Friday, May 20, 2016

From In the Closet to Activist

"It was a person, kind of like my husband," Allison Votaw begins, raw but composed, "but it wasn't my husband," she continues,"He was gone," her eyes glistening with tears, "he was right there in front of me in female form but he was gone," the tears gently, carelessly, streak down her cheeks.  I quickly snatch a small puddle of water from the corner of my eye seconds before it escapes.  I made it look as if a small, unseen mosquito had buzzed past my eyelash, and I was simply, and in a masculine way, telling him to literally buzz off.  Allison was talking about her husband Jeremy.

The Votaw's were married in 2000

For 13 years in their marriage he had lived life as a man and as a husband, but on a frigid evening in their home outside of Denver Colorado, Jeremy decided to let his wife see, what he had been hiding from her, and everyone else for the last 30 years.  He showed her Corinne, and, as any good Mormon wife would be, she was crushed.

Jeremy, who is transgender, had decided that he would live his life as a woman for a year, he even had his name and sex legally changed.  The decision destroyed the marriage, he moved out, leaving behind Allison and their three children to undertake an unfathomable journey.  After time as Corinne, and a year of discrimination, Jeremy found his equilibrium, and came home, remarried his sweetheart, and began living life as gender fluid: masculine sometimes, feminine others.  

The Votaw's story is one of the most touching, powerful and raw news story I had ever been part of.  I was fascinated, of course by the titillating aspects.  How could someone just up and become a woman.  How could his wife have him back and trust him.  Would she pace the floor and swallow Xanex when his cellphone went unanswered while on business trips?  Would she fret that he was out at some bar, dressed as his alter ego, in a halter and high heels?  Allison became the heart of the 5 minute story we aired about the Votaw's on Wednesday.  Her honesty was brutal.  Watching her talk about how she felt like she was "not woman enough" because Jeremy was so feminine hurt to be a part of.  It was painful to sit across from a virtual stranger and have her talk about doubting her very essence, while tears mingled with her mascara and dribbled down her cheeks.

What struck me during our 5 hours with the Votaw's and their family is just how accepting, ironically, Allison was with her new, completely unexpected life, and how Jeremy was the one who seemed more reluctant to talk about his powerful, strange, jumbled, bumpy transition.  "Why are you so reluctant to talk about this?" I finally pressed, after Jeremy spoke in only platitudes, and statistics for the previous 40 minutes of our interview.  He admitted, "my family will see this, my church will see this,"  I think he also understood that the transgender lifestyle is that last frontier in the LGBTQ civil rights movement.  He is one of the first to speak out, and I think he felt great pressure, to "do right" by his community.  
Jeremy Votaw lived for a year as a woman 

As I stood behind Jeremy and Allison scrolling through pictures of Corinne, the two were trying to decide which pictures they would be willing to share with us for our story.  Allison was funny and relaxed, "oh, give them that one, it shows cleavage" she cackled.  

In Jeremy's closet he fingers his silk ties, the ones he wears to church, then he reluctantly shows us a pair of women's flats that he pulls on during "girls" night.  I make a bold observation, but I felt, given my time in their home, that I had an obligation to say it, "you know what?" I turn to both Allison and Jeremy, "Allison, you are actually more comfortable with this than he is."  Jeremy stood, quietly for several seconds before responding, "you're right, you're absolutely right."

As early as age 4 Jeremy knew he liked feminine things
For 30 years, he stuffed away this feminine side.  He'd been told he was evil, an aberration, and a perversion, and now even though he was "out" and living honestly for the first time, he wasn't completely "out." While Allison, with some exceptions, has accepted her husband, both masculine and feminine, Jeremy still seems to struggle with "playing the roles," as he said during our interview.  I felt like he opened yet another door, and was empowered.  

Why wouldn't he be reluctant "to tell it all?" The Facebook comments I've read following the airing of the story have been beautiful and accepting in many cases, and appalling in others.  The things people say, crouched in the dark, hunched, shirtless over a flickering laptop, makes me want to take a shower with turpentine.   

