Newshound Turns ‘Loose Moose’
June 14, 2004
Jeff Ray ’82, a pit bull disguised in business attire, confronted Boise’s police chief outside the police station with TV cameras rolling. It was February 14, 2003, the day the city’s mayor had resigned in scandal.
His body tense, his voice slow and deliberate, Ray stared intently at Police Chief Don Pierce and asked him to explain video surveillance footage of himself, the mayor, and other top administrators carrying stolen property into city hall.
As Pierce professed innocence of any wrongdoing in a rambling, protracted response, Ray tightened his jaw, trying to control the urge to pounce on what he considered a lie.
“Didn’t you think it was awfully odd that the mayor of Boise asked the police chief to help him carry items into city hall?” Ray said, his eyebrows arched, his body animated.
“I’m putting you on notice that you do not have the correct facts,” Pierce said.
“Tell me how I got it wrong,” Ray barked.
After the interview ended, Pierce told Ray never to contact him again.
Employing that unyielding style, Ray and the KBCI-TV team in Boise, Idaho, won the 2004 duPont-Columbia university broadcast journalism award (widely regarded as the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize) for their in-depth investigation, “Shake-up at City Hall.”
For more than two years, the investigation played out with all the drama and intrigue of a blockbuster movie: trips to a Broadway play on taxpayer dollars; unauthorized salary bonuses and “creative” perks; an illicit tryst between key administrators; stakeouts and illegal listening devices; and a budget that cloaked costly expenditures for limo rides, air travel, and luxury hotels.
In the end, former Mayor Brent Coles pleaded guilty to two felony counts of misuse of public funds; his former chief of staff Gary Lyman pleaded guilty to fraud, illegal wiretapping, and two counts of misuse of public funds; and Pierce resigned his post as Boise’s top cop.
“It was the same story that’s been told for years—elected officials misusing taxpayer dollars. How stupid could they be?” Ray said. “As news anchor, my main contribution was coming up with hard questions, and getting our reporters to really go for the jugular.”
As a young boy, Ray lived on a cattle ranch in rural northeastern Oregon. His family didn’t have a television set, and he often felt left out when other kids played Batman and talked about what they watched on TV.
Hungry for knowledge and entertainment, Ray gravitated to the radio and became enamored with legendary newscaster Edward R. Murrow. “My parents often talked about what a great man he was, and I spent hours listening to his protégés, the ‘murrow Boys.’” Ray admired the way those reporters transformed stories about ordinary people into powerful commentary on political or social issues.
During high school, 17-year-old Ray found work at a country-music radio station, where he says he stumbled his way through the Associated Press news watch.
Intent on travel and interested in international affairs, he enrolled at Lewis & Clark College in 1978. He describes himself as a casual student, and says his mission was to read books and have a good time.
As luck would have it, he landed in a class taught by Stephen Dow Beckham, now Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Professor of History.
“He sparked my intellectual curiosity,” Ray says. “I was fascinated by his lectures. They were logical, interesting, and made sense to me. He communicated in a clear way and had passion for his subject matter.”
Not one to pace himself, Ray says he developed a knack for doing term papers at the last minute under “excruciating pressure.” As it turns out, this was one of many skills acquired at Lewis & Clark that prepared him for his career as a broadcast journalist.
“I’m putting you on notice that you do not have the correct facts,” Pierce said. “Tell me how I got it wrong,” Ray barked. After the interview ended, Pierce told Ray never to contact him again.
“Jeff has used his college education to pose questions, engage in research to find answers, and present and interpret his findings to large audiences,” Beckham says. “These activities confirm that critical reading, analysis, and presentation—tasks inflicted on liberal arts students—have great potential to foster achievement.”
On the Air
After graduating in 1982, Ray found himself back in radio, this time in Walla Walla, Washington, where he happened upon a story that helped launch his career.
At a press conference preceding Whitman College’s graduation ceremony in 1983, Ray heard washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson announce that he would try to persuade the federal government to bail out the Washington Public Power Supply System. Irreverently referred to as “Whoops,” the system was a group of northwest utility companies that banded together with government agencies in the late 1970s to build 13 nuclear power plants to generate electricity.
