His TruTV program brings in big ratings investigating time travel and lizard people. But when he starts questioning the government...
Most retired governors use their connections to assume quiet but well-paid positions in the private sector, or loud but well-paid positions as commentators on cable news networks. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura lately, though, has been prowling obscure government facilities, confronting squirming civil servants, and demanding "the truth" while hosting a reality television show on truTV called Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura.
In the third season, the show has hit its stride. Two lackluster investigators have been replaced with Jesse Ventura's son Tyrel and Oliver Stone's son Sean. The chemistry is great. Tyrel is skinny and slightly awkward and dresses like Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, standing in stark contrast from his ranting hulk of a father. Sean Stone is leather-clad and rebellious, assigned only the most dangerous missions. A third investigator, June Sarpong, is a British West African with a posh accent and an MBE (Member of the British Empire, a step below a knighthood). The subject matter will be familiar to anyone interested in conspiracies, but is presented with flair. White vans pull up and reveal contacts (who always seem to be old cronies of Ventura's). The team interviews mad colonels, mystics and time travelers. It moves along at a relentless pace with considerable charm.
It's entertaining stuff, and the ratings are blockbuster for cable. About 1.5 million people watch the premiere of each episode, and many more see the series in reruns. But for all its goofy appeal, Conspiracy Theory has occasionally seemed to strike on something real--and, as befits both his program's subject matter and his own personal history, Ventura now is convinced that someone is out to shut the program down.
The suspicions began in November 2010, when truTV aired a doozy of an episode, called "Police State." It was spliced with footage of World War II concentration camps and implied that FEMA could be about to institute martial law. The team explored a network of government centers that use data-mining software to comb through intelligence gathered by federal agencies, presumably to look for potential terror suspects. (It would work a bit like Google's keyword advertising: The software might flag someone whose emails to Pakistan mentioned crop-spraying, the precursors for Sarin gas, for example.) They interviewed a young Ron Paul supporter who was put on a government watch list for no apparent reason. Then the team infiltrated a storage facility containing hundreds of thousands of plastic grave liners. Next stop was a pair of mysterious government installations that looked like prisons but had playgrounds attached to them. Finally Ventura flew to Washington D.C. to confront the authors of a bill, H.R. 645 that authorized FEMA to designate military bases as "National Emergency Centers."
"It's clear they're doing everything they can to make it a failure so they don't have to renew it," Ventura said. The "they" he refers to is vaguely defined.
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA6) refused to meet with Ventura, so Ventura confronted Rep. Steve Cohen, one of the bill's co-sponsors. Cohen floundered during the interview. He seemed unfamiliar with the bill and flustered by Ventura's thundering rebukes. After the telecast, he released an op-ed accusing Turner Broadcasting System of gross inaccuracy, condemned the references to the Holocaust, and compared the "dangerously stirred fears" to Timothy McVeigh's "consuming hatred and distrust of government... The show makes professional wrestling, where Ventura earned his fortune, look like an Olympic sport," Cohen said.
A typical episode gets rerun dozens of times, but "Police State" aired once and then never again. (It's circulating on YouTube, uploaded by users who say it's been "banned.") A representative of Turner Broadcasting System (which owns truTV) said that the "Prison State" episode did not repeat after the initial telecast because of scheduling considerations. Ventura thinks it's more than that. He likened it to MSNBC's cancellation of Donahue in 2003. (Phil Donahue insinuated that his anti-war stance was responsible for his firing. An NBC Executive told The New York Times that the show's cost and disappointing ratings were to blame.) He has taken issue with some last-minute scheduling changes that could hurt the show's ratings. And he points out that an episode he and his team filmed for this season, about whether the TSA's full-body scanners are carcinogenic, was shelved by network execs.