POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- When Poplar Bluff native and veteran journalist Charles Jaco sat down to interview Rep. Todd Akin, he knew from experience the conservative Republican would likely share opinions considered to be controversial.
However, Jaco admits he could not predict the U.S. Senate candidate would make a statement so contentious it would capture national attention in the week leading up to the Republican National Convention and cost Akin the support of his party.
Jaco is a 1968 graduate of Poplar Bluff High School, who says one of the greatest influences in his life was English teacher Richard Minetree.
He recently discussed his time in Poplar Bluff, his career, his interview with Akin and its potential impact on state and national elections.
Akin shared his opinion against abortion on the "Jaco Report" one week ago Sunday, explaining he understood a woman could prevent conception in cases of "legitimate rape." Akin has since said he misspoke.
The congressman has far-right conservative opinions and after six terms, there is nothing new about that, Jaco said.
"I just knew he was going to be Todd Akin and pretty much say what he thought, even when what he thought offended a lot of people," Jaco said.
It was the fourth or fifth controversial statement Akin had made during the interview, Jaco recalled. The most important, he thought at the time, was when Akin said maybe it was time to repeal the voting rights act of 1965.
"After a while, he says so much stuff, your mind is kind of reeling …," Jaco said.
When Akin explained his opinion of abortion, Jaco was surprised, but only in retrospect. It was not something he or others in the newsroom realized the significance of at the time.
"Maybe we were just used to listening to congressman Akin for a dozen years," Jaco said.
Jaco has interviewed Akin several times since returning to Missouri more than a decade ago.
Before that he was a war correspondent. He covered the invasion of Iraq, the first Gulf War for CNN in 1991, the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, wars throughout Africa in 1985 and almost every war and conflict in Latin America since the late 1980s.
He took a position in St. Louis in radio, then later television, to be near his mother who was seriously ill. She had lived in Poplar Bluff until that time.
"I moved here to St. Louis … so I could be close to her," he said. "It wasn't terribly much of a transition, because coming back here was all about family to begin with."
Jaco was born at Doctor's Hospital, attending first and second grade in Poplar Bluff, before the family moved to Chicago. He returned in time to attend high school here and, like many students, formed a lasting relationship with Minetree.
"Dick Minetree was one of the guide stars for what I've become simply because he was such a great teacher," Jaco said, describing Minetree as " a gentleman and a gentle man."
Jaco gave the eulogy at Minetree's funeral in 2007.
Both Minetree and former PBHS English teacher Clint Summers made their students think, Jaco said.
"They were not so much about teaching you the subject matter, although they were and they did a great job of it, but they taught you how to think and I'm really indebted to those guys," he said.
Jaco visited Minetree often over the years, saying he took from those later conversations encouragement to ask questions and to see life as a continuing process of education.
From his years as a war correspondent, Jaco said he has gained an appreciation for what war does to innocent people, especially children, whether it is in Mozambique or Nicaragua or Iraq.
"One moment I think that stands out to me the most, I was in a refugee camp in Ethiopia in 1985. When you saw literally thousands and thousands of people who were on the edge of starvation, children that were no bigger than kittens, shuddering and then dying. That's probably the one thing that will stick with me about longer than anything else," Jaco said.
Today, he says he is no different from anyone else in journalism, just trying to do the best job he can.
Age and experience have made it easier to see when someone is not telling the complete truth or is trying to shade things, Jaco continued.
"It's almost like you're sitting at the United Nations and someone's giving a speech in a foreign language and there's a translator in your ear," he said. "You hear someone talking, but there's a voice in your head trying to parse out what they mean to say … especially when you deal with people in the corporate world or with political figures."
Jaco is blunt in his opinion of the Republican party's response to Akin's statements.
"I'm very surprised that the Republican Party has tried to sandbag Akin as hard as they have," he said, adding, "The Republican Party has known very well who Todd Akin was and what he stands for for a dozen years now. He's a six-term congressman. None of this is a surprise. So why the sudden expressions of outrage right now?"
He noted the Republican platform does not make exceptions in its position against abortion for victims of rape.
"They're not condemning his comments, they're just saying, tactically, he can't win," Jaco said.
Akin has been encouraged to leave the race against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill by the presumed Republican presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate, Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, as well as former Missouri U.S. senators from John Danforth to John Ashcroft.
Despite that, Jaco believes Akin will not be swayed from continuing in this race.
"I still have, believe it or not, a good relationship with him and his campaign. I've received no indication he's going to do anything except stay in the race," Jaco said. "I see no indication Todd Akin is going to drop out of this race … because like him or hate him, he believes he's on a mission from God, quite literally."
Akin is very much a literal, biblical fundamentalist, according to Jaco, and whether the public applauds what he says or is appalled by it, he bases it essentially on scripture.
"Political appeals are not going to get him out of this race. Moral appeals might, but even that might not," Jaco said.
The affect on the presidential campaign has been to drive Romney off message. In a recent interview with a CBS affiliate, what made news were the issues Romney would not talk about, abortion and Akin, Jaco said.
"I think it really damages him and I think it really damages the vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan because Ryan and Akin co-sponsored a bill in the House to redefine rape," he said. "It was related to abortion. I do not see this as being anything but bad for the Republican party."
Poplar Bluff, MO