Sept. 7, 2006 -- Larry Garrison knows the news. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with a slew of networks and shows bringing to light some of the most significant stories of our time.
In his latest book, "The Newsbreaker," Garrison divulges untold details about some of the biggest stories of the past few decades, including the Oklahoma bombing, the Jon Benet Ramsey murder and the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal.
Garrison reveals what happens behind the headlines -- how the news changes from the scene of a story to when it hits a television screen -- and offers readers a rare look inside one of today's hottest industries.
Read an excerpt from "The Newsbreaker" below:
I hate traffic. Driving home up Highway 101 -- Hollywood behind me and my home in Westlake before me -- a thirtymile drive takes over an hour. The one good thing about Southern California road time is that it gives a person a chance to reflect.
I had just dropped off lunch for my twenty-one-year-old daughter, Lindsay, at the movie set where she was working. She had forgotten to pick it up before work and coaxed me into delivering it. I got to the set and was proud of my daughter's professionalism. I spoke with the director for a moment and watched a take. Just as I was leaving, one of the extras asked, "So, Mr. Garrison, what kind of work do you do?" I just smiled, shook his hand, and walked back to my car.
My kids have a tendency to be a little dramatic. It's a direct result of having a father who has been involved with the entertainment and news industry for the last twenty-five years. For twelve of those years, I've been a single dad. Because of that, my kids have often been exposed to my work. And like me, they're also becoming goal-driven adults with a dash of overachiever. This troubles me when I think about my middle child -- how relentless the business is that she's chosen. The money and romance of the entertainment industry are hard to resist, but it's those same traits that make it cutthroat and competitive.
Ambulance chaser and media whore are just a couple of the less flattering descriptions used to label me and what I do. Most jobs have titles like firefighter, CPA, or whatever. One or two words or an acronym, and that's all the explanation needed. The easy out for me is to say that I'm an executive producer for film and TV. But what I do requires much more explanation than a simple title can provide. No matter what the short descriptions are, they describe only part of what I do. Ambulance chaser? Maybe so.
Part of my work requires that I be on the lookout for people who get caught up either directly or indirectly in a situation that is so far out of the ordinary that their story becomes newsworthy. Personal injury attorneys, the other so-called ambulance chasers, have been the butt of jokes for years. Some view them as scavengers whose only purpose in life is to search out and exploit the misfortunes of others.
Most people go through their lives oblivious to the workings of the civil law process, until misfortune rams into their lives and they really need help from someone who knows the system. Lawyers, I guess, will always take the brunt of jokes -- until they're needed. Then they become a victim's best friend. Attorneys have to be familiar with the laws to represent their clients well, to ensure the highest possible settlement, or to successfully argue in front of a jury why their clients are entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering. Lawyers take an oath to do just that -- represent their clients to the best of their ability.
My clients are of a different nature. I don't practice in a court of law; I operate in the court of public opinion. But the people I represent need me in the same way a victim needs a lawyer. My clients have often been thrust into territory so far
from what they're accustomed to that the process could chew them up and spit them out without someone like me to watch out for their best interests. In much the same way lawyers help their clients through the legal system, I help my clients navigate the media machine, specifically the news media. And even though I don't always chase them, I am always on the lookout for them.
I have more than eighty other people in the field on the lookout. I call them stringers, field people, and sometimes producers, as they often work with me on producing a story for the news. They could be doctors or lawyers or anything at all. One of my most significant researcher/producers is my sister, R. Stephanie Good, Esq. As a lawyer, author, and sponsor of humanitarian causes in New York, she has brought me countless stories that have ended up in your living room via TV news. My sister does it to get the spiritual side of stories heard, but other bookers often have a different agenda. Most are moneyhungry or just get a rush out of finding newsworthy stories. They scour local papers, keeping their ears to the ground, knowing that whoever is the first to find that story that makes you say "Oh, my God" out loud may be in for a cut on a film or book deal.
