Stories by T. Trent Gegax

  • Katrina, Through a Muddy Lens

    Run like hell, WWL radio's talk-jock Garland Robinette was telling his New Orleans listeners. Hurricane Katrina had just shattered his entire floor-to-ceiling studio window overlooking the Louisiana Superdome. Reliving the episode for a documentary-film crew, Robinette described moving his broadcast to a closet and comforting cell-phone callers trapped in attics. "I'm dying here," one pleaded. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing," he recalled.Amateur filmmaker Stephen Rue hopes to keep personal histories like Robinette's alive. The prominent local divorce attorney isn't a skilled auteur like Spike Lee or the other two teams (from Canada and Japan) making Katrina documentaries. But Rue trades on his local roots and footage of the Lower Ninth Ward that he collected just before the flood. Lying in a Texas hotel room the night the levees failed, Rue turned the camera on himself: "It's 2:45 in the morning," he said, "and people are drowning. I feel so helpless."Rue returned to New...
  • WALKING AMONG THE DEAD

    A MARINE WON ACCLAIM FOR ONE OF WAR'S TOUGHEST TASKS. BUT DID HE TRY TO ADD TO THE BODY COUNT?
  • The Family Business

    THEY ARE PROUD TO SEE THEIR CHILDREN FOLLOW THEM INTO SERVICE--AND WORRIED THAT THEIR DECISIONS COULD GET THEIR KIDS KILLED. INSIDE THE MILITARY'S SPECIAL FATHER-SON BOND.
  • DOUBTING DARWIN

    When Joshua Rowand, an 11th grader in Dover, pa., looks out from his high school, he can see the United Church of Christ across the street and the hills beyond it, reminding him of what he's been taught from childhood: that God's perfect creation culminated on the sixth day with the making of man in his image. Inside the school, he is taught that Homo sapiens evolved over millions of years from a series of predecessor species in an unbroken line of descent stretching back to the origins of life. The apparent contradiction between that message and the one he hopes someday to spread as a Christian missionary doesn't trouble him. The entire subject of evolution by natural selection is covered in two lessons in high-school biology. What kind of Christian would he be if his faith couldn't survive 90 minutes of exposure to Darwin?But many Americans would rather not put their children to that test, including a majority on the Dover School Board, which last month voted to inform students of...
  • 'I'M GOING TO LEARN'

    It was a little after 7 p.m. on election night 2004. The network exit polls showed John Kerry leading George Bush in both Florida and Ohio by three points. Kerry's aides were confident that the Democratic candidate would carry these key swings states; Bush had not broken 48 percent in Kerry's recent tracking polls. The aides were a little hesitant to interrupt Kerry as he was fielding satellite TV interviews in a last get-out-the-vote push. Still, the 7 o'clock exit polls were considered to be reasonably reliable. Time to tell the candidate the good news.Kerry had slept only two hours the night before. He was sitting in a small hotel room at the Westin Copley (in a small irony of history, next door to the hotel where his grandfather, a boom-and-bust businessman, shot himself some 80 years ago). Bob Shrum, Kerry's friend and close adviser, couldn't resist the moment. "May I be the first to say 'Mr. President'?" said Shrum.The others cringed. Kerry did not respond, at least in any...
  • NEW HOSTILE FIRE

    At first the Kerry campaign dismissed them as cranks. But with their slickly made ad and frequent appearances on cable TV and talk radio, charging that Kerry had lied to win his medals in Vietnam, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth began making inroads. According to a poll taken by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center, more than half the people surveyed had seen or heard about the ad, and about half of independent voters found the ad to be believable. Kerry's campaign fired up his own veterans' machine to try to stop any slippage--especially in key swing states like Ohio, where there are 1.1 million vets.No wonder Kerry has lashed out, accusing President Bush of using a "front group" to do his "dirty work." According to campaign aides, Kerry himself chose the words to denounce Bush. Kerry became particularly outraged, aides say, when he read that Bob Perry, a friend of Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, was doubling his $100,000 contribution to the Swift Boat vets to buy...
  • THE KERRY KIDS

