Forgive Paul Goldberg, who has written more than 22 muckraking stories about drugmaker ImClone Systems Inc., for passing on the Martha Stewart angle. The insider-trading angle. And the disgraced-broker-who-can't-swing-a-Hamptons-dinner-party-invitation angle.

"That's not the story, that's the distraction," said Goldberg, feet propped on a table, hands clasped behind his head, sitting on the third floor of his home office recently. In his view, the real story, the one he broke and splashed on the cover of his six-page newsletter, was of 200 dying cancer patients who enrolled, clutching hope, in drug tests that turned out be riddled with so many problems they failed to produce definitive information.

But for Goldberg's work, it is quite likely ImClone would still be riding high, buoyed by investor optimism. Instead, the New York company is under federal investigation. Its former chief executive has been charged with insider trading, his friend Martha Stewart under suspicion.

All these events originated early this year in the basement of a house in a tree-shaded Northwest Washington neighborhood from which Goldberg and his wife, Kirsten Boyd Goldberg, publish a newsletter with a tiny circulation but a substantial, and growing, national influence.

All the right people in the world of cancer research read the Cancer Letter, circulation 1,200. They do not read it for celebrity news. Instead, many have come to depend on the work of Paul Goldberg, its lead reporter, who digs into the voluminous, mind-numbing details of cancer research to ferret out significant nuggets.

That was what he did in January, shortly after ImClone disclosed that the Food and Drug Administration had temporarily rejected the company's application for approval of Erbitux, a new cancer drug. Then-chief executive Samuel Waksal portrayed the trouble as minor paperwork problems that could be easily fixed.

Goldberg smelled a rat. He knew the FDA was prohibited by law from talking, which left the company free to say what it wanted. He used his long-standing contacts in the cancer research world to get his hands on a letter from the FDA to the company. The letter revealed that the agency's problems with Erbitux were far more extensive than the company was letting on, and expensive new tests might be required.

That revelation set off a chain of investor demands and investigations that ultimately led to criminal charges against Waksal. It turns out several of his friends and relatives had sold huge blocks of stock just after Waksal was notified of the coming bad news and just before the public learned of it. Stewart is one of the people whose sales are under review.

But the celebrity twists and turns do not interest Goldberg, 43, investigative reporter, editor and the cancer community's self-described arbiter of truth. The angle he wants to see back in the headlines is not who traded on secret FDA information, but how and why cancer patients were subjected to a poorly designed regimen. Scores of them might have gone to their graves putting their final hopes in Erbitux, but the FDA letter revealed that the agency still is not sure, based on ImClone's tests, whether the drug works at all.

"There were 200 people who spent the final weeks of their lives on this drug and one thing you owe them -- you absolutely owe them -- is an answer," Goldberg said. "You don't owe them a cure, just an answer. Not having one is a sin much worse than insider trading."

Outrage, though muted and often lurking behind dense medical minutiae, is the engine behind the Cancer Letter, largely because outrage is what drives Goldberg. He cannot tolerate misrepresentation, which he contends runs rampant through cancer research, drug-making, treatment and policy.

In 1996, he took on the White House's choice for special adviser on women's health, Susan Blumenthal, for running afoul of breast cancer activists who accused her of diverting money away from research. Blumenthal, assistant surgeon general at the time, eventually withdrew her name from consideration.

In 1998 he took on Houston oncologist Stanislaw Burzynski, reporting that his experimental drugs for terminal cancer patients were dramatically less effective than advertised. Three oncologists who reviewed Burzynski's treatments for the Cancer Letter found his research "poorly designed" and his data "not interpretable."

And in 2000, Goldberg took on the National Dialogue on Cancer, a collaboration of 160 public and private groups working on cancer prevention and treatment. His stories strongly hinted that the American Cancer Society project was a lobbying scheme burning up taxpayer dollars to promote a strategy of prevention and control at the expense of research.

It forced the dialogue's leaders to respond. Former president George Bush, the project's chairman, announced during a dialogue meeting that the coalition would seek clearer objectives, brandishing a copy of what he called "that darn Cancer Letter."

Goldberg's aggressive reporting has given his critics plenty to grumble about. Some in the cancer community complain there is flimsy editorial oversight at the newsletter, whose entire editorial staff consists of Goldberg and his wife.

