texasmonthly.com: What was the most challenging and/or difficult aspect of writing this story?
S. C. Gwynne: Getting through the amazing wall of lies, half-truths, deep political bias, and skewed facts that have characterized the media’s reporting on Charles Hurwitz for the past twenty years.
texasmonthly.com: During the height of the Hurwitz coverage, you commissioned a negative piece about him as editor of a California magazine; now you’ve written the piece that clears his name of wrongdoing. How does something like this change the way you approach a story?
SG: As editor-in-chief of California Business magazine, where the story ran, I was not in a position to understand the intimate facts of the story, as I would have been as a reporter. I must say though, that as a reporter in 1987 I would have been sorely tempted to follow the environmentalists’ line. At the time, the major media, the U.S. Congress, and the California Legislature were all portraying Hurwitz exactly the same way, so there was no obvious reason to believe that our story was wrong. The lesson is: Don’t follow the media pack. Taken collectively, we are a sheeplike bunch, easily led, and we have always been easy prey for the environmental lobby. Like most reasonable people, I have nothing against environmentalism. Environmentalists have accomplished wonderful things. But truth is truth.
texasmonthly.com: What do you believe journalists who were covering Hurwitz and the FDIC during the time of the trials should have done differently?
SG: They should not have bought the line being delivered by the environmentalists, who had very large and very biased agendas, as do all special-interest groups. There’s nothing wrong with having large and biased agendas. The error is when reporters believe them without checking them.
texasmonthly.com: What do you want your readers to take away from this story?
SG: The awesome power of the federal government to violate the rights of individual citizens. They do this all the time. Think J. Edgar Hoover. Think Wen Ho Lee. Think Whitewater. This is just one very good example of it.
texasmonthly.com: What surprised you the most while you were working on this piece?
SG: An LA Times story from January 2006—after all of the court verdicts were in—comparing Hurwitz with Jack Abramoff [a former lobbyist who pled guilty to felony counts, including defrauding Native American tribes]. It was a remarkable piece of disinformation, typical of what has long been done to Hurwitz. You could write a thesis on that story alone (and someone should). It is symptomatic of what is wrong with American journalism, particularly the faux-investigative kind.
texasmonthly.com: What kind of reporting was involved in this story? You said that Hurwitz typically avoided the press. How did you get him to cooperate with you?
SG: I take no credit for it. The main reason we got access is because Hurwitz decided he would have the best chance of fair coverage with Texas Monthly. We will see if he still thinks that after he has read the story.