We are starting a new series of video interviews with journalists who have gotten really interesting stories, how they did it and what the impact has been on them. The first in this new series is with Kelly Kennedy, a reporter for Army Times. Her first book is, They Fought for Each Other: The triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq (St. Martin's). The book is unrelenting in its depiction of the stomach-churning stress the troops live under, and shows the same kind of detail and respect for soldiering found in Michael Herr's Dispatches. I interviewed Kelly after she spoke to our Paul Miller fellowship group, on July 7, 2010. The interview is on YouTube here. (Bob Meyers)
The announcement this week of the 2010 Pulitzer prizes is a good time to look at a wonderful book called “Pulitzer’s Gold,” written by veteran journalist, Roy J. Harris, Jr. The 2007 book, now in paperback, tells the exciting behind the scenes stories of the Pulitzers given for public service journalism. The book makes you proud to be in the field.
First, let me do the full disclosures: George Condon is a member of the board of NPF and a former chairman. NPF for years has administered a trust that awards a stipend honoring Marc Stern’s father, Larry Stern, to a journalist from the United Kingdom selected to work at The Washington Post. Condon, Stern and Jerry Kammer have spoken to journalists attending NPF seminars. From1984-1989 I was an assistant city editor at the San Diego Union, owned by Copley newspapers. In 2006 the staffs of San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley News Service won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. The award highlighted “notable work” by Marcus Stern and Jerry Kammer. The award was “for their disclosure of bribe-taking that sent former Rep. Randy Cunningham to prison in disgrace.”
Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you that this is a terrific book – especially for people who believe in the importance of clean civic government and journalism’s watchdog functions. You probably know the story – Navy war hero Randy Cunningham goes to Congress, becomes corrupt, takes money because he can take it, gets indicted, goes to prison.
What may not be as clear is the role that pure covering-your-beat journalism played in unraveling this tawdry saga – an acknowledgement made by the U.S. Attorney after the guilty plea. No reporters, no public knowledge, starting with Marc Stern, as a member of the Copley News Service’s Washington Bureau doing due diligence on a member of the San Diego Congressional delegation.
As George Condon said at a discussion at the NPF offices on June 28, “This is a story a national newspaper wouldn’t have found – because they cover the policy decisions and votes of Congressmen, not their small details.” Whoa! What’s this? A Congressman buying a house that expensive? And selling his old house to a … corporation in Washington? And the old house remains unsold for how long in the hottest real estate market in the country until it is sold at a loss how big …?
And so the thread unravels. Houseboats along the Potomac. Tons of rare antique furniture. A bullying Congressman who only bullied on behalf of a select few. And eventually, written on Congressional stationery, a bribe menu – you give me this, you get that…