From October 2022
Zac Crain, D Magazine’s senior editor, has a rule that I’m about to break. Zac says writers and editors should never brag about a story’s length, on the belief that quantity doesn’t guarantee quality, that often their relationship is of the inverse variety, that a fair number of dopes don’t get that, and that someone with good sense wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a dope. Whatever. Let’s do this.
Kathy Wise, our executive editor, wrote a story for the November issue that runs to 11,316 words, making it one of the longest the magazine has published in its 48 years.
All that quality started in January, when I received an email from a lawyer named Scott Palmer who had just successfully represented a judge in a $600,000 civil suit against Collin County because the judge had been wrongfully convicted of taking bribes. Palmer wrote to me, “I thought this saga of a case would be a perfect story for the type of in-depth reporting D Magazine is known for.” That felt to me a little like a challenge. Notice he used the word “saga.”
Kathy is a lawyer. This happens sometimes, lawyers giving up law to practice journalism, which basically means going pro bono for the rest of their careers. I can’t fully explain it. But I know how to exploit it.
“Hey, Kathy,” I said, “I got an email from this lawyer who says he has a saga of a case that would be perfect for an in-depth story. It’s about an innocent judge who was convicted of bribery.”
I don’t want to quote Kathy directly, because I can’t recall with certainty what her response was, and I don’t want to get sued by her, but she said: “Hell, no. A judge getting indicted and then convicted by a jury? But she was innocent? Impossible. You’re a dope. Give me that email.”
Like I said, that was January. Kathy spent the next six months interviewing people and poring over court filings and writing a lot of words. She’s a pretty tough character. Midwestern stock and all that. But as the work grew more complex, the effort to unravel this wild story had her questioning her own life choices.
At one of her low points, I suggested that she structure her story based on the movie The Usual Suspects, which was totally sketchy advice given that I’ve never seen The Usual Suspects. (That’s a lie. I just thought it was funny. But what if I’d told her to follow the structure of Jaws?) Anyway, it worked.
“The Most Lawless County in Texas” went online today. You can read it here. Doing so could take you more than an hour. That’s how good—and important—it is.