A journalist’s necessity for personal risk in the name of truth

By Tanya Raghu

Uncovering the truth is part of a journalist’s job description, but I never realized that the quest could involve the possibility of death.

Dependent on pills, men and drugs, one of the few constants in Carol Blevins’ life was the desire to belong.

Her lifestyle, tainted by drugs and sex, led to instability that she felt could only be subdued by the presence of a man, leading the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, ABT, to become her haven.

She soon realized her position within the gang could yield other benefits, leading her to sign on as a confidential informant for the Department of Homeland Security. But she wanted more and approached Dallas Morning News writer Scott Farwell to tell the story of her double life.

Recounting her life beginning with her childhood, her position within the Aryan Brotherhood and her mental state after disassociation with the group, she is the central character in the multimedia project, a seven-part podcast and online narrative created by the Dallas News Investigative Team, “My Aryan Princess”.

In the beginning stages of the story, Farwell knew the version of her truth could be tainted by her volatile and unpredictable nature and her memories clouded by drugs and medication.

“I spent a lot of time with her, I interviewed her hundreds and hundreds of times over months and months and months when she was sober, when she was high, when she was in jail, when she was in a middle of a delusion, when she was with family,” Farwell said.

Though Blevins was so deeply intertwined with the gang, she “snitched”, the biggest transgression in the ABT.

The ABT has a long history of unlawfulness and violence, causing safety concerns.

In the story, Farwell is invisible, however, his name is not.

“I don’t think we heard very much about people coming after Scott or us about this story. Scott was always one to bat down those concerns if you asked him about him, he felt like he could take care of himself,” DMN Editor Mike Wilson said.

ABT members could interpret the story as a further insult by Blevins. After working with the government, she even gave the public an account of how she deceived them and showed the world the inner workings of the ABT hierarchy.

“My bigger concern was whether the story would get her killed because there was a green light, a hit out on her, or so it was said,” Wilson said.

Farwell is a strong believer that a journalist’s duty is to tell the story in the way it deserves. The rest is out of their hands.

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Sunday morning’s panel at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference was titled “The Art of Multimedia Storytelling: The Aryan Princess.” The panel featured Dallas Morning News editor-in-chief Mike Wilson, writer Scott Farwell, editor Leona Allen and designer Dana Amihere. Photo by Junebug Clark

“Fundamentally you understand and believe in what your job is,” Farwell said. “My job is to be a witness and to be a truth teller and to be a storyteller in the world. And it enriches my life, it’s a huge part of who I am.”

The story openly states her real name, details and specific descriptions, exposing her to the wide reach of the notorious Brotherhood, but she knew the risk she was taking all along.

“I spent a lot of time, actually, trying to fulfill what I feel like is an obligation to protect my sources to the degree we can,” Farwell said.

Blevins always longed to start over, hoping her tips to Homeland Security would be enough to help her escape. When it wasn’t, she looked for a way to cleanse and clarify: telling the truth.

“For me, I don’t think that you can tell a story on the Aryan Brothers if you are scared of them. They can smell it so I try not to sweat too much,” Farwell said.

On a larger scale, violence between powerful groups turns into war.

Countries are swept into turmoil along with bitterness and sadness. Writer Sebastian Junger immerses himself in the experience to capture the effects of war in its raw form.

While normally the only side of war shown is its cruelness and evil, Junger saw a different phenomena develop within the culture he observed.

“If you’re in a situation like that, one of the things you experience, along with a lot of fear and a lot of other stuff, is, at least I did, this incredible sense of wellbeing,” Junger said. “This feels right. I’m with my brothers.”

Junger felt this sense of wellbeing widespread among civilians and especially while observing troops in a combat environment.

“One of the guys said to me, ‘It’s strange; the guys in the platoon straight up hate each other but we’d die for each other,’” Junger said.

For years, he reported in unstable areas across the world and for the making of his 2010 book, War, where he was stationed  in Afghanistan with active troops for 15 months.

“As deprived as [the outpost] was physically, it was full of that human connection, that commitment to one another that has kept us alive, has kept the species going for 500,000 years or whenever you want to start the clock on the human race,” Junger said.

He continued to report, navigating dangerous, unruly and chaotic areas and reflected on the experiences. Junger had a surprising revelation: “things were better when they were bad.”

When times were desperate and people depended on each other for survival, people forgot their differences.

“That dependence, that relationship, has been at the core of human existence for hundreds and thousands of years,” Junger said.

Junger arrived at this conclusion after being on the frontlines of war and violence, able to see human nature and its tendencies when faced with adversity.  Junger explores this in his book Tribe and described its connection to developed societies.

“I started looking at modern society, why is it that as wealth and monetary value go up in society, the suicide rate goes up, the depression rate goes up?” Junger said.

Many look to him as a hero, a title captured by his willingness to sacrifice his safety to show the world the truth. Connecting his experiences, he discovered a trend, people start to see the best in each other when they only have one another.

Both journalists explored the dark side of human nature, despite the obvious risk. The inner workings of these worlds, whether war or gangs, are often unknown to the public. Their work has been for the greater good, fulfilling the true purpose of journalism: to provide information with objectivity, allowing the people to make their own decision.

 

Featured Image: Jeff Whittington, an executive producer at KERA, moderates a panel featuring the writers and editors of “The Aryan Princess”, a Dallas Morning News multimedia story. Photo courtesy of Junebug Clark