The quality of a revolutionary is inversely proportional to the system he fights against –The more oppressive and cruel the system, the more heroic and self-sacrificing is the rebel; in other words, the better and more indulgent the system, the more flippant the revolutionary.
-Leopold Tyrmand, Polish Anti-Communist, Tyrmand’s Law
(Please enjoy this excerpt from the book and consider supporting the Author)
There are two questions the American muckraker is asked repeatedly. Number one: Do you fear for your life? Number two: What can I do? The first question calls upon a library of material written by past muckrakers, broadcasters, lawyers, judges, and academics who risked their lives and careers to expose corruption and maleficence in society’s institutions. Professional truth-seekers do not fear for their life when they are called to this higher purpose, for their life is the vehicle in which defenders of press freedom conduct their crusade in our brave new world of video journalism. When people ask, “What can I do?” what they’re really asking—what they’re truly seeking—is what Viktor Frankl describes as “the striving and struggling of some goal worthy” of themselves. During times of universal deceit, a good place to start is telling the truth. Doing this, as George Orwell reportedly said, is, in itself, a “revolutionary act.” The muckraker’s revolution is not one of reform or radicalism, but a return to truth, for there is only one true reality.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS VS. THE PURSUIT OF MEANING
Rebellion against the system will inevitably cause the muckraker a fair share of pain, political persecution, even prosecution, so piercing, so excruciating, that his continuation down this path risks crossing the line into masochism. He will enter into what Empedocles described as a “region of adversity” fraught with “suffering and toil,” enduring “failures of insight and character” along the way.
Outside observers feel a combination of wonder and fascination with the muckraker’s art. This creates a curiosity that the muckraker has a hard time understanding. We all know the tale of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who said that his former friends and colleagues “regarded him with neither admiration nor censure, but with wonder, as though he were a space-walking astronaut who had cut his lifeline to the mother ship.”
The muckraker finds himself identifying with Sisyphus, the sufferer of Greek lore consigned to push a rock up a hill for eternity only to see it roll back down every time. Despite his manifest successes, even legendary muckraker Upton Sinclair felt his task more than a little Sisyphean. “You are listening,” he wrote in The Brass Check, “to a man who for fourteen years has been in a battle, and has seen his cause suffering daily wounds from a cruel and treacherous foe.”
Over time, the muckraker finds himself increasingly alienated from those who marvel at his mission. He wonders how these good people cannot themselves be doing what he is doing. When thanked, the muckraker wonders what he is being thanked for. His job is not over. It is never over. He has barely scratched the surface.
Training and experience have coached him, wrote Rudyard Kipling, to “meet with triumph and disaster…just the same.” It culminates with wisdom described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as, “Do not rejoice when you have found, do not weep when you have lost,” in his book, The Gulag Archipelago. The muckraker knows the fragility of his success because of what he has endured, what he imagines he will endure, and the price he will have to pay for his endurance.
David Daleiden, whose exposé of the baby parts trafficking racket that almost brought down Planned Parenthood, glimpsed into that future. Daleiden vividly recalls taking out the trash “on an idyllic southern California spring day” when the unthinkable happened:
- As I rounded the corner, the door of a large, white, windowless van swung open, and a tall, uniformed officer stepped out and blocked my path. “Are you David Daleiden?” he asked. “Yes,” I said nervously as I started to freeze from confusion and surprise. “We have a search warrant for your apartment from the California Department of Justice,” he said as he shoved papers at me. No less than 11 armed CA DOJ agents, accompanied by K-9 dogs, filed out of the van and sprung out of surrounding police cars. Only half of them fit in my apartment to search it, the rest waited outside with their dogs and assault rifles. The leader of the agents tried to prevent me from calling my lawyer and threatened to seize my phone while I was talking to legal counsel. They overturned my entire apartment, looking behind statues and icons of the Virgin Mary for “evidence.” They thumbed through invoice printouts for fetal body parts from StemExpress, Advanced Bioscience Resources, and the admitted criminal DaVinci companies but left those behind, instead seizing all my hard drives and equipment with the original undercover footage and my laptops going back to high school. I felt powerless, like I was drowning, and it felt like the search lasted forever.