    It was supposed to be John Kerry's coming-out party. But then Bill Clinton took the stage to introduce the all-but-crowned nominee at a dinner for Democrats in Washington last spring, and delivered a speech so electrifying the crowd nearly forgot Kerry was there. Afterward, at his Georgetown home, Kerry stewed as he packed for a trip. His stepson Chris Heinz, 31, and nephew Jose Ferreira, 35, lounged around Kerry's dressing room offering more than fashion advice. "Clinton had a lot of energy and we didn't," Chris said. "You need to do some simple storytelling that he does so well." Kerry agreed he'd fallen short. "Gosh," he said, shaking his head, "I can do better than that." Chris and Jose kept it coming. Kerry's love of policy, they told him, could be numbing for audiences. And he used a lot of extra clauses and had a bad habit of listing things. Several times Kerry grabbed the phone and called chief political adviser Bob Shrum and campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, fuming at the...
  • THE MILITARY, NEEDED: MORE SOLDIERS, MORE BILLIONS

    Publicly, the Pentagon insists it's getting the manpower and money it needs for Iraq and Afghanistan. But as those conflicts drag on, Army planners are privately growing more worried about a looming crisis. The problem is not quantity--the Pentagon says recruitment remains steady--but a loss of quality. Green Berets, for instance, are now considered trained after four years instead of seven. Some officers say the biggest worry is a mass exodus of experienced mid-level officers and, especially, noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who are fed up with all the time they're spending in theater. And once the "third rotation" of troops into Iraq begins in 2005, more careerists may call it quits. "I'm afraid that between April and September of 2005, we'll break the Army," says one Army general involved in logistics.NCOs are mainly the career sergeants who make the military work--and can have a far-reaching effect. A professional officer corps can be the difference between a well-run unit and...
  • War Stories: Walking A Fine Line In Iraq

    It's an odd day when the following needs to be said: Despite the systematic and sadistic abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the U.S. military is not "Lord of the Flies" in desert cammies. In war, the law of the jungle is a constant lure, especially for soldiers trying to distinguish between detainees who are common criminals, cases of mistaken identity, terrorists or intelligence subjects. The "rendering" techniques of the CIA, who often assist in army interrogations, are as unfamiliar to the public as they are fuzzy in hewing to Geneva Convention rules.The Army battalion I observed as an embedded reporter during the Iraq war took very seriously its treatment of prisoners. Take the night almost exactly a year ago, inside a tactical operational center near Tikrit. Army Capt. Dave Gray, an intel officer, was fuming as a dust storm raged outside. The battalion had just snatched one of Saddam's bodyguards after receiving a tip at a checkpoint. The excitement of good detective work paying off...
  • War Stories: Wartime Stress

    The gnashing of teeth you hear at the Pentagon is caused by deep concern over Army morale and suicide numbers that are upside down. The long-awaited Mental Health Advisory Team survey released a few days ago showed that unit morale is low-72 percent called it bad-and that suicide among U.S. troops in Iraq is high--35 percent higher than soldiers stationed elsewhere. And those numbers don't include suicides that happened once soldiers returned home. The report is alarming because it points to a military that's being stretched too thin. But the Army should also accept that its plan to treat battle stress isn't working.Officially, the Army prefers to brush aside the new survey results. Pentagon spinners complain that the media has made a mountain out of a molehill on the issue of suicides and morale. They say the suicide rate is still below that of the general U.S. population. But a candid Army manpower officer calls that argument specious. "We do screen people so you do expect that we...
  • 2004 CAMPAIGN: A 'SHOCKING' STUMBLE

    The controversy over President George W. Bush's new TV ads featuring fake firefighters and fleeting images of the 9/11 attacks threw campaign officials on the defensive--and raised questions about the Bush team's ability to effectively spend its massive $150 million war chest, some GOP insiders say. The president's ad team, led by Austin, Texas-based media maven Mark McKinnon, had carefully road-tested the spots in focus groups, and Bush himself signed off. But the rollout of the ads, which argue that Bush has made the country "safer, stronger," was quickly marred by charges from some 9/11 families that the Bush team was seeking to exploit the attacks for political gain. One scene shows footage of a flag-draped coffin of a terror victim; another has an American flag waving in front of World Trade Center wreckage. Publicly, Bush aides were dismissive and insisted the flap had only strengthened their plan to make 9/11 "a central topic of the campaign." "There's no way you can talk...
  • STRESSED OUT AT THE FRONT

