Going to lengths to get the ‘inside story’
Conservative radio newscaster Paul Harvey really had something going.
Yes, I’m dating myself because Harvey hasn’t been on the airwaves for years – he died in 2009 – and other than National Public Radio’s news programs and spot reporting from WPRO’s Steve Klamkin, there’s little hard news radio reporting left.
But Harvey had a technique that kept you waiting for the next report. He recognized that few stories just end, and that often, going back to a previously reported story could be just as interesting, and frequently more so, than the breaking news. He called the segment “The Rest of the Story,” which became highly popular.
Now I’m waiting for the “rest of the story” from unquestionably one of the more entertaining reporters I’ve worked with in 45 years.
Joe Kernan’s byline is most commonly found on the second section feature page of the Thursday paper. Over the years he’s interviewed some remarkable people, relating in dry and sardonic style their stories and achievements. Occasionally, he lets his admiration of the person he’s interviewing shine through, although more commonly he does a masterful job of pricking their egos and leaving the reader a good feel for his subject.
What readers don’t see is that for years he has also covered the police beat, writing the police log not only for the Beacon but also its sister papers, the Cranston Herald and the Johnston Sun Rise. He takes delight in human foibles, especially those who are criminally minded.
“You’re not going to believe this,” he’ll say while reading through arrest reports.
When Joe says that, the rest of the office falls silent waiting for the nugget that will have us shaking our heads in disbelief or holding our sides laughing. One of his best was the man who told the cabbie to wait outside while he robbed a bank. The cabbie didn’t wait and the cops were waiting in his place.
Things weren’t looking all that great three weeks ago when Joe, using a cane, slowly navigated to his desk. He was in pain. His speech was slightly slurred.
“I can’t smile, it’s like my lips are frozen,” he said.
I looked. He appeared to have lost all expression. He stared at me blankly.
He had been to Kent and they sent him home, telling him to see his own doctor.
“I’m going there now,” he announced, turning and walking out.
Ten minutes later he was on the phone. In a matter-of-fact tone he said he had returned to his apartment, where he slipped and broke his ankle. Tim Forsberg from the office left immediately, and in another 20 minutes Joe was in a rescue on the way to the hospital.
The story goes on…and on. Paul Harvey would have had a field day.
At first the doctors couldn’t diagnose Joe’s condition. After several days at Kent, where he was outfitted with a boot for his broken ankle, he was sent to West Shore Health Center for rehab. His back and leg pain didn’t subside, and during a severe episode he was taken to Rhode Island Hospital.
It was there that he was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system. Joe rather likes being the novelty.
“I’m one in 100,000,” he said with a hint of pride.
He said a slew of doctors visited him, sort of like the attention that would be given to an exotic zoo animal. And Joe, being the reporter, instantly saw it his duty to advance the knowledge of medicine by recording and then reporting exactly how he’s feeling. And, of course, armed with his laptop, he surfed the web to glean as much as he could. He can be dangerous.
Then last Friday his blood count dropped. He was moved from the rehab ward back into the hospital.
I caught up with him Sunday by telephone. He sounded in good spirits, as if on the hunt for another good story. He had gone through a battery of tests and been given a transfusion. There was no explanation for his blood count.
Now he was going to swallow a miniature camera that would transmit pictures as it worked its way though his system.
“It’s an intestinal tourist,” he said almost gleefully. “Remember that movie, the ‘Fantastic Voyage’ from the ’70s? It’s like that.”
I wanted to know what happens to the camera once it’s done its job.
Joe had already thought of that. He said he wants to get to keep it.
“You know, I can wear it on one of those thick gold chains. Can you imagine what an icebreaker that would be? Every girl at the bar is going to want to hear the story.”
I wasn’t so sure that would make him the hit of any party. Nonetheless, it was evident he was feeling better. Still, I was going to have to wait for the rest of the story.
But then Joe left me chuckling, a challenge when you don’t know what’s ailing you and you’re left to imagine the worst.
“They really want the inside story and they’re going for it,” he said.
Somehow I think we’ll get it, too. Only it will be the rest of the story as only Joe can tell it.