Though he is widely known in the world of oncology, the ImClone case marked the first time Paul Goldberg developed a profile among biotechnology investors. His skeptical reports on ImClone became the basis in January for some probing analyses by several stock analysts. Amid the complexities of the case, investors divining Goldberg's newsletter came up with a simple take: ImClone could not be trusted to tell the truth. The company's stock now sells for less than 10 percent of what it was before the scandal.

"As both a reporter and an editor Mr. Goldberg is entitled to publish what he chooses," said Andrew Merrill, an ImClone spokesman, adding that documents now sealed would make his reporting more complete.

The story was typical Goldberg, gleaned from a carefully cultivated source, told in a terse informational tone and revealing information someone would have liked to keep quiet.

"What he has done with the Cancer Letter, to a lot of people's dismay, is shine a light on things in the world of cancer that do not always appear what they seem to be," said Ellen Stovall, director of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship in Silver Spring. "There were a lot of smoke and mirrors in the cases he's covered."

Every week the Goldbergs sift through a mountain of oncological paperwork -- the Food and Drug Administration recommendations, pharmaceutical company press releases, congressional hearings -- and distill it all into a few 8.5-by-11-inch pages.

"There is not a cancer center director in the United States [who] does not have a subscription and looks for [his or her] name," said Otis Brawley, a professor of oncology at Emory University in Atlanta who sometimes reviews documents for Goldberg.

The newsletter is a profitable venture. Revenue from the Cancer Letter and its monthly counterpart, the Clinical Cancer Letter, is about $500,000, Goldberg said. An annual subscription costs $305. Some institutions also purchase yearly access to an online version. Goldberg is relatively new to the subject. After emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1973, he worked as a reporter for the Reston Connection and then the Wichita Eagle in Kansas. He and his wife met at the Reston newspaper in 1982. Goldberg then left newspapers to write two books on the Soviet civil rights movement.

He joined the Cancer Letter as an occasional contributor after his father-in-law Jerry Boyd, the letter's former publisher, recruited him in 1985. "It was money and I needed it," Goldberg said.

Since then, he has immersed himself in the world of oncology. He spends most of the day in the newsroom, which is the basement of the Goldbergs' home. Kirsten, 38, is the publisher. Upstairs, there are two children -- Katherine, 12, and Sarah, 4 -- and two large Belgian shepherds.

"We have a great professional relationship," said Kirsten Goldberg, who also writes for the newsletter and designs it each week. "There have been times we have flights of fancy and we pull each other back."

But not everyone is convinced that the proper checks and balances are in place at the Cancer Letter. Critics say the Goldbergs are skirting too many journalistic boundaries and, in the case of Paul, allowing too many biases into the reporting. Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, said insufficient editorial review at the newsletter jeopardizes its reputation.

"They serve as their own editors so there is no one reviewing reports for accuracy and fairness and you can see the slant," he said, pointing to Paul Goldberg's reporting on the National Dialogue on Cancer.

Even those who praise the letter concede it lacks the oversight to temper bias, should it creep into the reporting. Kirsten Goldberg counters that she and her husband rigorously edit each other. Criticism from their targets goes with the territory, she said.

Paul Goldberg said the grousing is proof that his muckraking is gaining an audience. There are now three federal investigations into the ImClone case, he noted gleefully, and the American Cancer Society has responded to his reporting.

Sonya Goldberg, his mother, died of ovarian cancer in 1995. He rarely talks about it. But she, too, could have been enrolled in faulty clinical trial, waiting for an answer. That is what her son said he is thinking about when he is reporting.

"Cancer patients have to learn a lot quickly, possibly more than one can learn while being in a state of great emotional turmoil," Paul Goldberg said. "They have faith in the people who bring them new drugs because both are looking for some answer. With a botched trial, there can be no answer."

Paul Goldberg and Kirsten Boyd Goldberg publish the Cancer Letter from the basement of their Northwest Washington home.The Cancer Letter's reporting on ImClone prompted further investigation of the company's business practices.Samuel Waksal, former chief executive of ImClone Systems Inc., is sworn in before a House panel on June 13. He refused to testify at the hearing.