When I was teaching at Georgia State University last Spring, I asked a local elected official to speak to my journalism class about media relations. The official showed up, then took me by surprise: He launched into a bitter rant about “so-called investigative reporters” who, he said, twist facts to suit a preconceived storyline.
I was surprised because the official enjoys a pretty squeaky-clean reputation and has good relations with the media. (He asked me not to name him in this post). Although I challenged him by suggesting that investigative reporters serve an important function in a free society, he stuck to his guns.
After a while, he finally admitted he was actually referring to only one investigative reporter: Dale Cardwell, the former WSB investigative guy turned US Senate hopeful, now the entrepreneur behind “Trust Dale.”
I enjoyed competing with Cardwell when we both worked in the news biz. He was friendly and gracious in the field. He did a lot of good work at WSB. When his stuff appeared on TV, the volume was cranked up on TV sets in competing newsrooms.
Cardwell was also probably the most polarizing reporter I’ve ever known. I can’t tell you how often I’ve spoken with politicians or bureaucrats with squeaky-clean records who’ve ranted about Cardwell — and like the guy in my class, strongly believed they’d been burned unfairly, years after the fact.
Now Cardwell sells Trust Dale, which recommends businesses who’ve paid Cardwell for the privilege and carry the imprimateur of Cardwell’s investigative approval. If there’s a conflict in those two criteria, Cardwell dismisses it in an interview with WXIA’s Valerie Hoff.
As a guy who once left the news biz to become an entrepreneur, I’m disinclined to judge Cardwell. He deserves credit for apparently building a successful business at a time when the economy is punishing such folk.
I also give him credit for finding the uniquest of niches. While many TV news expats try to parlay their journalism backgrounds (or celebrity status, such as it might be) into non-Fourth Estate careers, few do it as explicitly and as publicly as Cardwell.
A video on Cardwell’s site describes him as “channel two’s Emmy award winning lead story investigative reporter,” and a page shows an impressive list of investigative stories he produced.
The site goes on to intertwine, seemingly as much as possible, Cardwell the former investigative reporter with Cardwell the businessman. The site includes a sizable list of clients, all of whom apparently get a custom video showing a flag-lapel-pin-wearing Cardwell endorsing the product or service.
I will now admit that I once bought a piece of jewelry at Solomon Brothers because I’d repeatedly heard the name on commercials voiced by radio host Neal Boortz. Cardwell is basically doing the same thing, except he would tell you his endorsement carries investigative heft.
And yet, I know an elected official or two who would probably disagree very strongly.