He reached out to me the night the story posted on line, and was eager for me to make sure the link to his website was working, so trans teenagers could get in touch with him if need be, for support.  I felt then, that maybe my words struck a cord.

I spoke with him today via text, he says dozens of people have reached out to him, they are telling him they they are thankful for his honestly, his bravery, and for letting other transgender people know, they are not alone.  He told me during the interview he was a husband, a father, male and female.  After this story, he may very well add, confident activist to that list as well.   

Saturday, June 27, 2015


The bowels of the George County Mississippi jail are as soul crushing as you might expect them to be.  The small box with 4 or 5 smaller cells, has the stiff smell of urine poorly masked by an equally nauseating hint of bleach.
George County Court House and Jail

I was actually pretty shocked that Sheriff George Miller Sr. was willing to let me check it out in the first place, "Can I go in?" I asked the grey haired, potbellied lawman a few minutes after we'd interviewed him about a local minister arrested for sexually abusing several young parishioners.   Miller, who had  an odd habit of blinking very hard and rapidly when talking. blinked even harder and faster when he was thinking.  "I s'pect," he nodded," and pulled what looked like a skeleton key out of his brown polyester trousers.  As the rusting, heavy metal door labored open, the hinges let out a painful moan, that summoned the handful of prisoners to life, each peering though a small 8 by 12 inch window, slatted with imposing iron bars.  "Don't get too 'cited boys, lunch still an hour off," the Sheriff blinked and twirled his heavy ring of keys on his index finger, looking in corners for contraband
George County Sheriff Miller

The well worn concrete floor, likely laid when the building was construction in 1910, had a slight groove pressed into it, a path that lead from the door of the jail to the cells inside.  I could imagine deputies guiding and wrestling drunken inmates in and out of the sad little boxes, bringing bologna sandwiches on white bread for lunch as the prisoners pleads with his captor, who, in this rural county,  he likely knew from high school,' Daryl, you gonna call my mamma," he might scream, "tell 'er to come get me."

The eyes of the all black jail population, in holdings cells of this predominantly white county, peered out of their sad boxes, "we treat ya'll good in here don't we boys?" the sheriff asked with plantation boss confidence, as he jangled his keys to his side, "yes su," the weary men answered unconvincingly.  

The Moss Point jail was equally as depressing, but lacked the brawny quality of construction of the antebellum George county lock-up.  The exposed PVC pipe dripped dirty water onto the cold crumbling concrete floor.  As you entered the Moss Point jail, the walls were not brick and iron, but simple, cheap Sheetrock, that, were long ago, punctured in places by a rage filled fist or a angrily flung plastic lunch tray.   The old holes in the new walls were there to stay, violent markers in time, never to be patched up.  Oddly the putrid mix of urine and Clorox that I breathed in in George County was ever present inside this jail.  

Moss Point Police Patch
It was in the Moss Point jail that Marcus Malone, a black man, died.  The arresting officers assured everyone; the press, the courts, the Jackson County DA that Malone was alive the muggy night he was arrested on McCall Street for traffic violations and drug charges by 4 white officers.  " "I believe my officers acted appropriately," Chief Butch Gager told me in the parking lot of the Moss Point police department.  Gager never really wanted to be chief, he only took the job because the man who had it before him had to quit when the state pulled his law enforcement licence for incompetence.  Gager, a burly good ol' boy was a street cop, not an administrator, or a leader and his handling of the Malone case would prove.

The cops said Malone died of a drug overdose overnight during his stay at the jail, but 2 inmates told state investigators, that wasn't true, "When they dropped that man on the ground face first, even if he was overdosing, he would of grunted or something," inmate Kenneth Turner said, "He had no reaction at all."

That's how I ended up seeking shade under a Magnolia tree as a monstrous yellow backhoe, began burrowing into the ground at the Moss Point Cemetery.  Ripping the soft, silent Kentucky Bluegrass from the ground and carelessly tossing it to the side.  Malone's body was exhumed at the families request, and another autopsy suggested Malone had been beaten and strangled to death.

