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May 27, 2009 News » Cover Story

How to Keep Tabs on the Man 

A muckraker’s guide to Utah

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Any biped with Google and a Steno pad can call him/herself a journalist. Take the better part of the reportorial staffs at The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News—please.

A muckraker, on the other hand, is that rare journalist, gadfly, activist or social critic who values unadulterated, truth-dripping evidence over the artful quotation of a dubious source—an executive, politician, lawyer, bureaucrat, cop, crackhead, dweeb, wasteoid, or the like. This guide aims to aid fellow malcontents in finding that evidence, and coaxing it away from those disinclined to let it go.

By necessity, this project is a work in progress that will be updated here as new resources and tricks of the trade become known to the paper (send us your suggestions). What follows then is a tutorial of sorts, with a roadmap to resources that will assist anyone with the time and inclination to do this job better than we can.

All of the resources presented here offer you a handy arsenal for tracking down fat cats, sniffing out corruption and otherwise raking the muck. But any one of these resources on its own is limited in what it can tell you. That’s why the art of muckraking at its finest is one of cross-referencing.

Find a politician. See if he or she has a business. Does that business bid on state work? Does that business donate to other politicians’ campaigns? Is that business up to its ass in lawsuits? If so, is it also making campaign donations to politicians to try and do something about it or as they like to call it “being good corporate citizens”?

As an example, we’ll be using the different resources presented here to check in on Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, slated to be Utah’s next governor, to see how one name can pop up in all sorts of fun places.

Now, on to the tricks of the muckraking trade.

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Hiring a nanny? Going into business with your buddy from the ward? Looking for a contractor to knock out a wall without knocking down your house? Want to avoid voting for a douchebag this time? Curious where your stalker gets all his sweet intel? You don’t need a private detective; you just need a nudge in the right direction. “Everyone goes through life dropping crumbs,” the inimitable detective Darryl Zero remarked in 1998’s Zero Effect. “If you can recognize the crumbs, you can trace a path all the way back from your death certificate to the dinner and a movie that resulted in you in the first place.” In this age of Total Information Awareness, all the crumbs are now swept up, digitized and cataloged for mass consumption.

Name, Rank & Serial Number
• A number of people finders, used in concert, can help you zero in on your subject. Skipease.com is a comprehensive starting place, which can be complemented by ZabaSearch.com, PrivateEye.com, AnyWho.com and Whitepages.com. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but beware that most are gateways to pay sites that may provide additional useful information but also want to scam you.

WhoIs.net: Identifies who owns a Website. Also, to find out who owns Internet domain names, check with DomainName.com.

Social Security Death Index: Searches millions of records by name through Ancestry.com.

Social Networking Websites
An obvious resource with details about where people live, work and go to school, what they’re doing from moment to moment, who they’re doing it with, and who they’re doing it with. Some careless souls even post their personal contact info and brag about the crimes they commit. Politicians are using these sites to attract supporters and even unwittingly announce their campaigns for U.S. Senate, a la Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. The personal comments, photos and videos people share with the world on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter will come back to haunt them; we will make sure of that.

County Clerks
Repositories of voter registration data (address, age, political affiliation) and marriage licenses (maiden name, witness(es), religious affiliation), which are public records but not available online. You can contact the recorder’s office to request government records from clerks in any Utah county. A few online links include:

Salt Lake County Clerk
Utah County Clerk
Davis County Clerk
Weber County Clerk
Washington County Clerk

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