Giant institutions often violate their own rules and our laws, and hurt, or even kill people in the process. They use powerful offices or connections to them, unlimited money, and threats of retaliation to keep us ignorant of their illegal actions. Individuals who get in their way are bought off or crushed.
There are big secrets in America, which we ought to know about, for our own good. Some Americans say they are worried by a “deep state”. But these are the same people who defend Joseph McCarthy and the national witch hunt against people they didn’t like. The same people who disdain today’s FBI, but said nothing when the FBI illegally attacked citizens in the 1960s. The same people who reject the work of those, like Robert Mueller, who now professionally investigate America’s most important secrets. These people propagate stories about big secrets without evidence and assail those who try to reveal and understand them. Their “deep state” stories are vacuous.
The most relentless, most objective, most principled, and most experienced investigator of America’s secrets is our free press. McCarthy’s unmasking was accomplished by Murrey Marder of the Washington Post, whose daily articles recorded his every action for four years. Marder’s reporting brought about the Army-McCarthy hearings, the first Congressional hearings to be televised live nationally.
Newspaper reporting brought us the most significant revelations about our government’s secrets. The Pentagon Papers published by the Washington Post revealed the truth about the Vietnam War. The Watergate stories by Woodward and Bernstein brought down a dishonest President.
Newspaper reporting uncovers the hidden mechanisms which make some people’s lives more difficult. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s 1989 series “The Color of Money” documented the systematic racial discrimination in housing using redlining. Last year, the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting included the exposé of violence and neglect in Florida mental hospitals; a series by Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan of the Chicago Tribune documenting official neglect and abuse leading to 42 deaths at Illinois group homes for developmentally disabled adults; and Steve Reilly’s investigation for USA Today Network in Tysons Corner, VA, of 9,000 teachers across the nation who should have been flagged for past disciplinary offenses, but were not. The list of winners of the Pulitzer Prize gives us dozens of examples of how important American newspapers are to our understanding of what goes on around us that we can’t see.
Journalists have used their skills and resources to uncover historical secrets, such as 24-year-old Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, who disclosed the child molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky months before other news organizations.
The resistance of secret-keepers can be powerful. The film “Spotlight” shows how difficult it was for the Boston Globe to put together scattered and hidden evidence into the story about widespread child abuse by Catholic priests. The documentary “Fear and Favor in the Newsroom” shows how media owners and board members try to censor stories revealing corporate wrong-doing.
But we need to know stories about the perverse sexual history of Roy Moore, who was running for Senate in Alabama; about Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abusing women in the film industry; and about the large number of children who are killed or injured by guns.
“Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know.”
Getting news from newspapers is slower and less exciting than the bombardment of “breaking news” on TV, but more accurate, more objective, and more useful. Commercial TV stations have far fewer news reporters than local newspapers do. Nearly all stories on local news stations reported on accidents, crimes, and scheduled or staged events.
Social media and smart phones have not killed newspapers, but print journalism has been in decline for a long time. The number of newspaper editorial employees has fallen from more than 60,000 in 1992 to around 40,000 in 2009. The number of newspaper staff reporters covering the state capitols full time dropped 30% from 2003 to 2009.
Newspapers are capitalist enterprises run by the richest Americans. But conservatives hate them. Why? Because they are the most dangerous foes of secret-keepers, and today’s conservatives are desperately trying to hide their biggest secret – they are protecting an incompetent, dishonest and dangerous leader.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 26, 2018