After the body was removed from the earth, I found myself standing in the driveway of Malone's mother's home.  The stately woman was exhausted, and weary.  "I just miss my baby," she shook her head, eyes welling up, like they had most every day for the last year.  "I doubt we'll ever get justice." she said as she shifted the strap of her heavy purse from one shoulder to the next, "That's Mississippi," she breathed with sad acceptance.

After federal investigators prodded the state, it appeared, for a moment anyway, that Mrs. Malone may just get that justice.  Three of the 4 officers were indicted and tried.  Officer Steve Strickler who admitted grabbing Malone's chest, "for a second" was acquitted.  The charges against the 2 others dropped.  

I had left Mississippi for my new job at a another TV station here in Utah. by the time the case played out, but when I  read the reports out of my old stomping grounds, I thought about those sad inmates in the George county jail nodding wearily and frightfully when asked by the sheriff, if they "were treated alright." and I could only imagine Malone's mother the day the officer was cleared, burying her face into her hands and mumbling "That's Mississippi."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mississippi Lessons

(Reporter's Note: My time as a reporter in Mississippi was a great learning experience for me and many of the people I met abhorred racism, this is about the ones who didn't)

"Mayor Polk can't be here this morning, apparently he ate too many watermelons," joked the owner of one of Jackson County's largest auto dealerships, as he held a microphone announcing the beginning the Pascagoula kids parade.  The car salesman was talking about Ira Polk, the recently hospitalized black mayor of Moss Point, Mississippi, a rugged little gulf coast town with a population that is about 70 percent African American.

Mayor Ira Polk
I stood under the towering oak tree, enveloped in the oppressive humidity, saddled with my heavy TV camera, and trapped by a web of black cables.  The armpits and neckline of my buttoned down shirt filled, every second with a measurable saturation of ever increasing sweat lines.  My eyes floated from one white face to another as each peach colored mouth in this upper middle class neighborhood, chuckled carelessly at the racist (and frankly stupid) joke.  I watched as the car huckster, started the parade, "OK Kids, let's get going!" he shouted into the mic and waved as he handed the black cylinder to someone and shuffled out from under the Magnolia tree, as little kids in cardboard boxes decorated as battleships and cars, began their slow shuffle around this well manicured neighborhood.

I awkwardly gathered up my camera, microphone, tripod and light stand, like a vacationer on the beach, trying to usher his cooler, lawn chair and umbrella off the sand before a midday rain shower floods his day.  "Can I talk to you?" I wheezed as I poked my sweaty finger at the wealthy car dealer, "Of course!" he chirped in the slow, friendly drawl I had grown to love during my time as a reporter in Mississippi during the early 90's  "Did you think that watermelon joke was funny?" I asked pointedly as I thrust my mic into his face, "uh, I..." he said caught off guard, expecting me to inquire about the how long the kids floats took to make, or if the heat would ruin the fun of the yearly  Mardi Gras tradition, "I was just pokin' fun?" he reply in a question, as I coiled up my mic cable, and headed back to my tiny office on Market street to broadcast a story about  racism in Mississippi.

As I slammed the trunk closed on the news car, and slid onto the scalding red interior of my 4 door Ford Tempo, within seconds the bag stuffed between the seats of the vehicle began to chip loudly, it was my boss on a new fangled cell phone, "Chris, I just talked to (can't remember the car dealer's name) and he says he made some off color jokes, that you might be putting on the air tonight," News Director Dave Vincent announced into the phone, "Now Chris," he continued  in his grandfatherly monotone, "I think it's pretty clear that these kind of comments happen down here, and although we can't condone them, I think broadcasting them, doesn't do any good for anyone."
Confederate Veteran's Cemetery (Beauvoir)

I'd only been in Pascagoula for a few months when I got a taste of how race and racism was treated in the South.

