About the book
Until I was thirty-five years old, I seemed a candidate to live the lyrics of a George Jones country song. My destiny was to spend days and nights in redneck honky-tonks where I could drunkenly bitch about the liberal news media and deliver Rush Limbaugh inspired commentary on the state of the nation. That’s a best case scenario. Dead is the worst. In 1971, fortuitously, I vacated my bar stool and reclaimed a faltering journalism career. In the years to come, I would win a bunch of prizes and achieve more success than anyone could have imagined for an academically deficient, ex-drunk bullshit artist, who set out to become a rock and roll disc jockey.
My journey from gutter drunk to acclaimed reporter was inextricably intertwined with lessons I learned at meetings of an anonymous organization that taught me how to stay sober and provided a set of principles that have influenced every aspect of my life.
A crucial component of sobriety is self-honesty, an attribute that is a prerequisite for investigative reporting. By filtering my judgments of others through a prism of painful personal experiences, I benefited from insights about denial mechanisms of drunks, as well as people caught in embarrassing and/or felonious situations.
That is the only explanation for the success I achieved in thirty-years of digging dirt at local television stations and networks that let me muck the colorful array of characters who populate this book.
Some of my reporting methods are not taught in journalism schools. Muckraking is not for purists.
From The Introduction:
Investigative reporting is the only craft I know in which practitioners celebrate being called assholes. This aberrant appreciation of verbal assaults used to be quite evident at annual conventions sponsored by Investigative Reporters and Editors, known as IRE. During four days of narcissistic displays of braggadocio, muckrakers shared secrets of winning big awards, pissing off people and acquiring rectal identities.
Between workshops and seminars, reporters prowled hotel corridors, bars and reception areas to beguile one another with accounts of their journalism heroics, gloating about reputations they tarnished, folks they sent to jail, lawsuits filed against them, and the number of people who honored them with nasty epithets.
The perverse pride in quantifying success in terms of loathsome nicknames was a sign of an arrogant sense of infallibility that characterized many investigative reporters. To reinforce egos, mud-slingers presented awards to one another each year. Prize-winners fondled the trophies when beset with doubts about the virtue of their vocation.
As an early award-fondling IRE member, as well as a former member of the organization’s Board of Directors, my critique of the muckraker psyche is a confession of personal flaws, rather than a blanket condemnation of the imperfections of investigative reporters. Still, I observed my own shortcomings in a lot of journalists, who deemed themselves qualified to act as judges, juries and character assassins.
The IRE acronym supposedly reflects a mindset of members. But most muckrakers nowadays only get mildly irritated. In the wake of media consolidation, old-fashioned scandal-mongering that sent people to jail has diminished to a point of invisibility, especially on television.
As a “Peabody award-winning” head-hunter for three decades, my exposés did, in fact, put people in jail and exposed systemic evils that brought about significant changes.