It has been said there are two sides to every story, then there is the truth. I am on the lookout for the people who can give you the truth of a story that has captured public attention. Although I have dealt with stories regarding some of what goes on behind the scenes at the White House and with many celebrities, most of what I cover is mainstream. It is not often that I am involved in matters pertaining to national foreign policy, and I offer less attention to people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. My work lies somewhere between the tabloid headlines and the stories covered in Time magazine, but everything is fair game. And yes, I must admit I love those major sweep stories that I put on the covers of magazines and bring to the attention of the world.
Maybe when asked what I do, my answer should be that I provide the public with the news stories it cannot get enough of -- the kind of stories people talk about at the office water cooler, at hair salons, or over casual lunches. Most of the content is not really that important in the grand scheme of things, but everyone knows the stories because they can't resist their pull. I am not owned by any of the big news organizations anymore. Rather, I supply them with the stories viewers want to know about. If the story and conditions are right, I'll develop it into a book or movie.
The American public's appetite for news has changed drastically over the years, as has the news itself. A few decades ago, fatherly figures on sterile sets provided information on the events of the day and left it to viewers to form an opinion of what was important. They delivered the facts and the public was left to draw its own conclusions. Once in a while, the newscasters gave their opinions, but they clearly stated it was a commentary.
There were no twenty-four-hour news channels, and, aside from the nightly telecasts, most of the news shows were seen Sunday mornings and on the occasional bulletins that are now called breaking stories. News organizations left entertainment to the entertainers that followed the newscast. Somewhere along the way, news moved away from the news and became more of a business, and the priority changed. Ratings are paramount, and it is the American public that drives the ratings war.
News organizations still pride themselves for being accurate, informative, and unbiased; but the ratings war has changed the face of news and the way it operates. Instead of the Walter Cronkites of yesterday, today you see younger and much-more-attractive-than-average newsmen and newswomen reading news scripts into the camera. TV news has become more of a show. News is delivered from elaborate sets, luring viewers to believe that newscasters are sitting in a living room while they sip their morning coffee; or that the newsroom really is right there in the studio, and reporters can actually be seen working diligently in the background. Many times, a ticker tape runs along the bottom of the screen to offer additional news, just in case the story being covered by the talking head isn't good enough to keep the viewer's attention. As they deliver the news, there is more voice inflection here, little comments there -- whatever it takes to keep you tuned to their channel and not the competitor's.
In Cronkite's day, all that was heard in a newscast was the voice of the reporter. Now, when sad stories are reported -- the discovery of the bodies of a young boy and his mother after an extensive search hoping to find them alive, for instance -- you hear mournful music in the background to accentuate the tragedy. There are also the shows that try to sway an individual's thought process as they report the news. This type can be seen just about any time of day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. These shows take current news stories and milk them for all they are worth. The subject matter might be petty, like why movie stars' marriages fall apart. But it can also be much more significant, with far-reaching effects.
Ten years ago, in December 1996, the nation first heard the name of six-year-old Jon Benet Ramsey, who was found murdered in her upper-middle-class home in Colorado. The case soon became the subject of household conversation, due to the amount of coverage it received. Before this, the job of the news agencies was to report only the facts, but something changed with the Ramsey case. The media took it upon themselves to play jury. Instead of simply reporting the evidence, reporters analyzed it on-air and drew conclusions as to what might have happened. No one came out and said that the child's parents killed her, but almost every update to the story made sure that the public knew that the parents were the prime suspects.
When new evidence was brought to light, the media would spin it to seem more damning to Jon Benet's mother and father. If evidence was introduced that might lead people to believe the parents were not guilty, it was downplayed. With the barrage of reports and the loss of true objectivity, the media, in short, passed judgment on John and Patsy Ramsey and destroyed what remained of their tragic lives. The media reports that Patsy was jealous of her daughter and trying to live her failed modeling career through Jon Benet was sickening. It was almost as if the news agencies were trying to establish a motive to support their suspicions. Reporting quickly changed to speculation and became cruel.