In Mississippi, as in much of the south, "The War Of Northern Aggression," is quietly revered around every corner.  Just 45 minutes West of Pascagoula, on Highway 90 is Beauvoir, the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.  The pristine shrine to the former head of the insurrection is a a museum honoring Davis and Confederate veterans.  The regal, plantation is dotted  with statues of Davis, a presidential library and a Confederate cemetery, often emblazoned, like a field of flowing raspberries, with blood red rebel flags.

Picture taken by MSSC, numbers indicate people on whom they spied
I remember meeting a group of black candidates for Pascagoula's city council at a small restaurant in town.  The place was actually a converted 2 bedroom house  which I don't think was properly licensed to serve food, but they did.  I remember the candidates, sitting in white plastic chairs, that you would typically find on the porch, and laughing and talking about their times marching with Martin Luther King, as the black owner of the makeshift restaurant would joke, and dish out plates of "slick'um" or boiled okra, to the candidates.  The half dozen or so men and women reminisced about their civil rights work and recent news about The Mississippi State Sovereignty Committee, a state agency founded in 1956, to counter a mounting federal push for civil rights.   The MSSC became a de facto spy agency with the purpose of keeping tabs on people in the movement for black rights, and keeping the state's anti-black Jim Crow laws in place. When the records of the agency were finally opened in 1998 it was revealed the covert agency had spied on as many as 87,000 people.  One of the agency's spies actually passed information about three civil rights workers in Philadephia, MS along to the Neshoba County Sheriff, who was later implicated in the murders of the three people.  The agency wasn't shuttered until 1977.  I was 7 years old at the time.  It still stuns me, just a few years before I turned 10 years old, the state of Mississippi was actively working to thwart racial progress.  Slavery ended 115 years ago, but efforts to keep some vestige of the institution in place, lasted into my lifetime.

Mississippi state flag
The candidates, also lamented about the Mississippi's state flag which to this day is still emblazoned with the rebel insignia.  "My great, grandpa was a slave AND he was forced to cook for rebel soldiers to defend that flag," one of the candidates, said in a ministerial baritone as he ate his pork sandwich, and ran his hand across the grey whiskers on his chin, "Every time I see it wave at the state capitol in Jackson," he said looking at his Styrofoam plate, "it hurts a little bit." he trails off as he pushes a hunk of escaped pork across his plate with a white plastic spoon.

As I sat in the small, hot converted restaurant, with a ceiling fan struggling to push the humid air around the small room, I watched the graying black man think about injustice.  I thought about the story about the racist car dealer that I never aired, and the regret I felt, but also the sad realization that in a state with a profound history of racism, my little story likely wouldn't have made much difference.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Message Recieved

"Wait, what?" I whisper, furrowing my eye brow and leaning into photographer Nick Steffens, "Did he say the chief resigned?" I ask shocked, seeking clarification. Mayor Ralph Becker had just announced the resignation of popular Police Chief Chris Burbank, over his handling of a sexual harassment scandal involving one of the chief's top leaders. 

Becker's press conference
The bombshell caught me, and pretty much everyone in Salt Lake City, off guard. Minutes after the mayor's comments, news came that the former chief would, himself, address the media regarding the shocking news.
Becker's announcement was held atop the steps of the city county building, looking down on the gaggle of reporters and camera operators who were at a safe distance at the bottom of the concrete stairs, more than a dozen feet away.  Becker, from behind a podium, read from prepared remarks, and did not take questions after turning awkwardly towards the heavy historic doors of city hall and floating back into the sandstone structure.

Burbank addresses the media.
Burbank on the other hand, dressed in his customary blue police uniform, casually sipped water as a dozen reporters and photographers too aim at his meticulously shaved head with tape recorders, cameras and cell phones.  the former chief spoke extemporaneously and took a dozens questions after his comments.

Mayor Becker has always seemed aloof, and at times even disengaged, I remember in 2010, in the wake of the Red Butte oil spill which released 800 barrels of oil, polluting the water near homes a blackening the pond at Liberty Park and coating dozens of ducks with black ooze.

