Review of Dan Moldea's "Confessions of a Guerilla Writer"

tags: investigative journalism

Mel Ayton is the author of numerous books and articles and has appeared in documentaries produced by the National Geographic Channel, and the Discovery Channel. His next book, Hunting the President, an examination of plots, threats and assassination attempts against American presidents, will be published by Regnery Publishing Inc in late 2013.

Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer: Adventures in the Jungles of Crime, Politics, and Journalism
By Dan E. Moldea
Moldea.com (2013

After following Dan Moldea’s career for over thirty years I have concluded he is one of America's best investigative reporters. That judgment has not diminished after reading his memoirs Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer.

Throughout his books the old maxim, Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall is clearly evident. A specialist on organized-crime investigations since 1974, he has widened his brief to cover everything from Mafia hit men to political scandal. Working out of Washington DC, but at times living in cities across America during his periods of research, Moldea was on first name basis with beat cops and organized crime members, from corporate leaders to community activists. For his troubles he has escaped being killed six times.

Moldea’s highly acclaimed works investigating the power of the mafia include The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians and the Mob (1978), Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob (1986) and Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football (1989).

Moldea also took it upon himself to investigate crimes which were either unsolved or the investigations created numerous unanswered questions. The resulting published works of these cases include The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy: An Investigation of Motive, Means, and Opportunity (1995); Evidence Dismissed: The Inside Story of the Police Investigation of O.J. Simpson (with Tom Lange and Philip Vannatter, 1997); and A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm (1998). 

For his reporting Moldea has won acclaim from numerous newspapers and magazines including Newsweek and the New York Times. And for good reason. Some of his writing has altered history especially his work on the disappearance of Teamster Boss Jimmy Hoffa, the RFK assassination and the alleged ‘murder’ of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster.

Moldea’s latest bookreveals the background to his life as an investigative journalist. It should be titled The Search For Truth because Moldea has applied that virtue throughout his writing career. Part autobiography and part true crime, the memoir revisits the cases which became the subjects for his best-selling books. His curiosity, focus and reflection provide significant insight into the minds and motivations of a wide array of characters from ambitious politicians to political assassins. However, its fascination is not so much in what he has to say about his life as an investigative journalist but in his candid comments about the crimes he has investigated and the incendiary aftermath his reporting has provoked.

What also makes this book so enjoyable and fascinating is the behind-the-scenes look at the cases he investigated and how he approached them. His work on four true crime cases, in particular, is revisited and updated including the disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the suicide of Vincent Foster and the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson. Moldea cleverly used all his experience and insight to reconstruct what exactly happened and how he came to solve the numerous anomalies within each murder investigation.

Particularly intriguing is how Moldea chronicles his decades-old pursuit of what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. In fact, Moldea put the pieces of the puzzle together as far back as 1978 when his book The Hoffa Wars was published. His conclusions are supported by FBI files which were released to the public in 1997. In short, this is what happened. Hoffa was murdered on the orders of mobster Tony Provenzano who fell out with Hoffa in the early to mid-1970s. A meeting between Hoffa and Provenzano was arranged at a restaurant in the Detroit suburbs to settle their differences. Outside the restaurant Hoffa was kidnapped then taken to a safe house where he was killed. His body was buried on a piece of real estate about thirty miles north of Detroit owned by Teamster thug Rolland McMaster. Provenzano’s plot to kill Hoffa was condoned by Pennsylvania crime boss Russell Bufalino. Mobster Sal Briguglio was appointed as the trigger man. Briguglio was assisted by Hoffa’s adopted son Chuck O’Brien, mobsters Tom Andretta, Steve Andretta and Frank Sheeran.

In 2006 the FBI, acting on information supplied by sources tied to the mob, attempted to find Hoffa’s body. However, as Moldea discovered, they had been looking at the right parcel of land but the wrong burial site. Hoffa’s body likely remains on the plot of land identified by an associate of Rolland McMaster but so far no government agency has supplied the funds to carry out another search, this time in the correct place.

Initially a believer in conspiracy to assassinate Robert Kennedy, Moldea courageously and truthfully presented his findings which led him to an opposing conclusion. Prodigiously researched and devoid of ludicrous speculation, his work possesses an extra layer of credibility with extensive interviews of Los Angeles police officers. Looking back at his work on the assassination mysteries he has provided the reader with compelling reasons why his critics have been less than honest when they reviewed his book. For example, Moldea has added a fascinating account of how a British reporter erred when he alleged he knew more about this case than Moldea. Ignoring the fact that Moldea’s investigative skills have been well-honed over the years the British reporter injudiciously asserted that he was near RFK during the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel shooting -- Moldea proved otherwise.

Moldea used the same careful approach in investigating the death of Vincent Foster. It was Moldea who put an end to the hysterical calls for a new investigation of Foster’s death and the repeated accusations from Clinton critics that the White House aide was murdered. In Guerrilla he has revisited the case and given an overview of why he came to his conclusions.

Moldea’s work on the Simpson case proved the former footballer’s guilt beyond all doubt. Working with the two lead investigators on the case he demonstrated how the prosecution team erred when they failed to put important evidence before the jury in the criminal trial. Moldea concludes that Simpson would undoubtedly have been convicted had they done so and that the true blame for the loss of this case can be laid at the feet of the prosecution. Moldea also vindicates LAPD officers Tom Lange and Philip Vannatter, who had been criticised by the media. He also criticizes LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman in particular for allegedly botching the police investigation.

These examples and others provide insight into Moldea’s modus operandi. For those who are interested in how a reporter with integrity approaches an investigation this is an invaluable read. As we see in Confessions, Moldea’s sense of ethics toward the investigations, collaboration with law enforcement, and responsibility toward the victim and his or her family can teach us much about investigating famous crimes. The book also deserves to be read by people who work for the media because it is a formidable contribution to the debate about media ethics, and the relationship between the media and law enforcement.

America needs more investigative reporters like Dan. He would have made a great homicide investigator.

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