Remembering Damon Chappie

The death last week of Damon Chappie, a Roll Call staff writer and editor, has deprived Capitol Hill of one of its most effective and admired news reporters.

Although he worked for this newspaper’s main rival, Chappie was liked and esteemed by The Hill’s staff, and particularly by the reporters and editors with whom he competed.

The quality and depth of his reporting stood up and surpassed the stories of other congressional journalists. The fact that he was a top-rate reporter despite handicaps that many others would have found insuperable added greatly to his achievement.

Investigative reporting is the most laborious and exacting discipline in journalism, even under the best of circumstances. It involves hours, days and sometimes weeks scrutinizing data. To do this without the benefit of sight, as Chappie did, and to absorb a multitude of details aurally from computer-scanned documents, then build the evidence into compelling news reports, was a remarkable testament to the skill and dedication he brought to his work.

Chappie had a profound sense of the law, propriety and due process; it animated his daily work. It was revealed earlier this year when he served on a grand jury in Virginia. The evidence he heard made him concerned that the requirements of post-Sept. 11 law enforcement were diverting too much prosecutorial attention away from corporate malfeasance; Chappie’s concern that wrongdoing be exposed was not a 9-to-5 job but a constant awareness of what was right.

On the Hill, Chappie’s reporting was instrumental in propelling official investigations of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and then-Reps. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and Jim Traficant (D-Ohio).

A new fund, the Damon Chappie Memorial Award in Investigative Journalism, is being established at Penn State University to assist aspiring investigative journalists. Donations, marked for the Damon Chappie Memorial Award, should be sent to Penn State University, College of Communications, 301 James Building, University Park, PA 16802.