Andrew Callaghan is the Future of News
"This Place Rules", Channel 5 and the importance of "wackos"
Channel Five’s first feature film, This Place Rules, premiered last night on HBO. The Tim and Eric production also included familiar corporate faces like A24, Jonah Hill’s company Strong Baby and Abso-lutely (the company behind popular comedy projects like Nathan for You and The Eric Andre Show).
I was stoked for this release. Andrew Callaghan has been on a meteoric rise since his dissolution from All Gas No Brakes and subsequent venture into more serious journalistic pieces like the Derek Chauvin trial and Chicago’s relationship with Drill Music.
Callaghan is the frontman of Channel 5 News, alongside co-host Sidam and business partners Nic Mosher, and Evan Gilbert-Katz. They have a peculiar brand of gonzo journalism that feels equal parts Louis Theroux and old-school VICE (which is ironic, considering that one of the founding members of VICE is also the former leader of the Proud Boys– a far-right group featured in the film).
The premise of This Place Rules centers around the 2020 election and January 6th Capitol Riots. More specifically, it focuses on the Culture War propagated by 24-hour News Media and political charlatans– A phenomenon which reached a boiling point mid-pandemic, in the months leading up to the election, and involved capitalists crafting a civil war for the sake of profit.
The prominent cult of belief at this point in time was QAnon. QAnon is a far-right political belief, borne from message boards on 8chan, and centers on fabricated informational posts (or “Q Drops”) by a fictitious government official who makes large-scale claims about the world being intimately controlled by a cabal of billionaires and child sex traffickers.
Even Alex Jones, a man central to the spread of this inflammatory Culture War, has described QAnon as “Nigerian email scams 5.0.” It is a fear-mongering movement which targets vulnerable people with low informational literacy and manipulates them into becoming foot soldiers for the cause.
Andrew Callaghan spends time with a “QAnon-pilled” family during the course of This Place Rules, after meeting them while protesting on the street. There is a shocking moment on camera where we watch this little blonde-haired boy shout phrases into a bullhorn like “The virus is man made!” and “Biden’s a child molester!” He is clearly regurgitating talking points fed to him by his father standing closely behind him.
At the home visit which follows this clip, we see the true extent to which QAnon has changed this family’s life. They have pulled their kids out of school, unwilling to comply with the mask mandates of the time, a move which is recognized by their mother as detrimental to their social lives and development. However, as their mother says, “having a good education (through QAnon) is more important than being popular.”
On Theo Von’s podcast “This Past Weekend”, Callaghan explains that typically, people who fall victim to cults like QAnon display a certain set of characteristics. They are usually those who are isolated and feel extremely lonely. They are typically ostracized from the traditional society that surrounds them and ultimately become caught in harmful media echo chambers. In QAnon’s case these echo chambers are places like 4chan, Parler, Bitchute and the self-professed “Trump Media”.
After the failed insurrection, Callaghan revisits the Q Family. They are crestfallen following the news that everything Q had foretold in his cryptic messages had not come to pass. The son speaks plainly– to the visible shock of his mother. He says that he felt lied to– deceived– that there was no point to all that his family had been through. He continues by saying he felt bad for his dad– who used to “spend hours outside watching Q videos on his phone.”
You could see that the pattern Callaghan described in Von’s podcast is exactly what the Q Dad had fallen victim to. He had been sucked into a media echo chamber and wasn’t able to get out until everything fell apart around him. He lacked the critical thinking skills and discerning eye for misinformation to save himself and his family from the grips of Q.
During a video interview with Variety, Callaghan talks about how this is the aspect of the film which affected him the most. “Seeing these people look at these images that look like they were made by a 14 year old in photoshop, and believe it is an official press release from the White House, that is what shook me to my core.”
The heartbreaking truth is that these followers don’t know exactly what they’re fighting against– only that it speaks to their deepest fears: of pain, of hurt, of a destruction of the world as they know it.
Callaghan interviews Dick from Alaska in D.C. on election day. He is proselytizing about the New World Order and “globalist forces” but after being asked to clarify who “globalists'' are, he stumbles. Eventually he admits “I’m not so good with the details.”