Daleiden was targeted because of the institution he investigated and the truth he uncovered. His success was his undoing. So was Andy Ngo’s. Working with just a phone and a GoPro camera, the young citizen journalist was doing America’s best reporting on the mounting Antifa terror in Portland, Oregon. In June 2019, Antifa decided they had had enough:
- Suddenly, clenched fists repeatedly struck my face and head from all directions. My right knee buckled from the impact. The masked attackers wore tactical gloves – gloves hardened with fiberglass on the knuckles. It’s likely some of them used brass knuckles as well. I put my arms up to surrender, but this only signaled to them to beat me more ferociously. Someone then snatched my camera – my evidence…The mob roared in laughter as I stumbled away.
As was true with Daleiden, the mainstream media either ignored Ngo’s plight or quietly cheered on his attackers. As to the authorities, writes Ngo, “At no point did police intervene to help.”
Having observed the fate of truth-tellers like Ngo and Daleiden, the American muckraker has nightmare visions of text exchanges laid bare, freedom of association rights stripped away, donor names illegally leaked and published, police turning a blind eye, and federal agents pounding at his door. The muckraker watches with disgust as the governor of New York defends himself during a 2021 press conference, proclaiming, “I’m not going to argue this issue in the press” when it comes to allegations of his own professional misconduct. The muckraker knows full well that the “press” was where that governor of New York went when motivated to defame an ideological opponent, evidenced when a letter written by his own attorney general to this muckraker, somehow arrived at the Daily News, before this muckraker received it. The front-page headline screamed, GOTCHA. Yet they said they did not try cases in the press.
This muckraker had broken no laws in New Orleans, yet was stripped of his freedoms, incarcerated, broken, and made an example. His SD chip with the footage that would have set him free was destroyed by a federal magistrate judge, and the powers that be escaped all liability precisely because this fact of evidence destruction was not mentioned in the press. In shackles, this muckraker gave up his Miranda rights and spoke to the FBI, and even the muckraker’s allies would ask, “Why would you do such a thing?” In shackles, you’d be surprised at what you’d do.
You are under arrest… the verist simpleton amongst us, drawing on all life’s experience, can gasp out only: “Me? What for?” … in your desperation the fake circus moon will blink at you: “It’s a mistake! They’ll set things right!”
Meanwhile, Rob Sawicki, the press secretary for the senator you were investigating, was telling the press that the one imprisoned muckraker “should save his feeble explanation for the FBI and judge.” But the federal prosecutors were not saving their explanations. These prosecutors were simultaneously and anonymously blogging about them in the mainstream media. “Sure they should be punished. Throw the book at them,” wrote one prosecutor under a pseudonym in the comments section of The New Orleans Times-Picayune. The prosecutors’ violations of federal ethics laws were so egregious, they would one day be used as a “what not to do” example in the curricula prepared for US attorneys. Yet somehow, they also had the gall to say we don’t try cases in the press.
This muckraker knew what was happening at the time but was never sure that the rest of the world knew themselves. It would take five years and surface as a veritable footnote. In truth, the prosecutors had total influence over the press, from the op-ed columns of the New York Times to this muckraker’s Wikipedia page—one so repugnant it evokes audible gasps from anyone who has witnessed his muckraking up close.
Yes, the world is round, but the lies about me swirl endlessly in a vortex of propaganda and circularly sourced citations on crowdsourced aggregated encyclopedias, with algorithms regurgitating what Chomsky refers to as the “authorized knowers” in society. At the core of this vortex are the tech platforms that freely circulate falsehoods while banning the truthful videos of the muckraker. So disorienting is the result that the unknowing citizen sees the American muckraker as an agent of disinformation. Whereas in the Soviet Union, people knew Pravda was a lie, these days there is still a substantial portion of the American people who truly believe what they read in the chyrons on CNN while waiting for their flight’s departure. For the muckraker, scorn and defamation follow, and these are, ironically, directly proportional to the veracity of the reporter’s work. This unending drumbeat of defamation often leads to the surrender of supposed allies who once fought alongside the muckraker in the battle for truth. Neil Gorsuch noted in a recent criticism of New York Times v. Sullivan that the published falsehoods are on a scale so great, “it has come to leave far more [Americans defamed] without redress than anyone could have predicted.”
Just like any survivor of psychological abuse, the American muckraker over time starts to realize a new kind of superpower. Reborn through baptism by fire, he is invigorated by the knowledge that he is no longer a slave to fear. Fear may grow inside of him, but he does not let it affect his decision making.