The Mayor had just held a press conference at about 5 PM, and afterwards I asked the Mayor's press handler if he would appear live on our news show at 10PM that night.  "Uh," she said reluctantly, "I think he's pretty tired." I squinted my eyes, and pulled my chin in back towards my chest, "Tired?" I repeated her words back to her, in an effort to emphasis how odd they sounded, "This is the biggest disaster of his administration, surely he can find the energy to talk to the city about how the clean up is going."  "I'll check," she said with a shrug of her shoulders.  A few minutes later she returned, "Yeah, he's not going to be able to make  it."  I didn't say a word, I was stunned.
Department of Environmental Quality

Chris Burbank, seems the opposite of that.  In 2006 he was up late as the street swelled with a crowd angry residents,  after the body of kidnapping victim  Destiny Norton was found in a musty crawlspace in the apartment of her neighbor.  The large mob gathered, seething over the way the police department had handled the case.  A riot seemed imminent.  Burbank, headed out into the night and directly into the angry sea of chaotic, emotional people.  He disarmed them with understanding and charm and at the end of the evening, 2 of the people who were most instrumental in instigating the gang,  actually went on TV and APOLOGIZED to the chief for causing problems.

Burbank's image was that of an open and approachable public servant, but that openness did have its limits I always felt.  Chief Burbank was also a ferocious protector of his and his department's public image.  When I started reporting in Utah in 1999, Salt Lake City's Public Relations department under Chief Rick Dinse consisted of one or 2 people.  

Burbank addresses angry Norton crowd (SL Trib)
After he was appointed Chief 9 years ago, Burbank expanded his PR department greatly.  At last casual count, there are at least 5 in the unit, all with the goal of disseminating information, but also, it seemed, protecting the shield.

  After I'd done an unflattering story about the police department, my relationship, which had, up to that point, always been jocular and easy, changed.  A few days after my critical story aired, I called the police PR requesting to do an interview on an unrelated story, The crew sent out 2 officers, one to grant me an interview, the other to video tape my questions.  "What's this?" I asked as the officer dutifully pointed his small handheld video camera at me, "just documenting everything," he said, staring blankly and uncomfortably at the postage stamp sized screen, occasionally glancing up, then quickly diverting his eyes back to the tiny square.  I wasn't exactly sure why they were pointing the camera at me.  Maybe it was a subtle way of saying, "we have this whole interview on tape, watch how you edit it?" Or perhaps the department was telling me, "see, two can play at this game."  Either way a message, no matter how unclear it was, was being sent.

The two hastily organized press conferences called on that historic day couldn't have been more different in tone and structure, and are, in many ways symbolic, of the way the 2 men operate.  One pulls you in close, both physically and emotionally, the other keeps you at a distance, but both have the same goal: Control the message.

Monday, June 8, 2015


It's easy to understand why members of the military suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  Life in a war zone, being a front row witness to death and injury to a member of your company, or even your "enemy" can and does, understandably leaves a mark, or scar on your psyche.

Recently The National Center for PTSD released a study that suggest, journalists too regularly suffer from PTSD, almost on a daily basis.  I noticed the study on my phone for a few seconds as I waited for a public information officer to come and give me some details about a man who had run over his girlfriend during a fight.

At first I scoffed at the idea that journalists could suffer from the same issues that plague soldiers, police officers and emergency responders, then, as I stuffed my phone in my pocket, a woman, who later told me she was the victims aunt, rushed to the edge of the crime scene tape wailing, and sobbing, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"  She anguished with tears streaming from her eyes, causing pronounced black streaks to angle around her cheeks, and drop on her white blouse leaving a dark spot above her clavicle.  As she thrust her arms into the sky, asking for answers, I found myself obligated, I had to intrude into her inner pain to see if I could find any answers about what had happened.  "Tell me! Tell me!" she pleaded with me, "what do you know, please, what do you know!"  I solemnly explained to her that a man had run over a woman during an argument, and she was taken to the hospital in critical condition, "Oh God, That's my niece, Oh Lord, that's my baby!" She then ended our conversation abruptly, "I don't have nothing to say to you!"  Then a friend coddled her head against her chest, while darting a look of absolute hatred deep into my eyes, as she ushered the grieving aunt on a crooked line to the curb where the 2 sat down, and wept privately.

