Well Played Andrew Jennings

The Washington Post last week ran a wonderful tribute to – to use their words – the “curmudgeonly old reporter” that toppled Sepp Blatter.

The article is a fascinating read and reminds us that a person can make a difference.

What really caught our eye, though, was the strategy that Andrew Jennings adopted to uncover corruption.

As the Washington Post noted:

From prior investigations and studying organized crime, Jennings knew he would need sources to crack open the secretive soccer association. “You know that everywhere, any organization, if there is any sign at all of how corrupt the people at the top are, there’s decent people down in the middle management, because they’ve got mortgages, they’ve got children to put through school,” Jennings said. “They are just employees, and they will have a sense of proper morality. So you’ve got to get them to slip you the stuff out the back door. It used to be from the filing cabinet; now it’s from the server.”

His approach is a reminder of the importance of visibility:

So the Scotsman decided to ambush one of Blatter’s first news conferences after being reelected in 2002. “I went to the press conference there in their Zurich headquarters,” he said. “Sloping all up the walls on either side was the employees, the robots all in their FIFA blazers with robotic faces, nothing to say, just lining the walls. So I said, ‘Right, they’re the ones I want. I’ve got to get the message to them that I’m here. I’ll cross the road for a fight. I want it. I’m looking for it.’”

And then the moment of truth:

If Blatter’s downfall can be traced to a single moment, it is probably the one that came next. When the FIFA president finished his speech, Jennings grabbed the microphone and blurted out a deliberately outrageous question.

“I’m surrounded by all these terribly posh reporters in suits and silk ties and buttoned up shirts, for God’s sake,” he remembered. “And here’s me in me hiking gear. I get the mike and I said, ‘Herr Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?’”

Talk about crashing the party,” Jennings recalled Tuesday. “Reporters are moving away from me as if I’ve just let out the biggest smell since bad food. Well, that’s what I wanted. Thank you, idiot reporters.

His intended audience had heard:

The radar dish on top of my head is spinning around to all these blazers against the wall, saying, ‘Here I am. I’m your boy. I’m not impressed by these tossers. I know what they are. I’ve done it to the IOC, and I’ll do it to them.’”

And what an outcome:

The outcome was doubly golden. Blatter denied ever taking a bribe, which gave Jennings a great headline. But he also got the goods. “Six weeks later I’m in the dark at about midnight down where the river in Zurich widens out into the lake, standing by a very impressive looking 19th-century office block, wondering why I’ve been asked to go there by somebody I don’t know when the door opens and I’m dragged in,” Jennings recalls. “I’m taken into a very posh set of offices … and within half an hour a senior FIFA official arrived carrying a wonderful armful of documents. And it ran from there. And it still does.”

 Never underestimate the power of people wanting to do the right thing.

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