Family of Secrets,
Russ Baker is a US investigative journalist and founder of the nonprofit website WhoWhatWhy.com. His recurring themes are politics, secrecy, and abuses of power. His recent writings have focused on elites in finance, resource extraction, military and intelligence operations, and their quiet influence over national and global political and economic affairs.
In 2009 Bloomsbury published his book Family of Secrets: the Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America. The paperback edition was released in November 2009 under the title Family of Secrets: the Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years. The book has been reviewed by many print and electronic journals.
Baker has written for many US publications including the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Village Voice, Esquire, Slate and Salon, and served as a contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. Internationally, his work has appeared in dozens of top publications including: The Globe & Mail (Canada); The Sunday Times, The Guardian, and The Observer (UK); Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine (Germany), La Repubblica (Italy), South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Baker received an MS in Journalism from Columbia University and a BA in Political Science from UCLA, and has served as a member of the adjunct faculty of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has won numerous journalism awards, including a 2005 Deadline Club award for his reporting on George W. Bush's military record. He also writes essays, profiles, humor, and culture and travel pieces.
Investigative journalism career
In 1988 Baker obtained a Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. After an internship with Newsday, he began work as an independent journalist. In 1988, he was one of a handful of foreign correspondents to cover Hutu-Tutsi massacres in Burundi, a precursor to the genocide that unfolded in neighboring Rwanda several years later. He also reported from Kenya. In 1989, Baker arrived in East Germany just prior to the collapse of the communist government there, and was present to report on the fall of the Berlin Wall. In December of that year, he was one of the first journalists to enter Romania just as fighting broke out between revolutionaries and the government of the longtime dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. His reports from Germany and Romania were carried by news organizations around the world.
That same year, Baker became a New York correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, covering a wide range of topics from politics to feature stories. While working for the alternative weekly Village Voice in New York, he produced numerous investigative cover stories on such topics as corruption in the police union, the use of humanitarian international relief as cover for covert operations, and the displacement and destruction of small businesses in New York through massive commercial rent increases.
In the early 1990s, Baker served as a member of the adjunct faculty at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
In 1995 Baker was hired by Fox Television to serve as an investigative producer for a new primetime news magazine show in development. Though the show was ultimately not launched, Baker's report on the efforts of the controversial Church of Scientology to recruit Michael Jackson through Elvis Presley's daughter aired on the program A Current Affair. In 1997, Baker traveled to Germany on assignment for John F. Kennedy Jr.'s George magazine, and produced an article] about a raging battle between Scientology and the German government.
In 1998 at the height of the Clinton impeachment proceedings related to the Monica Lewinsky Affair, Baker produced a story for Vanity Fair about Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana, a leading Republican moral crusader. The article documented the married Burton's own extensive record of sexual harassment of, and affairs with, women being paid with campaign contributions and federal dollars, as well as his practice of soliciting campaign contributions from foreign powers. Prior to its publication, Burton called a preemptive press conference to condemn Baker's work and accuse him of working for the White House, while at the same time admitting that he had done some things of which he was not proud.
As the impeachment climate continued to heat up and Vanity Fair had not yet published the article, Baker obtained permission to take it to the online magazine Salon, which published it the week that the Senate voted not to convict Clinton. Baker also worked as an outside producer for 60 Minutes in preparation for a television piece on Burton which never aired because Burton declined to be interviewed by correspondent Mike Wallace. Baker's reporting on Burton received an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
In 1999 Baker traveled to France and became the first journalist to spend time with Ira Einhorn, the so-called Unicorn Killer, who had been 18 years on the lam for the murder of his girlfriend in Philadelphia, and was fighting an extradition process. This story appeared in the December 1999 edition of Esquire and later in an anthology of Esquire articles.
In 2001 Baker, a Manhattan resident, rushed to the scene where two planes had just hit the World Trade Center and was nearby when the towers came crashing down. He was watching Building Seven as it pancaked, and described it over the phone to an editor at the Los Angeles Times, for whom he was reporting. Baker provided the paper with extensive early coverage and interviews of eyewitnesses and survivors. In the ensuing days, he produced articles for foreign publications on the search for loved ones, the fear of retribution in Brooklyn's Muslim population, and a retrospective on the first attempt to bring down the towers, eight years earlier.
In 2002 he received a U.S. government grant to travel to Belgrade, Serbia and train journalists there in investigative reporting. Baker remained beyond his contract period, staying in Serbia into 2004. He provided additional training to journalists in Bosnia, and reported throughout the region for news organizations around the world. He covered the assassination of the Serbian reform prime minister Zoran Djindjic, and explored allegations that the triggermen answered to more powerful interests. He also wrote about corruption in Serbia's conversion to a market system. He traveled through Bosnia and Montenegro to pursue answers to NATO's failure to capture the longtime fugitive Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, indicted for war crimes and genocide. This included an article about places where Karadzic was believed to be hiding, which was published in newspapers throughout the world.
