Wayne Barrett: Time for Something New

Categories: Wayne Barrett

wbarrettright.jpg
Ed Koch and I were inaugurated on the same day in 1978. He became mayor and I became his weekly tormentor.

I had written a few pieces for the Voice before I took over the Runnin' Scared column that January, going back as far as 1973.

But I was now inheriting a column that Mary Nichols, the Voice's editor-in-chief, had made famous, and that had been written by greats like Jack Newfield, Ken Auletta, and Joe Conason. A country kid out of Lynchburg, Virginia, where I'd founded the Teenage Republicans, I was suddenly occupying the first two pages of New York's counter-cultural crier.

Since then, I have written, by my own inexact calculation, more column inches than anyone in the history of the Voice. These will be my last.

I am 65 and a half now, and it is time for something new.

If I didn't see that, others did.

The paper has always been more than an employer to me. I turned down other jobs that paid better three times to stay here. Though my mentor Newfield used to say we got our owners "from office temporaries," and though I worked for 14 different editors, the Voice was always a place where I could express my voice. And that meant more to me than larger circulations or greater influence or bigger paychecks.

It is called a writer's paper because we decide what we will write. That is not a license to spout and I never took it as such. Across all these years, I almost never wrote in the first person and, even when I did, the piece was still packed with reportage. In my extended family, I have become the go-to guy for eulogies and I report every one of them, learning more about my mother, for example, by interviewing her sisters than she ever told me when she was alive.

When I was asked in recent years to blog frequently, I wouldn't do it unless I had something new to tell a reader, not just a clever regurgitation of someone else's reporting.
My credo has always been that the only reason readers come back to you again and again over decades is because of what you unearth for them, and that the joy of our profession is discovery, not dissertation.

There is also no other job where you get paid to tell the truth. Other professionals do sometimes tell the truth, but it's ancillary to what they do, not the purpose of their job. I was asked years ago to address the elementary school that my son attended and tell them what a reporter did and I went to the auditorium in a trenchcoat with the collar up and a notebook in a my pocket, baring it to announce that "we are detectives for the people."

When the Voice celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005, I said "we thought a deadline meant we had to kill somebody by closing time," and that, as a liberal Democratic paper, we were "better at goring one of our own." It never mattered to me what the party or ideology was of the subject of an investigative piece; the reporting was as nonpartisan as the wrongdoing itself. I never looked past the wrist of any hand in the public till. It was the grabbing that bothered me, and there was no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the loot.

The greatest prize I've ever won for the work I've done in these pages was when Al D'Amato called me a "viper" in his memoir. Chuck Schumer, who ended D'Amato's reign after 18 years, ascribed his victory in a 2007 memoir to a story I'd written a decade earlier that devastated the incumbent Republican. What Schumer didn't say was that as soon as Hank Morris, Schumer's media guru, went up with an ad based on my revelations about D'Amato, Arthur Finkelstein, who was running D'Amato's 1998 campaign, aired a commercial about Schumer's near-indictment and flashed my nearly two-decade-old clips breaking that scandal on the screen as well. I was the maestro of a commercial duel.
Even as my scandal stories skewered David Dinkins in the 1989 and 1993 mayoral campaigns, I chronicled the devolution of his nemesis, Rudy Giuliani, from hero prosecutor to used 9/11 memorabilia salesman.

As awkwardly as I felt about it, Carl Paladino's toughest shots at Andrew Cuomo this fall were garbled renditions of two 6000-word exposes I'd done here about Cuomo's HUD record. For a week in the 2009 mayoral campaign, I couldn't turn on the TV without seeing a Bloomberg commercial drawn from my expose of Bill Thompson's conflict-ridden home mortgage. But I'd delivered one cover-story blow after another throughout the cycle about everything from the mayor's culpability in the Deutsche Bank fire debacle to his own governmental incest with Bloomberg L.P.

It was always the conduct that prodded me to write, not the person. And that is what I lived for, a chance to say something that revealed and mattered. To me, the story will always be the thing. It is all I can see.

I believe I have much left to learn, still armed with my notebook, and thus much left to tell you. It may be books or blogs or something in between. I hope to bring my trademark interns with me because they have, for more than 30 years, helped me think young, especially when it comes to the climate and water crises. The city and state beat are precious to me, but what is happening to our nation is also a frightening pull on me, so I don't know what I will wind up writing in this new life.

