Watching and covering history as it unfolds

The quiet amid the storm. An Israeli soldier guards a young boy at the prayer wall in the old city of Jerusalem. (Photos by Doug Thompson)

Although I am retired, I am also still a newspaper reporter and photojournalist who published his first news photo of a clandestine meeting of racists in the Ku Klux Klan in Prince Edward County at age 11 in 1958 and later photographed Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963 at a massive civil rights rally on the National Mall in Washington DC in 1963, when I was a high school student in Floyd County, VA. I knew all I wanted to do in life was report news events and shoot photographs to illustrate the stories.

For the 60 years that followed crawling through the woods on a cool night to capture images of racists in a county that shut down the public school system to try and avoid integration, I covered conflicts in spots around the world, terrorism with our borders at the Pentagon on Oct. 11, 2001, rise and fall of American presidents, including one who resigned in disgrace after Watergate, and political leaders and so much more.

Mark Warner and Tim Kaine on stage at The Friday Night Jamboree with The Jugbusters.
(Photo by Doug Thompson)

I consider myself a journeyman who does this because it is something I love. After a long career where I earned a good living doing something I loved. Now I do it for the love of covering the news. I write about the coming indictments of our latest disgraced former president for a national political news site, cover courts in our county, and photograph musical events and high school athletics for our local paper.

I worked as a reporter and photographer from 1962 through 1965 while attending high school and later for The Roanoke Times while attending the University of Virginia’s classes at what was then Roanoke City, followed by 12 years as a reporter, photographer, and columnist for The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois.

Back in our nation’s Capitol, the base writing e and photographing news and features for 23 years, others now cover the tawdry illegal and immoral actions of yet another disgraced former president.

“The first indictment of a former president may now result from fromTrump’s payment to a porn star, one of the most tawdry of all of Trump’s alleged misdeeds and one with a long, rippling tail of criminal consequence that has touched nearly every person involved,” writes Rosalind Helderman in The Washington Post, where my photos have appeared over the years.

She adds:

Donald Trump had been president for only a month when his longtime lawyer and confidant Michael Cohen paid him a visit in the Oval Office. As the president showed off the office’s historic paintings to an awestruck Cohen, he mentioned in passing another, less august, matter.

“Don’t worry, Michael,” Trump said. “Your January and February reimbursement checks are coming.”

The money was to reimburseCohen for asecret payoff to the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the name Stormy Daniels, delivered in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The jaw-dropping scene — in which the commander in chief and his fixer discussed hush money payments to a porn star in the Oval Office — was described two years later by Cohen in congressional testimony.

In a day-long public hearing before the House Oversight Committee in 2019, Cohen outlined a plot in which Trump agreed to pay the actress to keep her quiet before the presidential vote. The president thenworked to hide the money by repaying Cohen slowly over time and falsely classifying the reimbursements as a portions of a “retainer” for legal work.

Those payments are now at the heart of the investigation led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat, who could bring charges against Trump as early as this week for allegedly falsifying business records related to the payments. Cohen described meeting with Trump repeatedly to discuss the payments and provided Congress two of the 11 reimbursement checks he received, each for $35,000 — one signed by Trump and the other by his son, Donald Trump Jr.

Immorality and sexual hijinks have long been part of politics and power in Washington. I wrote a lot of articles about the adultery of Democratic president Bill Clinton, who with world leaders on the phone while intern Monica Lewinsky performed oral sex on him in a room off the Oval Office of the White House.

Clinton’s actions, however, were not frequent or as varied as those of President John F. Kennedy. He even assaulted Tony Bradlee, the then-wife of Ben Bradlee, who would later run The Washington Post.

On a May birthday night for Kennedy on the Presidential yacht Sequoia, Mrs. Bradley recounted:

“I was running and laughing as he chased me. He caught up with me in the ladies’ room and made a pass. It was a pretty strenuous attack, not as if he pushed me down, but his hands wandered. I said, ‘That’s it, so long.’ I was running like mad.”

“I guess I was pretty surprised, but I was kind of flattered, and appalled, too.” 

–The Washington Post
Mimi Alford, while interning at the White House during the presidency of John F. Kennedy

Like Clinton, Kennedy also liked interns. Mimi Alford, age 19, was four days into her White House internship when Kennedy took her to the bedroom he shared with First Lady Jackie. From her book, “Once Upon a Secret,” published in 2012, People reported:

A short time later, Kennedy offered her a private tour of the residence, and it was when they were alone in the bedroom he shared with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy that he made his move, according to Alford’s account. “This is a very private room,” he told the young Alford and slipped a hand on her shoulder.

“The next thing I knew he was standing in front of me, his face inches away,” she recorded in her book. “He placed both hands on my shoulders and guided me toward the edge of the bed.”

A short time later, Alford lost her virginity to the world-renowned leader, and their trysts continued for more than a year, according to her account of the matter.

“I think he did take advantage — I was so young,” Alford told PEOPLE in 2012 of that first intimate encounter. “But I liked feeling special.”

Illicit sexual activity is not limited to the capital of the nation. As Commonweaoth’s Attorney in Floyd County, Gorden Hannett used to show people his “breast book,” which featured photos of women he knew, including one who was a daughter of a county official. When he lost in a primary election, the hard drives of computers in his office disappeared when before new Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt took over the job. Hannett pled guilty to removing the drives and State Police investigators felt compromising photos may have been on the drives. The drives were never found and Hannett avoided punishment in a deal that included community service and a reprimand by the Commonwealth’s Bar ethics committee.

Sexual criminals in the county include former Farm Credit manager Greg Clabaugh, who pled guilty to counts of child pornography, along with his Iraq war veteran son, om 2014. In 2013, State Police investigators found a staff member of the County Electoral and Voter Registration Office had been using a county computer in the office to access child pornography sites and they found downloaded material and images at his home.

The state police investigator, Michael Bowman, said the staff member, who resigned, said he used the county computer to access the porn sites because he did not have Internet access at home. He was not charged but lost his job and access to the county offices.

When we left Washington in 2004 and moved to Floyd County, I hoped that we had left much of the violence behind, but a phone call in the early morning hours from an assignment editor in DC asked: “How far away is Virginia Tech from you?” When I said Blackburg was in the next county, he asked me to grab my cameras because “there are shootings on the campus.”

Filming The Friday Night Jamboree (a quieter life now).

It was the start of a long week covering the shootings that left 33 dead and too many others wounded in what became a massacre of students, faculty, and the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho.

While I am retired, I am still listed with the National Press Photographer as an available photographer and videographer. CNN has called for video of hurricane flooding in North Carolina and footage I had shot of a Virginia politician’s son who attacked his dad, among other items.

In 2013, director Mike Kravinsky asked me to shoot some of the footage he needed to complete his film, Geographically Desirable, which was filmed in Floyd and featured scenes from the Friday Night Jamboree and the former Oddfellas restaurant. I am listed in the film’s credits as providing “additional scenes.”

MSNBC also calls from time to time when they need footage or photos from the area for stories.

The news never retires.

© 2024-2022 Blue Ridge Mus4