    Sgt. Kim Eimers understands now why her father never talked about his time as a soldier in Vietnam. When she gets back from Iraq, where she's stationed with the Fourth Infantry Division in Baqubah, she doesn't think she'll talk about her wartime experience much, either. Her own worst moment came when a mortar round hit her mess hall at the Third Brigade's base, during dinnertime. "I just lost it," she says. But so far her family still hasn't heard about the incident.Capt. Glenn Palmer's worst moment came when he was giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a wounded officer who had been shot by a sniper while riding in the back seat of a Humvee. Palmer, who had been driving the vehicle, kept trying to blow, even after he felt his own breath whistling out of a hole in the victim's head. "I still can't get the taste out of my mouth," says Palmer, an Army chaplain.Like soldiers in every war, American men and women in Iraq have seen things they'll never be able to discuss easily. Some...
  • Q&A: 'People Wanted to Make the City Work'

    Nothing can raise--or cut down--a politician's stature like a crisis. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg had been somewhat lost in Rudy Giuliani shadow ever since he got the keys to City Hall. His anti-smoking crusade produced serious blowback from New Yorkers. Then the budget crisis forced Bloomberg to take a chainsaw to a forest of popular city programs and services. Finally, Gov. George Pataki mucked up his fellow Republican's effort to restructure the city's debt load left over from the 1970s fiscal crisis.By the time Thursday's blackout-another ghost of the 1970s-struck, Bloomberg was game to exercise some leadership. He succeeded. Other than an ill-considered walk to the Brooklyn Bridge, Bloomberg calmed the city's nerves with regular updates, dashes of humor and Rudy-like ubiquitousness. Try as he might when he sat down with NEWSWEEK on Friday, Bloomberg couldn't hide just a little anticipation that recent events may lighten up his middling poll numbers and make him more than...
  • CHOOSING A SOLDIER SCHOOL

    America's military academies are popular again. Patriotism and wartime have helped. Do you have what it takes to get in? Do the schools have what you want?
  • What's Next In Sniper Investigation

    For several hours Monday morning, law enforcement officials working on the D.C. area sniper shootings were optimistic that the detention of two men outside of Richmond, Va., would prove to be integral to the ongoing investigation. By mid-afternoon, however, police were acknowledging that the two men, undocumented workers from Mexico and Guatemala, appeared to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time.Monday's detentions came on the heels of the 12th shooting related to sniper, which occurred Saturday night in Ashland, Va., critically wounding a 37-year-old man. The man, whose identity has not been released, remains in critical condition at a Richmond hospital. But Saturday's shooting also seemed to provide one of the few fresh clues related to the case: A call to the police's phone tip line indicated they should look for a note in the woods behind the Ponderosa steakhouse where the lastest victim was shot. One of the men taken into custody Monday morning was in a white Plymouth...
  • Praying For Rain

    To see what was left of her Arizona hometown, Cher Hazen boarded a Red Cross bus that rolled into tiny Palmdale. As she peered through a window, Hazen looked upon a nightmare of ash. On the spot where her family's home stood, all that remained was the front porch. "It really hurts," said Hazen, a single mother of four.Like 30,000 other people chased from their homes by the monstrous wildfire still devouring the high country, Hazen had tried to take what she could. But some things were forgotten--a baby book, a family history. Just before they fled, the family's frightened cat had jumped from the arms of Hazen's daughter and run outside. "I looked for her today," Hazen said of the cat. "But I knew there wasn't much hope."So far, wildfire has swallowed about 2.5 million acres in the West, more than twice the usual toll for this time of the season. In most years the worst flames come in August. But firefighters have been battling blazes since April. More than 420 homes have been...
  • Going Extreme: Snowboarding And Moguls

    We've seen it dozens of times after sporting moments much like this one. The United States had just finished a thrilling medal sweep in the men's snowboarding halfpipe, and a spectator with a video camera was face to face with one of the stars of the hour. "Danny Kass, you just won the silver medal," he said, following the familiar Disney script. "Are you going to go home and smoke crack?" Kass's long hair dipped below a pair of sleepy eyes. He smiled for his goofball buddy and gleefully played along. "Dude," he answered, "I am gonna smoke the fattest..." Then Kass stopped, noticing the man with a NEWSWEEK media credential standing next to him and scribbling on his notepad. "Dude, nice try!" he said to his pal. "You almost got me, man! Drugs are bad! I've gotta go take a drug test! I love drug tests!" ...
  • A Neighborhood's Nightmare

    The streets of Rockaway Peninsula in Long Island were filled with mourners driving to yet another World Trade Center memorial service when the plane dropped out of the sky.From Far Rockaway to Breezy Point, 71 firefighters and office workers had died in the Sept. 11 attack. Now, at 9:15 a.m., Tara Davan, daughter of First Deputy Commissioner Bill Feehan, the most senior FDNY victim, was leaving to pick up her kids. She heard shouting from the men working on her roof. "Oh, my God, watch out!" one said, seeing an explosion in the sky. "It's a plane!" "Heads up!" another said, jumping off a ladder and diving to the ground. "It's going to come down!"The dull roar grew louder overhead, and Tara walked outside thinking maybe the Concorde was landing. Then the house shuddered and a mushroom cloud of black and gray smoke rose two blocks away. Mothers holding kids began popping out of their doorways on 127 St. "Call 911! Call 911!" many shouted.Tara called her husband Brian, a firefighter. ...
  • How Powerful Should He Be?

