Ernest Hemingway famously said that “the most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.” He was talking about the novelist, I suppose. But his dictum applies to the investigative journalist, in spades. It is the born reporter who insistently, even masochistically, clings to the notion that things are not what they outwardly seem and pursues the hidden truth in any situation even when other people prefer to ignore it. For most people this simply is not normal human activity.
Imagine discovering that a paid FBI informant may have actually killed a
civil rights worker during one of the most famous civil rights marches
in U.S. history? Or that a top county public school official had put 23
of his relatives on the payroll, sexually harassed female employees and
separately had informed the parents of handicapped students that their
children couldn’t attend school. Or uncovering the fact that the most
famous divorce lawyer in America had been literally raping his clients.
Or that the (then) biggest savings and loan fraud in the U.S. was
actually an inside job, in which a banker had allowed his financial
institution to be defrauded as he received millions of dollars from the
perpetrators. Or that a presidential campaign co-chairman had helped
teach white supremacist groups how to develop a militia capacity. In
Washington, D.C., especially in Washington D.C., an investigative
reporter’s shit detector must be mighty.