Misinterpreting someone isn’t uncommon. You may not know the person well, and as a result, you misinterpret what he says. But imagine someone photoshopping an image of one of the most renowned Hollywood TV show writers and tweeting about it during a sensitive time when the BLM protests were in full swing, culminating to the destruction of the writer’s career.
Unfortunately, Craig Gore, the writer of famous shows like Law & Order: Organized Crime, S.W.A.T., Chicago PD, and many more, had to face the wrath of social media because of an innocent post on Facebook on the day he moved to his new home. Why? Because one Drew Janda, a wanna-be comedian and pizza delivery boy, felt that it would be funny to portray Craig as a white supremacist during the time of the BLM protests. What resulted was Craig getting fired from TV shows and negative articles being published everywhere.
No news channel bothered to dig deep into Craig’s post. They only sensationalized his story to get public attention. Today, it’s his turn to share his side of the story. If you have followed the TV shows that Craig had been a part of and want to know what had actually happened, it pays to hear what the innocent man has to say.
I suppose it’s fitting that it’s me conducting this interview. Not only have I known Craig Gore as a former college Instructor of mine, but over the years we have become friends. More than that, he’s the godfather of my son. Thinking on it, my history with Craig spans nearly a decade and a half at this point. I’ve spent time at his home, time with his diverse circle of friends, and even went on a cross country road trip with him. It’s safe to say that I know this man well.
What you “know” of him is vastly different, I’m sure. If you’re familiar with his name at all, then you know last summer he was fired from Law & Order: Organized Crime after an internet troll named Drew Janda tweeted to Chris Meloni that Craig was a ‘Proud Boy.’ Entertainment news outlets wrote about it, then mainstream media pushed the story as well. And not one did any investigation into the validity of the Tweet or the screencap; it was an instant condemnation, to which Craig had no public recourse.
Note: Google should bring up the story from last summer if you’re unfamiliar with it.
I’m sitting at his kitchen island as he prepares dinner – grilled halibut and steaks and veggies. It’s easier to get people to open up when they’re distracted. And for Craig to be honest about the events of last summer, I figured now would be a good time to get some of my questions in.
“So that Facebook post. The gun was a prop. Close friends of yours probably knew as much, given your past [as a convicted felon]. Though not for public consumption, what was the intent of the post at the time?”
He’s seasoning the meat now. His hand slows, recalling that day. “Guess I learned a hard lesson of what ‘friend’ means. I had a Twitter account because I was required to tweet with fans on the show I recently worked on – S.W.A.T. on CBS – when my episodes aired. Other than that I never went on Twitter, it’s just a bunch of noise. I had an Instagram account, which to me is the “glam app”, where everybody uses filters to look like a model. I had about 600 followers on IG, mostly friends and co-workers. And I had a Facebook account with about 500 ‘friends’ – family, high school friends, ex-students I kept track of from Columbia College Chicago.
“Even though I’ve been a writer/producer in Hollywood for years I never cared about building an “online presence” like most people. You know me — I collect typewriters, old books, would rather call instead of text, and drive a stick shift. I’m analog. I used Facebook as I thought it was meant to for – to post pics of everyday life so your relatives across the country you never see get to feel they’re connected to you. I never posted anything political. I never attacked anyone or made negative comments. I simply shared fun pics/videos from film sets posing with actors and friends, concerts or vacations. My Facebook account was also set to private, so anyone I accepted as a “friend” I’d met in person or had some real interaction with.
So to speak to that specific post – yes, it was a prop rifle from S.W.A.T. that I had collected along with other props from various shows I worked on. I’ve always taken home “souvenirs” from set from every episode I’ve ever written. And since I’ve mostly written on crime shows these keepsakes are usually weapons – prop guns, knives, robbery masks, even a fake grenade (that I use as a paperweight).
“I worked many years to save and buy my first home in West Hollywood and was moving in that day, which is important for two reasons. One — I was moving boxes into my new home office full of these props and my brother who was helping me wanted to take a pic of me holding one of them. Two — we were listening to the rapper Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything” and my brother proudly smiled at me, ‘with this house you’re now all gold.’ We grew up poor and neither of us ever owned a home before, much less one in a nice zip code. As we unloaded the truck there were news reports of looting breaking out on Sunset Boulevard just blocks from my house. There were no BLM protests that day, only looters who the LAPD knew were going to target the area. Having been given orders to only arrest those who committed violent acts and not property damage, the cops simply watched as looters broke into stores and went wild.
