Bringing Down the Duke

BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE….San Diego City Beat has a story this week about Marcus Stern, the reporter who brought down Duke Cunningham. Here he explains his methods:

?Before I went into journalism, I worked in psychiatry and I learned there not to listen to what people say but to look at what they do,? he said. ?The same is true with politicians. I?ve learned to pay little attention to what they say but watch very closely what they do.?

And what tipped off Stern to the Cunningham story in the first place? It was a combination of Cunningham’s history of boorish behavior, a couple of suspicious trips to Saudi Arabia, and some shoe leather:

Stern remembers an incident he witnessed in 1996 between Duke and Congressman Barney Frank, the gay congressman from Massachusetts, embroiled at the time in his own scandal involving a former male companion who had been caught running a prostitution ring from the congressman?s basement. The exchange happened at a meeting on immigration during which Republicans were maneuvering to prevent Democrats from commenting on a related bill. Frank objected to being steamrolled.

?When Barney started to make his plea, Cunningham cut him off and said, ?Well, would you like to talk about prostitutes and basements,?? Stern remembered. ?The room just fell silent.?

Cunningham?s comment, one among a litany of others just like it over the years, left Stern with an indelible impression that he says never squared with the congressman?s stated motive for visiting Saudi Arabia.

?It was not to improve relations, I promise you,? Stern said. ?He?s not a peacemaker; he?s a bully.?

With that red flag on Cunningham?s travels, Stern, in May, filled a few idle hours at his desk by performing routine ?lifestyle audits? of members of the California Congressional delegation. That?s when he stumbled upon the sale of Cunningham?s home.

?I basically kicked over this one last stone, which was looking to see if he had upgraded his living accommodations,? Stern said. What he found was that Cunningham had purchased a new home in the exclusive neighborhood of Rancho Santa Fe for $2.55 million.

And the rest is history.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation