What I do:
Find the story — the real story — whether it’s the story other journalists missed last week or the story other historians have missed for decades.
Learn the story — the whole story — by applying techniques and tactics developed over more than 25 years of research-intensive investigative journalism.
Tell the story — the story that matters — clearly and cleanly, with respect for the human beings involved, without undue deference to the powerful.
In a wide variety of media outlets, reporting from and conducting research across the United States and in a dozen other countries, I have told true stories throughout my working life. A few examples:
In Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust, I retold the previously obscure life story of a Polish Roman Catholic who endured Soviet captivity and Gestapo torture to bring some of the first news of the emerging Holocaust out of his occupied country. I taught myself to read Polish in order to access archival documents on this book project, and my tenacity convinced a reluctant Professor Jan Karski to share his story with me in full. In the years since the book came out and since Professor Karski’s passing in 2000, his heroism has become well known across the world. On May 29, 2012, I was present at the White House when Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (John Wiley & Sons, hardback 1994, paperback 1996, throughout English-speaking world; Polish edition, 1996; three separate German editions published, 1997-2003.)
As a Cambridge University graduate student in 2001-2002, I unearthed a tale of illicit cooperation between French and British police authorities to combat anarchist terrorism in the 1890s — a secret, fear-driven “war on terror” that featured serious violations of U.K. law by senior officials over a period of several years. My master’s thesis (“dissertation,” in British parlance) made the discovery public for the first time, surprising a number of leading scholars on this era. Like the Karski book, it has been cited repeatedly in scholarly publications.
My career in journalism has featured numerous investigative reports that bared shocking details about the behavior of powerful people and institutions:
- I once exposed a felon living under the protection of the federal Witness Protection Act whose past conviction for child rape was being hidden from local police.
- I told how a wealthy executive, serving a prison sentence for bribery, convinced numerous prominent individuals to petition President Jimmy Carter for a pardon on the grounds that he would devote his life to hometown good works — and who, once Carter granted the pardon, renounced his U.S. citizenship and moved to Ireland.
- I brought to light the huge golden-parachute pay packages two non-profit hospitals had awarded to ex-CEOs who had grossly failed in their jobs.
- I broke the stories of an $18 million alleged fraud tied to a controversial megachurch, a CEO accused of looting his restaurant company while low-wage workers suffered and a payroll-processing impresario whose brashly promoted firm imploded while owing large amounts of money to employees of its client companies.
But most of my research, reporting and writing over the years — for local media in Nashville as well as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other national and international media outlets — has aimed to reveal less lurid untold stories. I pride myself on conveying the facts of complicated stories to lay readers clearly and without unnecessary jargon.
And whether the stories involve business, government, history or just an offbeat topic that has caught my attention, I pride myself on being first with the news and telling the full story before the competition has told any of it at all. That’s why I have seen my work repurposed by some of Nashville’s and the nation’s most august news organizations over the years. Not that I mind so much. Knowing I broke the story is satisfaction enough.
The projects I’m currently trying to turn into books or magazine articles all involve narratives of modern history, ranging from the 1860s to the recent past, that I have uncovered after conducting research in depths that others have not plumbed. My full-time gig, as of early 2011, is a history of for-profit hospitals and related healthcare enterprises.
E. Thomas Wood
4035 Sneed Road
Nashville, TN 37215