“The irony of it all is threefold. One — that pic was taken while listening to Trinidad James rap about motherfuckers having to come take his shit if they wanted it. Two — not one of the looters we saw on the news was Black. It was the height of Covid, so the looters had a perfect excuse to wear masks as to not be identified, but everyone I saw stealing on Sunset was either white or Hispanic. Three — my girlfriend attended a protest march the week before and I’d donated money to BLM, as I give to many liberal/human rights charities every year. There was no “intent” in the post, it was just a pic my brother took while drinking beers and hauling in boxes.”
“How did it get out to the public?” I asked him.
“Turned out one of my ex-students who followed me took screenshots of the post and sent it to a person who did not have access to my Facebook. That person photo-shopped it, labeling me a ‘proud boy’ and sent it out on Twitter. His name was Drew Janda, a wanna-be comedian and pizza delivery boy who was also a Columbia College alum. Supposedly he meant it to be a joke [something Janda later stated in a court document] – but because of the BLM protests happening around the country his careless Tweet, using my photo with a TV prop (that had nothing to do with politics or race), spread across the internet overnight and by morning had mutated into something unimaginable.”
“If I had the chance would I go back and not put that pic on Facebook? Of course. Because the butterfly effect of that single post caused damage to my life and career – and to the lives and careers of others I care about. But did I intend for that post to be the least bit political or racial? No. Zero.”
On the night of June 1st 2020, when I saw Craig’s Facebook post pop up in my feed, I, as a Black woman, existing in the US at the height of the George Floyd and BLM protests, noticed nothing amiss. That’s because as his friend I had the benefit of context, and the benefit of knowing him as a person. I knew if Craig had a uniform – it’s a black tee, black jeans, Air Force Ones, and dark shades to protect his baby blues. With the addition of Covid, he also wore military scarves instead of flimsy surgical masks. I also knew as an EP of shows like Chicago PD and S.W.A.T. he had a collection of prop weapons, and as a felon, could not own a real gun. Then there’s the part that no one discusses: that much of the looting was perpetrated by such groups as the Proud Boys who were eager to start a race war. So it was simple to me; not worth a second glance. But to an outsider without context or rather, framed with not only the wrong context, but one laden with racism and hate, it was a different kind of simple: that Craig was a white supremacist.
If I could go back, I would have called him immediately and told him about the optics that never even dawned on me.
“How were you alerted to the situation the next day?”
“About 9am, I received a text from the showrunner of Law and Order: Organized Crime asking if I was awake. We had been doing Zoom meetings with potential writers to hire for the show, so I figured he wanted to discuss our choices so far. But then he sent a second text, advising me to take down the Facebook post of me posing with a gun because it was causing an ‘issue’ with the studio and a Producer from Wolf Films would be calling soon. [Because Craig signed an NDA when he received a wrongful termination settlement, he would not tell me specifics, but after some research I found out this is Peter Jankowski.] I immediately went to my Facebook page and deleted the post, still confused about what was happening.
“Minutes later the Producer called and told me there was a “media shitshow” brewing, reporters had called asking him asking if I’d ever been in a white supremacist chatroom? I said absolutely not, but like many other crime writers I’ve looked such groups up online and written about them as bad guys in scripts. I’d worked for Wolf Films and NBC for four years as a head writer on the series “Chicago P.D.” I had written many episodes and gave them 110% as an employee. I was astonished and insulted that he seriously asked if I was affiliated with a hate group. I reminded him that the day before I suggested the first person we hire on staff was Michael Martin, a Black writer who’d written “Brooklyn’s Finest”, one of my favorite crime movies and who I absolutely loved. Would I have gushed about Michael’s writing and put him on top of my list if I was a Nazi? Just then he told me ‘Dick is on the other line. I’ll call you back’ and hung up. In total that conversation lasted less than 20 seconds and I was left more confused.
“Reporters were asking if I was affiliated with white supremacists? Over a Facebook post? I called my agent at Paradigm, who was shocked when I told him about the call. No one from NBC or Wolf had called him. He conferenced in my entertainment lawyer, who said he had not been contacted about the situation either. It is unlike a studio to directly call the talent to discuss a problem, they usually go through your reps. In this case neither of them were called. Both my agent and lawyer said they’d make calls to Wolf Films and get to the bottom of this.
“I had the sinking feeling this wasn’t going to turn out good, especially when my agent and lawyer called back to inform me no one at the studio was returning their calls. About an hour later the Producer called back and said ‘Sorry, but we have got to let you go.’ He did not explain the reasoning and didn’t care when I tried telling him it was a prop gun and this had to be some misunderstanding. This conversation was also 20 seconds long, the Producer warning me it’s probably going to get worse for you before it gets better,’ and hung up. What the hell did that mean? Not only was I fired from my new job on a high-profile show I was excited about, but more bad news was coming? I called my agent and lawyer to tell them I was fired. They were both as shocked as me, admitting they hadn’t dealt with anything like this before.”
