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Journalism’s Big Investigations Sliding Into a Big Pit

Posted on Aug 2, 2010
AP / Jason DeCrow

By T.L. Caswell

(Page 3)

An article in The Arizona Republic said:

[The survey] … revealed that newspapers aren’t offering the resources needed to tackle investigative stories, particularly when it comes to time away from daily assignments.

“The reporters themselves are doing a good job, especially with computer-assisted reporting,” said Jon Marshall, adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a freelance reporter. “Unfortunately, the media corporations aren’t giving the time and resources that they did 20 and 25 years ago.”

… Reporters indicated that there is little travel money, research assistance or training to do investigative work. While most said they get some time away from daily assignments and a bit of money to purchase documents or data, it often isn’t enough.


Square, Site wide

The amount of resources allotted for investigative reporting has been steadily dropping since 1988, said Doug Pardue, special assignment editor at The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.

“We’re [investigative journalists] an endangered species,” he said. …

In the last four years the picture has grown even dimmer. Those who think that the Internet or television networks or cable TV will move up to big investigations across a wide front are being too optimistic. The figures just will not work. Also, local issues that have been red meat for metropolitan dailies make no sense for investigation by media that have nationwide audiences. Collectively, the net loss in the number, the relevance and the quality of investigations will be grim. An hour of well-orchestrated TV inquiry into how the feds are covering up all those interplanetary aliens at Area 51 does not exactly carry on the legacy of Edward R. Murrow, who might have trouble getting airtime in a day that would rather explore the “Jersey Shore” than the plight of migrant workers.

Interestingly, the international spotlight was pulled away from the expensive “Top Secret America” investigation by a development last week at a relatively lightly funded operation, the WikiLeaks website, which early this year reportedly had only five full-time employees (in addition to hundreds of unpaid volunteers). The site touched off an intense controversy July 25 when it released the “Afghan War Diary,” tens of thousands of classified documents. War opponents hailed the release as a gain for openness, a blow against deception by national leaders, and a potential step toward ending the Afghanistan war.

It would be a mistake to classify together the “Afghan War Diary” and “Top Secret America.” They are very different animals, and the United States, I believe, benefits from both the activities of whistle-blowers and affiliated websites or publications on the one hand and large-scale, traditional investigations on the other. Internet leaks, even those as valuable as the WikiLeaks disclosures, are not acceptable replacements for the investigations historically conducted by big journalism.

Do not take this as a brief for big journalism itself, which is riddled with defects and problems and which suffers because of its size. I side with those critics who maintain that corporate connections and extended interests can make it difficult if not impossible for huge publications to adequately cover certain subjects. The rise of the media conglomerates was often not good for journalism and investigative work. But for the most part over the decades, the super-sized probes were born within newspapers and magazines that were hauling in money. In a newspaper/magazine utopia the publications would have conducted far more and far better investigations: Crime, neglect and governmental abuse have always sprinted far ahead of the hounds of journalism.

If your taste runs toward the grand, or toward reveling in hurrahs late in the game, you might want to work your way through the 12,000 words and the associated material of the praiseworthy “Top Secret America.” I don’t think you often will see such colossal projects in the years ahead. The Washington Post investigation may be one of the last gargantuan dinosaurs of the breed; there will be others, but the herd is in danger and almost certainly will grow thinner as we watch.

T.L. Caswell was on the Los Angeles Times editing staff for more than 25 years and now edits and writes for Truthdig.

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By prosefights, August 4, 2010 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment

Where do journalists come from?

They are manufactured in America’s universities in a liberal arts curriculum. Journalism schools teach students that they are “the voice of the people.” Reporters are to stick up for the poor, the downtrodden, and the disadvantaged, in our sometimes-oppressive capitalist system. It is their job - so they are taught - to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

It’s a noble and necessary calling, but there is a problem here. Chances are quite good that you will be classified as “comfortable,” regardless of whether you are or not much more on this in chapters 12 and 13, the Rules of Balance and Ambush). The point is that journalists are disconnected from he general population-and for more reasons than their politics or philosophical bent.

Manipulating the Media

The next time you watch a newscast, read a newspaper, flip through a magazine, or click through a news website, look for Invention. You’ll be astonished at how much “news” is actually the product of media manipulation. Excluding spot news, most of what we receive from the Beast is at least partially manufactured.

Feeding the Media Beast: An Easy Recipe for Great Publicity
Mark Mathis

I write

Wednesday August 4, 2010 15:13

President and Chief Executive Officer
800-313-3774 or 650-855-2121

Hello Mr Specker,

Large scale solar generation of electricity may be a fraud, we’ve been told.

We are not sure if this is true or not.

Many of the problems our country faces may lie in liberal arts educated managers most of whom are unable to synthesize solutions from facts, I’ve observed for over 50 years.

Liberal arts students memorize, speculate, emote, then interpret, IMO

We can’t get some liberal arts graduates to acknowledge receipt of emails!

We note your engineering education.

I ask that you acknowledge receipt of this email like TSA did.

