For those who read this blog with any regularity, you might know that last year I spent months working on a Bleacher Report piece on Brooks Melchior, the former sports website guru who—poof!—went missing and never returned.
I chased down 100 different leads, traveled all over Southern California, knocked on doors, made calls … and, at the end, felt pretty certain that I’d pinned down his whereabouts.
Then I submitted a 10,000-word story that never ran.
Why? Because sometimes people hide in order not to be found. Sometimes privacy trumps headlines, and a man or woman’s whereabouts aren’t nearly as important as their security and safety.
Sometimes you simply need to walk away.
Over the past few weeks I’ve joined millions of Americans in listening to “Missing Richard Simmons,” the podcast that set out to locate the vanished exercise guru. Week after week, I hung on every word as Dan Taberski took us on a tour through Simmons’ past lives. It was brilliant work from Taberski—an ode to reporting, to snooping, to determination.
I loved “Missing Richard Simmons.”
But, truly, I hated “Missing Richard Simmons.”
Or, to be more precise, I hated myself for loving “Missing Richard Simmons.”
Taberski oftentimes framed his hunt as a well-intended effort to make sure Richard was OK. But, were he truly interested in such knowledge, why the podcast? Why not simply go about finding him sans mic, sans equipment, sans script? Were, say, my brother missing, I wouldn’t make the effort to locate him a headline-grabbing nationwide celebrity search and rescue. I’d call the police, I’d do some Nexis work, I’d ask around and I’d (hopefully) uncover the truths I need.
Too often in media we (myself included) justify our actions when, truth be told, they’re unjustifiable. Taberski knew Simmons wasn’t dead, knew he was still in California, knew he continued to walk the earth.
If he wanted to leave the spotlight, that was his right.
He need not answer to anyone.