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People think journalism is easy. It isn’t. It’s very, very hard. You think Judith Miller just called the White House and said, “You got any CIA agents you want me to out?” Of course not. She had to make several calls � maybe as many as a dozen � before she could locate someone willing to do that. Woodward and Bernstein. You think they just got out of the car and Deep Throat was standing in the space next to them? Not by a long shot. They trolled underground parking garages for years, looking for a story. Everyone told them they were crazy � there were no stories in underground parking garages. But there they were, every night, waiting for a deputy director of something or other to wander through and make history. And my big breakthrough required the same kind of dedication. Pulitzers don’t just walk into your office.[ 1] You have to get out there and dig for the story. In my case I had to dig through the trash because my wife had mistakenly thrown out the paper before I got to the news portions.[ 2] That was where I read about David Brooks. David Brooks is a rich guy who lives on Long Island. He recently threw a bat mitzvah for his daughter Elizabeth. This would not have been news,[ 3] but he spent $10 million on it, and spending $10 million on anything other than a NASA hammer gets you ink. Which, coincidentally, is how David Brooks became a rich guy. He’s a defense contractor. He sells stuff to the government for the Army and the Navy and like that. Apparently selling to the government is not like working for the government. Apparently there’s money in it. So much money that when you have a party for your kid, you hire the Eagles and Aerosmith and Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac and rap diva Ciara[ 4] and 50 Cent. Honest. That’s who performed. I hope they had money left over for sandwiches. Kenny G, who’s only won � what, 100? � Grammys, was relegated belowopening act, to serenading guests at the door.When Kenny G doesn’t even merit the stage, it’s quite a party. Kids attending received thousand-dollar goody bags that included iPods and digital cameras. This was necessary because they weren’t sure the most star-studded concert of the century would be enough to lure the other 13-year-olds to Elizabeth’s party.[ 5] But what struck me about this, what caused my journalistic antennae, finely honed by two years on my high school paper and a half-dozen sports stories written in college, to quiver[ 6], was the fact that a guy who made his living selling stuff to soldiers had $10 million to blow on a bat mitzvah. I don’t know. Call me a dinosaur. I think the profit margin on Kevlar vests and rifles for our Marines should not be that big. I think if you’re building submarines, you shouldn’t be skimping on steel. I think a decent profit from selling gyroscopes to your country’s Air Force should maybe not provide you with the kind of opulence we usually associate with oil emirates and the owners of Wal-Mart. You wanna sell cut-rate stereos, I say go for it. You wanna make schlock movies or gobble steroids before your games, knock yourself out. You wanna make a gazillion dollars following Mencken’s Law[ 7], I say good for you. But selling stuff to soldiers and sailors should not leave you with $10 million for a bat mitzvah. My journalistic instincts were so atwitter over all this that I lay down to watch the ballgame and fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it was the third quarter and I’d completely forgotten about the Brooks family’s soiree. But the next day, Randy “Duke” Cunningham finally came clean. Duke Cunningham is the erstwhile San Diego congressman who confessed � confessed� to accepting $2.4 million in bribes FROM DEFENSE CONTRACTORS. I italicized the word “confessed” in that sentence because my experience as a prosecutor was that the burglar who admitted the charged crimes often had difficulty remembering which ones they were because he got them confused with the ones he wasn’t confessing to. I suspect bribe-takers may suffer from the same memory impairment, so the $2.4 million Cunningham admitted to might be give-or-take a bat mitzvah or two. I wanted to emphasize the fact that $2.4 million in bribes is what he ADMITS to. I put “from defense contractors” in caps for the same reason I put “admits” in caps. Because print media does not provide a way to shout, other than caps, and I think those words should be shouted. For crying out loud, folks, we’re talking about two defense contractors who made the news in a week � a single week � for having more disposable cash than the Sultan of Brunei.