I ask that you send me a copy of your instructions to Mr Shumard by Wednesday August 11, 2010. Or your reasons for not assigning Mr Shumard to the task.


Bill Payne
Retired from Sandia National Laboratories and Washington State University


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By rico, suave, August 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment


Sorry. Missed the reference.

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By mrfreeze, August 3, 2010 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment

rico,suave - “News is a Verb” is the title of a (real) journalsit, Peter Hamill’s wonderful essay about the industry. That notion always stuck with me….unfortunately, it hasn’t with journalists

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By gerard, August 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

There is a quality in the majority of people that wants to be lied to.  I’m forced to this conclusion by a long lifetime of trying to find the truth (or a a reasonable facsimile) and tell it.  From family to international peace conference, uniformly when people (Americans or otherwise) are being told the (often unpleasant) side of what is (probably) truer than they think, they withdraw with a “Yes, but ...”
  Problem:  Disclosing facts or ideas closer to truth than not, the teller has to 1. back it up with some verifiable source, 2. has to smile while telling it, and 3. has to offer some indication of a possible way to deal with the exposed situation.
  Automatically, this means that “journalism” as we know it cannot disclose facts and ideas close to truth successfully (even when they try) because they are neither required nor allowed to suggest cures.  Suggesting cures requires knowledge, determination, and the willingness to be rebuffed or scorned. 
  Inadequate public education, over time, by not concerning itself with knowledge, leads people to believe that there are no cures, thus making them feel helpless, and therefore doubly resentful of truth.
  History seems to indicate that, in spite of all resistance to it, the truth will “out” by one means or another, and when it gets to enough people, they do something to move toward knowledge and improvement.  Or die trying.
  There must be a key link in there somewhere that would open the lock of avoidance in time to prevent repeated disasters ???

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By diamond, August 3, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

The Washington Post is in toxic decline, as are all newspapers and the best thing about it is that these lying, spinning bastards have pushed the Darwinian notion of the survival of the fittest both as social policy and economic policy and now they’re going to find out exactly what it means. You can’t lie about EVERYTHING indefinitely and not lose readers. You can’t create a parallel universe in which the war on terror is not a fabrication put in place to enrich the corporations and steal oil but is instead a patriotic effort to save the world and be believed. They long ago forgot the first rule of interviewing the rich and powerful: the part where the journalist asks him or herself,‘Why is this bastard lying to me?’

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By rico, suave, August 3, 2010 at 10:59 am Link to this comment

Just because the horse and buggy went out of fashion doens’t mean people stopped getting around. I’m sure “big story” journalism will find an outlet. Creators and purveyors of journalism just need to get creative.


“remember: “news” is a verb”?

I must have forgotten. Thanks for newsing me!

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By Old Man Turtle, August 3, 2010 at 10:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The so-called “fourth estate” has always been a very effective “fifth column” for the ruling class anyhow.  Reporters rarely own the presses, and are often suborned by the need to protect their “investment” when they do.

Despite all those “exceptions” cited here and elsewhere, of journalists and other writers who appeared to defy their paymasters, things have still come to what they are these days and not otherwise.  It might be time to look for the fatal flaws in people’s basic beliefs about the nature of the world, and their own nature within it.  Somewhere at the core of all this confusion has got to be at-least a fundamentally false “premise” or two, some of those many things “everybody knows” that just ain’t so.

It seems like, though, that it’s some kind of “rule” for what’s really needed in any given situation to turn-up in the very last place people think to look for it.  So, too, will it probably be with the “truth” that’ll never appear in newspapers or on TV, or emerge from the mouth of some celebrity.  Like “Rummy” suggested (sort of), you go to hell in the hand-basket you’ve got and not the one you wish you’d made instead.

Have a nice trip.

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By balkas, August 3, 2010 at 9:42 am Link to this comment

Yes to FRTHOTUS comment. The ruling class’ media would give out the news papers for free if it had to.
Even zionistic chomsky had noted that, but i don’t recall in what piece or book. tnx

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By FRTothus, August 3, 2010 at 9:26 am Link to this comment

“As the mainstream media has become increasingly dependent on advertising revenues for support, it has become an anti-democratic force in society.”
(Robert McChesney)

We have seen, year after year, with story after story, how the MSM has unquestionably repeated official lies and hollow justifications, has assiduously avoided real investigation,  only to issue crocodile tears months and years later (if at all) for their slavishness and willful ignorance, vowing to “turn over a new leaf”, (falsely) claiming they have “learned their lesson” each and every time.  Meanwhile, the damage has been done, the lies they have repeated frame and delimit the faux debate, giving the appearance (but not the substance) of controversy, all for the sake of ad revenue - the lies and practices continue unabated.

We see, time and again, how the corporate media operates, and whose interests they serve.  That they are in the advertising business is unmentionable, and that what they print between the ads is simply filler, and need only have the slightest relation to the truth, kept secret.  Half-truths and serviceable lies which promote fear and compel us to blindly follow leaders and accept questionable and suspicious pronouncements as holy writ passed down from on high are the MSM’s stock-in-trade.  The sooner we are rid of these parasites, the better off we, and our poor excuse for a democratic republic, will be. 

