Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: How Florence George Graves Developed the Packwood Story

Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: How Florence George Graves Developed the Packwood Story

Article excerpt

Ask Florence George Graves why she was so dogged in her reporting of the story of Bob Packwood's sexual misconduct, and she's likely to respond, with characteristic self-deprecating humor, that she had "bought the Common Cause line" about one person being able to make a difference.

In fact, the end result of the Bob Packwood-sexual misconduct saga is a dramatic representation of the truth of that almost-trite aphorism. If not for Graves' insightful, persistent and principled reporting--fueled by her passionate commitment to truth-telling--it's more than likely that the former Republican senator from Oregon would still be chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

The final outcome was also made possible, Graves is quick to point out, by the many other "one persons"--Packwood victims, former staff members, Washington Post editors, senators, Senate Ethics Committee staffers and others-- who told the truth or worked to find it, often at great personal risk.

But it was Graves, working alone from her home in suburban Boston in 1992, who began to connect names, dates and details to the years-old rumors of Packwood's sexual misconduct, and it was her reporting that uncovered a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct by one of the nation's most powerful senators. Graves eventually learned of more than 40 women who said they had been subjected to Packwood's uninvited sexual advances, and with reporting that was both sensitive and tough she persuaded several of them to go on the record.

As difficult as that was, getting the story published was an even greater challenge. An early agreement Graves had with Vanity Fair fell apart, and other media outlets she approached didn't want to pursue the story. Still, she continued to gather information. Finally Graves approached the Washington Post, which teamed her with investigative reporter Charles Shepard, and on November 22, 1992, the newspaper ran a front-page story on allegations of Packwood's sexual misconduct. Packwood had succeeded in delaying publication of the story until after he'd won reelection to a fifth term, but he couldn't stop the resulting furor, additional revelations and Senate Ethics Committee investigation. Not that he didn't try.

By the time an ashen-faced Packwood announced in September that he would resign his Senate seat rather than face certain expulsion, almost three years had elapsed since publication of the first Post story. And amidst the pathos, drama and new revelations surrounding the end of the story, many forgot how it all began--and who had begun it. At her home in Massachusetts, Florence Graves sat in stunned silence, watching the events on television.

Graves has also been investigating other aspects of sexual politics on Capitol Hill. Last year she reported how some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee had prevented a key witness from testifying in the Anita Hill--Clarence Thomas hearings. A Radcliffe College public policy fellow and a visiting scholar at Brandeis University, Graves is writing a book about the intersection of sex, gender and power in Washington politics and media. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, as well as awards from the Pope Foundation and Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

And, all facetiousness aside, Graves means what she says about "the Common Cause line." After all, she helped create it. As the founding editor of Common Cause Magazine, Graves proved that a small public-interest magazine could make a big difference in political journalism and good government. Under her leadership the magazine helped set the standard for investigative money-in-politics reporting and won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence and several of the country's most prestigious reporting awards. The magazine's investigations prompted congressional hearings, government investigations and changes in federal policies. …

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