In connection with his reporting and writing, Baker has been a speaker at diverse private and public organizations, including many colleges and universities, and has been interviewed many times on radio and television stations, including on C-SPAN, on a number of NPR and PBS affiliate stations, on RT, and on a wide range of AM and FM radio stations both in the United States and abroad. Interviewees have included David Feldman, Jay Taylor, Pat Thurston, Nicole Sandler, Rick Smith, Jean Dean, former Florida Congressman Mark Foley, Ron Reagan, son of the former president, and others.
The investigations that led to Family of Secrets
Baker was in Europe during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and wrote articles expressing scepticism about the evidence that supposedly justified that action. He scrutinised in particular the work of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who provided fodder for the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
When he returned to the United States in 2004, Baker began independent research on why George W. Bush appeared likely to win a second term despite growing evidence that he had launched an invasion under false pretenses. He also studied the controversy over the military record of Bush's opponent John Kerry. This led Baker to examine Bush's own military record and to unearth new evidence that Bush himself had skipped out on two years of service during the Vietnam War. He received a 2005 Deadline Club award for this reporting.
Shortly before the 2004 election, Baker obtained an exclusive interview with the veteran journalist and author Mickey Herskowitz who had begun a writing collaboration with presidential candidate George W. Bush in 1999. Bush's handlers eventually removed Herskowitz from the book project over material in the manuscript they did not like. But before then, in an unguarded moment, Bush had told him that if elected president, he hoped to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein. His stated reason was that he had come to believe that an essential component of a popular, successful presidency was the launching and winning of a war.
According to Herskowitz, Bush also admitted that he had not finished his military service, claiming to have been "excused". Baker presented the story to several top publications that expressed keen interest. However, all backed down citing possible repercussions for aggressive Bush coverage. This was after the debacle in which CBS and its anchor Dan Rather had aired documents about Bush's military service that were immediately attacked as false. Baker finally gave his story to the website Guerrilla News Network, which published it shortly before the election.
One week after the election, the famed White House correspondent Helen Thomas cited Baker's article in her syndicated column, and began a concerted effort to get Bush to explain his true motives for invading Iraq. This pursuit by Thomas became the subject of a satirical film by the television personality Stephen Colbert who aired it at the White House Correspondents dinner attended by President Bush.
Following the election, Baker traveled to Ohio to assess allegations that George W. Bush's campaign had stolen the election in that state. Baker examined several specific examples of purported improprieties and irregularities in certain Ohio counties, as well as claims that exit polls proved fraud, and concluded that they had been misrepresented. His article on this, published at the website TomPaine.com, was vociferously attacked by proponents of the stolen election scenario, but was praised by others as evidence of Baker's evenhandedness.
Family of Secrets
Based on a growing file of perplexing information he had collected in 2004, Baker began work on an investigative history of George W. Bush and his family, and the forces that had propelled them to power. The book Family of Secrets was released by Bloomsbury Press in January 2009 and followed in November in paperback.
Baker is the founder and Editor in Chief of WhoWhatWhy.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, non-commercial investigative and analytical news site that he began developing while writing Family of Secrets. Editing and promoting WhoWhatWhy are currently his principal activities, as he continues researching and writing books.
- “‘Scoops’ and Truth at the Times”, by Russ Baker, The Nation, June 23, 2003.
- “Portrait of a political ‘pit bull’”, by Russ Baker, Salon, Tuesday, 22 December 1998 03:00 PM EST.
- - "I'm The Other Guy", The New York Times, 6 May 2002.
- Examples of his work can also be found in an archive of articles on his website.
- “The rogue police union”, by Russ Baker, Village Voice, 7 December 1993 Vol. XXXVIII No. 49.
- “The Deforesting of Irian Jaya”, by Russ W. Baker, The Nation, 7 February 1994.
- “The clash of the titans”, by Russ Baker, George Magazine, April 1997.
- “A touch of Eden”, by Russ Baker, Esquire, 1 December 1999, 12:00 AM.
- “Catch Me if You Can: If snaring Saddam was so important, why is Radovan Karadzic allowed to remain free?”, by Russ Baker, Washington Monthly, January/February 2004.
- On the Rick Smith Show.
- Recordings of many interviews may be found in this Youtube collection.
- “Fear of flying”, by Russ Baker, The Nation, 29 September 2004.
- “Why Bush left Texas”, by Russ Baker, The Nation, 14 September 2004.
- “Journalist claims papers turned down story about Bush's desire to invade Iraq”, by John Byrne, Raw Story, 3 June 2009.
- “Bush Wanted To Invade Iraq If Elected in 2000”, by Russ Baker, Guerrilla News Network, 27 October 2004.
- “Election 2004: Stolen Or Lost”, by Russ Baker, TomPaine.Com(monsense), 7 January 2005.
- The Project, under the heading “The People”.
- Russ Baker on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney, on the PBS station WGBH, Boston, 11 November 2009
- Russ Baker on the Ron Reagan radio show (Part 1) on Air America network 8 July 2009
- Russ Baker on the Ron Reagan radio show (Part 2) on Air America network 8 July 2009
- Russ Baker on the Ron Reagan radio show (Part 3) on Air America network 8 July 2009
- Russ Baker on the Ron Reagan radio show (Part 4) on Air America network 8 July 2009
- Russ Baker on C-SPAN Book TV reading at Book People in Austin, TX 24 March 2009