Believe it or not, about 25 years ago, I was the first person in the history of Swedish Television to use a hidden camera in a documentary.
One of Sweden’s best investigative journalists was a friend and he was working on a film to expose scamming doctors. Since I was dark and American, he thought I’d be a better liar than the pale, blushing Swedes.
You could tell he hadn’t done this before. His team gave me a small, very purple case for the camera. “How about black?” I suggested. The lens poked out of an unzipped opening. “Don’t worry. No one will notice,” they said.
They could only get 30-minute video tapes, and of course, in the first doctor’s waiting room, I waited and waited. I had turned on the camera before I went in, so I had to keep running to the bathroom to rewind the tape. Not exactly the vision I had of suave espionage.
But the first visit was a success. I wanted the doctor to say that I had mental health problems so I could get a state-funded apartment in downtown Stockholm. A few thousand kronor changed hands, and I left with everything on tape.
The second doc supposedly fixed gunshot wounds in the middle of the night for organized crime. As soon as I walked into his office, he asked what the purple bag was and why was there a camera lens was sticking out of it. He actually moved the bag so it wasn’t facing him. Mind you, this so-called “mafia” doctor now had my Swedish ID number which meant he could find out everything possible about me. The visit was unsuccessful, and I decided not to sleep in my apartment that night, just in case.
Eventually, the documentary aired to great success. Investigations started, licenses were suspended. Naturally, both of my two doctors sued the TV station, resulting in two high profile trials with Sweden’s two most famous lawyers. And me on the witness stand - twice.
From this experience, I learned two things: being first is never easy; and when someone offers you a job because they think you’re a good liar, just say no.
Editor's Note: Once a year we invite commentators to write essays on a single theme to share at a brunch - and we record them to sample later on the air. The prompt 'Was THAT So Difficult?' reminded commentator Rich Nadworny that sometime a job that looks easy - isn't. You can find the complete 2016 Brunch audio here.