Emil Guillermo: "Succession," Viet Dinh, and anti-Proud Boy judge Amit Mehta
As Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to an end, was the weekend for honoring our nation’s lost warriors the opening of “The Little Mermaid” or the finale of “Succession”?
Or maybe you just chilled.
I had a vegan hot dog.
I must confess this: I was a “Succession” virgin until this week, when I took my first glance at the Roys, and was both appalled and intrigued at the same time.
In the finale, when Shiv Roy, the impregnated sister, looks to be the victor over her two brothers (Roman and Kendall) in the race for their dead father’s approval and control of his company, the dialogue demanded I watch.
“The two of you, dad died and you f*cking grabbed the crown and pushed me out,” Shiv says, addressing her brothers. “So I don’t know why I’m the c*nt here.”
It was blunt. Grabby. And then came the topper response from brother Kendall, equally offensive to the ethical, but simultaneously profane and poetic, as he says, “C*nt is as c*nt does.”
Who talks that way? Everyone in private? Or just on Max?
It was enough to draw me in for the whole finale, which in an era of openly Trumpian values was shamefully engaging, though appalling.
I yearned for the “Little Mermaid,” though could she be Asian next time?
That “Succession” is too real for fiction was upsetting. It’s not just the obvious Murdochian similarities. I found myself casting the roles of the TV show from people I know in my own personal and professional lives. Acquaintances. Which, I suppose, shows how our entertainment merely reflects our times. Is whatever we see in the Roy family saga on Max any worse than what we see in the corporate or political worlds today?
Case in point: the debt ceiling crisis in which extreme right-wing members of Congress insist on inflicting pain on regular Americans who are not wealthy, conservative, or right-leaning. They’re just Americans.
That made it seem hopeful that a deal was announced between the GOP’s Kevin McCarthy and President Biden over the weekend.
Just seeing the “Succession” finale, I saw House Speaker McCarthy eerily like the show’s “Tom,” the would-be “pain sponge,” and husband of Shiv. He’s the ambitious guy who would do anything to get ahead. Even at his wife’s expense.
And Biden? Well, someone has to be the good guy in real life. I just didn’t see any good guys in “Succession,” where the character spectrum goes from bad to worse.
The good news is there’s enough in the debt ceiling compromise to avoid economic catastrophe. But all the deal does is “kick the can down the road,” as they say, leaving the real hard decisions until 2025—when maybe we get an antidote to “Succession”?
Or a sequel?
AN ASIAN AMERICAN IN THE FOX DEBACLE
While all this played out this weekend, The New York Times ran a major Sunday piece, “Defamation Suit Missteps: Inside a Fox News Debacle; Damaging Texts and Missed Warning Signs Ended with $787 Million Settlement.”
If you see “Succession” as the fictionalization of the Murdochs, then it’s quite the coincidence. But the real story of Fox’s decline has an Asian American star that hasn’t been fully acknowledged to date.
That would be Fox’s chief legal officer Viet Dinh.
From the day the texts and the court records were revealed through the firing of Tucker Carlson, I’ve always thought Dinh’s role was downplayed.
How can you be chief legal officer at Fox, essentially the Asian American in the Murdoch family, and get overlooked in the implosion of a major media company?
On Sunday, the Times described that Dinh, 55, was the guy who reassured Fox’s corporate board that the First Amendment was on media company’s side, and that anything Fox reported, which might be seen as defamatory about Dominion Voting Systems, could be defended all the way to the Supreme Court.
In other words, if what Fox hosts said was newsworthy, e.g., coming from news sources, it was considered OK–even if they knew it was a falsehood. The rationale was that if they were told lies, they were at least just reporting lies truthfully, as told. Dinh gave them confidence to lean on the idea that the opinions of newsworthy individuals were OK, be they Fox news hosts or sources.
Dinh forgot that responsible journalists take one more step. They verify, or go to multiple sources, before they report and/or opine.
