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People think journalism is easy. It isn’t. It’s very, very hard. 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; 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. 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, 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. 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 Ciara 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 below the opening 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. 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, 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. 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, I’d completely forgotten about the Brooks family’s soiree. EXIT THE DUKE-STIR But the next day, Randy “Duke” Cunningham finally came clean. 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. I wanted to emphasize the fact that $2.4 million in bribes is what he admits to. I put “from defense contractors” in italics for the same reason I put “admits” in italics. Because print media does not provide a way to shout other than italics, and I think those words should be shouted. For crying out loud, folks, we’re talking about defense contractors making the news twice in a week � a single week � for having more disposable cash than the Sultan of Brunei. Forget 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. 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. Visitors to his home saw furnishings that 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.” 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 � seems to have noticed. 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. POUNDING THE REMOTE CONTROL 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, always research, 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 eighth-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 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 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 to their cousin’s garage or a bankrupt antiques shop or a 99-cent 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 in exchange for the $20 billion, top-secret Hawkeye Veeblefetzer contract. 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. 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. 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 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 two stories out of parking garages. Do what I did: Watch a lot of television.
William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. This article previously appeared in The Recorder , an ALM publication in San Francisco.

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