Charlie LeDuff lives large and loud, so we figured we pretty much knew his basic who, what, why and how.
Nuh-uh. Never assume, as a journalism mantra goes. One of his buddies, national journalist Matt Labash, introduces sides of Charlie that surprise, amuse and add to our respect for “the gonzo whirlwind,” as Labash calls him.
In a sequel to his 2008 profile of the Metro Detroit icon, the Maryland-based senior writer hangs out here with “my old compadre” and delivers these eye-openers in a 3,000-word riff at The Weekly Standard:
An unglamorous part-time job is ‘cool’
He’s working here [at American Coney Island]. Not as a journalist, but as an employee: vacuuming the chessboard floor, shining the faux brass, doing the books, swabbing grease fryers . . . “for about a year now.” . . .
“You’re kidding,” I said. “Is it a stunt?”
“Nope, though that’s what my wife asked,” Charlie said. . . .
He’s all-in as handyman and troubleshooter for Grace Keros, the third-generation owner, who regards Charlie not just as an employee but a friend. . . . Charlie puts in several days a week at the Coney. . . .
Keros tells me he’s a model employee, even if he takes frequent smoke breaks and today knocks off now and then to drink locally brewed Dirty Blondes with me—we professional journalists start early. Keros is kind enough to pour them into Pepsi cups for us.
The salary is paltry, and Charlie mainly took the gig for the health care the Coney offers. . . . His wife is studying for a Ph.D. in counseling. His daughter goes to parochial school. But when he walked away from his well-compensated TV gig, he lost the family’s insurance and was in for some serious sticker-shock. . . .
“Humble yourself,” Charlie says. . . . “A little bit of real people doesn’t hurt. A little bit of real life doesn’t hurt. Be on your knees, scrape some dirt. . . . “It’s honest. It’s fun. It’s cool.”
Why he left TV news
“It has been an insane experience,” LeDuff tweeted in November 2016, announcing his WJBK (Fox 2) departure after six years as a flamboyant investigative reporter. “The split is apparently amicable,” speculated Julie Hinds of the Free Press. She was wrong.
I ask him why he left TV and get a lot of answers over the course of a couple days. For starters, his Fox superiors pressuring him to lay off Trump and certain local politicians now that everyone’s celebrating the “New Detroit.” Which, as Charlie repeatedly says, “is bullshit.” . . .
Charlie also cites . . . things like getting screwed on expenses—having to front the travel costs with his camera crew and then getting nickel-and-dimed by superiors for, say, ordering nine beers while interviewing a Times Square pimp. (“He didn’t want baked ziti, he’s a pimp!” Charlie says.)
Finally, he says, sighing, he got tired of the monkey show, the fake news, and how the split screen has multiplied into an octagon-screen of talking heads—”housecats” who never leave the studio. . . .
He also admits he just got tired. . . . “Too many bodies,” he says. “Too many broken hearts. Old ladies living in their vans because they got put out. People washing their babies in the sinks in Flint. I mean, you know, at some point, it’s just . . .
“I got a little bit tired of it.”
He declines a cash tip
The bold ‘n brash newsman has a modest side.
And then there’s the African-American couple in head-to-toe purple who forgot their teeth while eating their Coney dogs. Charlie chases down the street after them with their partial bridges in a to-go container.
“You forgot your teeth!” he yells. The couple collectively says “Ohh!!” then start feeling their gums, wondering who forgot their teeth.
“Both of them!” they concur, though without their teeth, it sounds like “Bof of vem.”
Charlie hands over the styrofoam hot-dog case with their choppers in it. “Served fresh and hot,” he says with a smile. They are extremely grateful. The woman tries to hand Charlie a $10 tip. He refuses. All in a day’s work. The good people of Detroit should not be walking around toothless.
If this seems beneath a Pulitzer-winner, Charlie doesn’t think so.