No one can deprive him of his reputation; he has already been deprived of that too many times through declarations from “credible journalists.” Credible, not by virtue of the evidence they present, but by virtue of their own decree that they are indeed credible, because they say so. Their “credible sources,” anonymously sourced, are permitted to contradict incontrovertible evidence. So, the deprivation of your reputation is based upon the vanity of a self-anointed racket. Although pernicious, this still brings a new type of freedom.
And there is one more freedom. No one can deprive you…you have already been deprived of them. What does not exist – not even God can take away. And this is a basic freedom.
This is an age where the loss of one’s Twitter account is treated like the loss of one’s life. It is an age where people assign more value to their perceived image on Instagram than they do their own reality. They will hesitate to speak the truth because, in this age, there is a perverse incentive that actually rewards people who don’t speak the truth.
The reward for chronic dishonesty could come in the form of a guest spot on CNN, a book review in the New York Times, or a coveted blue check mark. These are treated as the ultimate rewards in a successful life. Therefore, the lie becomes a form of existence. People survive “unharmed only in a superficial bodily sense. And inside…they become corrupt.”
And it is the result which counts in this life.
Or is it?
It is not the result that counts. It is not the result – but the spirit!
Incarcerated, shackled, terminated from his job, and ostracized from polite society, the American muckraker lands without a safety net, not knowing what the future might hold. Ralph Nader observed that the cruelty of the State and the media was invasive not just of his privacy, but also “of the self.” It can make an otherwise confident man question his own perceptions of reality. This is more terrifying than the concerns others have for the muckraker’s life. Misery endures. Yet, meaning also endures because he is somehow still standing. He exists in a state of being in which there is nothing to hold on to, “Except the Will which says…‘Hold on!’”
A mailman sits in a hotel room in Erie, Pennsylvania—alone, unemployed, with a Washington Post headline syndicating that he “Recanted allegations of ballot tampering, officials say.” The justification for the headline cites “three officials briefed on the investigation.” There were only two men in the room with the mailman when the interaction was recorded. However, in a Kafkaesque game of telephone, “officials briefed” somehow supersedes the audio record of what occurred, including the part when the government official threatened the mailman in a coercive way. The now unemployed mailman sits in a chair, staring at the paintings on the hotel room wall, his mind instinctively responding to the trauma of being gaslit. The paint melts in a surreal way akin to Dali’s Persistence of Memory. He sees his four-year-old daughter.
She doesn’t know anything about this…I’m hoping one day she’s proud of what I’m doing here.
The mailman, the Marine Corp’s insignia Eagle, Globe, and Anchor displayed on his ballcap, says aloud to this muckraker, “I’ll tell y’all, I’d rather be out, back in Afghanistan, getting shot at by Afghans, honest to God, than having to be in this kind of position.” It’s reminiscent of whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in his hotel room directly across from the legal department of tobacco giant Brown & Williamson’s headquarters, shouting at the 60 Minutes producer, “That’s where they fuck with my life.” The producer responds, “I’m running out of heroes, man. Guys like you are in short supply.”
Throughout the twentieth century, most whistleblowers lost their homes, their families, and the strain became unbearable. Families were targeted. Marriages destroyed. Reputations besmirched. As the attorney hired by the State of Mississippi to assist with suing Big Tobacco explained so eloquently to Wigand:
In combat, events have a duration of seconds, sometimes minutes. But what you’re going through goes on day in and day out…week in, week out. Month after month…you’re assaulted psychologically. You’re assaulted financially, which is its own special kind of violence because it’s directed at your kids…You feel your whole family’s future’s compromised, held hostage.
When and where the system cannot persuade or propagandize, it punishes through coercion. Short of gulags, authorities content themselves with getting the muckraker fired, rendered unemployable, bankrupted, shunned—even by friends and family. “This is not ‘death’ exactly,” writes Michael Anton, “but how much less cruel is it, really, to cut people off from human contact and the means of making a living? And how much real misery – and desperation – does it produce?”
Fifteen years after the events featured in The Insider, another piece of true-crime fiction is happening: four young men live under the shadow of federal pre-trial release for a crime they did not commit, targeted not for what they did, but for what they were trying to expose and for what they stood for. Sitting in jail, the idea “descended on them like a tongue of fire…they were not screwing them over in spite of the fact they were journalists, but because they were.”