From the outside looking in, this can feel silly. It’s ridiculous to believe that every moment in life is part of some large, nefariously orchestrated deception by high ranking government officials or billionaires. But to true believers, this is as real as it gets. Hillary Clinton IS running a child sex trafficking ring, George Soros DOES manipulate the entire globe like his own personal puppet show and Donald Trump IS the only true defender of what is moral, just and right.
There are plenty of powerful moments in the film that speak to the deeply ingrained nature of these beliefs– specifically during an interview with a supposed soldier of a new “Christian Fascist Nation''. Callaghan asks the masked man, “Do you ever feel like you’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole?” His response is: “What I'm trying to dig deep into is going to put me in a grave, I know that. The more you dig, the closer you are to your own grave.”
This is emblematic of the vitriol and passion tapped into by this Culture War. People on both sides feel that they are legitimately on the brink of war– of a major death of what they view to be Right. Whenever people are deeply afraid like this, there is money to be made (and T-shirts to be sold). That is when charlatans like Alex Jones and self described “hustlers” like Proud Boys’ leader Enrique Turrio come in.
This Place Rules offers an interesting peek into the mechanism of Alex Jones. Jones is a fringe thought-leader and host of the infamous show InfoWars. He became a household name after he was sued for defamation by the families of Sandy Hook victims for the major hoax conspiracy he crafted on-air. He comes across as a man who is openly manipulating a vulnerable audience– a snake oil salesman stoking the flames of his fan base. He boasts about “dumbing it down for the proletariat” in order to sell his fish oils and brain pills and MRE packages.
What is made increasingly clear in all of this, is that the Dollar is King. These thought leaders are not actual believers of their movement but rather hungry capitalists looking to make a quick buck off of enraged consumers. People like Enrique Turrio will, by-day, claim to be the ultimate patriot, dedicated to “creating the modern (libertarian) world”, but by night will be screen-printing liberal-leaning merchandise. These are just scammers taking advantage of dumb people, and as a result of their product marketing, are stoking the flames of old fears and inciting violence.
That is not to say that it is only the right-wing believers who are fools. Most of the comedic levity found throughout This Place Rules is at the expense of Democratic naivety. There is a moment where we jump cut from a young man complaining about how most of the election day celebrationists are “deluding themselves… but we’re here to have fun… Biden won– I guess we can all go back to brunch”-- cut to: a man I went to college with screaming “Democracy forever, dude– we did it! We saved the country!” blissfully unaware and gullible in his belief that anything is actually being changed by Joe Biden getting elected.
The most memorable exchange during This Place Rules is when Callaghan confronts the Inglorious Patriot, Dave Todeschini, about his child molestation and sodomy convictions. Callaghan is not typically confrontational during his interviews. He usually adopts a more passive, Louis Theroux “toddler nod” approach– but this was noticeably different and I believe it to be a distinct evolution in Andrew Callaghan as an interviewer and a journalist. He pressed Todeschini for his hypocrisy and suggested that the vitriol he felt in exposing a “globalist cabal of child molesters” was simply a projection of his own fears.
People are complicated and people are dumb, but one thing that Callaghan makes sure his viewers understand is that crazy people are not JUST crazy. Anyone can fall victim to harmful, cult-like ideologies if placed in the right circumstances. Falling down rabbit holes like QAnon are typically a “projection of shame using the mythology of political movements to assign meaning to a broken life. If you failed yourself– or you’ve been failed by the world, QAnon provides a way out.”
Andrew talks to wackos, sure, but he goes beyond. He gives them humanity and a fair shake at telling their story. This Place Rules is a delicately layered, nuanced and hilariously honest look at one of the biggest moments in recent American history. Callaghan is trailblazing a new era of News– one that can be quippy and tongue-in-cheek but also led with an ethos of radical listening and a sense of humanity that has long been divorced from news media.
“This is only the beginning” and we can expect a lot more from Channel 5. I hear his next project concerns Adult Babies who love to wear diapers. If anything, I bet it will be thought provoking.