Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Maureen Orth (page 3)
 Talking with
Maureen Orth
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page 3

 
You have traveled in both private planes and in far more difficult ways to get your stories. Tell us about one or two of your memorable travel adventures.
I recount in the book a trip I took with basketball star Shaq O’Neal and his team, the Orlando Magic on their specially outfitted private jet which had seven foot ceilings. Shaq was wearing a huge belt buckle with the letters TWISM: This World Is Mine.
     And indeed it was. Private planes are really the way that privilege is most determined among celebrities today. Not having to go through security or lines, being whisked off the field in big cars as the Magic players were — it is truly a different world. Julio Iglesias once told me he could not wait to get off the stage and go to his plane and “fly above the world through the heavens.”
     Of course I more often have experienced the other side of the coin: shortly after September 11, 2001, I was flying from a border town in Tajikistan to Dushanbe, the capital, in a Tajik airliner with burlap straps on the seats and a filthy strip of carpet in the aisle that was not tacked down. The night was pitch black and there were no airport lights. The metal detector for security had unconnectd wires hanging from it so there was no need to go through. Before we boarded, the stewardess had to knock on the plane’s door to wake up the pilot and tell him to open up. I was writing about the relationship between drugs and terrorism and to my eye most of the passengers were drug dealers. I luckily was seated next to a British cotton broker who spoke English. Upon takeoff I said I thought we were climbing nearly vertically awfully fast. “I certainly hope so,” he said. “because there is a 7,000 foot mountain directly in front of us.”
Why do you think no one trusts the media?
Having experienced both sides, I can understand why the media gets pummelled. The internet, especially, is such an unfiltered medium that anyone can say anything about anyone, including website columnists, and nothing ever has to be corrected. Part of the thesis of my book is how the voracious media beast, always hungry to be fed, completely bends the rules of journaIism. For example, I have written very long, exhaustively researched articles about Michael Jackson and three of them are in the book. To me, the issue of child molestation is extremely serious, and I believe that Michael Jackson is the apotheosis of celebrity corruption. Yet, despite all the evidence I mount, I still get attacked or dismissed and not just by rabid fans of his. This morning on “The Today Show,” a reporter, who knows better, said that MJ’s drug use Vanity Fair wrote about is “of course unconfirmed.” There is a documented trail of drug use — he has publicly checked into detox previously — just for starters. But to me it goes with the territory.
     On the other hand, there is so much fawning, trivial reporting in celebrity journalism and so much power on the side of the celebrity in the interview situation today, that they tend to view anything less than a puff as an offense. My point is that we are so drenched in celebrity and fame in our culture that it demands to be examined much more carefully.
Maureen has a website at
MaureenOrth.com
What type of stories are you doing now?
So much of my reporting now is investigative, but my stories about the domestic murders at Fort Bragg by Afghan vets, the story of the pedophile priest, Paul Shanley, and the drugs and terrorism piece did not fit into the book. However, my stories about people like Denise and Marc Rich and his presidential pardon from Bill Clinton and, the profile of Arianna Huffington, both of which are in the book, are essentially political reporting. So in recent years I have been able to tackle tough, thorny subjects which take a tremendous amount of research. I remember reading about nine books on Northern Ireland just to prep for the Gerry Adams profile.
Don’t you at times just want to leave all of these people behind and go off to a convent?
I’m too curious to lead a cloistered life. But in the last third of my life or so I hope to do something with international themes — perhaps about women or a woman or do a great biography of someone.
You have been involved with Returned Peace Corps Volunteer projects over the last twenty years. What are your thoughts on the NPCA?
I always thought the idea of organizing returned Volunteers to help immigrants in their own U.S. communities was a great idea. We speak the languages and know the cultures. The Hispanic community, especially, needs help in the education system, and at least one model to do that with RPCVs has been created.
     I have raised a lot of money for the NPCA, but every time I get involved with them I end up tearing my hair out.
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