Frank X. Mullen’s business card might say “reporter,” but his tenacity and award-winning investigative stories point to a different life pursuit: detective.
“How the hell are we going to figure out what’s going on over here?” If that’s the question, then Reno Gazette-Journal investigative journalist Mullen says the answer will be his favorite kind of news story. His ability to unravel complicated and scary scenarios has revealed a deadly cancer cluster in children, improper disposal of toxic munitions and a reveal of Nevada’s most dangerous doctors.
How does Mullen do it? Persistence and digging, he said.
Mullen points to some truths and tactics he says have served him well:
- Research the way things are supposed to work and compare them to how things are happening.
- If you suspect something, don’t let roadblocks stop you. Find away around them.
- Experts, insiders, the community and the Freedom of Information Act will get your story told. “Somebody keeps track of everything in this country,” Mullen said.
- Know that when you find “the big lie,” you have a great story.
Describing his investigation into the Sierra Army Depot’s improper disposal of old munitions and its possible link to cancer in the nearby community, Mullen followed his own advice from start to finish. First he visited the depot and got an official’s statement. When the official said the toxic plume didn’t leave the depot property, Mullen knew he had “the big lie.”
From there he researched the regulations surrounding munitions disposal and doggedly went around roadblocks from those trying to conceal the truth. When Mullen finally got the daily blast logs, he worked like a crime scene investigator analyzing the data and documenting the many ways rules and regulations were being ignored.
In the end, the depot changed how it handles munitions disposal, and those living near the site (some with cancer) lauded Mullen’s persistence and his detective spirit by giving him a framed memento.
“The human story beats the hell out of everything else,” Mullen said.