    Even as George W. Bush released an executive order detailing the job of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, the plan hit a snag: Congress. The House and Senate were already at work on competing organizational approaches that would radically expand the office. What's at issue?Several recent commissions have labored over the problem of homeland defense. All described a system in disarray: more than 40 federal departments and agencies with competing or overlapping responsibilities, including heavyweights like the CIA, the FBI and the Defense Department. One group headed by Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore recommended a cabinet-level presidential adviser to corral the chaos, the "czar model." Another, led by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, proposed a new cabinet department with its own bureaucracy. Their concern: without budget authority, the director's power depends on his relationship with the president.Bush, a former governor, opted for Gilmore's approach. Congress is leaning...
  • Bush Raises The Bar

    Eight months ago to the day, George W. Bush gave a beautiful inaugural address outside the Capitol and took the title of President. But it wasn't until last night, inside the halls of that great building, that he really became president. The "Islamic extremism" of America's new enemy, President Bush said, is no different from the perverted ideologies of fascism and totalitarianism and is destined for "history's unmarked grave of discarded lies." These points were ordered by Bush himself, White House aides said. And he delivered them with powerful conviction.Gone were the mangled words, the Texas colloquialisms, the smirk. The only time Bush seemed to betray a smile was at the hall's response to New York's Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who sat next to First Lady Laura Bush-another pillar of strength through this national ordeal. The new Bush wears a clenched, resolute jaw. Bush was still his plainspoken self, telling the military, "Be ready," and to Muslims: "We respect...
  • The Sound Of The Fury

    "Stop it!" an opposing player yelled at Carolyn Ford. "You're pulling my skin!" "No I'm not," retorted the center fullback for the Bethesda (Md.) Fury, a girls' club soccer team, "I'm pulling your fat!" The referee gave Ford a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Lisa Taverna, Carolyn's mother, approves of her daughter's aggressive play. "Our kids will give back. They're intimidated by nobody. When they step on the field, any friendship stops," says Taverna. "The beauty of it is, it teaches them professionalism."More than 3.5 million girls play club and high-school soccer in the United States. Some of the best play for the Bethesda Fury, a club or "travel" team of 17-year-olds. NEWSWEEK followed the Fury this spring and summer as the team campaigned toward the national championships, played in the last weekend in July in Indianapolis. Judging from the Fury's experience, it is fair to say that girls have achieved true equality with boys in the amateur-sports arena, though...
  • A Mayor's Ugly Past

    Mayor Charlie Robertson of York, Pa., should have been a shoo-in this fall for a third term. For the past decade, York has cheerfully prospered under his leadership, and the town of rolling green hills and integrated neighborhoods is still undergoing a $100 million building boom. But York hasn't always been so placid, and nobody knows that better than Robertson. Last week, just as the mayor was celebrating a tight Democratic primary victory, police put him in handcuffs. Prosecutors charged Robertson, a town cop in 1969, with murder for allegedly supplying white gang members with bullets, urging one to "kill as many n----rs as you can," and fomenting a race riot. "It sickens me to my stomach," Robertson said of the charges in an interview with NEWSWEEK. Sitting in his oak-paneled office, with the Ten Commandments and a picture of his adopted Cambodian son hanging behind him, the bachelor mayor insisted: "I'm not going to resign; I am innocent." ...
  • A Nuclear Power Play

    Dick Cheney isn't the kind of politician you'd expect to see on "Hardball," the loud and rude cable-TV talk show. Host Chris Matthews likes to yell at his guests and make them squirm. Solemn Cheney doesn't go in for that sort of thing. But when Matthews went on vacation last Wednesday, the vice president surprisingly agreed to appear. Filling in was Cheney's longtime buddy Alan Simpson, the former Wyoming senator. "We're really going to call this 'Softball,' old pal," Simpson reassured him. ...
  • Where There's Smoke...