"All in a days work," I thought to myself, as I peered over the police tape at officers taking pictures near a pile of bloody clothes, and talking with witnesses, while dutifully scribbling details into their small notebooks.  After the news cast, as I drove silently back to the station, I thought again about the PTSD study, and realized, no matter how much I wanted to deny it, I had just been through a traumatic experience.  Clearly nothing like the victim of this horrible crime, or her aunt, stricken with a terror punctuated by a lack of details, but a trauma non-the-less.  I found myself at the edge of tragedy, cloaked by shear grief, forced to insert myself into a private moment of despair, and engulfed in the usual rampant hate of the "media."

During my 20 years career I have witnessed plenty of horrifying scenes.  The remains of a woman struck by a train, and a man who smashed through his windshield during a Thanksgiving Day auto accident.  Early one morning on I-90 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, I stood under a dark, humid Mississippi sky as the highway patrol unraveled white sheets over the bodies of 5 teenagers who where riding in the back of a pickup that crashed into the jersey barrier late that night.

I've always been able (I thought) to bury the grisly carnage into a mental grave inside my brain.  Like the time my partner and I interviewed a woman whose only daughter had been struck by the school bus she was waiting for one morning.  The mother, heartbroken and likely sedated, spoke to us for  a few scattered moments and we left.  In our news vehicle, my partner poured himself behind the wheel, sat silently for a few minutes, then turned to me, "I can't do this anymore," he said as his  eyes filled with tears.  A few weeks later he quite, went home to live with his parents and took a job at a toilet seat factory in northern Mississippi.

It affects you, you feel it, but, are forced to move on, sometimes without properly processing what you have witnessed.

A few days after that woman had been struck by her boyfriend's Lincoln Town Car, I interviewed her mother.  She was stoic, but scared, and broke.  She was now  caring for her daughter's 2 children, and was unsure how she would pay for the medical bills climbing exponentially literally by the minute.

I thought about her for several hours after the interview, but had moved on to other stories the next day.  Last week it was announced the woman struck by the car was dead.  As I heard the news, I picked up the phone, breathed in and out, then dialed her mother's phone number.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Agents, Guns and Carrots

"Excuse me!" comes a shout from the back of the large Bluebird bus, the kind of bus you rode to fifth grade, or to summer camp, "Is there a reason we are stopping?!" the woman with the "Decision 2012" baseball cap bellows to an unusual man with a clipboard and a mustache you would find only on "The Simpson's" Ned Flanders, or in a novelty bin at costume shop.
First on the bus headed to watch Air Force One arrive at HAFB

The mustached man answers gently, "we're waiting for a security escort."  The woman who is a member of the national media pool who regularly follows the president when he travels, loudly pounds on the screen of her smart phone, and jabbers at some nameless producer back in New York, "It's ridiculous, we're just sitting here just waiting, I don't know when we are getting out of here!"  

I thought her loud protests were odd, the bus had only stopped for a couple of minutes when the she started to squirm restlessly.  Granted we did have to get off a previous bus because the military driver couldn't get it to move.  My guess is, she's been traveling with President Obama for some time, and is likely growing exhausted with security, badges, Secret Service agents with their shortly cropped hair gazing sternly at her as they pass a grey handheld metal detector across her body every couple of days.

The president, for the first time since he was elected came to Utah last week, and with him lumbered the most awe-inspiring cavalcade of trucks, buses, guns, agents, cars, black suits, shaved heads, and pre-screened, photo opportunities I'd ever seen in my 20 years as a reporter.  