I have loved my bond with you and have never traded an inch of truth for a moment, or even a season, of access. I tell the young people still drawn to this duty that it is the most honorable one in America, and that I have never met a corrupt journalist. I even met one, Tom Robbins, so brave that when he heard I was leaving, he quit himself and didn't even tell me he was. "I'm going out with the guy who brought me to the dance," Robbins told me after he resigned, crafting a lede with the very fiber of his life.

"If a newspaper writes the story of its city without compromise or calculation," I wrote in that 50th anniversary piece, "it is as breathtaking as a ballet, each detail another artful step. Put us together as bound volumes in the memory of this grandest of cities and the Voice reads like a classic, ever passionate and principled."

I will pray it always does.

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64 comments
A wizened former newsman
A wizened former newsman

Wayne Barrett: Lots of thanks to you and Tom Robbins for keeping investigative reporting alive in New York! Let's hope some youngsters emerge without the benefit of a rigid news hole and aggressive city editors who are able to keep alive, if barely, the great investigative tradition in the city! Good Luck to both you and Tom Robbins, and...please, please, Keep It Up! Thanks, again.

Flcaptbob
Flcaptbob

A sign of the times: When that which evaded the dumpster is exposed by the morning's first beam of sunlight, everyone benefits. Occasionally a morsel of accomplished filth is exposed, and resenting it, pulls the curtain!.

Pray that permanent shadows are not created to give haven to the cockroaches in our Society.

Recharge your batteries Wayne and pursue the course you know to be right. No matter at retaliation by hi level resentment.

Ableada
Ableada

Wayne, you were always the best. As a fellow Lynchburger I wish you good health much happiness, and all of the wealth you have passed up. May God bless and keep you always.Ada L.

jessica
jessica

Wayne Barrett was interviewed this morning on Democracy Now! about his time at the Voice and what his future plans are. My favorite quote from the interview was, "Journalists are detectives for the people.” Here is a link to the interview: http://www.democracynow.org/20...

Patrick Gallagher
Patrick Gallagher

I've read the voice for 30 years, even subscribing to it's paper version and waiting 6 weeks for delivery when I'd first moved to Europe before the Internet happened. Over the years there's been less and less good reason to keep coming back. You were the last, Wayne. I will sorely miss your work. Thank you for decades of important reporting. Please turn your efforts to something equally worthwhile now. Our nation needs you.

g.s.
g.s.

Hey Village Voice, do your readership a service and stand up for top-notch, unbiased, investigative journalism. Wayne Barrett, great reporter. Tom Robbins, same. Village Voice, for shame.

chewinyc
chewinyc

Oh no, there goes the spine of the Voice. Not much reason to pick it up now. Will miss Tom and Wayne.

Ravi Batra
Ravi Batra

“THE STRUGGLE” LOSES TWO KNIGHTS IN SHINING ARMOR: THE PRICELESS WAYNE BARRETT and TOM ROBBINS—nobility of fearless honesty personified.

Gene Kelley in “Inherit the Wind” described the job of a newsman: “Comfort the afflicted; and afflict the comfortable.”

I take this opportunity to pay a debt of gratitude to both, for I owe them that. They have contributed to my life, my understanding, my comprehension, and indeed, my evolution. As a youngster, Thomas Becket, played by Richard Burton, foiling with Peter O’Toole playing Henry II, seared himself into my soul when he rightfully chose God over his beloved King. Truth and honesty are above love and loyalty. In today’s parlance, Becket, if a lawyer, would choose Law over his beloved Politics. I have enjoyed being “Barretted” and “Robbinsed,” and note that Tom chose to resign because Wayne was going to, as Wayne “brought him to the dance.” Now, that is love, and loyalty!

The dynamic duo that is Barrett and Robbins have earned the just ire of many a target skewered. Yet, I imagine even the most skewered, in a quiet moment with God, would credit this duo as pushing him or her closer to honest and humble excellence, especially, if the criticism showed a separation between self-reality and perceived reality. The public’s thunderous applause, seemingly silent, was evident in pushing back power-based-entitlement and pushing forward anonymous meritocracy, and indeed, the American Dream itself!