“Through mismanagement, cost overruns, and a flawed forecast for energy demand, the project flopped,” Ray said. “It was a financial debacle, and electricity rates were expected to go through the roof.”
Ray got on the phone with an all-news radio station in Seattle, gave them the story, asked if they were hiring, and landed a seven-year gig at KING Radio.
However, during the 1980s, he noticed that news-makers “didn’t give a whit about radio or newspapers.” So Ray finagled a job in TV news and never looked back. A journalist for more than 20 years, he has worked in Seattle, Portland, Spokane, and Boise. Along with the esteemed duPont award, he has won three Emmy awards for investigative journalism.
Over time, Ray grew weary of broadcast news’ confrontational style. While in Lincoln, Montana, where he was covering the case of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Ray took a hard look at the press corps and felt “the circus had come to town.
“It hit me that the press had turned into a collection of ill-mannered, arrogant folks—a traveling freak show,” he says. “I was shocked at how unprofessional they were.”
Becoming embroiled in KBCI-TV station politics didn’t help either. After working as evening news anchor and acting news director, he turned down the opportunity to direct the news on a permanent basis. In short order, he was pushed out of his evening anchor slot, relegated to weekend anchor, and then moved to morning news. “At first, it was a terrible blow to my ego,” he says.
But now, at age 44, Ray is embarking on a journey of professional transformation.
Swayed, in part, by the women in his life—his wife, Sheila Ray, and his mother, Jan Eyestone—Ray is experimenting with a gentler, quieter style. He now selects pieces that celebrate common people and adopts a storytelling style reminiscent of Charles Kuralt and his boyhood hero Edward R. Murrow.
“That’s where I see my career going,” Ray says. “I hear a voice calling me to tell stories of peace and celebration.”
At his Boise home situated on the edge of a rolling golf course, Ray now takes time to enjoy the company of his wife, two kids, and two dogs. He also dabbles in training attack dogs, playing bagpipes, and Dutch-oven cooking.
Last October, he started his own production company called Loose Moose Media, named after an Emmy-winning feature story he produced (see related article on page 23). Armed with a lightweight, handheld video camera, he’s poised at the front curve of an emerging evolution called “narrowcasting”—telling compelling, intimate stories that appeal to a niche audience. With rapid advances in technology and news delivery systems—including streaming video, Web publishing, and CD sales—Ray is investigating the best way to market and deliver his product.
To get his cash flow started, he’s putting his own spin on weddings, graduations, school programs, video biographies, and executive presentations. He’s also producing a documentary about A.L. “Bert” Watts of Walla Walla, the Northwest’s long-serving police chief and a family friend.
Ray hopes to one day tell meaningful investigative stories that come from the “swirling mass of dysfunction” emanating from the newsroom. “I want to hear what a 13-year-old cowering in her mud hut in Fallujah has to say about the War on Terror.” He can envision himself traveling the world to cover any story that captures his attention.
“I realize that sounds a bit like a 9-year-old in Chicago saying he wants to join the NBA, but a guy can dream.”
A Trio of Emmy Awards
In addition to the prestigious duPont-Columbia University broadcast journalism award, Jeff Ray has captured three Emmy awards for investigative reporting:
“Before the Flames”(1993, with John Allison and Jim Bolser): An examination of how the state of Washington set the stage for a series of wildfires in fall 1991 by failing to adequately maintain its power lines. A class action lawsuit followed, ending in dozens of out-of-court settlements for victims.
“Energy to Waste” (1993, with John Allison and Jim Bolser): A revealing look at Spokane’s overnight garbage crews, who, at the time, spent much of their workdays in coffee shops or sleeping on the job.
“Loose Moose” (1999, with photographer Rick Suhr): A tongue-in-cheek piece about a sheriff and police officers tracking down a “dangerous fugitive”—a 700-pound moose on the loose in a residential neighborhood.
Pattie Pace, a former Lewis & Clark staff member, is a freelance writer in Ohio.