The real story of Watergate, for example, was Nixon’s use of the FBI as a National Political Police, harassing political opponents, spying and blackmailing and warrant-less wire-tapping of US citizens.  But the WaPo and others focused not on these high crimes, not on the criminal FBI.  The pattern, the behavior, has not changed.  Indeed, while the usurpations and crimes have multiplied, “coverage” continues to sensationalize the trivial, lionize “un-named officials” and strenuously avoid asking the tough questions.

“Pick the topic you like: the Middle East, international terrorism, Central America, whatever it is - the picture of the world that’s presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality. The truth of the matter is buried under edifice after edifice of lies upon lies. It’s all been a marvelous success from the point of view in deterring the threat of democracy, achieved under conditions of freedom, which is extremely interesting. It’s not like a totalitarian state, where it’s done by force. These achievements are under conditions of freedom.”
(Noam Chomsky)

“Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? - stupid.”
(Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, 1965)

“U.S. leaders commit war crimes as a matter of institutional necessity, as their imperial role calls for keeping subordinate peoples in their proper place and assuring a “favorable climate of investment” everywhere. They do this by using their economic power, but also ... by supporting Diem, Mobutu, Pinochet, Suharto, Savimbi, Marcos, Fujimori, Salinas, and scores of similar leaders. War crimes also come easily because U.S. leaders consider themselves to be the vehicles of a higher morality and truth and can operate in violation of law without cost. It is also immensely helpful that their mainstream media agree that their country is above the law and will support and rationalize each and every venture and the commission of war crimes. “
(Edward Herman, political economist and author) 

“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
(Thomas Jefferson)

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By gerard, August 3, 2010 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

I’m sure print newspapers got in bed with their corporate advertisers because of need for funding.
Did they first go to the public with their problems and try to spread the burden?  Did they consider downsizing their advertisement-seeking workers, cut back on drivel, and confine their purpose to getting and giving accurate, in depth reporting on matters of deep concern to citizens for the sake of democracy? The answer, of course, is no—which made them easy losers to the internet where anything and everything is fair game, more or less independent of advertisers.
  Problem now is that American citizens are too poorly educated to deal with winnowing out chaff on the internet. 
  As to the recent WikiLeaks release, I suggest that probably the efforts of many unpaid curious and concerned people, with or without funding went into it, and though it probably took some money to put it all together and see to its broad release, there are still enough whistle-blowers left to do the job when vitally necessary, and at whatever risk from those who cover up important matters. The fact that it was released to leading newspapers still indicates their remaining viability.
  “The information is released in two forms: vetted and narrated to gain old media cred, and released online in full text, Internet-style, which corrects for any timidity or blind spot the editors at Der Spiegel, The Times or the Guardian may show.” (from Jay Rosen’s “Pressthink” review)
  Now the problem is to provide Internet services more broadly worldwide and get more people brought up to speed in using it. Otherwise, the elite will again have an edge on everybody else. And of course, it’s vital to refuse all efforts of governments to strangle the Internet (which efforts are just around the corner and will require huge international cooperative response and action).
  Again, as always, it’s up to people like us.

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By sharonsj, August 3, 2010 at 8:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’d be happy if the media just focused on news—any news.  I’ve been reading about the people of Bell, CA who apparently “just discovered” that their city manager and police chief have been earning 10 times what they used to.  The city manager, who was there for something like 17 years, went from $72,000 a year to $800,000—and nobody noticed, not even the local newspaper, until recently.  I bet this is going on in every city in the U.S., but the news is too busy telling us about Lindsay Lohan to notice.

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By mrfreeze, August 3, 2010 at 6:36 am Link to this comment

If the MSM had focused on doing its job (remember: “news” is a verb) instead of going for ratings, fluff and “embedding” itself with its subjects, perhaps the Media would still be a viable source of information. Unfortunately, our news outlets are nothing more than corporate lackeys and very little real journalism is being practised today. It’s all “entertainment tonight” level journalism 24/7.

This is why 50% of Americans still vote Republican, why millions believe Obama is a foreign, Muslim terrorist, why people had rodeos with dinosaurs and Newt Gingrich still gets air time. It’s all a bunch of bull shit and you and I are not better informed because of it.

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By balkas, August 3, 2010 at 5:52 am Link to this comment

The entire US governance is in private hands. There is no such thing as private and regular branches of the army, spy agencies, jurisprudence, or system of rule.

There is and always had been one USA, but with two peoples: servant class and master class.

Beware, MSM once more obfuscating what really is going on.

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By par4, August 3, 2010 at 4:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just like the American auto industry all of the newspapers woes have been self-inflicted. They packed their op-ed pages with far right hacks and lunatics.Promoted reporters with dubious credentials and some caught red handed spreading pure falsehoods for propaganda purposes.They built there business model on selling advertisement instead of informing and educating their readers. I’m sure others will be able to list more reasons.

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