I for one have enjoyed the private discussions and advice, and publically pay homage for same. So, I am saddened with this twin departure, for Wayne and Tom raised the bar the highest yet! I hope that as Frank Sinatra came out of retirement, so will they! The many interns await as does the public.

Dated: 1/5/10/s/Ravi Batra

ghostlectricity
ghostlectricity

Read about WB's "departure" (i.e., firing) and Robbins's decision to quit in solidarity in the NYT business sect. today before going to the VV website (I always check the VV website late Wed. afternoons). I thought that maybe a several-hour delay would assuage my rage about the current VV management's decision, but I was wrong. This makes me angry, and leaves me wondering, what with the past departures of Nat Hentoff and others, if there is anything worthwhile in the VV left to read. Sorry to see both WB and TR go, though I frequently disagreed with them, and my feelings about the current VV management, well, as my mommy of blessed memory used to say, if you can't say anything nice...

Baronpatron
Baronpatron

Thanks Wayne for telling the truth that other News reporters were too scared or lazy to write. With Tom Robbins gone there is no reason to read the Village Voice. Too bad.Wayne you are the bright light that shines into the black hole of government New York needs more like you

marc p.s. 144
marc p.s. 144

Waye is the most uniquely wonderful person and writer their is or was...and I have had 40 years to reach this conclusion. Marc W. P.S. 144

Lb8039
Lb8039

Thanks for decades of through reporting, we will miss you.

esquared
esquared

The Village Voice won't be the same newspaper that Norman Mailer had launched; only the name will be the same.

As per Village Voice's '80's ad slogan -- "Some people swear by us...other people swear AT us"; today, it's just the latter, since even The Village Voice cannot even swear by its best journalists.

Another now ex-Voice reader
Another now ex-Voice reader

Wayne Barrett is infinitely too good for the Voice under its new Arizona management disgrace.You truly, truly suck. Do you honestly think saying you fired him for "budgetary reasons" is the slightest bit believable? (I'm loving Tony Ortega's nonsensical damage control all over the internet - massive fail.) I'm guessing your stupid blog sh*t kid writers aren't going to face the axe though? The Voice 2.0 has outed itself for good with this unbelievable idiocy and scumbaggery.

HarryL
HarryL

My favorite is Foster Kamer who wrote poorly, was vulgar and cost the paper $$$. Ortega defended that shit then he moved on.

Voice RIP
Voice RIP

Yes - Foster Kamer's libelous fuck-up could have paid Wayne's salary for a decade. The Voice has become a seriously gross place.

Andrew H.
Andrew H.

Insane. Just insane. Barrett was, bar none, the best true investigator in New York City. Along with Tom, you guys were the one-two punch local pols feared most. And talk about a lousy business decision. I can't figure out why I would read the Voice any more.

Emily Keller
Emily Keller

Hello Wayne,I learned so much from you as intern years ago and I'm shocked to see you go, but excited about your new projects, whatever they might be. Take care and be well.Emily Keller - Brooklyn

Dave Lucas
Dave Lucas

VV won't be the same without you. This is just the beginning of things to come for journalists and writers!

RC61Austin
RC61Austin

There's someone who is not a fan of the Village Voice. Roger Friedman wrote a very snarky article about how he thinks that the V V doesn't matter. Huh? http://www.showbiz411.com/2011...

HarryL
HarryL

He's a jerk and his blog certainly doesn't matter.

Joe Shea
Joe Shea

How very, very sad. I turned in my first story, about walking through Harlem the night MLK died, in longhand, and got paid $40 for it in 1968. That was an event that precipitated so many changes in my life I can't count them; it sent me around the world and back again. I modeled The American Reporter after the Voice, letting writers assign themselves and editing their work only to make it better and very luightly, too. I never read anything Wayne wrote, unfortunately, but I was privileged to be of the era when my friends Ron Rosenbaum, Howard Blum, Lucian K. Truscott Iv and Clark Whelton forced the city to read the Voice. For going on 16 years now I have tried to do what Wayne has accomplished, and it will be a long time before we raise reporters, writers and poets as great as Wayne, Tim, Alex Cockburn, Jack Newfield, the Cowan brothers, Joe Flaherty, Joel Oppenheimer, Nick Browne, Paul Schiffman and Mary Perot Nichols and Ross Wetzsteon, the greatest editor any man could ever ask for. It is just so sad to see the Voice crumble in this very difficulkt age for our craft, and I pray it can be restored to greatness in the coming years..

