Posts tagged ‘Jason Fagone’
The New Yorker magazine got a lot of publicity for choosing what its staff thinks are the best young fiction writers working today, so the New Haven Review decided to do the same with non-fiction writers. And among the top 20 (or so) non-fiction writers working today, the Review decided, is Jason Fagone ’01, a former Penn Stater staffer who still writes for us on occasion.
You can find his most recent piece for us—”The Hungary Job,” about a trip through eastern Europe with Andrew Bieniawski ’89 Eng of the National Nuclear Security Administration—in our January/February 2009 issue. You can also download a PDF of it here. Right now he’s working on a story for us about NASA’s chief technologist, Bobby Braun ’87.
And for those of you who want additional reading: The Review’s entire list is here. Links to some of Fagone’s stories, including an investigative piece into a murder that might have been committed by former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison that was cited by the Review, are on his website. And for the back story behind the Marvin Harrison story, check out Jason’s Q&A with Tina Hay ’83.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
We like to keep an eye on what former Penn Stater magazine staff writers are up to these days, and this week brought interesting articles from both Jason Fagone ’01 and Vicki Glembocki ’93, ’02g.
And on a lighter note, Vicki has an occasional blog called “Blunt Force Mama,” and today’s posting—about taking her 2-year-old daughter to see fireworks for the first time—is pretty funny.
Tina Hay, editor
One of my favorite Penn Stater articles of the past few years is “The Hungary Job,” which Jason Fagone ’01 did for our Jan-Feb 2009 issue. It was a very ambitious story for us: We sent Jason to Hungary to embed with a group of U.S. officials on a cloak-and-dagger mission to remove highly enriched uranium from a reactor and ship it to Russia for safekeeping.
The point man for the operation was a Penn Stater: Andrew Bieniawski ’89 Eng, assistant deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration. For the past 14 years, the NNSA has been conducting secret missions like that all over the world, in an attempt to secure loose nukes and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.
Why am I telling you all of this now? Because Bieniawski and his program are back in the news, in a big way.
They’re in the news for two reasons, actually. One is the nuclear summit in Washington, D.C., this week. Dealing with the worldwide nuclear threat, it seems, requires a two-pronged approach. One part is preventing proliferation—that is, trying to keep countries that don’t have nuclear-weapons capability from getting that capability. The other part is retrieving and securing the highly enriched uranium, or HEU, that’s already out there, so that terrorists can’t get at it.
President Obama has said that the latter effort is the United States’ No. 1 national-security priority. And our man Bieniawski is at the center of that. Quoting an article in this week’s Time magazine:
It is Bieniawski’s job to convince countries to give up their HEU and send it to either the U.S. or Russia. So far, the NNSA has removed a total of 5,935 lbs. (2,692 kg) of fissile material from 37 countries and has its sights on 4,190 lbs. (1,900 kg) more. To meet that goal, Obama has asked for the program’s budget to be increased by 67% percent to $560 million next year.
The other reason that Bieniawski’s work is in the news is that the Time article reveals that his most recent nuclear-removal mission took place in Chile—during the Feb. 27 earthquake. According to the article, Bieniawski’s team had just finished packing up the highly enriched uranium, or HEU, into a shipping container the night before.
So just imagine how much an earthquake could screw up a delicate operation like that: How to transport the container across earthquake-damaged roads, to a port that had been devastated by the quake, while still dealing with aftershocks? They got it done, and the tale of how they did it is well worth the read.
You might also check out Time‘s slide show of images from the Chile operation. The photos remind me a lot of the shots Jason Fagone brought back from the Hungary job. (Bieniawski is the guy in the yellow jacket in the photo above, which was taken by his agency during the Chile operation). And the Washington Post had a story about the Chile adventure on Sunday.
By the way, the Hungary operation in which Jason was embedded ran into some roadblocks and tense moments of its own; you can read our story by downloading a PDF of it here. But nothing like an earthquake.
Tina Hay, editor
P.S. The Penn Stater is now on Facebook. Check us out and become a fan!
Last Thursday, GQ magazine published a powerful and absorbing story by Jason Fagone ’01 about a pair of shootings in Philadelphia—one in April 2008 that wounded a man, and a second one last July that killed that same man. The story makes the case that the person behind both shootings may well be eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts.
