After nearly 40 years, FOX 5 senior I-Team reporter Dale Russell retires
ATLANTA - It is a bittersweet salute and goodbyes. After nearly 40 years of relentlessly exposing government waste and corruption, FOX 5 senior I-Team reporter Dale Russell is putting down his notepad, his microphone and yes, retiring.
Those words are hard to believe. His storied career is one that left a mark on so many positions of power.
The outtakes of the most recent FOX 5 I-Team promotional campaign reveal what made Dale Russell work so hard for you.
"Good investigative journalism is when we uncover something that somebody wanted to hide from you. And now, you have that information for you to make your own decisions," Russell told the camera.
Through it all, Russell’s mission, his drive, was all about you. The Dale Russell we all came to respect and for some politicians to fear.
The Georgia native cared deeply about your tax dollars, who was spending them, who was wasting them, exposing what the public was really getting for their money.
His news career began at one of the lowest points in Atlanta history in the early 1980s covering the Missing and Murdered Children investigation and ultimately the trial of Wayne Williams.
That was when he worked for WGST radio. We quickly spotted Russell's talent for television and in 1985 brought him into the station's investigative unit, one of only six reporters in the storied history of the FOX 5 I-Team.
"We’ve been investigating in Atlanta since 1977, 45 years, and a team of investigators. Uninterrupted. We’ve been looking into every kind of person and every kind of story you can imagine," Russell said.
Every kind of story you can imagine, Russell left his mark, showing his ability to dig for answers no matter it took.
After nearly four decades, FOX 5 senior I-Team reporter Dale Russell is retiring. (FOX 5)
That includes the Olympic Park Bombing and the 9/11 hijackers’ connection to Georgia.
Russell was the first to show the explosives used by the Boston Marathon Bombers, scooping every other journalist in the country.
In 1999, Russell's investigation of racial profiling by Customs at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport would win the station a Peabody Award.
"It’s not every day you get to live a dream come true. What an honor to be in this room with such a distinguished group of broadcasters and journalists," Russell said.
After Russell showed the evidence in the records was undeniable, Customs changed its policy.
"The best possible outcome of one of our investigations is things get changed. Something’s wrong, it gets righted. If there’s a problem, it gets fixed. That’s the best thing that can happen for our viewers," Russell said.
His scoops seemed to never end. An exposé on Glenn Richardson cost the Speaker of the House his job. An exposé on candidate Herman Cain ended his presidential campaign. His relentless pursuit of contract bid rigging at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport sped up what would become a huge federal investigation.
If you were an airport vendor, you had Russell's number on speed dial.
There were also moments in his career that were pure Dale Russell. Like the time he was embedded with the Georgia National Guard in Iraq. The soldier assigned to protect him turned out to be an Atlanta police officer Dale had investigated years earlier.
They got along and Russell got home alive.
In fact, it was not unusual for someone Russell investigated early in his career to become a source for future stories. They trusted him, they said, because he had treated them with fairness and respect.
Mindy Larcom, Russell’s longtime producer, is also retiring after nearly 30 years. She produced two Peabody-award winning investigations, one of them she shares with Russell.
"There’s no telling how many times the subject of an investigation reached out after a story aired and said, ‘Well, at least you were fair.’ It meant we’d struck the right balance. You can be tough and still show people respect," said Larcom.
Russell was as old-school as they come. His favorite type of investigation involved spending hours digging through piles of documents, finding that one nugget in an email or memo that would peel back the facade and help him reveal the truth.
As it would turn out, one of Russell's final big projects at FOX 5 revisited the story that started it all: an hour-long compelling look at the evidence the jury saw that led them to convict Wayne Williams.
Dale’s opus to a truly remarkable career.
"You have to spend time to dig deeper. And that’s what the I-Team does," Russell said.
That’s what Dale Russell has done for us and for you.