Saturday, February 4, 2023

Books: "Warrior" By Lisa Guerrero On Her Remarkable Career


Warrior: My Path to Being Brave

By Lisa Guerrero

Hachette Books; hardcover, 288 pages; $28

Lisa Guerrero is perhaps best known for her work on Monday Night Football on ABC, alongside Al Michaels and John Madden, and Fox Sports' The Best Damn Sports Show Period, but that is just part of her iconic career. Today, she is the award-winning chief investigative correspondent for Inside Edition, where her reporting shines a light on violent crimes, fraud, scams, sexual assaults, child abuse, and even cold case murders.

From her childhood as a daughter of a Chilean immigrant and a social worker to experiencing abuse and harassment as a cheerleader and sports journalist, Guerrero knows what it is like to feel powerless, but also to reclaim power, something she hopes will inspire others.

Known for the confrontational, no-holds-barred style she brings to her reporting, Guerrero is always asked by people of all ages and backgrounds, "How did she get so brave?" She answers that question by writing, "empathy is what makes me brave." Before her mother died of cancer when she was eight years old, she told her, "Guerrero means 'warrior.' You were born to fight."

After her mother passed away, Guerrero and her father bonded over a shared love of sports, and she eventually pursued a career in sports broadcasting. From the outside, it seemed glamorous, but behind the scenes, she often felt demeaned and degraded, especially by Monday Night Football Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli. 

Guerrero writes how she was brought in to be a different kind of sideline reporter, but before she even worked a single game, Gaudelli made clear she could not write her own reports, that she was meant to follow what he wrote and not to improvise. It also was nearly destroyed by the media's narrative of her, with a focus on her being a former cheerleader and an FHM photo shoot that coincided with the start of the season. There also was an ill-fated appearance on Good Morning America in which people thought she ticked off anchor Charlie Gibson, which she views a bit differently. Her insights into this high-profile job is one of the strongest parts of Warrior.

"Being a sideline reporter is a grueling, thankless job," Guerrero writes. "Each week you report on two different NFL teams - and you must know as much about each team as a beat reporter who covers the same team each week. Since you can't predict which players will impact the game or how, you have to prepare and memorize thirty stories a week, although only six to eight will make air. Researching, interviewing, and reading are the biggest parts of the job. It's as if every week, you have to cram for a final exam, but most of the stuff you study doesn't make it onto the test, and there are always a few questions you hadn't anticipated...

"You have to have a broad knowledge of each player so you can rattle off factoids when Al Michaels, the show's play-by-play commentator, throws to you. For instance, if a player is having a great game, you need a backstory prepared on the guy. You'll know where he went to school, what teams he's played for, and some fun tidbit like his favorite meal before a game. If a player is carted off the field and taken to a hospital, you'll know if this is a new or recurring injury. If a backup quarterback is about to take the field, you'll have memorized a few items about him - hometown, family, and how he performs under pressure...

"The first regular season game of the MNF season - and my official debut - was a matchup between the New York Jets and the Washington Redskins. Since four former Jets had just been signed to the Redskins, it was a highly anticipated game, fueled by rumors of animosity among the players. The media called these former players 'the Jetskins.' Everyone was wondering if the ex-teammates would be civil to each other. Would a fight break out? Football may be a tough-guy sport, but it is sometimes as full of drama as any soap opera."

Warrior features remarkable stories from Guerrero's compelling career, such as how she suffered a miscarriage on the sidelines of an NFL game; how she sued New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and won; when she was the first reporter to ask Barry Bonds on camera if he ever used steroids; how she made Dennis Rodman cry; when she butted heads with Barbara Walters and could have ended up as a host on The View, and how she ended up in a Brad Pitt movie.

Guerrero also tells the story of how an Inside Edition investigation she launched led to the conviction of a child murderer the police had given up searching for. She describes the search for justice in excruciating detail, and it is quite touching how she gave a voice to the voiceless, and prevailed.

In this excerpt, Guerrero writes, "As Dustin Chauncey waited to hear his verdict, he turned around and scanned the crowded courtroom until his eyes landed on me. He knew who I was - we'd met when he thought he'd gotten away with murder and I'd stuck my microphone in his car window to let him know he hadn't. A shiver raced through me as I returned his glare - it was like staring into the eyes of the devil. But I didn't look away. 

I was part of the reason he'd been arrested and charged with the murder of two-year-old Juliette Geurts. For more than six years, he'd escaped justice. In a few minutes, he'd finally receive it.

As Inside Edition's chief investigative correspondent for more than a decade, I've covered hundreds of stories - consumer scams, crooked politicians, corrupt televangelists, rapists, and predators, child, women, elder, and animal abuse, and, well, the list goes on.

But I'd never solved a murder.

It began two years earlier when I received a message on Facebook from Monica Hall, Juliette's aunt. She'd grown frustrated with the incompetent police investigation of her niece's death and had reached out to the media for help. But her pleas to the networks, the cable news stations, and television personalities such as Dr. Phil and Nancy Grace had gone unanswered. It had been four years since Juliette had died, and I was her last resort. She begged me to look into it.

'It's been years of hell for our family. I don't know where else to turn,' she wrote.

In the early morning of July 11, 2008, Juliette had been brutally beaten in her home just a few feet from her identical twin sister, Jaelyn. Juliette had suffered a lacerated liver from a kick to the stomach as well as cerebral hemorrhaging and a badly bruised lung. Even her crib had been broken during the assault. Yet none of the three adults - two men and Juliette's mother - who had been in the tiny ranch-style house that evening drinking rum and smoking weed had been arrested. The murder had not only remained unsolved, it had barely been investigated. Worse, the cops had bungled every aspect of it.

It had taken five days after the toddler's murder for the cops to seal the home as a crime scene. It was a year before her clothes were sent to a crime lab. The police never separated the suspects before they interviewed them - so they had time to coordinate their stories. The cops never charged anyone, even though they called Juliette's death a homicide. And when the principal witnesses and/or suspects left the state, law enforcement threw up its hands and just moved on. The more I read, the more furious I became. This was a little girl who had never had a chance, even in death. Juliette's aunt had been leading a petition drive that would compel a grand jury to be convened and a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate the unsolved crime. But Juliette's story needed national attention to help Monica garner the necessary signatures.

I couldn't stop thinking about this tiny victim whose horrible death had been treated so callously by law enforcement.

'I have to look into this,' I said to Bob Read, the senior producer for our investigative unit.

He told me what I already knew. 'You have nothing to go on. There's no one to interview. There's no one to confront. The suspects have disappeared. There are no leads. This case is cold. What could we do that law enforcement couldn't?'

I wasn't sure yet. But I told him I'd like to meet and interview Monica and see where the story would lead. When Charles Lachman, our executive producer, gave it the green light, I headed to Gering, the remote town in Nebraska where Juliette had lived and died. I met with Monica, and we toured the home where Juliette had been killed. Then Monica played me the tape recording of her conversation with Doug Warner, the district attorney handling the case.

'I hope for Juliette's sake you will find justice for her,' Monica pleaded.

I could hear the anger in the DA's voice when he replied, 'Don't give me that 'for Juliette.' Do you know how many dead babies I've worked on?'

This recording was impossible to listen to without becoming emotional. As Monica and I talked about that awful conversation, about the sloppy investigation, and about the beautiful little girl who had been known as the louder, more rambunctious twin, my eyes welled with tears."

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