    Few business leaders worked harder to see George W. Bush elected president than his old Yale classmate Thomas Kuhn. As chief of the Edison Electric Institute, the lobbying arm of the electric-utility industry, Kuhn led a parade of corporate trade groups that threw its support to Bush early in the 2000 campaign. Kuhn also wanted to make sure that the Bushies remembered who was generous when it counted. In a May 1999 memo urging electric executives to write $1,000 checks, he reminded them to include a special "tracking code" devised to "insure that our industry is credited" for its contributions. By Election Day, electric utilities had donated $12.4 million to Bush and other GOP candidates. ...
  • What A Long, Strange Trip

    This was a campaign in which Election Day didn't mark the end of the race for George W. Bush and Al Gore, but rather the beginning of another lap-- which turned out to be the most extraordinary, exciting and grueling of all ...
  • 'It's A Bad Trading Day ...And It's About To Get

    He thought they were friends. The two men had sat side by side, day after day, engaged in the legalized gambling known as "day trading" in the Atlanta office of All-Tech Investment Group. Mark Barton "was one of the nicest guys you ever met," recalled Fred Herder, his desk mate. "He was religious, and he was on the phone with his kids all the time." Barton was unlucky at betting on stocks, however, and All-Tech had yanked his trading privileges in April.Then last Thursday, Herder saw that Barton was back in the All-Tech trading room, dressed in baggy shorts that he often wore. Herder noticed something odd: despite the air conditioning, Barton was sweating profusely. Barton disappeared into the manager's office and Herder heard three shots ring out. When Barton came back to the trading room, he was brandishing a .45 automatic and 9mm pistol and firing wildly. Panicked, Herder tried to duck under his desk. Not fast enough: a bullet struck him in the back, wounding him seriously.Herder...
  • Death In The Ring

    If there is any small consolation to be taken from the death last week of World Wrestling Federation star Owen Hart, who fell from the rafters of Kansas City, Mo.'s Kemper Arena in an aborted stunt, it is that he died like a true wrestler: pissed off at the world. "I know he hated dying this way," his brother Bret--also a wrestler, like the six other Hart brothers and their four brothers-in-law--told NEWSWEEK. "I'm sure when he was 30 feet from the mat he was thinking, Here I am falling in this stupid outfit, in front of all these fans that don't give a s--t about me or my family, and this is the way I'm going to go. It's just so cruel." He probably wouldn't have been surprised, either, that his demise in front of 16,300 fans failed to stop the show. According to WWF spokesman Jim Byrne, "The performers wanted to continue the show. It was the highest tribute they could have paid Owen." But Bret Hart's explanation is simpler: "Pay-per-view comes first." To cancel the remaining...
  • Searching For Answers

    Columbine high and nearby Chatfield High used to be bitter rivals. But this week Chatfield will open its doors to the traumatized students of Columbine, and everyone is doing what he can to make the cross-town kids feel at home. Last week Chatfield students built a "healing tree" out of construction paper and posted it just outside the school cafeteria. "I've learned that hate is destructive," said one "leaf" on the tree. Lining the halls and the lunch room itself were more signs: "It's not home, but make yourself at home." Chatfield student leaders gave tours of the school and were struck by some of the questions they were asked. Columbine's shaken parents weren't so interested in food or lockers. They wanted to know how many exits there were, and where.Most of the questions being asked in Littleton, Colo., last week were harder to answer. "Now the healing begins," declared the pastor at the last funeral, for 18-year-old Isaiah Shoels--but two weeks after the guns fell silent in...
  • Heroin High

    DEBBIE MARSTEN CAN TELL YOU exactly how her son became a statistic. On Nov. 12, 1998, she and her husband, Todd, bailed 18-year-old Tyler out of a Plano, Texas, jail after an arrest for heroin possession. The family had tried rehab and they'd tried kicking Tyler out of the house, but after two years of addiction they were out of ideas. So they brought him home. Tyler knew he had missed a lot of schoolwork during his three days in jail, but he didn't realize that his body's tolerance to heroin had dipped. When the goateed senior went to school the next day to pick up some homework, he also picked up a lethal dose of the drug. When he went to bed that night he seemed happy to be home, telling Todd, ""Good night, Dad, I love you. My alarm is set.'' But it was Tyler's dog Skeeter that woke the family at 3 a.m., not an alarm clock. When the barking wouldn't stop, Debbie ran into her son's room. ""He was cold. Gone,'' she remembers. ""He wasn't even home 36 hours.'' ...

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