Yesterday NY1 aired a long interview with muckraking reporter and Nation Institute Fellow Wayne Barrett. The accompanying piece, by Budd Mishkin — who also conducted the interview — began with Barrett's reaction to his job working for Tina Brown at The Daily Beast and Newsweek. (Till the end of last year, Barrett was a mainstay at the New York alternative weekly The Village Voice; he worked there since 1973 and his departure was compared by a former Voice editor to the loss of Joe diMaggio for the New York Yankees.)
"The first assignment I got was to do a piece about Kabala," says Barrett. "I get an email from one of [Brown's] editors saying 'we want you to look at Kabala corruption,' so I come downstairs to Fran and I say 'I think they are sending me to Kabul.'"
Mishkin also delved into Barrett's early years in Lynchberg, VA, and the formative experience of living in the predominantly black neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn.
He still has the ability to laugh at himself, such as the time when the first Governor Cuomo offered his legal services to Barrett's wife Fran.
"'If you ever need a divorce lawyer, I want you to know that I will represent you,' and this continued for so many years, that when Andrew was elected AG, he told Fran, 'by the way my father has passed the case on to me, and I have subpoena power, I have subpoena power,'" says Barrett.
In the segment about his years in New York's poorest neighborhood, Brownsville (see the box titled "One on 1" Extras), which Barrett calls the "best years of my life," he discusses how easy it was for him to fit in, how comfortable he felt as a lone white man (with his white wife, Fran), so much so that he "felt like it was my living room." He recalled a close call that he had when he was with Fran and his best friend Maurice during the racial riots of 1977, noting that if the trio had taken a few minutes more to get off the streets, he may not be alive today. Despite that experience, Barrett says, "black people are the least racist people in America" and living in Brownsville had "a sense of community about it," something he has never felt again in his life.
He also spoke about his faith, growing up as a Catholic, with a brother who almost got ordained, and his love for the church, and the tension that created with the church's behavior "in the real world." While Barrett disagrees with the church's position on abortion, he sees it as a natural extension of its theology and respects it. But there are other "life questions" out there that are more important and wide-ranging that the church doesn't address, such as climate change. "There's only one life question that seems to mesmerize" the church, he says, which is abortion. "But do you ever hear the church talking about cuts to Medicaid?"
Barrett also devoted some time to discussing his famed internship program, which is currently being run out of the Institute offices, where his interns sit. See that segment here. "Internships are so much better than any class can be," he says, and he seems to be right. Former Barrett interns can be found at the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Newsweek, Daily News, New York Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Time, The Nation, Los Angeles Times, NY1, New York Observer, Roll Call, CBS.com, Mother Jones, El Diario, New York Magazine, NBC, WNYC, as well as newspapers from Guam to Fargo to rural Louisiana to San Antonio to Cambodia.
When Barrett joined the Institute family in January 2011, his ex-colleague from his Voice days, Joe Conason of the Institute's Investigative Fund, wrote a blog post about the move. "Having known Wayne Barrett for more than three decades, a period during which we have been both colleagues and close friends, I can state unequivocally that the investigative reporter who sadly left the Village Voice this week is the most prolific and successful of his generation," Conason wrote. In the past six months, he has not let up, continuing to write hard-hitting investigative pieces that take on Madonna, Mayor Bloomberg, and most recently, Al Sharpton. His next project is on a billionaire sex offender — stay tuned for the full story!