Journalist Pat McGuigan Inspires OCCC Students
By Jessica Barfield
Journalism students at Oklahoma City Community College had the pleasure of welcoming award-winning journalist Patrick B. McGuigan, who made a guest appearance to discuss his life in journalism with the next generation.
Patrick McGuigan has more than four decades of experience, including more than 40,000 pieces of published work as well as three books.
He once directed the Oklahoman’s editorial page. He is founder of online news service – CapitolBeatOk.com – and is currently the Editorial Director of The Oklahoma City Sentinel Newspaper.
McGuigan began his career at Oklahoma State University (OSU) where he studied to be a historian.
“The only journalism class I ever took per se, although I’ve guest taught some and I’m certified to teach it in public schools, so I’m certified to teach journalism. But the only class I actually took was at Bishop McGuiness here in Oklahoma City,” he said.
During his college career at OSU, McGuigan began sending letters to the newspaper editorial staff, disagreeing with or questioning the angles in which they produced their stories. One day he went into the newspaper directly and asked, “why don’t you bring me on as a member of your staff?”
It was then that McGuigan was given the opportunity to write occasional stories and commentaries for the school paper, the Daily O’Collegian.
While in Stillwater, still pursuing a career as a historian, McGuigan continued his progression as a journalist. From the opinion pieces and commentaries, began the news and event coverage—including the Iranian hostage crisis.
McGuigan said it was when fundamental Islamists seized control of the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 1979 that he truly became a journalist.
During this timeframe, the Shah, who was autocratic yet supportive of the United States in his policies, was ruling. Ayatollah Khomeini, in opposition to the Shah, had been growing in popularity when Khomeini and his team took over the American Embassy.
In Stillwater during the crisis, there were roughly 750 Iranian students on campus.
The students were divided approximately 50/50 between supporting the Shah and supporting Khomeini.
“During that time, there was the largest demonstration in the history of OSU on the Edmond Low Library Lawn. The demonstration was divided between people that didn’t like Iran at all, people that were defending it, and then within the Iranian faction you had the divisions,” he said.
McGuigan recalls shortly thereafter, the United States military attempted a rescue equipped with multiple helicopters filled with Marine and Army soldiers.
“They converged on a remote point in the desert at a rendezvous to do a final preparation. And when they attempted to lift off, our helicopters were not adapted to desert warfare conditions,” he said. “They sucked up the sand, which went into the system of the helicopters and caused them to fail. The helicopters collided at low altitude in the air, and most of the men were killed. A few survivors, but not many.”
Word spread around like wildfire, and once it reached the editor of the Daily O’Collegian at OSU, she quickly called out to students involved with the newspaper to cover the campus reaction at that moment.
“She deployed the reporters and told them get your notes and reports as fast as you can, prepare your information, and get it to Pat. And I wrote the overview story, straight news story about what had happened. Now the paper had already been printed,” he SAID. “So, she had explained ahead of time we’re going to do a 4-page wrap and we are going to have to wrap it around the paper ourselves. And most of the delivery guys won’t deliver it at 2 o’clock in the morning when we get done. So, I helped produce the content of the paper and then helped deliver it.”
Upon arriving home early in the morning for breakfast with his wife, she asked, “How did it go?” He said, “It went ok. We got it done. But honey, I thought I was a historian. After tonight, I discovered I have the soul of a reporter.”
McGuigan also shared stories with students from his time in Washington, D.C. with politicians and the details of the books he has authored.
He left the students with words of wisdom and inspiration for going into journalism, including, “Keep your feet on the ground, your eyes focused on diversity of opinion, not just diversity of ethnicity, but different points of view.”