, the rendered walls a warm, saturated beige. An armoured SUV pulls up and the moment is gone. On his final night in Baghdad, Al Muderis is granted a rare treat – a glimpse of Baghdad, the real Baghdad, past the Green Zone. Owing to the fact that he was an invited guest of the Prime Minister, his handlers have erred on the side of extreme caution at all times. As such, this excursion in an armoured SUV is accessorised by a military motorcade – the head of which is a Land Cruiser packed with Ministry of Defence officers, each brandishing an M16 rifle. Following a brief presentation to a group of orthopaedists, Al Muderis sits in a sprawling restaurant set on the banks of the Tigris River. The eateries and bars that line the waterway are where Baghdad comes to socialise – dinners stretching into the early hours of the morning as locals take in the cooler temperatures, a welcome respite from the sun’s harsh heat. As a child, Al Muderis used to swim in the Tigris, taking courage from his older, brasher cousin. His childhood home sits just up the river. From there, he’d take strolls along the water with his mother and father. Appetites eventually sated, the cavalcade folds back into the Green Zone at a glacial pace – security, naturally, is far slower on the way back. Before leaving Iraq, Al Muderis delivers the opening speech at Tedxbaghdad. To the organisers’ surprise, he insists on presenting in English, telling the story of his journey from Baghdad to Australia, and back. “Things have changed in this country. I’m very pleased to see that this place is way better than when I left it.” He ends the speech with, “God bless you all,” and it doesn’t feel the slightest bit disingenuous. If you looked closely during the live performance of the national anthem that opened the event, you could see tears crawling down the doctor’s face. At the conclusion of his talk, Al Muderis is mobbed by admiration and mobile phones. A disorderly queue forms, and 20 minutes of fan photos quickly pass. “This is crazy,” he says, between selfies. Al Muderis’ grin only ends on being firmly told by a prime ministerial delegate that he’s a flight to catch. At Baghdad International, with the group out of earshot, the delegate gently mentions that, a night earlier, at the precise moment we re-entered the Green Zone, a car bomb detonated a few suburbs over. “It used to be one or two attacks a day,” he says. “It’s much better now, maybe only once every week or two. It’s safe.” As Al Muderis prepares to depart, one final hurdle presents itself – baggage allowance. The vast stack of patient x-rays weighs in at some 20kg – barely fitting into his luggage. They are the images he’ll need to further assess the next steps for each patient. The same delegate snaps his fingers, disappears momentarily, and presents an appropriately rugged solution. The images, carefully collected, are now double bagged in industrialstrength garbage bags. Everything in place, Al Muderis is fed from the private lounge, back into the armoured Mercedes, bound for his flight. “I’m still in shock,” he says as the car crosses the runway. Sure, in this moment, he still feels decisively more Australian than Iraqi. But the cultural ledger has tipped a fraction – like a compass eventually creeping back to True North. Some roots, maybe, are too deep to pull. On the tarmac, he clutches the garbage bag full of x-rays close to his chest. They’ll act as a map – a raison d’être – back to Baghdad, in a few months time. Al Muderis then boards to business class, and the Australian departs, an Iraqi again.