Instead, Dinh saw the First Amendment like a magic wand.
“The newsworthy nature of the contested presidential election deserved full and fair coverage from all journalists. Fox News did its job, and this is what the First Amendment protects,” the Times quoted Dinh from an interview with David Lat. “I’m not at all concerned about such lawsuits, real or imagined.”
You leave the Times story seeing how Fox relied on Dinh, who is the quintessential American Dream AAPI guy. Penniless Vietnamese refugee, who found his way to Harvard College and Harvard Law. The AAPI conservative prototype, he clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, became an assistant attorney general for President George W. Bush, for whom he helped shape the Patriot Act.
The guy was made to guide Fox. And family? He’s godfather to one of Lachlan Murdoch’s sons.
I’ve always thought Dinh should be better known than he is, even before Dominion.
And now after the Times story, maybe Viet Dinh will be better known—as the Murdoch family scapegoat.
JUDGE MEHTA RESTORES THE FAITH
If “Succession” and Viet Dinh’s Times spotlight gets you down, let us not forget that the run-up to Memorial Day was highlighted by Judge Amit Mehta and his work in presiding over the Proud Boy trials.
Mehta is like the polar opposite of Dinh, roughly the same age, but an Indian immigrant who grew up in the U.S., just outside of Baltimore. He went to Georgetown and University of Virginia Law School, worked for Latham & Watkins, was a clerk for Susan Graber of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, then worked as a public defender in DC before joining the private firm, Zuckerman Spaeder.
In 2014 he was nominated by President Obama to be U.S. District Judge in DC.
But you may not have heard of him until the trials of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists known as the Proud Boys.
Mehta didn’t just hand out an 18-year sentence to Proud Boy leader Stewart Rhodes. He let Rhodes know the significance of the rare crime known as seditious conspiracy.
“I dare say, Mr. Rhodes—and I never have said this to anyone I have sentenced—you pose an ongoing threat and peril to our democracy and the fabric of this country,” Judge Mehta said.
“A seditious conspiracy, when you take those two concepts and put it together, is among the most serious crimes an American can commit. It is an offense against the government to use force. It is an offense against the people of our country,” said Judge Mehta. “It is a series of acts in which you and others committed to use force, including potentially with weapons, against the government of the United States as it transitioned from one president to another. And what was the motive? You didn’t like the new guy.”
“Let me be clear about one thing to you, Mr. Rhodes, and anybody else who is listening. In this country, we don’t paint with a broad brush, and shame on you if you do. Just because somebody supports the former president, it doesn’t mean they are a White Supremacist, a White nationalist. It just means they voted for the other guy.”
“What we absolutely cannot have is a group of citizens who—because they did not like the outcome of an election, who did not believe the law was followed as it should be—foment revolution.”
Mehta commented on how Rhodes continues to be a threat.
“It would be one thing, Mr. Rhodes, if after January 6 you had looked at what happened that day and said … that was not a good day for our democracy. But you celebrated it, you thought it was a good thing,” the judge said. “Even as you have been incarcerated you have continued to allude to violence as an acceptable means to address grievances.”
“Nothing has changed, Mr. Rhodes, nothing has changed. And the reality is as you sit here today and as we heard you speak; the moment you are released you will be prepared to take up arms against our government. And not because you are a political prisoner, not because of the 2020 election, because you think this is a valid way to address grievances.”
“American democracy doesn’t work, Mr. Rhodes, if when you think the Constitution has not been complied with it puts you in a bad place, because from what I’m hearing, when you think you are in a bad place, the rest of us are too. We are all the objects of your plans to – and your willingness to – engage in violence.”
That’s not a passage from “Succession” but a passage, no less compelling, from a court where democracy was on trial.
And it was an Asian American immigrant who reveres this country, who steadfastly defended our rule of law from the bench.
Seeing Mehta’s words helped prepare me on Memorial Day to honor the real patriots who gave their lives for our country.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.