I spoke with the Ramseys in the early part of 1997. We discussed the possibility of doing a book to strengthen their case in the public eye, but at that time the media was on a witch hunt. Even though I brought plenty of information to the networks that contradicted what they were reporting, it was too late. The only thing they were interested in broadcasting was absolute proof that the parents didn't kill their daughter, or things that would increase the suspicion that they did. It is a lot harder to prove you didn't do something than to prove that you did. In my gut, I knew the Ramseys had nothing to do with their beautiful daughter's death. I remember the frustration I felt for them as we parted ways later that year.
In January 2005, DNA evidence proved that the Ramseys were not guilty. Scientific evidence showed that someone else had been in the basement of the Ramseys' home. The news magazine show 48 Hours ran the report, and a few pieces did make it to the air, but the damage was already done. The only people who truly hold the media accountable for what they report are the media, and it doesn't add to the ratings when you admit that you were wrong. For every minute of coverage the exoneration received, there were hours that implied the Ramseys' guilt.
Maybe it was with the advent of cable news. Or maybe someone just came up with the idea that if they could make the news more interesting and entertaining, more people would watch, the ratings would go up, and more money could be made. Whatever the cause, the newscast as we knew it changed. Even the stories, or types of story, have changed. Things that made page three of the local newspapers in the fifties and sixties are now part of the headlines. What middle-aged man from Middle America killed his wife and almost got away with it, or what teacher is having an affair with her underage student? Things that were not considered newsworthy back then, or were just swept under the rug, have become part of the headline hype. The stories that really have no impact on the day-today lives of the majority of viewers are the very stories that they become fascinated with and have come to demand from their news.
These stories have to have someone to tell them, and that's where I come in. I represent the people who have the news that the American public is hungry for. That hunger has created my job. This is where it becomes a little complicated. People want to be able to take for granted that the information they receive from their news is accurate. They don't want to feel that they have to second guess the information being provided to them. At the same time, they want to get as much information as possible -- at least as much information as they find interesting.
The public is becoming more knowledgeable of how the media machine works and expects more details with their news. The networks know that if a story can grab the public's attention and they can present the story in a way that is entertaining as well as informative, the ratings will improve. With this in mind, they have to dig deeper and be ready to report on different aspects of a story in a way that will hold the public's interest. It is this relentless need to maintain a top position in the ratings war that creates an inherent danger of reporting something other than the truth.
Part of my job is like that of an investigative reporter/ producer/journalist -- to dig through the facts and make absolutely sure the information I relay to the news agencies is accurate. Literally hundreds of stories are run past me every month, and, at the risk of sounding cliché, many times I have little more than my gut instinct to filter out the truth from the myths -- at least at first. I don't rely strictly on gut feelings to verify the information brought to me, but I have to admit, in the last twenty-five years of bringing the "Oh, my God" stories to the news agencies, my gut feelings are exactly what have kept me out of hot water. Not one of the pieces I have brought to the news has proven to be false. Often, it was nothing more than a gut feeling that stopped me from pursuing a story, which was later found to be a lie.
The bigger the story, the more important it is to be diligent. In April 1995, the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, where more than 160 people lost their lives, shocked the nation. At first, the news agencies led the American public to assume it was a terrorist attack from outside the country; but when evidence revealed it was an American that was suspect, the media had to change gears, and the hunt for any information on Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh was on.
A few weeks after the reports first implicated Nichols and McVeigh in the bombing, Lana Padilla, Terry Nichols' ex-wife, contacted me saying she wanted to reveal information about her ex-husband. With the type of work I do and as important as this story was, I could not help but think this would be another huge feather in my professional headdress. After numerous telephone conversations, I realized that Lana and Terry's son Josh were just as amazed about Terry's role in the bombing as everyone else, and they really didn't have anything to offer to the story at that time. Because of the size of the story and Lana being who she was, I had no doubt that a book could be written from her point of view, but I passed. Ten years later, Terry Nichols revealed information to Lana, and timing became a factor in developing her second book with me.
