The other reason Charlie alters the chemistry in the room is because he is a celebrity. A singular kind of celebrity, certainly. But he’s probably the most famous man in Detroit who isn’t (1) Matthew Stafford, (2) Berry Gordy, or (3) in jail for sexting and also pillaging the city coffers (see Kilpatrick, Kwame—the first mayor in modern history to be convicted of a felony while still in office). Besides being the author of a best-selling book about how fucked Detroit is (Detroit: An American Autopsy, published earlier this year), Charlie got famous by basically reinventing local news reporting. Like for instance, in one segment he waits with a woman who has called 911 after her house was apparently broken into. He picks her up some McDonald’s, searches her house for assailants, washes his pants, and takes a bath, all hours before the cops arrive. (Asterisk on this one: probably the only segment in the history of local network news in which producers at the station had to pixelize a reporter’s balls.) A million people watched that on YouTube—not including the people who watched it on TV, or on the station’s website, etc.—which is 40 percent more than the population of Detroit. Or in another segment, Charlie plays a game of golf across an eighteen-mile swath of Detroit in a pair of old sneakers and some shorts to show just how empty the place is. (As he’ll remind me over the course of the days we spend together, you could fit Manhattan and San Francisco into just the abandoned portions of Detroit.) Or earlier this year, in a piece that’s become known as “A Plant, a Perch, and a Prophylactic,” Charlie and a cameraman canoed the length of the infamous River Rouge, which turned into kind of an antic tone poem about desolation and environmental degradation and the modern urban landscape. All of these videos had a life of their own outside the realm of broadcast journalism. All of them became, for lack of less annoying phraseology, viral videos illustrating something about Detroit.
Charlie LeDuff: Madman of the Year (via GQ)