Fox 2’s Charlie LeDuff shows sensitive side, says sister’s death changed his life

LeDuff, Charlie1For most of his journalistic career, Charlie LeDuff explored the lives of drug addicts, criminals and the destitute.

The veteran newspaper and TV reporter revealed the dignity of working class heroes and the lost, forgotten souls of Detroit, New York City and Los Angeles.

The usually cheerful, wise­cracking Fox 2 News reporter broke down recently during a wide­ranging interview on public radio’s popular Fresh Air.

The subject was as painful as it was epiphanic. His young sister, Nicole, caught up in drugs and prostitution on Detroit’s west side, was killed after jumping out of a speeding car.

LeDuff and his mom eventually visited the dive bar, The Flame, where Nicole had downed drinks with dope dealers, hookers and swindlers.

LeDuff, Charlie book“We didn’t pay for a drink the rest of the night,” LeDuff recalled. “Whatever you’re going to think about people like my sister – or your own relatives out there, you have them – wherever she went, her crowd had respect for her. There’s something dignified in every human being, and when people ask why I write about the things I write about, that’s why – beccause I come from that, and there is dignitiy in everybody.”

LeDuff was on air talking about his new book, “Detroit: An American Autopsy.”

Excerpts from the interview:

On the media:

“There’s two rules to this whole game called journalism: Get it right; and don’t be boring. Because if you’re boring, you’re dead. I’ll say it this way: [The] press is written into the Constitution like the judiciary, the executive and the legislative, except they didn’t leave us any money. We have to find our own money to do it. So if people don’t want to purchase your product, you’re dead. So I like Borat; I like Jackass; I like Charles Kuralt; I like Colbert; I like 60 Minutes. I like kitty cats and YouTube. Put them all together, shake it up, and give me something — give me something smart and give me something entertaining. That’s my mantra.

“Get it right and don’t be boring because if you’re boring, you’re daed.”

On leaving the New York Times for Detroit:

“It was really a pretty cool life, but then we had the kid and I noticed something. I noticed that I didn’t belong in L.A. I had a daughter. We didn’t belong to anybody. We weren’t connected to anyone. Just to get to a park you had to cross two major boulevards, and I pictured my daughter at 14 with a halter top and blue mascara walking up and down Melrose, and my wife and I — she’s also from Detroit — [thought] that we should just cash it in and come home so our daughter would have some roots and some structure and know her grandparents and her 20 cousins and her aunts and uncles, and I don’t regret it in the least.”

On his sister’s death:

“She was beautiful. Really a gorgeous girl. Like an oval face and high cheekbones and long brunette hair, and every boy dreamed of her, and she was wild. She hung out with older boys. They did a lot of dope when mom was gone at the flower shop. My mom had a very big heart, so that crowd was a lot of runaways, so we always had somebody staying over, somebody sleeping out front in their car. And something happened to my sister. She just got lost to the streets. She hooked part time, sometimes as a prostitute, and then she’d come out of her stupor, and she’d clean up, and she’d serve eggs and bacon to men.

“My sister wasn’t about that. Wasn’t going to be her life, and that has to hurt because what else does she know? Like … ‘This doesn’t fulfill me. I don’t have any skills,’ and then she’d fall into depression and go back out to the street — and eventually they killed her, eventually they killed her. And the place where she died, that’s the one place on planet Earth — you know, I’ve been to war zones, I was in the desert, I’ve been to five continents by myself — I could never go back to that corner. It just hurt.”

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com.

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.