What I did find intriguing was the call I received from someone who identified himself as "John Doe Number Two." The man told me that he had been falsely implicated in the bombing disaster. After a little investigation, I found that his only crime, which wasn't a crime at all, was wearing a shirt that resulted in false implication. His name was Todd Bunting. After a little work on his situation, we were able to help him prove that he was innocent of anything with regard to the bombing, and he was able to go on quietly with his life.
There are different types of reactions from people who are thrust into the public eye or think they are in a position to be thrust into it. Some are just plain scared. They do not want any attention and just want the situation to pass. Some crave the limelight; they get a high out of the attention given for being involved in something people think is important. There are the ones who really do want the truth to be told; who, in many cases, will put themselves at risk to make sure it is. Others use the attention as a cleansing process, getting things off their chest that they have held inside for a long time or nobody believed.
There are as many different reasons people get involved in the media machine as there are stories. The ones I watch out for are those I call opportunity seekers. These are the people who see getting my attention as their shot at making it in the entertainment business, and they are willing to bend the truth or just plain lie to get in front of the camera or see their names in print. When someone from the media wants to talk to you, you become more important. Sometimes, what the opportunity seekers say cannot be trusted. I have no problem with people pursuing their dreams or making some money. I do have a problem with people being dishonest to get there.
CBS and Dan Rather found out just how disastrous broad- casting something wrong can be. In the latter part of 2004, the negative side of the obsession to be first to report a story reared its ugly head. Getting the scoop or beating out the competition to get a story on the air is a boost to ratings. The bigger the story, the bigger the reward; but one mistake and one's credibility is lost and the news organizations become the news themselves. In the midst of the 2004 presidential election, CBS jumped on the bandwagon to discredit our commander in chief. Michael Moore's Bush-bashing movie Fahrenheit 911 was a blockbuster at the theaters, and books were being published that cast a disfavoring light on the Vietnam service of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. It seemed that the ratings would improve if some dirt could be pulled up on either of the candidates' military records.
60 Minutes and its spin-offs are considered the mothers of "reliable" reporting. Therefore, when Rather reported on September 8, 2004, that he had documents and interviews providing incontrovertible evidence that George W. Bush had received special treatment and did not complete his service in the Texas Air National Guard because of family political connections, people believed it to be true. The next day, all hell broke loose.
Other media giants and several watchdog groups attacked CBS and Rather, refuting the credibility of the interviews and the documents the report was taken from. But Rather stood his ground and was adamant at times, arrogantly dismissing all accusations. Some call CBS's stand a cover-up, others just poor judgment. Whatever you want to call it, it lasted about a week and ended with a public apology from Rather. CBS had to come clean and admit that the documents used in the report to discredit the president's military career were most likely false. The media had turned on one of its own, and CBS appointed an independent panel to figure out just what went wrong.
It was a good show on CBS's part. They brought in some big hitters like Richard Thornburgh, former attorney general for presidents Reagan and Senior Bush. After months of speculation from everyone in the media, CBS announced, in a press release of all things, that they fired four top executives to whom they assigned the blame. Rather announced he would be stepping down from the anchor desk. CBS turned out a little tarnished, the news media overall is a little less trusted, and the ratings war continues full steam ahead.
One of the four executives forced to leave CBS was a top news journalist and someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. Betsy West was responsible for bringing me into ABC years ago. She is one of the most professional people I know and has always been well respected in the business. I learned a great deal from her on how to present stories that were fair and accurate. I am certain that Betsy was a victim of circumstances and had to take the fall with the others. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the business -- a career of great journalism and integrity washed away by the overzealous drive of others to get a story on the air.
