Mourning the death of investigative journalism

I believe journalism is one of the more admirable career choices. Reporters do more than tell stories about current events in the community, region, state, nation and world. They seek the truth where it is hidden, and expose corruption where it is planted. News reporters provide the public with an invaluable service. Their work brings to light good things that happen, as well as the bad. They provide valuable information the public needs, while seeking only to tell the stories and let the public be the judge.

Inherent in the work of some journalists is the task of investigation. Government and its cohorts are routinely the target of investigative journalists because of two primary reasons &

government has enormous power over the public, and power has the ability to corrupt even otherwise honest folks who have gained the public's trust. Thus, journalists have been provided a privilege by the Constitution to keep a careful vigil on those entrusted by the public to do the work of the people.


Unfortunately, the work of investigating an all-powerful government &

and its conspiratorial comrades &

has been severely hampered by limited access, a massive network of corruption, and a lack of motivation by the national media to ensure every decision by our leaders is an honest one. Until now, I had diagnosed the delinquency of the national media's investigative reporting as "dire," but maintained hope that it was merely a severe illness for which we would someday find a cure. But after reading "Undercover, under fire," an opinion by Ken Silverstein, the Washington editor of Harper's Magazine (), I downgraded my prognosis to "deceased."

Silverstein used the opinion page to expose the irony of his situation in the world of mainstream national journalism. As an investigative reporter who had gone undercover to bring to light corruption in the world of Washington lobbyists (in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff scandal), Silverstein found himself the target of Washington media scrutiny for lying about who he was in an effort to expose an industry that is based upon deception.

Silverstein had uncovered flippant and smug lobbyist organizations that boasted of having the ability to "plant opinion pieces in newspapers under the names of academics and think tanks they would recruit." For a mere $1.5 million, those companies claimed they could promote a positive image of Turkmenistan (a nation Silverstein was pretending to represent), despite the fact that it is "run by an ugly neo-Stalinist regime," according to Silverstein. The positive image promotions would include sending congressional delegations to that country as well as setting up "supposedly 'independent' media events in Washington D.C. that would promote Turkmenistan."

Those lobbyists didn't care about right or wrong. They had no moral compass pointing toward truth. For them, the goal was to provide the client with whatever end result the client desired in order to earn the monetary prize. Their expertise was in mastering the art of deception and utilizing it as a tool to make money. The people they intend to deceive are you and me, the American people. Their accomplices exist in leadership positions in politics, media and the world of academia. Indeed, the art of deception is quite powerful when it is used to influence the masses.

I applaud Silverstein for having the guts, integrity and the desire to go after an industry that has an obvious advantage in manipulating the American public to advance its nefarious agendas. His story was published in the July issue of Harper's Magazine. The response has been criticism from some in the upper echelon of mainstream media, including Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, who wrote:

"No matter how good the story, lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects."


Silverstein, apparently bothered by the lack of support from his colleagues in the media, provided in his opinion piece a historical account of investigative stories that were once lauded by media. He included the Chicago Sun Times' purchase of a tavern in the late 70s during its successful campaign to expose gross corruption by city inspectors. Newspapers were once expected to protect the public's interest, and they went out of their way to do it. Pulitzer Prize awards have been won by major newspapers, as well as television news organizations such as "60 Minutes," for engaging in undercover and sting operations that helped expose crime in the powerful arenas of government and business.

Today, such practices are apparently frowned upon in some media circles.

Silverstein's expose on the workings of lobby organizations is to be commended, not condemned. But, unfortunately, his experience will likely dissuade other eager enterprising reporters from engaging in the practice of undercover investigative journalism. He laments by telling the story of a 1997 lawsuit against ABC News won by Food Lion. Reporters discovered the grocery chain was selling cheese gnawed on by rats, spoiled meat, and fish doused in bleach to cover the rancid smell. The grocer's defense was simply that the reporters were employed and gained access only by lying on their resumes. "The fact that their reporting was accurate was no longer a defense," Silverstein wrote.


