Screwing the pooch

There’s little doubt that what I’ve done here at Capitol Hill Blue is a classic case of FUBAR.

It happened because of a variety of things: laziness, sloppiness, distraction and a willingness to cut corners when it suited my own personal agenda.

Personal agenda? Isn’t that what I so often accuse others of having? Damn right. I’m guilty as charged of being duplicitous and overly-aggressive when it came to satisfying my own needs to pursue an agenda that, somewhere in my twisted, over-compensating mind, practiced that old cliché of the end justifying the means.

I’ve been writing for a living for more than 40 years, most of it for newspapers, and I love covering the news. Over the past few years, however, I’ve let my ambition overcome my judgment and my ego overcome my ethics.

In 1992 I left politics a bitter man. What I saw in 11 years of working inside the political world (first as a staffer on Capitol Hill and later as head of the political funding operation of the National Association of Realtors – one of the largest in the country) left me sick to my stomach. Yet I had allowed myself to become part of it.

I was a full-blown drunk when I left the Realtors – an alcoholic on a downward spiral towards the rock bottom that I hit on June 6, 1994, the day I walked into my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Any alcoholic will tell you that quitting drinking is just the start of a long comeback process, one that goes far beyond the 12 steps of AA.

I haven’t had a drink in 12 years, 1 month and 19 days. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a drunk. I’m still one: a dry drunk. I stopped going to meetings because I was sober and didn’t think I needed it. I was wrong. Drunks, dry or soused, are long on rationalization and short on reality.

On Monday I went to my first meeting in far too long, stood up and told my story.

It wasn’t a pretty one.

It was a tawdry tale about a journalist, a pretty good one at one time, one who covered news, wrote about inequities and inequality and the injustices of life. He strayed from his profession to go into politics and, for 11 years, found himself seduced by the power, the money and the headiness that comes from working in and around the halls of power.

But all the fat paychecks, fast German sports cars and lavish lifestyles couldn’t cover the stench of the life he led and he tried to drown the smell in booze. He finally left and tried to recapture his former life as a journalist. But first he had to get sober.

I started Capitol Hill Blue four months after taking the first of the 12 steps. In many ways the web site provided additional therapy for a drunk trying to crawl out of the gutter. For a while we both thrived, so much that I considered myself well enough to go it on my own without the support group of AA.

As Capitol Hill Blue’s readership grew I started taking more chances with stories, jumping on ones with sketchy sources, always trying to outdo the last “big” story. I had people willing to help me and they would send me info that I used often on their word alone. I would allow people to use pseudonyms because, they said, using their real name would hurt them in their day jobs. Some of the people who wrote for me worked for the mainstream media but enjoyed using Blue to write stories they couldn’t do otherwise. They, too, wrote under false names. It was something we should have told readers. We didn’t. That was dishonest.

I wrote stories based on emails from sources I never met. I would meet self-proclaimed “important people” in out-of-the way bars, taking what they told me at face value. Washington is a breeding ground for phonies and wannabes. Too often I printed what they told me because I was so full of myself that I was sure it was true and did not require further verification. It doesn’t matter if the information later turned out to be true or not. How I presented it was dishonest.

Sometimes I let sources pick their own pseudonyms. They wanted to protect their identity. I wanted a name to bolster the story. That too was dishonest.

So is going with a story when the sources have not been fully vetted. I get email tips and daily email newsletters from people 24/7. So do others who supply me with “information.” If the information fit into my pre-conceived notion of what I thought was wrong with the current administration I used it without checking further. I was too sure I was right.  I let other people do work for me and write portions of my stories. As with the other practices that became part of my standard operating procedure, it was dishonest.

Despite those who believe otherwise, and they have every reason to do so, I have never made up a quote.  I have, however, accepted information from others without checking it out and have too quickly accepted that information if it fit into my grand scheme of things. I ignored warning signs that should have kept me from using material I knew was marginal. I was wrong.

I am humbled and ashamed and I apologize to our readers. It will not happen again.