Stuart Watson – who lost his job last week at WCNC (Channel 36), where he’d been an investigative reporter since 1999 – is looking ahead at what’s next in his life.
Maybe documentaries. There’s one he’s been thinking about, one with a personal angle.
Watson and his sister were adopted as infants to a loving family that raised him. In 2012, he did a story about his adoptive parents, who died the same day – in the same room – of Alzheimer’s in December 2011.
His story got a lot of reaction from viewers. But it never told about his biological father, who Watson has been learning about for years. That is the man he’d like to do a documentary on, and it’s not the kind of story with a warm theme.
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“It’d be about trying to understand this guy,” says Watson. “He was a decorated World War II veteran, a lawyer. He checked himself into a Holiday Inn and drank himself to death.
“Coming to terms with that, that’s what lights me up right now, not getting the LinkedIn account polished.”
His biological father was part of the First Marine Division in World War II assigned to the Pacific invasion fleet. He was one of those who stormed the beaches of Peleliu, a campaign that planners thought would last four days and instead took months.
Part of the mystery about him was the path he found himself on and the way it ended, in a Georgia hotel room in 1970.
“Stories I’ve done that have really resonated are the ones that I didn’t fully remove myself from,” Watson says. When North Mecklenburg High School was acquiring a reputation for being a dangerous place because a weapon was found in a student’s car, Watson accompanied his daughter for a day to all her classes there to get a look at what the school was really like.
“People in Charlotte living right down the street have no idea what those schools are like,” he says. “What I found was a lot of good learning going on and a lot of interesting people.”
And his daughter? “She was mortified.” Still, the story won a regional Emmy award.
Watson is the first high-profile personality at WCNC whose contract was not renewed after the takeover a year ago by Gannett. More are likely to follow as the NBC affiliate tries to claw its way higher in the local news ratings, where it is a longtime third-place finisher behind WSOC (Channel 9) and WBTV (Channel 3).
Watson reaped a mantel full of awards in his 16 years there. Among his best-known stories were the ones on United Way paying CEO Gloria Pace King more than $1 million in pay and benefits; pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church building a mansion in Waxhaw valued on the tax rolls at $1.6 million; and Mecklenburg’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board being entertained lavishly by liquor companies.
In that investigation, WCNC sent a three-person crew with hidden cameras to Palm Springs, Calif., to follow up on how the regulators were being treated.
Watson and his crew stayed at the Ramada Inn Express, while liquor board members were being hosted at the luxury La Quinta resort, operated by Waldorf Astoria.
“We went out there and showed your tax dollars at work,” says Watson.
That series was called “Bamboozled,” and it won a prestigious National Headliners Award.
So for now, Watson may find a new challenge in what he calls “those stories you’re personally involved in, the ones only you can tell. That’s what I want to do.”
In telling the story of his biological father, he would also be coming to terms with the alcohol problems he fought decades ago in his own life, knowledge he has often shared with others.
“I have 21 years of recovery myself,” says Watson. “That means something, to be able to survive, to be given a life. That is life-altering.
“A lot of people helped me. I was more or less rescued by a vibrant recovery community. It’s to them that I owe a great debt. That’s why I want to tell this story, to understand and make peace with the casualties of what was called the ‘Good War’ – and, in this case, the alcoholism and mental illness that stemmed from that.”
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