Early last year, I had an opportunity to converse with former CNN news anchor Aaron Brown when he visited Southern Oregon University. I asked him about the lack of investigative reporting on Iraq and the puppet government set up by the United States. His response was "everybody already knows that." I pushed him on the fact that much of the American public has little knowledge of the sordid history of U.S. covert ops in both Iran and Iraq.

Conventional wisdom in the American public is that the U.S. is attempting to do something noble in Iraq through ignoble means. Such thinking would be obliterated if the historical operations of the CIA and U.S. State Department were exposed in conjunction with information regarding U.S. oil company acquisitions and imports. But, alas, the mainstream media isn't interested in such investigations, despite the fact that the current conflict in Iraq is based upon a mountainous foundation of deceit of the public.

"It's almost impossible to imagine a mainstream media outlet undertaking a major undercover investigation," Silverstein wrote.

The Tidings has called for an independent investigation of 9/11 twice, while no other mainstream daily newspaper in the nation has stood up and joined the call. The now defunct 9/11 Commission was hardly what one would call "independent" and it was fraught with scandal, omissions, errors and distortions &

not to mention the fact that its "investigators" were political appointees beholden to the White House and congressional leaders.

Some newspapers point to the 9/11 Commission as the investigation that already took place. Apparently, none of those newspapers have read the report and compared it with the voluminous amount of scrutiny emanating from highly credentialed and credible skeptics in the academic community. It makes one wonder how so many newspapers could so readily ignore the most obvious questions regarding the most significant event of our lifetime.


"The decline of undercover reporting &

and of investigative reporting in general &

also reflects, in part, the increasing conservatism and cautiousness of the media, especially the smug, high-end Washington press corps," Silverstein wrote.

Cautiousness? The word conjures up cowardly editors afraid to release the hounds for fear some lawsuit might be filed by foxes because the dogs defiled their home by defecating in the forest.

"As reporters have grown more socially prominent during the last several decades, they've become part of the very power structure that they're supposed to be tracking and scrutinizing," Silverstein wrote.

And there it is. Are the foxes in the media going to hunt down the foxes in government? The mainstream media is filled with iconic figures and popular journalists, columnists and editors. They routinely rub elbows with their political counterparts in social settings and forge friendships as well as other relationships. The former FOX News anchor Tony Snow today acts as a parrot for the White House, but once provided news and commentary to the public. George Stephanopoulos left the Clinton White House and landed on ABC News. The bridge of friendship and trust between the media and the government apparently precludes public trust.

Silverstein is justifiably angry over the criticism received from the White House press corps. While he is doing the job of undercover investigative journalism, his critics have lost sight of the responsibility inherent in holding the public trust in their hands.


"I'm willing to debate the merits of my piece," Silverstein wrote. "But the carping from the Washington press corps is hard to stomach. This is the group that attended the White House correspondents dinner and clapped for a rapping Karl Rove. As a class, they honor politeness over honesty and believe that being 'balanced' means giving the same weight to a lie as you give to the truth."

And there it is &

a painfully honest reflection upon the mainstream media industry by a mainstream investigative journalist. Perhaps you may wish to frame his opinion piece, since investigative journalism in mainstream media has ostensibly become a thing of the past. And unless there is some drastic change, you're not likely to see much more of it again.

Digging for truth is apparently no longer a goal for some in the mainstream media. Political leaders lie routinely. Media pundits pontificate on behalf of both sides of the aisle while closing the gate of mass influence on independent voices. "Spin" is the new popular word for "lie." And a spinner is merely one who can twist the truth into something else that closely resembles truth, but is, in fact, a deliberate deception.


It is sad to see that the mainstream media is willing to string up one of its own on the gallows of condemnation while giving a pass to leaders whose lies have led this nation into hellish circumstances that have impacted millions and cost untold numbers of lives. Add one more death to the mounting heap, beneath which lies a horrific story that will likely never be heard in the mainstream press. The deceased is someone you would've loved and respected. He would've been your most trusted companion. Instead, he is now a part of American history that has long been forgotten.

Say goodbye to the investigative journalist.


is the author of, "The WHOLE Truth about the U.S. War on Terror: answers to every question you never knew to ask"

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