Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023 |
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Years ago, when I was married and working in a factory and feeling trapped by
my life, my then-wife said, “You should go to college. You’ve got the G.I. Bill
and you read more books than anyone I know.”
Once in school and majoring in
English literature, I quickly realized I didn’t want to be a professor, trying
to explain novels I loved to people who didn’t even want to read them. But I
did enjoy working on the school newspaper.
A job path was born.
22 years in this business, I’ve talked to a lot of people and a lot of people
have talked to me. Sometimes the most fascinating stuff I come away with from
interviews is what people don’t say.
Once in Ohio, I interviewed a killer
who had already served time for one murder and was going on trial for a second.
Usually, attorneys keep their clients away from reporters before a trial, but
this guy wanted to talk. We had our 15 minutes together.
shootist didn’t want to declare his innocence, something many of the guiltiest
killers seem compelled to do. He wanted to talk about sports. Football, to be
He didn’t know nearly as much as he thought he did. But he knew I
was frustrated when our time together ended. He was laughing when I left the
Right now, the most interesting thing somebody on Kaua`i
isn’t saying also relates to murder. If (and it’s an important if) the person
who tried and failed to kill a Kekaha women in May is the same guy who murdered
two other women in the west Kaua`i area, then someone on this island at least
suspects they know the killer.
In a place this small, if the killer is a
local, someone knows something.
Small towns and small islands in the
middle of the Pacific are like dysfunctional step-families. People live in the
gaps between each others’ business and they think they know everything about
Somebody has seen something or senses something that isn’t
right about one of their neighbors or co-workers. They just haven’t realized
yet that what they know is important. Or they are protecting someone close to
them-a son, a brother, a nephew or a boyfriend.
Another interesting thing
about being a journalist is watching people who endlessly attack the media
until they need it. Then they call us-with some great injustice done by one of
their local politicians, usually-and start talking about how we need to do the
Self-interest is the great motivator. That’s something I learned in
two decades listening to cops, politicians, lawyers, government officials
(local, state and federal), and actors, novelists and shrinks (amateur and
professional) who write books.
Good journalists have to fight the urge of
overwhelming cynicism the way good politicians have to build consensus: All out
and all the time.
This job breeds cynicism the way swamps breed
One of the first stories I did years ago was a profile of a
citizens’ group in Cincinnati, Ohio called the Legion of Decency. This was a
group of fanatical, puritanical religious busybodies who wanted to censor
movies, plays and books.
The leader of the group, a community pillar who
expressed morals mere mortals could only dream of, was named Charles Keating.
The same Charlie Keating who became famous a few years later for ripping off
thousands of old people with his various financial scams in the Arizona
There are many national stories I wasn’t fortunate enough to cover
that make the same point: John F. Kennedy, the family man who turned out to
have a bigger black book than Heidi Fleiss, and good old Richard Nixon, the
patriot, who had plans in the work during his presidency to suspend even the
semblance of democracy.
Any reporter outside the food page who isn’t a
little cynical should move into a sales career. Yet I’ve learned, when I give
in to the faithless feelings journalism inexorably pushes me toward, I miss
good stories. Because the most important thing is that some people mean exactly
what they say and do what they promise to do; they are who they seem to
The search for these kinds of sterling folk is what keeps my job
interesting and even fun sometimes.
Staff writer Dennis Wilken can be
reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) and [
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