On Friday morning, I went to an estate sale at the Preston Hollow home of journalist Kurt Eichenwald.
Estate sales are not my usual scene, in part because casual use of the word “estate” feels as if it should be limited to people in tax brackets far above my own. Once assured it was like a garage sale, only you get to walk around a nice house, I felt more at ease. But I had other incentives, including a.) my boss asked me to go and told me I could invoice my lunch for the day, b.) I was curious how a reporter can afford to live in Preston Hollow, and c.) I wanted to see what kind of weirdos would pay $10 for a folder—$20 for a large binder—stuffed full of Enron documents or records from Guantanamo Bay, among other investigative paper trails.
Because along with the furniture and clothing and tacky paintings and the baby grand piano, this estate sale was also offering up a lifetime’s worth and a garageful of documents Eichenwald has assembled over his career. Eichenwald is an investigative journalist who, prior to 2016, was known mostly for his admirable work covering the post-9/11 international state of affairs and a number of corporate scandals: a 2000 book, The Informant, was adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon, which may help explain the nice digs. A less admirable asterisk here is a 2005 story for the New York Times that saw Eichenwald accused of paying and deceiving a source, a former internet pornographer. This is considered a big no-no.
In the last year, Eichenwald’s also gained some new notoriety as a combative Twitter persona who has drawn the ire of both scummy alt-right nitwits and elements of the left for his political coverage. (A question that also occurred to me on my way to his home: What kind of weirdo, downsizing or otherwise, decides to sell off boxes and boxes of mostly unremarkable documents, such as “market risk discussion items” from a 2001 meeting of Enron’s finance committee?)
I quickly realized Friday that almost nobody at the estate sale knew any of this. The guy carrying two amplifiers out the front door, who missed a porch step and absolutely ate it on the concrete—he was fine, not sure about the amps—was probably just into guitars and smelled a deal. The woman eyeing the laptops on top of a truly impressive executive desk probably wondered why there were so many copies of The Informant lying around. There was plenty of conversation about the box of swords, the sizable NERF gun collection, and the name-plated trophies ($2 a piece) of the Eichenwald children, seemingly a competitive and athletic bunch. Go Sharks.
I heard more than one employee of DFW Estate Liquidators explain who Kurt Eichenwald is, and mention the treasure trove of investigative documents in the garage, just past the box full of bottles of fake blood.
In the garage, amidst the rows of labeled boxes—”Anthrax investigation 2,” “Interrogation log, Guantanamo detainee 063,” “Internal Enron documents 1980s-1997″—a friendly liquidator told me I was the only person he had seen wind through the garage more than once, rummaging through binders. He mentioned a few early birds that had left with a binder or folder, and noted that Eichenwald himself was showing up to sign books and shill his estate later that afternoon. It’s possible I missed the truest weirdos, but I don’t blame anybody for being more interested in the patio furniture than cumulative translation adjustment balances from 2001.
The scale of the collection in the garage was a little overwhelming, and most of the content pretty dry. It also seems like a credit to Eichenwald. The act of reporting can often be pretty dull, or infuriating, or a mixture of the two. Wringing a story from a mountain of paper takes hard work. And a lot of paper. So much paper. Hidden somewhere in the paper: the secrets of the surveillance state, serial killers, government-sanctioned torture, corporate corruption.
I was fascinated. I am the kind of weirdo who will pay $10 for a file folder full of internal Enron documents, and another $10 for a folder marked “In Re: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”
On my way to pay up, I also grabbed a DVD copy of Serpico, starring Al Pacino. Great movie.