Ratings don't improve if you're the second to report something significant. You cannot brag in commercials that you were almost first to bring your viewers an important news development. CBS and Rather should have been more careful, but the nature of the business brings with it the inherent risk that something that is not really news, but a myth, will be reported. The cruel part for Rather is that his brilliant career will be overshadowed by this mistake. To add insult to injury, Walter Cronkite was quoted weeks before Rather's departure as saying that "Rather was not my choice for taking over the evening news at CBS." Cronkite viewed Rather as more of a newsman, whose main priority is to get a story on air, than a third-party reporter, who is objective. Cronkite also said later that he couldn't figure out how Rather kept his job as long as he did. CBS lost credibility, but, right or wrong, they also got some publicity, which could conceivably help the ratings in the long run.
Spinning stories is another risky way the networks battle over the ratings. Some think to put a spin on a story is to make it something it is not. It's not that simple. No one knows who was the first to use the term, or when it became part of the media vocabulary, but it has become a very real part of the business. Spin makes a story seem more important than it is, or allows a reporter to speculate to the point where nonfiction comes dangerously close to fiction -- anything to add more life to the news piece that will keep viewers tuned in and wanting more information. I'm sure the term comes from the toy that was popular before video games and remote-control cars took over our children's imagination. A pull of a string and the top took on a life of its own. The energy would send the plaything across a surface, and it would continue to capture the imagination until all of the energy was used up.
Today's media has to use spin to stay competitive in the ratings game, and it has learned how pull the strings. Just like the toy, the harder the spin, the more unpredictable the story becomes. I look for stories that can be spun to stay competitive, but I must also be certain that all the information can be proven true, or at least not proven untrue. To complicate matters further, I also have to decide between what is newsworthy and the public's right to know, and what is better left out. This is where I have to go out on a limb. As important as it is for the networks to report the news, for me it is just as important that the people who come to me with their stories be protected from the media and the spin they put on many of the stories. Some are of the opinion that the public has the right to know everything about anyone who is in the public eye. Others feel that there are boundaries as to what should be broadcast. I operate somewhere between those two positions, and they are always subject to change. It is not the stuff with which popularity contests are won.
In February 1997, I procured the story of Dick Morris, an advisor to Bill Clinton for his presidential campaigns. The events that transpired over the next few months blurred the line for me as newsman and human being. Dick found himself right smack in the middle of a controversy that was tearing his family apart. Bill Clinton's lack of self-control when it came to women was fast becoming the easiest story for the media to spin into big ratings. Even before anyone heard of Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's extramarital affairs were a mainstay of the nightly news. Then Dick Morris's private life was exposed, and his family had to endure the media's microscope as they reported on his extramarital indiscretions. Some would say that the public had every right to know about the private lives of the Morris family, given his relationship with the commander in chief. Others would say it is really no one else's business outside of the family. In any event, I found myself making the decision for the public as to what was really important for them to know. I chose to help a family rebuild.
I did everything I could by calling in some favors to protect the Morris family and keep the problems out of the media. I was not entirely successful. They were trying to save their marriage, and it was obvious that the added pressure of the media scrutiny would make that impossible. I had witnessed firsthand what media attention can do to people long after reporters have stopped chasing them and the story itself became a distant memory, and I take the responsibility of protecting lives from needless harm seriously. The networks will always feel it is important to put the spin on their material. I will always feel it is just as important that the people who come to me with their information be protected from the media, which have a tendency to jump to conclusions. I am sure there will be many who disagree, even dislike me for taking this position; but I gave up on the popularity contest long ago.
Dick Morris received counseling and his marriage was rebuilt. He published Behind the Oval Office in 1998, chronicling his experiences at the White House with very little spin -- and without attacking his associates. The book was a success. I worked with Dick and his lovely wife. We became friends when he came to Los Angeles. I have Dick's autographed book cover and statement to my son encased with a shirt from Clinton and a pen from the White house in a shadow box in my war room. Dick wrote, "When you turn 50, I will run your campaign for President." The inscription was kind of a kick for my son, but also very inspirational.
