By Juliann Guiffre
“Dad, are these guys famous?” Terry Dalton’s 10-year-old son, Andrew, asked him when he heard that two Pulitzer Prize winners were coming to McDaniel.
“No,” said English professor Dalton, “but they should be.”
Dalton was speaking of Jerry Kammer and Marc Stern of the Copley News Service in Washington, whose hard investigating uncovered one of the largest scandals ever involving a U.S. congressman and revealed a corruption in the system that many never knew existed.
Their tireless work made former US Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham finally admit that he had accepted more than $2.4 million in bribes between 2000 and 2005 from various defense contractors who used the government to enrich themselves.
Last Thursday Kammer and Stern spoke with students and faculty about their riveting and inspiring story.
“Let’s have fun.”
These were Stern’s opening words- inviting those in the audience to not only ask questions, but interact with himself and Kammer. They then began describing Stern’s undying curiosity on the character of this corrupt congressman, describing it as Shakespearian in nature.
“A man achieves greatness and then a tragic flaw leads to his downfall,” said Kammer.
Cunningham was an ace fighter pilot during the Vietnam war, and became a national hero after shooting a total of five North Vietnamese MiGs. However, when he was told he was going to be awarded a Navy Cross, the highest honor for a pilot, he said that he was holding out for the Congressional Medal of Honor, an honor often given to the next of kin.
“Cunningham already had a flawed character,” said Stern, “and the culture of Washington warps people.”
Despite the horrible actions of this crooked congressman, Stern stressed that this is not just about a flawed individual, but about “a flawed system, designed for corruption”–the earmark system. Each representative is given millions of dollars each year to devote to “special projects.” It is this bigger issue that Stern and Kammer wish to alert people to.
“What’s really scandalous in Washington is what congress allows to be legal, but the system almost forces them into it because they have to raise money for their campaigns,” said Kammer.
Despite their great achievements, both Stern and Kammer have serious doubts about the future of print journalism. Stern does not think that papers will still be around in ten years and Kammer points out that young people aren’t buying newspapers and circulation is drastically falling.
With this in mind Kammer encourages students to “start at a small paper and travel to a completely different part of the country…widen your perspective as an American and as a reporter.”
Freshman Lauren Goldberg found the lecture so intriguing because she had learned about earmarks in her high school government class and thought it “would be cool to learn how to uncover that.”
Sophomore Sara Groveman said that the lecture “gave a lot of insight into what is going on behind closed doors.”
Stern and Kammer have spoken at various places about their inspirational story with more to come in the following month. And of course, they will still continue to investigate this story and the deep corruptions of Congress.