When he was an undergrad at Penn State, Jason worked on the staff of the Daily Collegian and did an internship here at The Penn Stater. He stayed on with us as a staff writer before heading off into his career with newsstand magazines. We’re very happy that he still freelances for us on occasion.
How did you first hear about the whole Marvin Harrison situation? And how did the GQ story come about?
It was the idea of my editor at GQ, Brendan Vaughan. He’s a football guy—we had worked together on a piece about Tim Tebow, the University of Florida quarterback. Brendan has really good instincts, and he had read some of the clips about the Harrison case and sensed that there might be a bigger story there. And he knew I lived in Philly and asked me if I was interested in doing some digging. That’s how it got started.
Why do you suppose the shootings and Harrison’s possible role managed to fly under the radar, in terms of media attention, for so long?
Couple answers. The obvious one is that Harrison was this famously quiet, humble, hardworking family guy. He didn’t seem like the kind of person who would walk around with loaded a .32-caliber handgun strapped to his leg. So there was this dissonance about his persona.
Also, there was dissent in the law-enforcement community. The Philly district attorney at the time, Lynne Abraham, gave a press conference in January 2009 that killed the Harrison story for months. It was amazing. She tarred the witnesses as liars and downplayed the strong physical evidence that had been gathered by the detectives.
Abraham made it hard for any journalist to advance the story, because to do that you’d have to show that the DA of Philadelphia was wrong. And to do that you’d need to spend a lot of time being a pain and gathering sources and documents and other stuff to help you sort out the thing that the DA said you could never sort out. So I was lucky that GQ took a risk here and basically said, “Here, spend a month on this and see what you find.” That’s a luxury.
Seems like Robert Nixon, a major eyewitness to the first shooting, was a big catch in terms of your reporting. How did you get him to talk to you?
I called his lawyer and asked.
Nixon is suing Harrison in civil court, for an amount in excess of $50,000. Attention will help his case, and he wants to win and get paid, so he had incentive to talk to me. Of course, as a witness to a shooting in a city where witnesses sometimes end up dead, he also had a disincentive.
My sense is that the FBI had already reached out to the police before my story posted online. But as far as Seth Williams goes, yes, I talked to his people, and they confirmed that his renewed interest in the case is a direct result of the firestorm sparked by the GQ story. He was planning to dig into it anyway, but he’s a busy guy, and our revelations helped to move the Harrison case to the top of the pile.
What kinds of e-mails have you been getting from people as a result of the article? Seems like Colts fans in particular aren’t too happy with you.
Yeah, there are some Internet commenters who hate the story and the way I wrote it. Some people think that Robert Nixon is a liar, and so they discount the whole piece, which is baffling to me, because part of the point I tried to make is that you don’t have to believe Nixon at all—you just have to believe the physical evidence, and Harrison’s own words in his statement to police. But I am not going to convince those people.
Judging by the Twitter account of Terrell Owens, he’s not a huge fan either—there was a passing mention of Owens in the story, as an example of a black athlete with a reputation for histrionics (as opposed to Harrison), and some sportswriters thought this was unfair, because Owens has no criminal record and this was primarily a story about crime. I think that’s a fair criticism.
And the gun people are not happy. I got a couple of e-mails from guys who seem to know a lot about guns, and said I was wrong to characterize Harrison’s handgun as an unusually nasty sort of weapon. I disagree.
Overall, though, the feedback has been positive in a really gratifying way. Sometimes when you write a long piece in a magazine and it gets blogged about, the first thing people say is something like, “This is REALLY LONG.” But here, I think people got something out of the length. The saga of the two shootings was just so bizarre, and it had been out there in so many tiny fragments, that the larger truth of the thing had been kind of lost. So when it was all stitched together in one story, it had an impact.
So that tells me that there is still a role for long-form journalism. There’s something it can do that is useful.
(You can read even more about the story behind Jason’s GQ story here.)
Tina Hay, editor
GQ Magazine yesterday posted a story by former Penn Stater magazine staff writer Jason Fagone ’01 (now a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area) that’s already generating a lot of buzz.
Called “The Dirtiest Player,” the piece looks at the possible—some say likely—role of former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison in a 2008 gunfight in Philadelphia and a subsequent murder in Philly this past September. It’s a case that hasn’t drawn a huge amount of media attention until now, and Jason did some amazing reporting and writing to bring it to light.
I started reading Jason’s article last night and couldn’t stop until I had finished it. One of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. (Warning: The story does contain a good bit of language that is, shall we say, not the sort of thing you would want to read out loud to your child at bedtime….)
