The Fix

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Jason Leopold moved to Los Angeles to marry his girlfriend, and kicked a cocaine addiction. But for the investigative reporter and author of News Junkie, sobriety wasn't the simple fix expected.

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

OK, so this happens every day, you go to make some pancakes but you just ran out of milk. The kids are hungry. It would take almost an hour to go to the store and back. You don't have that kind of time. What do you do? Well, I tell you what you do, you make it work. Maybe you've got some orange juice. That's right kids, today we're having special orangey pancakes. We are a species that sees a way out of no way. Tell us it can't be done and I'll tell you that you simply haven't thought about it hard enough.

Today on SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, we proudly present "Making it Work," amazing stories from real people who simply would not accept no for an answer. My name is Glynn Washington. Get ready because this is SNAP JUDGMENT. Now for our first story, we're going to dive into the troubled aspects of one man's psyche. And as such, those with small children should know that listener discretion is advised. Jason Leopold, he moved from New York to LA, wanted to marry his girlfriend, restart his life, begin a career in journalism. But Jason brought something with him, something he'd been keeping secret for a very long time.

JASON LEOPOLD: Physically, physically I felt like I needed to have cocaine and I started using it behind her back. I became incredibly paranoid. When I would lie down at night I felt like literally there were rats crawling all over my body. I would just jump around and move the blankets and scream because I thought that these rats were crawling all over me, and Lisa thought I was losing it. She thought I was going insane.

She went to see a therapist to talk about it. The therapist said your husband's on drugs, clearly. Together we went to couples therapy and Lisa said, Jason, I know you've been doing drugs. Everyone in my family knows it and if you don't get any help, we can't be together anymore. What are you talking about? I'm not on drugs. I can't believe this. I'm out of here. And I walked out - walked out of the therapist's office. Lisa started crying. As I left the therapist's office, I got to figure out now how to get out of California and start all over again. That was my first thought. And I just started walking to my in-laws' house.

I rang the doorbell and my mother-in-law answered the door and I just said help me. Please help me. And next thing I know, Lisa's aunt and her mother-in-law were driving me to rehab. I've been sober ever since. You know, I got a job at the LA Times right after I got out of rehab.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What happened at the LA Times? There was like an incident, right?

LEOPOLD: I did well at the LA Times, worked my way up the ladder, promoted to city editor. It was my first entry into the real world of what a newsroom was like. I expected people digging into their desk drawers and, you know, secretly taking swigs of whiskey, smoking like chimneys, yelling over each other, cursing left and right. It was nothing like that.

MAN: What was it like?

LEOPOLD: It was sanitized. It was completely sanitized. There was another city editor I worked with who brought her kids into work and I just thought that that was just unbelievable. She would do this every single day. I protested enough to the point where the editor, my editor, allowed the woman to work at home. That made me even more angry. One day, I had music on in the newsroom. I received a note on my computer from the woman who I used to work with who said I needed to turn down my music.

And I said, well, how can you hear my music, you're at home? And she said, well, one of the reporters just sent me a note saying your music is distracting him. You've got to be kidding me. I stood up and I said, who the [bleep] just sent Daneen (ph) a note saying my music is too loud? And this little kid stands up and said, it was me. And I said, you [bleep]. I'll rip your [bleep] head off. He says to me, let's go outside. We never made it outside. I was the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the local Los Angeles chapter. The next thing you know, I get a phone call from my editor. And he said, I got bad news for you. David, who raised the complaint, he went to human resources. I've got no choice, we have to fire you. I just lost it. I started crying. I was trying to rebuild my life and it all came crashing down.

I was clean and sober in terms of the fact that I was not using drugs or alcohol, but I was not clean and sober in my mind, in my head. I was still a rageaholic. I was still that addict. But, you know, I got into my car and I checked my voicemail and there was a message from a woman from Dow Jones Newswires. She got my resume and she said, give me a call. I'd like to talk to you about a job.

MAN: That was the very same day?

LEOPOLD: Very same day.

MAN: Wow.

LEOPOLD: It was incredible. It led me into this whole other world of reporting and investigative journalism.

