WHERE O WHERE HAS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM GONE?

ABSTRACT: Investigative journalism, especially by the mainstream media, is rare these days. Yet it is critical to an informed citizenry, which in turn is critical to a successful democracy. On a recent Bill Moyers TV show, “The lies that lead to war,” Moyers and his guest, investigative journalist Charles Lewis, explore the value of investigative journalism and the reasons for its scarcity. Currently, Lewis says, the media largely just report what those in positions of authority and power tell them, with very little analysis or commentary.

Part of the reason for this is that the corporate, for-profit mainstream media have cut the budgets and staffing of news operations and investigative journalism. The media also have a conflict of interest: they don’t want to alienate elected and corporate officials because they want them as sources for stories and appearances on TV shows.

The Obama administration has been very aggressive in discouraging the leaking of information to members of the media. It has prosecuted leakers. The likelihood that leakers will be caught is high given the extensive surveillance that’s in place. In addition, the Obama administration has been very aggressive in prosecuting investigative journalists. Obama has used the Espionage Act against journalists far more than any other president.

We need good and unintimidated investigative journalism. The whole reason for including freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights was so that the media could report information that those in power and with authority might want to keep hidden. Knowledge in the hands of an informed citizenry is essential to the success of democracy.

FULL POST: Investigative journalism, especially by the mainstream media, is rare these days. Yet it is critical to an informed citizenry, which in turn is critical to a successful democracy. Investigative journalism uncovers and publicizes revealing information not available elsewhere that often has been purposely kept from the public.

According to Wikipedia, “Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. An investigative journalist may spend months or years researching and preparing a report. … In many cases, the subjects of the reporting wish the matters under scrutiny to remain undisclosed. … [Investigative journalists work] to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it.” [1]

On a recent Bill Moyers TV show, “The lies that lead to war,” Moyers and his guest, investigative journalist Charles Lewis, explore the value of investigative journalism and the reasons for its scarcity. [2] Lewis’s recent book, “935 Lies: The future of truth and the decline of America’s moral integrity,” documents the lies that led to the Vietnam and Iraq wars. In both cases, there was a pattern of knowing deception and an orchestrated campaign of lies by Presidents Johnson and G.W. Bush and their administrations that led to these wars of choice. And in both cases, the mainstream media failed, for the most part, to engage in the timely investigative journalism that would have exposed the deception.

Lewis states that the failure of the media to expose deception by public and private officials has gotten worse over time. Currently, he says, the media largely just report what those in positions of authority and power tell them, with very little analysis or commentary.

Part of the reason for this is that the corporate, for-profit mainstream media, in the interests of profitability, have cut the budgets and staffing of news operations and investigative journalism. The media also have a conflict of interest: they don’t want to alienate elected and corporate officials because they want them as sources for stories and appearances on TV shows. Therefore, the media avoid asking them tough questions or engaging in reporting that would embarrass them or cast them in a negative light.

The Obama administration has been very aggressive in discouraging the leaking of information to members of the media. It has prosecuted leakers. The likelihood that leakers will be caught is high given the extensive surveillance of phone calls and emails, the ability to track cell phones’ locations, and the thousands of surveillance cameras in Washington (and elsewhere). Leaked information is essential to investigative journalism, so these aggressive anti-leaking efforts make investigative journalism much more difficult.

In addition, the Obama administration has been very aggressive in prosecuting investigative journalists. Obama has used the Espionage Act against journalists far more than any other president. Nixon used it only once, against Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Obama has used it eight times. Obama says he supports a shield law for reporters that would protect the confidentiality of their sources, but he is criminalizing investigative reporting by prosecuting leakers and the journalists with whom they share information.

Currently, James Risen, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, is being threatened with jail by the Obama administration for refusing to identify a source he used in his book, “State of War,” about the secret campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. Risen, one of only about a dozen reporters that focus on national security issues, co-authored stories about domestic surveillance that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

The Obama administration wants to prosecute the person who leaked information to Risen. It knows who the leaker is, but it doesn’t want to have to reveal the intelligence and surveillance tools it used to identify him. Those tools may be illegal or may appear to be unseemly ways of monitoring government employees. Therefore, it wants to force Risen to reveal his source.

In the case of Eric Snowden, who leaked the information on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) extensive surveillance of Americans and others, he has had to take asylum in Russia to avoid prosecution. The investigative journalists who have published his material have had to work from and remain overseas, while taking extraordinary steps to keep their phone and email communications, as well as their computers and the leaked files on them, from being hacked into by the NSA and the US intelligence agencies.

We need good and unintimidated investigative journalism. The whole reason for including freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights was so that the media could report information that those in power and with authority might want to keep hidden. Knowledge in the hands of an informed citizenry is essential to the success of democracy.

[1]       Retrieved from Wikipedia on 8/5/14, “Investigative journalism,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investigative_journalism

[2]       Moyers, B., with Lewis, C., 6/27/14, “The lies that lead to war,” Moyers and Company (http://billmoyers.com/episode/the-truth-vs-dcs-propaganda-machine/)

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2 comments

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