Yes, you have been imprisoned for nothing. You have nothing to repent before the State and its laws.
Facing nine felony counts in California, a young muckraker who exposed Planned Parenthood finds little comfort in the truth that, as one muckraker said about the other, if he had exposed the unethical and commercial destruction of puppies (as opposed to the sale of aborted baby body parts), the country would have rallied to his defense.
So, this moment becomes the nadir.
Your soul, once dry, ripens with suffering.
A cloud of claustrophobia forms, hovers, swallows. You curse your circumstances. You simultaneously regret the actions that led you to where you are, yet at the same time you have no regrets at all, because you told the truth and followed your conscience. You are being punished for doing the right thing! But with this self-torture reveals the dichotomy of man. You start to embrace the punishment; a break away from evolutionary instinct of responding to positive stimuli as the good and true, and that is where your ascent begins.
The undercover muckraker Jaime Phillips burned and branded as “humiliated” by media pariahs for attempting to expose the Washington Post (how dare she go after a venerable institution like that!) sits in exile in a Vermont cabin to shield her friends and roommates from the fallout. She says to herself, I’m a warrior and we’re at war. It was in this moment she made the decision and resolved to accept the consequences of what she was about to do.
You are pushed further and deeper into a higher level of consciousness. As you sit atop a heap of defamatory articles, you are pushed further and deeper. You are broke, unemployed, and abandoned. Your allies whisper and murmur about how toxic you are and whether you can survive this latest “misstep.” Amidst this, you tend to go over your life with a fine-tooth comb and ponder that unrelated “transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow.”
…There is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved.
You repent in a more private place than the confessional; not before the State or before the yellow journalists. Yes, you do begin to repent, but before yourself.
You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman, and child on earth, you will be wise.
You may find that being confined to a room for three years nourished your soul.
Your clean conscience, like a clear mountain lake, shines in your eyes.
Political persecution, no matter the degree, inflicts a unique type of torture. Maybe it was the New Orleans crooked cop-cum-FBI officer accusing you of “willfully and maliciously interfering with a telephone system operated and controlled by the United States of America” in an affidavit, when the only true crime committed was to enter a federal building wearing hard hats and orange vests as telephone repairmen for the purpose of capturing video of Senator Landrieu ignoring her constituents’ concerns.
Maybe it was federal magistrate judge Daniel Knowles, with impunity, ordering the destruction of the SD chip containing video recording that, arguably, would have freed you, or at least prevented the ocean of words casting you as a felon the day after your arrest.
Maybe it was federal prosecutor Sal Perricone orchestrating the anonymous commenting on his case through various media websites. Although US Attorney Jim Letten resigned in disgrace years later for his media mischief, maybe it was the muckraker who watched mutely in real time as all this unfolded, helpless, akin to the Ludovico technique administered to Alex DeLarge in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.
Maybe it was the coercion by federal agent Russell Strasser who manipulated you with the admission that he was trying to “twist you a little bit so your mind can kick in,” with the mission of leaking the fruits of his labor to the Washington Post, a newspaper with the audacity to proclaim the tagline, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Or maybe it’s watching in horror as your Torquemada, California attorney general, who sent a team of lackeys to descend upon your apartment, confiscates your hard drives containing your reporter notebooks, and then watching as she becomes the vice president of the United States.
You witness oppressors repeatedly manipulate their power. You witness those under the banner of justice declare, like the tyrant O’Brien did in Orwell’s 1984, that “the object of persecution, is persecution.” As Chris Hedges said in his diatribe of the political order, Wages of Rebellion: “For the object of persecution is to break the will,” and to deter others by sending a message that moral courage is “defined by the state as treason.” You watch over the course of a decade all the powerful institutions project onto you what they are. They are what they seem to hate. They become what they hate. You learn in this life:
Laws are written for the lofty aim of “the common good” and then acted out in life on the basis of the common greed. In this world irrationality clings to man like his shadow so that the right things are done for the wrong reasons – afterwards, we dredge up the right reasons for justifications. It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principle but act on power principles…
These forces seek to stop you in your tracks. But to walk toward the fire and keep going, as your mentor once said, “is sending a message to the people who are rooting for you, who are agreeing with you. The message is that they can do it, too.” Even this statement, said in the abstract, does not entirely make sense in the beginning of your journey.