Tina Hay, editor
I mentioned the other day that we hadn’t won anything in the overall magazine category in this year’s CASE awards, but that we did win two gold medals in the category called “Best Articles of the Year.” I thought you might want to see the two articles that won.
One of the gold awards was for “The Family Tree” (Nov-Dec 2008), a story by Vicki Glembocki ’93, ’02g, about the film No. 4 Street of Our Lady, which chronicles the heroic efforts of a Polish woman to shelter several Jewish families from the Nazis during the Holocaust. The film is the work of three Penn State faculty members—one of whom is the daughter of one of the Jews who was saved.
As for the other gold award, well, a year or so we learned of a Penn State grad, Andrew Bieniawski ’89, who leads a U.S. government effort to track down and remove nuclear materials that are still scattered throughout eastern Europe, remnants of the Cold War. The effort often involves delicate negotiations with other countries, and lots of secretive work under cover of darkness. We sent Jason Fagone ’01 over to Hungary to follow one such cloak-and-dagger mission, and the resulting article, “The Hungary Job” (Jan-Feb 2009) is one of the most engrossing reads we’ve printed in a long time. It won the other gold medal.
And, if you don’t already get the print version of The Penn Stater magazine, you can have it sent to your mailbox six times a year simply by joining the Penn State Alumni Association. Click here to sign up.
Tina Hay, editor
There’s a quote attributed to Douglas Adams that goes like this: “I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.”
So, the January-February issue was supposed to go to the printer on Monday. As per normal, it didn’t. Actually, in our defense, we did get most of it out, and a few more pages yesterday, and we just have one more feature and the cover to get out the door today. Or tomorrow. (No! Please, let us get this thing out of our hair today.) Luckily we have a very forgiving and flexible printer, and the magazine always manages to get mailed to readers on time.
I thought I’d share the opening spread of just one of our four features for January-February. Back in October, in the week leading up to the Michigan game, Senior Editor Ryan Jones spent a lot of time up at Paternoville—he even camped out with the students outside the stadium one night. (The students were in tents, but Ryan, being tough, just slept in a sleeping bag under the stars.) He wrote a first-person account of the experience, called “Our Town.” It’s a lot of fun. Click on the photo to see a larger-size version of the opening spread.
Other features in this issue include a profile of Doug Moorhead ’56, who runs Presque Isle Wine Cellars in Erie, and a roundup of reader-submitted stories about how they and their Penn State buddies have kept in touch over the years. And perhaps the centerpiece of the Jan-Feb feature well (that’s what we call it in the biz: the “feature well”) is a story by Jason Fagone in which he went to eastern Europe to watch as U.S. Energy Department employees, led by Andrew Bieniawski ’89, removed some nuclear fuel from a Soviet Union-era reactor in Hungary and sent it on its way to Russia for reprocessing. It’s part of a global effort to keep nuclear fuel out of the hands of terrorists. Quite possibly the coolest assignment on which we’ve ever sent a writer.
Look for the Jan-Feb issue to be in your mailboxes by about Dec. 31 or early January, depending on where you live.
Tina Hay, editor
Monday is our “drop-dead deadline,” the day we have to have all our files to the prepress vendor or bad things happen (like the magazine potentially getting mailed late to readers). As usual, we’re all wondering how we’re going to get things done on time.
Which might explain my leg. I’ve always been hyper, and when I’m sitting down, the leg is constantly bouncing in place to music only I can hear. At the newspaper where I used to work, one of the guys in the composing room nicknamed me Thumper, and nowadays my officemate Julie swears she can feel the floor shake. Part of the blame lies with all the chocolate that Tina Hay stocks for the staff—she wickedly doesn’t eat it, just puts it out there for the rest of us. Deadlines also deserve part of the blame.
But I’m in good company. Jason Fagone, a phenomenal writer who now does work for publications like Esquire and The New York Times—and whom our staff has known since the days when he was a boy-genius intern who was always losing his coat—may be even worse than me in the leg-shaking department. (The fact that he’s about 8 feet tall exacerbates the effect.) Speaking of Jason, his irreverent feature in the January/February Penn Stater, about alumni whose job is to clean up stray nukes in Eastern Europe, is worth a read. Or will be, if we ever get this magazine done.
Chas Brua, Contributing Editor