Franklin Center Reporter Spotlight: Patrick B. McGuigan of CapitolBeatOK

Note: Patrick McGuigan edits CapitolBeatOK, the Franklin Center’s Oklahoma statehouse news outlet. McGuigan has more than three decades of experience in news reporting, policy analysis, and commentary.

He contributes regularly to Perspective, the monthly publication of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a nonprofit public policy research research organization, and is associate publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper. Previously, he was managing editor of Oklahoma City’s The City Sentinel and contributing editor for Tulsa Today.

From 1990 until 2002, McGuigan directed the editorial page at The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper. He also worked at the Oklahoma Department of Labor from 2003-2007, including a two-year stint as Deputy Commissioner of Labor.

McGuigan is a certified teacher, and worked for two years as curriculum director at Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, a public charter alternative school in Oklahoma City. He is the editor of seven books and the author of three.

This interview appeared in the May 2012 edition of the Franklin Center News. 

 Q: Why did you become a journalist?

McGuigan: At Oklahoma State University I majored in history, but wrote for the campus newspaper, usually as a commentator. When the Iranian hostage crisis unfolded in 1979-80, it had a dramatic effect on our campus. There were hundreds of Iranian students and they were split 50-50 between the former Shah’s supporters and the radical Islamists.

Our editor decided to put out a special edition to chronicle the campus reaction. She asked me to blend the story drawn from the reporting of our small cadre of reporters. It was both a factual story and a distillation of the campus reaction. I finished the story in the middle of the night – just in time to help the delivery guys get the paper on campus racks by 5 a.m. It was exhilarating to do something so deadline driven and so topical. 

As I headed home to married student housing on campus that morning, it hit me: “I have the soul of a reporter.” I’ve had a few incarnations since then, but I’ve fundamentally always been a reporter and felt the call to good journalism since that incident in my last year at OSU.

I’m grateful that because of the Franklin Center’s leadership and donors, I’m still living the dream.

 Q: What have you been reading recently?

McGuigan: The two best books I have had the opportunity to read recently are Robert W. Merry’s biography “A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the conquest of the American Continent,” – simply a solid biography of a controversial and underestimated American president – and Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire.” The latter is a novel about the Spartan culture and the battle of Thermopylae.

Q: What’s the most important or interesting story you’ve worked on for CapitolBeatOK? 

McGuigan: There are three different that not only interested me, but that I believe they contributed to better government – and two of them are ongoing.

One concerned the excesses of former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson in prosecuting three libertarian initiative activists, the best known of whom was Paul Jacob. The story unfolded over several years and, happily, ended with Jacob and his colleagues being fully exonerated from criminal charges Edmondson had filed against them.

A second series of stories focused on the year-long process that led to enactment of a scholarship program allowing special needs/special education students to access the best educational setting for their needs, including in private settings. In terms of substantive policy, this may be one of the most important policy issues I’ve ever covered.

Third, I went deep on Oklahoma’s government pension programs in 2010-11, documenting the $16 billion or so in unfunded long-term liability of an issue that one legislator said was “the one that could implode us.”

Q: If you could interview anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

I was blessed to interview Ronald Reagan once, and that was a highlight of my career and my life. I would like to have interviewed Nelson Mandela in the months after his release from prison. I find his affirmation of inclusive and democratic governance remarkable.

I would have liked to interview Robert Taft, the original “Mr. Conservative,” in his prime of the 1940s, and the late Pope John Paul II at any point in his papacy.

Q: Any advice for citizen journalists?

Adopt as your own traditional principles of fairness. You don’t have to be “objective” as many reporters pretend to be – but it’s important to be fair, use information accurately, and put it in context. Evidence may sometimes trump your assumptions or pre-conceived notions, and that’s ok.

When people say, “It is what it is” about a situation they convey a kind of working man’s populist wisdom: the truth is the truth, even if you have a problem with it.