About 20 minutes later my phone started blowing up with calls and texts from friends and colleagues, asking if I was seeing the news being published about me. Suddenly I was being sent screenshots of Variety and Deadline articles that had just been published, quoting a press release from Wolf Films that they wouldn’t tolerate my behavior in a time of national mourning. It was surreal. Total virtue-signaling. Destroying me for nothing.”
“Why didn’t you do any interviews at that time?”
“Several actor friends who were used to dealing with publicity advised me to not to speak to the press because most of the time they will spin your words for their own narrative, not to actually report anything objective. I was also advised to stay off social media and deactivate my accounts, because reading comments from online trolls would lead me down a dark rabbit hole that could consume me. It’s against your instinct to not speak out and defend your reputation, and it certainly was against mine. But I hadn’t ever dealt with anything like this, so I took their advice.”
I took a deep breath and thought on this. The reality is, at the time, my own devastation at the situation aside, I was incredibly angry. I felt like it was shit advice; tantamount to hiding under the covers. That doesn’t stop the news cycle or bad reporting. That doesn’t clear your name. Why didn’t anyone tell him to release a statement how it was categorically false? While I’m not an industry person, it just seemed so horrifically illogical.
A domino effect happened to Craig; within the hour he lost his agent at Paradigm, and had been black-listed since those events. A toxic cloud hangs over him, the air has yet to have cleared. Until, hopefully, now.
“News articles continued to spread about me to papers across the country,” he said. “There was even a piece about me in the UK Daily Mail. My girlfriend is British, and when her parents called and told her they read of my firing I was mortified. How the hell did a defaming Tweet from Drew Janda become such a big news story? I was never interviewed, neither were any friends or colleagues, and there was no valid research done about me. They didn’t even know it was a prop gun or that I’m a registered Democrat. Yet major news sites used the Wolf press release, sensationalizing the photo of me in relation to the BLM protests, and created a false narrative to rush out a story about some ‘right-wing writer’ in Hollywood.”
“That day unfolding…” He pauses; the recall is tough for him. He covers the food tray with foil as a distraction. “Was insane, and humiliating, and surreal. The fact that supposedly reputable sites were publishing articles for three days after, pushing a fictional story just blew my mind. I was in a Kafka novel, where nothing made sense and no one listened to reason.”
We take a break, so Craig can head out and grill. We laugh and talk about other things, over dinner as my son eats half of his meal, and throwing the rest on the floor. It amuses Craig, it’s good to see him enjoy a moment. Still, I have one last question to ask. We end up in his office, where his collection of vintage typewriters are displayed and a “To Write and Die in LA” neon glows on the wall.
“What would you like to make clear today about your character?”
I come from humble beginnings. Fractured family. Poor. Endured extreme physical and mental abuse at the hands of my father, who went to prison for manslaughter when I was 13. I felt ashamed for who I was and never fit in with any particular group. So I pieced together my own tribe of friends – Black, white, Asian, weirdos, outcasts, exchange students, etc. I realized being an outsider and an individual had its own rewards. When I was 16, I was on my own, and became a thief. Stealing for a living, a lost kid with no future. Went to prison at 18 for robbery, and when I got paroled I could only find dead-end jobs. I had nothing to lose but chase my dream of becoming a professional writer. Talk about a long shot? I was the black sheep of the black sheep. But I loved reading and writing and realized it wasn’t about stringing together complex sentences that made a person a writer, but about their life experience and unique POV on life that gives them a voice.
I’ve made my own family of interesting people – from all backgrounds, ethnicities, colors, sexes, rich and poor. Being a writer has allowed me to live a life I never dreamed of. All the research I’ve done on numerous projects has led me to meet amazing people from all over the country, even the world. If you told me when I was a 19-year-old working in the prison library that I’d someday be flying first-class to Japan to shoot an episode of a network crime show in Tokyo and spend Thanksgiving with Nobu and his family, I’d tell you that you were crazy. And over these years I’ve amassed the most interesting rolodex. It makes me smile knowing that I have 22-year-old gay assistant friends on one side of the spectrum, and curmudgeonly 75-year-old Chicago cops on the other – and every other kind of person from all walks of life in between. Being caught up in one group and not exploring life outside your own little world is the antithesis of growth. It keeps people from empathizing with others who bleed just like you, and when you get to know them probably have the same hopes, dreams and loves that you do.”