Muckraker212
Muckraker212

You never read anything Wayne wrote? What kind of weird thing is that to say?

Reasoner101
Reasoner101

Wayne, you and Tom were the sole surviving journalists at the Village Voice. I wondered how long you would hold on, and now we know. I grew up in the village, reading the paper religiously in the days of Nat Hentoff and Jack Newfield, then the torch was passed for investigative reporting to you guys, Now it has been extinguished. I don;t know what these corporate shills were thinking when they paid $200 million for the Voice, but they deserve to lose all the money they have, and then some. They have now given New Yorkers a reason not to pick up a once great muckracking paper.

Thank you for the years of investigative insights and hard work, to you and Tom Robbins. Hail and farewell.

Chris Owens
Chris Owens

Wayne,

You know that words will never accurately represent what you have meant to me and to my family.

Thank you for being you.

arleneherring
arleneherring

I hate this, What is the point of The Voice without THIS voice, and Robbins too.

Go freebie yourself out of existence, 'Voice.'

JB
JB

I predict that the Voice will never get this many comments on a blog post ever again.

Jdl717
Jdl717

The Voice is now voiceless. Thank you Wayne and Tom. Our city and it's integrity are forever grateful. Goodbye Village Voice. You are now officially not worth reading.

M. Seven
M. Seven

Thank you, Wayne. Thank you. Tom.

John
John

Thank you for a generation of thought-provoking stories. It should be required reading for anyone who confuses the "blogosphere" with actual reporting. It goes along with the best journalism advice I ever received about being an investigative reporter (from the owner of an indepdnent movie theater in 1988) : "Whose ox is being gored?"

John

Alex
Alex

Expressing your voice and seeking the truth meant more than paychecks and circulation. How refreshing and encouraging to know people like this still exist.

Mike Olavarria
Mike Olavarria

Village For Sale.

This is a lasting blow for the Voice.

Molake222
Molake222

The people of this city and state need you Wayne. I hope you dont stray too far

Sara
Sara

How short-sighted can the Village Voice be. It just lost 2 great journalists. Now, there's no longer any need to pick up the Voice.

Gerry O'Brien
Gerry O'Brien

The Voice lost two impeccable journalists today.

Fan
Fan

Wayne, you are a luminary and a complete inspiration. Looking forward to your next chapter. Can't say I'll look at the Voice ever again.

long time fan
long time fan

Thank you Wayne and Tom for making this city a better place.

johnny C
johnny C

All the best to you, Mr. Barrett, in all of your future endeavors.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays

Thanks, Wayne, for being a truth-teller rather than a mouthpiece to power. There are far too many of the latter in the business, particularly in NYC. Same goes to Mr. Robbins - a true gentlemen with an unswerving conscience.

Good luck in your next endeavor.

And VV? Get your sh$t together. This blogging garbage that Wayne references above is killing your publication. And this medium.

Knock it off.

Welchfam
Welchfam

Time to remove my village voice bookmark

firefighterfan
firefighterfan

Barrett = Courage and Impeccable Character......don't get your hopes up Rad...you and your slug friends haven't heard the last of the Maestro yet... Thanks Wayne

Eileenmarkey
Eileenmarkey

The city loses two incredible chroniclers and dogged servants. It will take a long, long time for the Voice to find a reporter with anything near the expertise, commitment and journalistic skill of these two. Barrett taught me and hundreds of other interns what it means to be a reporter. Ihope he'll keep it up wherever he lands.

Eliotmail
Eliotmail

Best of luck, Wayne, from a loyal reader. Bigger and better things, I hope. God knows we need you.

What a sad day in the history of the Village Voice.

Larry Littlefield
Larry Littlefield

If your income and time committments don't preclude it, perhaps you might spend some time doing your own blog your own way.

As I put it a couple of years ago, in this society nobody's gonna to pay you to tell the truth.

http://www.r8ny.com/blog/larry...

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