Stories That Made a Difference

And some we regret

We like the hot, hot adult ads; the advertisements for cosmetic surgery; and the ads for Mercedes-Benz, Washington Mutual, Puma and Starbucks as much as the next laboring guy or gal whose paycheck depends entirely on ad sales. But what we like most about working at the Weekly is the chance we have to make a difference—to clothesline the corrupt politicians, to spring from jail the innocents, to liberate hip-hop fans from the burden of additional reading material. As we celebrate our 10th year, we recount here some of the stories that changed the world, or maybe just embarrassed us so badly that we wish we'd chosen that art school in Rhode Island.

ROBERT K. DORNAN
"The Secret Lives of Bob Dornan" by R. Scott Moxley, Oct. 18, 1996

Stark, raving Dornan
Orange County Congressman Robert K. Dornan lived comfortably as the nation's scariest bully politician before the Weekly opened its doors in September 1995. Combining a rare mix of oratory, religious fervor, unbridled ego, historical obsession, emotional instability and an unnatural interest in gay sex, Dornan believed he was leading a crusade that would land him in the White House. Like the movie that would become his favorite, Braveheart, Dornan loved big body counts and didn't reserve his wrath just for liberals or reporters, who often cowered in his presence. He'd savage fellow Republicans too, once calling a prominent official a "closet homo" and Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War POW, a traitor. If a national survey had been taken, many Americans would have described Dornan as a "nut," but The Orange County Register had a different title: "military expert."

Such crap got us thinking: What's the real Dornan story? During a nine-month investigation, Moxley dug into every aspect of the congressman's persona and emerged with this pre-November 1996 election story. Among the revelations: contrary to his image as a gung-ho military man, Dornan had skipped Korean War combat duty to enroll in acting school in LA. When the war ended, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he served as "writer, director and emcee" of an entertainment troupe that toured the southern United States, performing a near-life-threatening 64 engagements.

Days before publication, Dornan—who refused to cooperate for Moxley's story—showed up unannounced at the Weekly, claimed Moxley was a prostitute and drug dealer, and unsuccessfully urged editor Will Swaim to kill the story or, at least, delete the chapter on his missing military heroics. They shook hands, and the article ran. Someone distributed thousands of copies to voters throughout the congressional district on the weekend before Dornan faced Loretta Sanchez. Dornan panicked. Shop owners in Garden Grove witnessed him dumping stacks of the paper in his SUV.

It was too late. When he discovered he'd lost by just 970 votes, he first blamed the Weekly in a written legal threat before eventually deciding to claim he'd lost because of a massive illegal-immigrant voter fraud scam. The OC bureau of the Los Angeles Times shamelessly championed the accusation, unable or unwilling to see the ridiculousness of Dornan's belief that a house of nuns was part of the conspiracy against him. Moxley investigated all this too, spending weeks poring over voting records, interviewing experts and hunting down alleged fraudulent voters. For more than 15 months, he alone in the media predicted that Dornan's cries were factless. The bitter, defeated ex-congressman responded by calling Moxley a "homosexual hit man" who had carried "wetbacks" across the Mexican border to vote for Sanchez. (In a moment of lovely irony, it was Moxley who had revealed before the election that Sanchez's campaign adviser was a convicted felon.) Nevertheless, a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican federal judge humored Dornan, allowing him to subpoena Moxley's investigative files and commanding him to appear at a deposition.

The Weekly fought the subpoena, Moxley refused to cooperate, and a debate erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives over whether to hold him in contempt of Congress. The move attracted national media attention, and the subpoena was quietly killed. Dornan went a little more nuts, grabbing Moxley's throat at a special congressional hearing on the case in Santa Ana. The Weekly, he declared on television, was "Satan's instrument" and a "scabrous, scandalous, calumny-spreading homosexual tool of Bill [sic] Swaim."

Bob, we miss you.

When there were no more sensational headlines to milk, the Orange County DA, secretary of state, attorney general and the head of the congressional oversight panel—Republicans all—dropped the case. The Times too finally conceded what Moxley had said all along: there was no proof of a stolen election.

Looking for redemption, Dornan sought a 1998 rematch against Sanchez and was trounced. Once again, he claimed he'd won. He blamed his apparent defeat on Republican Congressmen Christopher Cox and Dana Rohrabacher. In a Nov. 5, 1998, piece, "White Trash Disco," Moxley chronicled Dornan's pathetic final minutes of glory at a GOP election-night party, a speech that included references to D-Day, "The Beast," talk radio, Martin Luther King Jr., strong women, Newt Gingrich, sexual predators, serial adulterers, unappreciative Latinos, Yeats and the "Antichrist." Dornan concluded, "A fog of evil has rolled across our country," a signal, it seemed, for drunken members of his entourage to start brawling with fellow Republicans who'd shouted for the ex-congressman to get off the stage. As fists and blood flew, Moxley stood in the middle of it all, scribbling furiously on his note pad. And he smiled.

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