“When I saw Charles Jaco standing in the streets of Kuwait City, I knew we were free.” That’s what a Kuwaiti resistance fighter told TV Guide in 1991, saying that Jaco’s CNN reports during Operation Desert Storm had become a symbol of resistance to Iraq’s invasion.
“Charles Jaco is a uniquely satisfying novelist.” That’s what CBS anchorman Dan Rather has to say about Jaco’s novels of international intrigue, DEAD AIR and LIVE SHOT. Publisher’s Weekly called Jaco’s writing “Timely, self-assured, and engaging.”
“We have never had this sort of enthusiastic response to a speaker.” That’s what the cruise director of the m.s. Statendam of the Holland America Lines said after a series of Jaco speeches on the media and international relations. After a Jaco speech on the parallels between military and business success to top corporate executives, an executive of the SensorMatic corporation said “It was inspiring, eloquent, and witty. It’s tough to get this crowd to applaud politely, and Jaco got a standing ovation.”
Novelist, war correspondent, public speaker, columnist, talk radio host-Jaco’s career in literature and journalism has taken him around the world. He brings that experience to his speeches and columns, his radio program, and his novels. His first novel was DEAD AIR, a thriller set during the Gulf War, published in 1998 to critical raves. As GlobeStar Television correspondent Peter Dees scrambles to find out who has been selling chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, critics cheered.
Publisher’s Weekly called it ” a crisp, no-nonsense debut.” Dan Rather added “It marks this veteran newsman’s debut as a uniquely satisfying novelist.” Bob Costas of NBC Sports said “The feel of reality, the excitement of fiction. This is one fine book.” Political commentator Mary Maitlin called it “A smart, sharp, funny novel.” Even talk radio host and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North said, “These may be the most accurate descriptions of combat I’ve ever read.” Readers at amazon.com gave DEAD AIR four out of a possible five stars.
Readers were even more enthusiastic about his second novel, LIVE SHOT. Readers at amazon.com gave LIVE SHOT five stars. USA Today noted “Jaco’s experience brings his novels to life.” In LIVE SHOT, Peter Dees returns, this time trying to stop a billionaire Cuban exile in South Florida from starting a war with Cuba. Add a beautiful Cuban spy, a Key West transvestite named Tequila Mockingbird, a stolen nuclear device, and a hurricane, and you’ve got a novel that sweeps readers up in the heat and passion on both sides of the Florida Straits.
Jaco is currently a groundbreaking talk host for legendary CBS powerhouse KMOX in St. Louis. He became the first American talk program to ever broadcast live and uncensored from Cuba. He became the first talk host ever to broadcast live from the Papal jet as Pope John Paul II flew from the Vatican to St. Louis. He has interviewed practically every big name in the news, from President Clinton and Colin Powell to Fidel Castro and George W. Bush.
The National Association of Broadcasters voted Jaco “One of America’s top five large market radio personalities.” The Achievement in Radio awards has named Jaco St. Louis’s Best Talk Host two years in a row. Talkers magazine lists Jaco as “One of America’s 100 Most Influential Talk Hosts.” St. Louis’s Riverfront Times has called his program “brilliant.” The Associated Press called it “consistently intelligent.”
Jaco has won 40 other national and international journalism awards, including twice having won the highest honor in broadcast news, the George Foster Peabody Award. His talk program has been featured several times on C-SPAN, and he is an occasional analyst for the Weekend Today Show and Fox News. He has been profiled on Extra, Inside Edition, and the Tom Snyder Show. But that sort of TV exposure is calm compared with what Jaco has experienced in the past.
Jaco became known throughout the world for his live dispatches from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq during the heaviest fighting of Operation Desert Storm. He was declared persona non grata by Saddam Hussein, and arrived with a camera crew in Kuwait City 14 hours ahead of allied troops.
But Charles Jaco’s career as a war correspondent began a dozen years before Desert Storm. Jaco took time from his role as an anchor for the NBC Radio Network in 1979 to cover the Sandinista overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza. Five years later he was back inside Nicaragua, traveling with Contra troops as they sought to overthrow the Sandinistas. Under constant attack from government patrols and living on a diet of iguana and plantains, Jaco spent weeks slogging through the jungles to report a series of award-winning documentaries. In 1985, he was off to Africa. He covered the famine and civil war in Ethiopia, spending days pinned down by government planes as they strafed and dropped canisters of napalm. Jaco sneaked across the border from the Sudan in a convoy of food for starving villagers. He walked away from a plane crash in the starvation zone.
Jaco also covered the civil war in Angola, riding with South African tank columns as they were outflanked, and eventually defeated, by crack Cuban troops. He covered the war in Mozambique in a devastated countryside held hostage by adolescent boys with AK-47s. Jaco also covered the slowly cracking apartheid system in South Africa, and was stabbed while doing interviews in Soweto Township
The two NBC Radio documentaries he reported and produced on Africa, “The Politics of Starvation,” and “Race Against Time,” became the first works by a single journalist to win both first and second place in the Edward R. Murrow awards competition. In 1988, Jaco was severely beaten by the riot police of Panamanian General Manuel Noriega. After surgery, Jaco returned to Panama in 1989 to report on elections there, even though the Panamanian dictator had forbidden him from re-entering the country. His reports on CNN about Noriegas theft of the elections so enraged the Panamanian strongman that he declared Jaco an Enemy of the State. Jaco was finally smuggled out of Panama by a U.S. military intelligence officer.
Jaco covered the civil war in El Salvador, where helicopters in which he was flying were shot down twice in one week. He covered Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama, during which he retrieved Noriega’s military wristwatch from the smoldering remains of the general’s headquarters building. Jaco still wears the watch.
Jaco has been chased from a Bolivian town by armed drug traffickers. He was almost killed in Haiti by the Tonton Macutes, who tried to shoot him and his camera crew. He and a cameraman were almost killed by a mob during heated elections in Jamaica. At various times, he has been ordered expelled by the governments of the Sudan, Iraq, Cuba, Iran, and Panama. In the United States, Jaco covered all eight weeks of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas.
He covered the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, becoming one of the few reporters willing to travel into South Central L.A. to interview gang members. He has infiltrated the American Nazi Party in Chicago, and has slept on the streets of Phoenix and Washington, D.C. for a series on the homeless. In Washington, he has covered the White House, Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon, and various intelligence agencies.
His overseas assignments have taken Jaco to fifty countries. He has written for dozens of magazines and newspapers, including Esquire, Rolling Stone, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Atlanta Constitution.
Jaco holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MS from Columbia University. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, Melissa, who is also a journalist. He is currently working on two more novels.