There are no college degrees for what I do, and the only way to learn the skills needed to be successful is to do it. I didn't grow up wanting to be the guy who brings the sensational stories to the news. I wanted to be an actor. After eight years of being a successful stockbroker on Wall Street, I decided to pursue my dream, so I packed up and moved to California.
I had a good start. In New York, I studied with Lee Strasberg, who is known as the best acting coach in the world. He taught method acting, and it helped me procure a recurring role on the soap Santa Barbara. I also played opposite Nick Nolte in the movie Mulholland Falls. As my success grew, so did my understanding and love of the industry, but things changed suddenly. In 1994 after seventeen years of marriage, I went through a heart-breaking divorce and found myself a single dad with three young children to take care of. The pressures of going to auditions and casting calls and still making sure the kids were to school on time forced me to rethink my strategy. So, I looked into the producing side of films and TV shows and forgot about being a star. I quickly found that I enjoyed working with the true stories, and I found inspiration in them. The public feels the same way, which made them a much easier sell. The producing was a natural; I could work from home and still fulfill my responsibilities as a father.
In the early 1980s, I got the rights to do a story on March of Dimes poster girl Tracy Taylor. This young lady was incredible. Despite her disability, she was an accomplished snow skier, gymnast, and horseback rider. I entitled her story "A Child of Joy." It caught the attention of People magazine and the publication did a story on her. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was invited to partner with the Dick Clark Film Group. I was in awe. Growing up, I had combed my hair like Dick Clark of American Bandstand, and now my office was on the same floor as his. I was so hell-bent on making a good impression that I started moving my things into my office very early in the morning so I could get a fast start. I was a bundle of nerves as I rounded the corner toward my office. It looked like a janitor was on his hands and knees cleaning up a spill, and he was blocking the path to my office. I nervously asked the guy, "Do you mind getting out of the way? I have to move in so I can get to work."
A familiar face looked up at me and said, "Sure, no problem, kid." I wanted to die. It was my boss, Dick Clark. He had also come in the office early that day and had brought his Weimaraner, who had marked his territory at the door to my office. I had a flashback at that moment of being in the East School Elementary play Around The World in 80 Days in Long Beach, New York. I played Monsieur Le Bleu, and I said my two lines as classmates pulled a giant balloon across the stage. The audience stood applauding, and a friend of mine came onto the stage and said something I would never forget: "Larry, someday you will be a star." I think he had it backward, because that classmate was Billy Crystal. As I looked at Dick, I felt the same elation of pride and achievement and wondered if perhaps Billy had some insight for the both of us.
I learned more on the job with Dick Clark's company in a week than I had in months on my own. In my first week, I got my first mention on the front page of Variety, a trade paper that reports on the industry. "Garrison Moves From Quoting Stocks to Producing TV/Film" was the title of the article that neglected to mention either my success as an actor or all the years it took to get to that point. Sometimes good situations were hard to come by, no matter how hard I worked, but once in a while they just fell in my lap. I owned the rights to part of the story on the Lindbergh kidnapping. Richard Hauptmann's ninety-four-year-old widow, Anna, was willing to tell how Richard was innocent and reveal the facts on "The Crime of the Century." One day, some producer named Bill Self called me and said he was very interested in partnering with me on it, an offer I immediately declined. I remember asking him, "Why in the world would I want to partner with you?" He laughed and told me it might be a good idea to ask my boss about it.
Later that morning, I was in Dick Clark's office going over some of the projects we had in development and I mentioned the call. "My God, that is the grandfather of the industry!" Dick said wide-eyed. "That guy is president of CBS Theatrical." After some back-pedaling with Dick and a humbling phone call to Bill, I had a new partner for the film, and my career took a sudden turn for the better.
