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Subjects in Netflix's John McAfee Doc Respond to Primetimer's Review

Two subjects interviewed in the doc respond to our recent review
  • John McAfee with anonymous officials in an image from Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee. (Courtesy: Netflix)
    John McAfee with anonymous officials in an image from Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee. (Courtesy: Netflix)

    When I sat down to watch Netflix's documentary Running With the Devil, I knew almost nothing about the life and crimes of its subject, computer software pioneer John McAfee. Despite being a reasonably well-read person, I somehow missed the entire saga about his flight from South American authorities, the murder charges he was trying to outrun, and the time he spent on a boat full of guns. I looked to the film to tell me the story.

    As I say in my review for Primetimer, I feel the documentary presents McAfee as a paranoid manipulator who seduced seasoned journalists with his wild-eyed assertions. It also plays like a tawdry tabloid exposé. The editing, soundtrack, and narrative structure are designed to provoke gasps, right up to the final scene where an interviewee suggests that McAfee, who reportedly died in a Spanish prison, might still be alive somewhere.

    Reviews are opinions, of course, and not facts. Ideally, they start conversations, and that's exactly what my review of Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee did. Shortly after it was published, I heard from two journalists who are featured in the film: Rocco Castoro, who was the Editor-in-Chief of Vice when he joined McAfee on the lam, and Alex Cody Foster, who worked with McAfee as a ghostwriter on an autobiography.

    Both Castoro and Foster took issue with the way I talked about them in my review, which I understand. While I still contend the film frames them as participants in a quasi-cult leader's schemes, clearly that's not the only way to see what happened.

    This is a good reminder that any narrative — even if it's supposed to be fact-based or "neutral" — will have bias. It's inevitable. As viewers and readers, we've got to remain aware that everything is slanted, especially when we're exposed to a story for the first time. If I had heard about McAfee's escapades before I saw this film, I might have reacted differently to the way it told the story. As research for my review, I also read some contemporaneous reporting, and I linked to those pieces in my write-up. If I had read different pieces, I might have had a different response.

    Which is how it goes. We read; we watch; we draw conclusions. But it never hurts to take in more information and see if our conclusions change.

    With that in mind, I'm happy to share direct quotes from both Castoro and Foster about their responses to the film and what I wrote about it. The following statements are taken verbatim from our emails and private social media messages, and they are reprinted with permission.

    I appreciate Castoro and Foster's insights, since they actually saw some of these things unfold. Their comments have changed my perspective on what happened on the ground with McAfee, though my thoughts on the film remain the same.

    Let's keep the conversation going: If you have thoughts on any of this, please share them with me on Twitter at @IAmBlankenship or via email at mark [at] primetimer [dot] com.


    Comments from Rocco Castoro

    Note: Castoro recently launched the podcast Devil in the Details: Running With John McAfee. He's using the episodes to talk about both embedding with McAfee and struggling with Vice when it was time to report what happened.

    Many claims made by subjects in the film are unfounded and opportunistic, in my point of view. Among the most egregious are allegations that McAfee killed his father. Based off my own forthcoming reporting and accounts of others close to McAfee, there is no solid evidence McAfee killed his father. A rudimentary knowledge of the timeline, witnesses, and documents would show that McAfee was not in the vicinity of his father at the time of his death.

    With regard to the "bombshell" that McAfee might still be alive, he wrote:

    McAfee's body is in a morgue in Spain. There is a death certificate, which many have tried to acquire to no avail. Any rumors to the contrary are salacious at best and malicious at worst.

    He notes that much of the above will be addressed on his podcast.

    Comments from Alex Cody Foster

    Note: Foster has detailed his experience with McAfee in his book The Man Who Hacked the World: A Ghost Writer's Descent Into Madness With John McAfee.

    With regard to my review's assertion that the film suggests "paranoia was the correct mindset" for anyone who thought McAfee was dangerous, Foster writes:

    For me, anyway, I don't think paranoia was the correct mindset; it just was the mindset given the situations I was in with John. I had guns pointed at me; I went on the run with him from the cartel, allegedly; I was hacked; I was kidnapped in Barcelona by likely the Eastern European mob, etc. I don't recall whether this is in the film, but I worked with John for half a year. I lived and traveled with him for 35 days throughout America and Europe. In the end, I got to know John better than most people—the real John—because it was my job to do so. What I saw, heard, and ultimately documented was enough to raise the hairs on my neck constantly. It was an absolutely crazy and dangerous time, and some things still haunt me to this day.

    Foster also pushes back on my assertion that it's "stagey" when the film shows him asking the filmmakers not to use certain things we've just seen him saying.

    I don't know how it could be described as stagey, because it was actually an outtake, and I didn't even remember it until I saw it on screen. Nothing we did was staged. I've worked with clients who've worked for the cartel, and understandably I don't want to get on their bad side. I also know a lot more about John's relations to the cartel than is in the film, and it's enough to make me paranoid. I've been doing some interviews with the press lately, so hopefully some of that info will come out.

    He notes that his book covers his time with McAfee in greater depth than the film.

    The film Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee is currently streaming on Neflix.

    Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.

    TOPICS: Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee, Netflix, Alex Cody Foster, John McAfee, Rocco Castoro