In Salt Lake City, the Sheraton Downtown had become a fortress.  It was surrounded on all four sides, by dozens of buses, and dump trucks, the building was swarming with men with short hair, and black suits and uniformed members of the military, some of them, with machine guns drawn, were jogging here and there around the unspectacular 6 story hotel.  The White House and a hotel spokesperson hilariously wouldn't confirm if the president was staying at the unassuming hotel.  I had an image of the manager of the Sheraton, standing at the front counter, while he talks to a reporter on the phone, "I cannot confirm or deny if the President is staying here," as he's being frisked by a Secret Service agent while bomb sniffing dogs tugged at his pant leg,.

My badge
On an uncomfortably chilly evening, I stand in line with as many as 50 other journalists, as a Secret Service agent shuffles through a  pile of media badges, asking curtly, "Name," I glance over and see a black and tan German Shepard jutting his nose into my satchel, which I'd placed in a line of backpacks, camera bags, and purses, piled on after the other in the patchy grass and dirt.  The dog's nose burrowing deep into my business made me nervous, not because I had anything to hide, at least I don't think I do, but because I had a Tupperware container filled with pepperoni and cheese.  I was already hungry, and I could imagine the overworked K-9 gobbling up my dinner leaving me with nothing but a Ziploc filled with baby carrots.  The dog and
its handler finally moved on from my bag, and I exhaled with relief as another agent goosed me with a grey wand.  It bleeped, and wailed while the serious looking officer floated the device over my hips and across my outstretched arms.  

As Utah Dignitaries streamed onto Hill Air Force Base to meet the President, I noticed 2 distinct moods coming from the guests, the Democrats, like Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker appeared giddy, while the Republicans, including Governor Gary Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Congressman Rob Bishop looked like football fans being forced to attend the opera.

When Air Force One rolls giantly down the tarmac, it is impossible not to be impressed, the 4,000 square foot flying fortress has two kitchens large enough to feed 100 people.  It also has a complete operating room to take care of any medical emergency.

The president hopped off the roll-away staircase and gave the Governor an enthusiastic handshake, then a few minutes later was working the rope line shaking hands with soldiers and base personnel who'd been invited to meet him.  As the President slowly reached for outstretched hands, his presidential limo, which is actually a sturdy black, muscular SUV, rolls slowly beside him, mirroring his movements, with a Secret Service agent perched on the open back passenger door, both hands clutching it, ready to slam it closed as soon as the president steps inside. I was busy reporting the unfolding visit live, so I didn't get to take much else in, but I did notice, the governor marching grimly behind the President, not used to playing second fiddle and waiting for the cheers and smiles to simmer down so Obama and the leader of the state could finally step inside the sleek black car.
Air Force 1 arrives at HAFB

As the massive motorcade, some 20 vehicles long, whisked the Presidential entourage to an "undisclosed" hotel in Salt Lake City, Congressman Bishop heads back to his car. "Congressman!" a gaggle of reporters try to wave him over to the bank of awaiting cameras.  Bishop, with his distinctive shock of white hair, seems reluctant to talk about his brief visit with the President, but we persuade him to talk to us anyway.  "Supposedly I'm on a round table with the president in the morning," the congressman tossed nonchalantly, "Do I think he'll listen to me? No? but anytime the president comes to your state, no matter who it is, Utah will show him a good time."  Bishop begins to walk away, "What do you think the traffic will be like in Salt Lake?" I ask only half serious, he smiles, "I don't know, I'm going the other way, so that's your problem,"  he jokes.