I can't tell the exact moment that my attention switched from the development of entertainment programs to the news side of the business, but the pairing of the two is a natural. By being a producer, I can give my clients something the networks could never dream of offering, a big paycheck. I also realized that I could be more effective as an independent producer, so I left the Dick Clark Film Group after a year and went independent. It was easier to procure the rights to stories and hype them in the news, so networks and studios would come to me, rather than the other way around. Later in my career, I affiliated myself with MTM, Mary Tyler Moore's company, as an executive producer with offices, but again I realized that being independent is the only way to go.
Some news shows will pay a few grand, or much more, for a picture or video that will entice someone to go on-screen and spill their guts for the nation to see. But if the story is credible and big enough, I can beat them out and offer the possibility of changing that same person's standard of living. Of course, not all of the stories that come to me have the potential of becoming a movie or a book. Most of the stories that warrant such exposure are often taken away by my worst enemy, public domain -- a producer doing the story without owning the rights. The only way I have to protect my clients is by controlling their news rights and maintaining independence from the news agencies. This way, I control the spin on a story and how it is released to the public. It is a game of telephone. The people who represent the news shows know exactly what I am doing and would love to keep me out of the picture; but when I secure the news rights, they have no choice but to work with me. I now enjoy a reputation for being good at what I do. Ironically, the competition often calls me on slow news days and asks, "Hey, Larry, do you have any good stuff we can use right now?"
At this stage of my life, it's not the money that is important, it's the person. I have made and lost money in this crazy business, but it is the people and their incredible stories that stick with me. Most of my clients are normal folks who get caught up in extraordinary circumstances, and in many cases find themselves at risk simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They didn't want to have their lives become part of the media circus, but they do want to avoid the limelight. I have learned that if I put them first, the success will follow. By protecting my clients from the media monster, I can preserve their lives and still bring stories to the media that the public wants to see.
Although money is important, it can't be the priority. This belief makes me better at what I do. Many of the people who come to me with their stories also have a spiritual investment in the situations they find themselves in, and I always look for those. It always pays off in ways money never could, and I respect the people who are not afraid to take a stand for the right reasons. I take care of my clients, and a trust is built that allows the truth to come out -- then the real story can be told to you. That is what my job is really all about, making sure that the real story can be told. I find the people with the stories, lock up their news rights, get some media play, help them make a few bucks, if possible get a movie or book deal for them, go on to the next story. On the surface it sounds simple enough, but it's really not that easy.
After the endless, traffic-laden drive, I pull my car up to the guarded gate of the community I live in. A new guard pokes his head out of the guardhouse. He smiles as he sees my license plate, "MOVIE TV." I'm never really sure what people think when they first see it, but it is fun nevertheless. He presses the button that opens the twenty-foot steel gates that act as a barrier between community residents and the rest of the world. Off to the left is a lake, and the glare is so bright off the water from the afternoon sun that I have to squint even though I'm wearing sunglasses. The homes in my neighborhood are stunning; oversized pillars emphasize the power of the residents who live behind them. Most of the homes are modern, but it's apparent that big bucks have been spent to give them the feel of old money. They are all custom, no two are alike, but they do share the air of affluence. A quick turn into my driveway and there is my house, the little David that sits among the Goliaths. My little cabin built in 1950 is hardly worthy of being guest quarters for some of the homes that surround it, but I love it. I am here right in the middle of what I cover with the news stories, but it is still my escape.
Just over the trees in my backyard, you can almost see the home I sold a couple of years ago. I never look over there. I stop and make funny noises at my pet squirrels as they run around their open ten-by-ten cage in my backyard. On the other side of my house is the chicken coop. Every morning I go and collect the eggs and feed the chickens. I am fairly certain I have the only chicken coop in my neighborhood. On the inside, my home is modest, but it does have some outstanding features. Throughout the two-thousand-square-foot, three-bedroom-one bath cabin you can see expensive paintings on the walls, Tiffany and Lalique sitting next to old-fashioned bearskin rugs that were a gift, and a dog pen.
