Date of Graduation

12-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Journalism (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Journalism

Advisor

Rob Wells

Committee Member

Bret Schulte

Second Committee Member

Gerald Jordan

Keywords

Arkansas history, Investigative journalism, Local news, Objectivity, Watchdog

Abstract

In November 2007, a team of reporters from the Benton County Daily Record published an expose revealing that Ken Williams, the mayor of Centerton, Arkansas, had been living a double life. In his former life as Don LaRose, he was a preacher in the Northeast, who one day vanished without a trace. His wild saga includes Satanists, truth serums, and a supposed murder. The Benton County Daily Record confronted the former reverend several times before he finally confessed to his double life. The next morning, he resigned as mayor, saying that the decisions he made were for the protection of his family in the 1970s, before eventually pleading guilty in 2009 to a felony charge of forgery. To this day, the reporters say that the only person who knows the truth is Williams, himself; yet, since his disappearance in the 1970s, he has maintained a single narrative, warts and all, of kidnapping and brainwashing. As a case study, the story of Ken Williams investigates the role of local journalists as watchdogs over official misconduct and the dilemma journalists face when a public official firmly and repeatedly presents an alternate reality at odds with verified facts. This case study explores questions about myth and self-presentation. This project crafts a book proposal to catalogue the riveting narrative of Ken Williams and the Benton County Daily Record within the context of American and Arkansan history in the early aughts.

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