MAN: Do you feel like getting the Dow Jones job so soon after kept you from learning a lesson from the LA Times experience?

LEOPOLD: You know, it was as if I felt like I was the victim, you know? That I was - that there really was no lesson to learn.

MAN: When did you feel like you did learn that lesson?

LEOPOLD: I would say I feel like I - the lesson was finally learned after I reported the story on Karl Rove. I was chasing this high. More and more scoops. More and more scoops. Everyone was after Karl Rove.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS REPORT)

MAN: Karl Rove never apologizes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He just might wind up indicted.

LEOPOLD: Everyone wanted to know, what did Karl Rove know? When did he know it? What was his involvement? It was a Saturday afternoon. I was driving Lisa to pick up her car. I get a phone call from one of my sources. Jason, got some news for you. You ready? Karl Rove was indicted last night. I literally pulled the car over. I said, what? Lisa had no idea what was going on. She says, what's going on? What's going on?

And I said, shh, shh. Lisa, this is huge news, Karl Rove just got indicted. I got to drop you off and I got to go home and I need to write this story. So I dropped her off, you know, I get back on the phone. My source starts going into detail, basically stating that last night, meaning Friday, there was a meeting. Patrick Fitzgerald showed up, he was a special prosecutor with an indictment. I made a couple of other phone calls to two other sources and they heard it also. They heard that this, you know, that this happened - that Karl Rove was indicted secretly. I called up the spokesperson for Patrick Fitzgerald.

Now, it was a Saturday. I knew the spokesperson wasn't going to get the message, but I left him a message and I didn't hear back. And I put a story together and I reported it. I got the goods. I am going to break the biggest story ever, right then. And 12 hours goes by, nobody's following it up. And 24 hours goes by. And oh, [bleep], nobody is taking it on. No one. I got wrong information and I reported it. I reported it as if it were fact instead of saying there's a rumor going on out there, we can't verify this, don't know if it's true. You have to understand that this story came out right at the time that my book came out. And why that's important is that my book is a memoir, and it's a memoir in which I reveal all these deep dark secrets.

I'm a recovering drug addict, an alcoholic. The timing sucked, it really sucked. The right wing wanted to hang me. I might as well just have wrapped it in a little bow for them. And then the left attacked me as well. Any credibility I had was absolutely gone. It was out the window. I no longer had it. I no longer possessed it. It was like just standing stark naked in front of the world. I'm trying to go back to that time.

It's like what the [bleep] was I thinking? Not only was the phone call on a Saturday, it's like, why didn't I just put a question mark at the end, you know, of Karl Rove being indicted? I mean, that changed everything for me. I'm tired. I don't have the energy to do that anymore. I move slower now. I don't feel that I'm in danger of repeating the mistakes I've made in the past.

MAN: And why is that?

LEOPOLD: Well, I just want to make up for the past - the mistakes that I made. And that means waiting, waiting. And that means guess what? Somebody else is going to break the story. Last year I had been handed a story about some changes in procedures over at Guantanamo. And I called the spokesperson at Joint Task Force Guantánamo for a comment. And I didn't receive a comment and I kind of just waited on it. About a week or so later, the Associated Press comes out with the story. I could tell you I really - it really pissed me off, you know, because I would've had a scoop. But you know what? I did have something else to offer. I had some of the more intimate details of this new policy and why it was being implemented. But I will tell you that seeing that scoop and knowing that I had it did - I did clench my teeth. I was really annoyed. I may have hit the wall with my fist.

WASHINGTON: Jason Leopold is the lead investigative reporter for truthout.org and the author of the book "News Junkie." That piece was produced by SNAP JUDGMENT's own Nick van der Kolk with Brendan Baker and Sarah Lu. This was but a small excerpt of Jason's amazing life story which originally aired on the Love + Radio podcast. It's got lots of glam metal and run-ins with the Mafia. We'll have a link to it on our website, snapjudgment.org. "Making it Work," that's what this show is all about. And when SNAP returns, we're going to give the mic to a guy trying to talk to a lady that some say he shouldn't be speaking to at all. And when a hero falls five months behind on his rent, decisions have to be made, when SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Making it Work" episode continues. Stay tuned.

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