My cabin does not give the impression that a producer lives here. In fact, the only feeling a guest would get is that the owner has not yet made up his mind on what theme to use in decorating his abode. Throughout the house are pleasant memories of my family. There are pictures of my son, Sean, my seventeenyear- old, who is an avid photographer. My daughter Jaime is my oldest child. She is a massage therapist that works on celebrities and the public. She has strong sense of what is really real in the world. Four years ago she made me a grandfather, a feeling that is indescribable. Lindsay's picture is there, too. My younger daughter is a mix between a successful makeup artist, a genius with FX, and the next Max Factor makeup creator. She is simply a kick.
One of the small bedrooms could be called the war room. The walls are filled with reminders of my career in breaking the news and fueling the ratings war. There are pictures of senators, presidents, famous people, and some shots of people that would be recognizable only to people in the industry. In every case, a picture has a story worth a lot more than a thousand words. These mementoes are a tribute to the accomplishments of a survivor who learned to handle the pressures of this business and still come out in one piece, for the most part. Every one of these reminds me how crazy the world of the news really is, from gifts sent by presidents -- in this case a polo shirt from the oval office to thank me for showing my discretion by not reporting the antics that only a president can get away with -- to letters thanking me for helping the writers through a difficult time. Off in the corner there is an oddlooking porcelain figure, the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime of 2002 for Son of a Grifter. The ugly little statue could easily be mistaken for a fifth-grade art class project. It serves as a reminder of an incredible story, which was made into a movie staring Mary Tyler Moore and established a valued friendship with Kent Walker. Kent was not only one of the recipients of this award, he lived the story and survived.
Right above the odd-looking figure is a window box containing some military dog tags under a cover of Time magazine featuring Michael Durant. His story of survival as a prisoner in Somalia and how the political process really works still inspires me. His story would later be told to some degree in the movie Black Hawk Down. I will save this one for later, though.
On my desk are some postcards and many diaries that belonged to Bonny Lee Bakley. Her best friend is one of my clients and has entrusted the care of these belongings to me. Within the pages of the personal notes, a far different story is told from the grave of Robert Blake's murdered wife than you see on the channels that covered his murder and civil trials. The letter from Linda Tripp and the pictures of Paula Jones's wannabe actor ex-husband, who would spill it all for a possible acting role, adorn a small spot.
An original photo of Jack Ruby, given to me with a theory to solve the assassination of JFK by Melvin Belli, "The King of Torts," is a one a of kind.
Every picture and object in the room has a story to tell, and none of the stories would be what is expected, but then that is how it works in my world. There is even a blank space that has a story, above the Time magazine cover with Michael Durant. I had cleared that little area for a recent project I thought was going to be the crowning achievement of my career, but it turned out to be just like the space on my wall. Empty.
I look at the cover of our New York Times bestselling book, Aruba: The Tragic Untold Story of Natalee Holloway and corruption in Paradise, that I coauthored with Natalee's father, Dave Holloway, and my sister, R. Stephanie Good. I reflect on bringing Joran van der Sloot and his family to New York for an ABC Primetime interview, and I work to keep the story alive for Natalee to be found.
As I sit back in my old chair in the middle of the war room, I am thankful that the phones that are usually ringing off the hook with people on the other end of the line telling me they have the next "Oh, my God" story of the decade are quiet. It does take a lot out of a person, but when people start to understand the hows, they start to understand the whys. Here, in this room, I am surrounded by the evidence that I fought for the truth and in many cases succeeded. Then there are the ones where things didn't work out the way I thought they would. In any event, there is always the story behind the story, the spin if you will.
I sit back in my chair and think about my work. There have been so many news pieces over the years, it is hard to know where to begin. Another one of those job descriptions/ labels comes to mind. I am also called a storyteller, and I do have many stories to tell.