Forget Randy Cunningham for a moment. I know this will be difficult because the facts are spectacular. The guy was an ex-fighter pilot who retired from the Navy in 1987 and was elected to Congress in 1990, so he was a guy who had spent most of his working life in the public sector, and I assume his biggest salary was the $162,100 a year he made as a Congressman.[ 8] Yet he lived in an 8,000-square-foot mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, a community so exclusive Kenny G plays at the gates each evening for the benefit of returning homeowners. He drove a Rolls Royce. When in Washington he lived on a 34-ton yacht called the Duke-Stir.[ 9] Visitors to his home saw furnishings which included “silver candelabras, antique armoires, Persian carpets and custom oak and leaded-glass doors worth more than $50,000, … and a 19th-century commode, valued at $7,200.” I have also spent my life toiling in the public vineyards.[ 10] Yet I have never owned a piece of furniture � not even newfurniture � worth $7,200. If you put $50,000 doors on my house, I would pry them off and run them down the hill to the consignment store so fast I’d melt the asphalt. And, say what you will about my Prius, it will never need the $19,700 in Rolls Royce repairs that Cunningham took as a bribe.[ 11] In short, this guy was living like Shaquille O’Neal and NO ONE, not his fellow congresspeople, not the FBI, not the San Diego police � nobodyseems to have noticed. If we can’t ferret out a corrupt congressman under those circumstances, I think you know what our chances are of finding out who killed Jon Benet Ramsey and Nicole Simpson. But forget that for a moment. Forget the elephant in the corner. You wanted to know how all this led to the insight that won me the Pulitzer and made me the journalistic icon I am today. Well, after reading about David Brooks and Duke Cunningham, I began researching. This is to say, I turned on PBS. I mean, PBS is like alwaysresearch, right? Work the syllogism with me, folks. Why do you do research? To learn stuff you don’t know. Why do you watch PBS? To learn stuff you don’t know. Ergo, PBS is research. Try to keep up here, people. Anyway, I turned on PBS and what did I find? “Antiques Roadshow.” You know “Antiques Roadshow,” right? Everybody goes down to the basement or up to the attic or over to Grandma’s house and digs out the oldest, ugliest, stupidest looking thing they can find. Then they take it to the “experts” hired by PBS, who miraculously identify it as a genuine von Hofflepopper vase, or Picasso’s 8th grade art project, or the kindling left over from a chair William Howard Taft once sat in, or some such thing that’s worth, mirabile dictu, three trashbags full of cash. I’ve spent years watching this show and shouting at the television. “$50,000? $50,000?! Somebody would spend $50,000 for that painting?! It’s smaller than a Polaroid. And less focused. The guy found it in his garage. It’s dank and dark and badly framed. I wouldn’t use it as a coaster. Who would pay $50,000 for that?!” And suddenly, the light dawned. Defense contractors. That’s who. The rest, of course, is history. After my story, the search warrants were easy. The U. S. attorney used the story about Brooks’ bat mitzvah as the affidavit and, based on that alone, six different federal judges found overwhelming probable cause to search the home of every defense contractor in America. Once inside, federal agents found the documentation proving PBS had been laundering money for defense contractors for years. It was easy, really. The contractors would just go their cousin’s garage or a bankrupt antique shop or a 99¢ store, pick out some cheesy stuff, and then send a stooge to “Antiques Roadshow.” PBS, informed who the stooges were and what they were bringing, would put an inflated value on whatever they brought, and the defense contractors would then pass the junk on to congressmen � “This is it, Duke; this is the one your wife saw on TV last week” � in exchange for the $20 billion, top-secret Hawkeye Veeblefetzer contract. Voila: multimillion-dollar bat mitzvahs and the most popular show on PBS. A classic case of, “You scratch my back …”
I was pleased to have been of help, but really, they made way too much fuss over it. Sure, it was a big story. Sure, it was bigger than Watergate. Sure it was bigger than Monica. Sure it was bigger than Katie Holmes’ pregnancy. And I guess everybody’s right when they say it has probably brought us a lot closer to world peace. But, hey, I’m a public servant. I was happy to do my part. The Pulitzer people were very nice � it was especially considerate of them to change the date of the ceremony so I could take in a Cardinals game. And modesty forbids me agreeing with little Hannah Pulitzer who thought mine was “the most coolest Pulitzer in the whole history of Pulitzers.” I just hope I can be an inspiration to others who might not think themselves capable of the really big story. It’s out there. Really, it is. And, in answer to the thousands of aspiring young journalists who have asked my advice, I offer this: Stay out of parking garages. Really. Woodward and Bernstein were lucky; you can’t expect twostories out of parking garages. Do what I did: Watch a lot of television. Contributing writer William W. Bedsworthis an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can read more columns like this in “A Criminal Waste of Time,” a book fromThe Recorder featuring more than 30 of the best columns from Justice Bedsworth. Order by calling( 800) 587-9288 or by going to www.lawcatalog.com/ bedsworth.
Footnotes [ 1] Although Milt Policzer used to come by every now and again — which is pretty close. [ 2] It wasn’t her fault. The winter baseball meetings were going on and I was running a few days late on lesser matters like Iraq and the Supreme Court vacancy and global pandemics and such. She had no way of knowing. [ 3] “Jewish Family Celebrates Bat Mitzvah” does not sell papers. Trust me on this. I’m a heavily decorated journalist (journalism awards come in the form of plaques; it doesn’t take much to be “heavily” decorated); I know whereof I speak. [ 4] This was the only act I didn’t recognize. I thought it was a remedy for erectile dysfunction. [ 5] I can only assume Elizabeth is not the most charming kid on the block. Although it may just be that the Eagles and Tom Petty aren’t that big a draw with the middle-school set. [ 6] Actually, I think “honing” antennae would probably be painful and would likely lessen their ability to function, but I’m on deadline here; we journalists seldom have a great deal of time to refine our metaphors. Work with me, people. [ 7] “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people.” H.L. Mencken. [ 8] Although, in fairness, I don’t know how much he made during his year as a swimming coach. [ 9] I understand they’re repainting the boat now to change the hyphen to an equal sign. [ 10] “… toiling in the public vineyards.” That’s why you hire a professional. That’s some writing, that is. [ 11] Corruption is not all it used to be. Raise your hand if you’ve ever put $20,000 into repairing a car.

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