It is precisely in the moments of grief and uncertainty, as Maria Callas sang, that love and truth come to you. Michael O’Brien echoes this sentiment in his book Eclipse of the Sun: “He understood suddenly…what the sailors and the poets knew, what the sparrows in the holly knew. He understood, despite his blindness, blinder than the eyeless snail: Time is an illusion of the mind. Only love remains.” To love what you do without the will to see it through, although well-intended, is an empty gesture. Whittaker Chambers, twentieth-century whistleblower, wrote: “Without courage, kindness and compassion remain merely fatuous postures.”
You are simultaneously broken and unbroken.
Once upon a time you were sharply intolerant…You have come to realize your own weakness—and you can therefore understand the weakness of others. And be astonished at another’s strength. And wish to possess it yourself.
And so, you begin to live like you are dying. Or put another way, you conduct your muckraking journalism as if you have no fear of death.
He could beat anything, he thought, because no thing could hurt him if he did not care.
Others ask if you fear for your life. Your answer, whether in the negative or affirmative, will make you sound prideful, or worse, self-aggrandizing.
…a beneficial calming fluid pours through your blood vessels – patience.
Upon ascendance, you begin to realize there are some things more important than praise and validation by a digital—yet invisible—sea of armchair critics and journalists. The realization then: yes, you’ve been tortured in a sense, and they’ve taken away so much, but in a more existential sense, some higher need was now being satisfied. The experience ceases to be about rewards but instead now becomes about the salvation of your own soul.
It is not the result that counts, but the spirit!
As the muckraker from To Kill a Messenger said:
I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job…The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.
So, the muckraker has to be prepared to suffer. British writer Freya India sagely describes suffering as “a requisite for growth.” She continues, “It compels self-reflection, transformation, and transcendence: it precedes our resurrection, dragging us down before reviving us as wiser, more lucid versions of ourselves.”
You endured reputationally what Ernest Shackleton, quoting poet Robert Service, endured being stuck three years in the arctic ice: “We had ‘suffered, starved, and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.’”
From this point of view, the crooked federal agents who interrogated Richard Hopkins, their allies in the establishment press who buy ink by the barrel, the oppressors who continuously live by lies, the prosecutors who blogged anonymously on newspaper columns while they tried your case, and the governor of New York, who claims to not try cases in the press, while his whole modus operandi is to try cases in the press—they are the ones devolving and being tortured.
From that point of view our torturers have been punished most horribly of all. They are turning into swine, they are departing downward from humanity…
They are the ones who are truly suffering.
THE HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED
At the commencement of this ascent, you had become too well-known, and would now need to do something nobody has ever done before: something the German muckrakers described as a vision in the analog days of the 1970s, where there were only pencil-written accounts of submersion journalism. This was a strategic vision articulated but never pulled off: “I can see only one way out – to create five, six, a dozen [Günter Wallraffs].”
So, one becomes two, two becomes four, and four becomes eight. The same experiences that tortured you engender trust with those who come to you. And suddenly, there are one hundred and more muckrakers and whistleblowers manifest. They look to you; they depend upon you. The Silicon Valley engineer jumps on a grenade and then makes the statement to you: “I’ll fall to ashes one day. I want this to mean something after I’m gone.” The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The first frame has now bent. Those one hundred American muckrakers turn into thousands hoping you can answer their question, “What can I do?” They, too, are willing to give up their lives to answer that question, so long as you are willing.
You’ve crossed the event horizon. No defamation or incarceration can now stop the momentum. This is your juncture, and it is yours alone. Yes, they do have tremendous power. But in part, it is because we give it to them. We are nothing, but we are not alone. To be awesome, one cannot be afraid, for we cannot live in fear. So, “a new truth, on top of the truth revealed in his reports, emerges in the reactions of those concerned.”
The reaction from the opposition starts to become essential for the success of the muckraker’s campaign…not only that the action is in the reaction, but that action is itself the consequence of reaction and of reaction to the reaction, ad infinitum. The pressure produces the reaction, and constant pressure sustains actions.
Thanks to the reactions of society, the facts disclosed appear as the elements of a system, brought into the consciousness of ordinary people.
The balance of political forces has now changed. The role of the oppressor is now reversed. “David assumes new strength, while Goliath is attacked on all sides. The hunter has become the quarry.”
The hunter becomes the hunted…
Veritas lux mea!