The next day its more security, and a scheduled speech by the President, With a flurry a freshly waxed SUV pulls up urgently among the Solar panels, and a few minutes later, under the eye of soldiers dressed in black cargo pants and holding sniper rifles, and scopes, the President casually sauntered to the podium, gives an unremarkable, 7-minute speech, shakes a few hands, and just like that, is gone.
Me: Near, but not on AF1

The storm is over, so I slump into a white folding chair anchored in dirt, and reach into my satchel to find that bag of baby carrots I hand't eaten the day before. Just then Congressman Bishop walks past, and I hold out my baggie filled with tiny carrots. He peeks in, selects his favorite and plucks it out. As he eyes it, I hold up a container of hummus and offer it to him, "No thanks, just the one," he squints, instantly regretting the refusal, I suspect.  "Well," I joked, "you can't take gifts anyway." He smiles, "do I have to give this back?" He grins, and tosses the carrot in his mouth as he walks away.  I thought to myself, "what would have happened had I offered the President a carrot?"  My guess is, it would have included the Secret Service, a black and tan German Shepard, and maybe another hand held metal detector.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Her neon pink ponytail whipped and snapped like the tail of a wounded gelding, as she raged and frothed at me and photographer Nick Steffens, "Don't say a f*&king word to them!" Jolene shrieked, to her mother who was standing in the driveway, Jolens voice reminding me of blade being dragged sharply across a pane of glass. "They're just like those @$$holes at (competing station), they don't give a F*$k about the truth!"  Jolene then catapulted a ragged, hastily packed suitcase into her mother's trunk.

Jolene's rage, seemed like it was as much a part of her as the nose on her face, and likely predated the long, meandering scar that dragged across her forehead, and that anger was there long before Nick and I parked our news truck in front of her Tooele, Utah home.  The fact that a news reporter was rapping on her front door, was just the ingredient necesary to force Jolene's purculating fury to unleash.

Jolene's 9 year old sister Caessea (pronounced Casey) had died in an ATV Accident, and Caessea's mother, Necole Anderson, who had tested positive for Valium and marijuana had just been charged with Automobile homicide because of that revelation.

"They don't give a sh*t how the drugs got in her, they  just want your story!" Casey fumed, directing her comments at her mom rather than us, "Don't tell them anything!" Jolene belched.

"What do you mean, How?" I asked gently, trying to extinguise her internal flames, "The EMT's they gave my step mom Valium right here!  Necole was freaking out, so they gave it to her to calm her down!"  Jolene, who was either born without a left hand or had lost it in an accident, began to downshift her mood, like a Boeing 757 just seconds after landing.

"Wait," I said "You're saying that emergency workers gave your step mother Valium after the accident, and now police are charging her with auto homicide, in part, because she had Valium in her system?"  "Yes!" Jolene," crossed her arms, "my mom wasn't driving around high on Valium, she got it after."  "Well would you be willing to tell us that on camera?" I asked softly.  It was as if Jolene was a balloon and I could see her filling with rage once again, "NO!  The last reporters just left out everthing, they didnt tell any of it!"  She turned and barreled into the house, tearing at a well-worn screen door nearly yanking it off it's hinges.  She returned with a stained pillow and body slammed it into the backseat of her mother's Chrysler.

"Now listen, I said, stepping closer to the panting woman, I looked in her eyes and told her, "If you don't tell us this part of the story right now, it will never be heard."  She panted, and glanced painfully at the open field that borders her family home.  For a moment, I notice her glance at the rusty barbed wire, that encases the crab grass, empty beer cans, and discarded tires in that wide expanse.   When the ATV crashed Caessea was tossed against that fense.  Jolene's  mother later told me, Ceassea lived for a moment after the crash "My neck hurts," Cassea would exlaimed in fear before slumping onto the ground.

After talking to Anderson, Jolene agreed to do an interview with us, she told us about the Valium, and how good of a mother she believed Anderson to be.  When I asked about Caessea, Jolene beamed and grinned for a moment, giggling as she recalled, what a "Diva" her little sister was, for a second, the ache of rage was calmed and I could see the little girl that once lived inside her.  After Nick lowered the camera, I turned to Jolene, and said, "Look at you, You're just a softy," she batted her eyes, perhaps remembering life before the rage, then her eyebrows furrowed again as she snatched a lighter from her pocket and sparked her cigarette, as she sucked the filter, the ember burned bright orange, the ease lifted, and the rage returned, "but I'm also a Pitbull," she squinted, flinging her cigarette into the dirt, and grinding it to dust under her foot.