This comment by Humble Talent, one of several COTD entries he has made lately, has to get up today before the ick that was the Alabama Senate Race subsides, and the comment feels moot—though it would not be.
But first, my epiphany about investigative reporting…
Humble’s comment made me realize something that was right in front of my eyes, and has been for a long time, and yet I never before connected the dots. This is especially galling because it involves distrust of the news media, and as you know, I think about this a lot.
What I only now realize, thanks to Humble Talent, is that investigative reporting is virtually always partisan or agenda-driven one way or the other. It isn’t the highest form of journalism, as we of the post-Watergate era have been taught to believe. It may be the most sinister.
Journalists can’t investigate everything. They have to choose what to investigate, and when, and those choices are inevitably determined by biases and political agendas. If choices are made, and they have to be—what do we investigate, about who? When do we know we have something worth printing? When do we run it? What will happen if we do?—the choices will reflect biases, unless coins are flipped and lots are drawn.
I never thought about whether the timing of the Roy Moore teen dates stories the Post ran were timed to come out when they did. But Humble makes me think: did the Post bother to look for dirt on Jones? I doubt it. I think an editor said, “This guy Moore is horrible. I bet there’s some scandal out there that can take him down, maybe a sex scandal. Let’s dig.” The Post sees that as a public service—Moore is objectively horrible—but the “investigative reporting” is essentially opposition research to benefit the Democratic candidate. Then the damning results of the investigation were published when they were deemed to be able to cause the most chaos in the campaign.
Why didn’t this occur to me when I was watching “Spotlight”? We see, in that film about the Boston Globe’s investigation into child abuse in the Boston Catholic Diocese, how the story was held up for months as a mater of tactics and politics. The story almost wasn’t run at all. Now, why did I just assume that it was random chance that…
- The Harvey Weinstein esposé wasn’t released before the 2016 election?
- Provocative passages in Barack Obama’s books about “considering” homosexuality and eating dog never were investigated or explored by the mainstream news media during the 2008 campaign?
- The revelations about Hillary Clinton’s illicit private server were published by the Times 18 months before the election, giving her plenty of time to make them harmless?
- No major news organization sought to do a Watergate-style investigation of the IRS sabotage of conservative group participation in the 2012 Presidential campaign, although the Obama Justice Department investigation was obviously a sham?
I’m an idiot. Was I the only one this gullible? I knew that the press could have ended JFK’s Presidency almost at will, but was intimidated out of doing so and wasn’t that unhappy about it. I knew the press intentionally kept the Clinton rape allegation from the public, for fear it would affect the impeachment outcome. I knew that CBS and Dan Rather’s investigative reporting about President Bush’s National Guard conduct was devised and timed (and falsified) to give Kerry the election.
Investigative reporting regarding politics is always politically driven. It has to be.
I am completely dedicated to the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of a free and unencumbered press. A democracy without a free press is doomed. I am also convinced that a free press that abuses its power and influence is as great a threat to democracy as no free press at all.
Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The Popeye,” From The Ethics Alarms Ethics Estoppel Files: I Can Say The Republican Party Is Rotting, Democrats, But You Can’t:
I think it’s important to realize that the Democrats who thought they were tanking Moore made a miscalculation. Not a huge one, mind you…. But you have to look at the time frame.
Roy Moore, even before this current campaign was universally reviled by Democrats, and not always top of the list for Republicans, and with good reason: He’s an ideologue on the bench, and that’s never good.
Because of that, and because of the length of investigation into Moore’s past, it doesn’t particularly surprise me that the shadiest parts of his life are on display right now (and although it wouldn’t surprise me if there was more, I feel that the barrel of what can be seriously alleged has probably been scraped). What DOES surprise me, if true (and I don’t believe it to be true), is that the story broke naturally 30 days before the general election.
How…. Fortuitous, no? See, If it had broken 90 days before the general, Alabama Republicans could have punted Moore and run someone else… Jeff Sessions springs immediately to mind. if it had broken 30 days after the election, voters could be forgiven, because they didn’t know and Moore probably wouldn’t resign, because even if true (and I accept that they probably are), the allegations are… creepy in the extreme, but almost certainly not criminal.
So the allegations broke at a very opportune time for Democrats, because one of a few things could happen: Moore could step down, and Republicans basically forfeit the seat, because there isn’t enough time to get a real candidate set up, Moore could keep fighting, and Republicans could reject him, allowing the seat to fall into Democrat hands, or Moore could stick it out, the Republicans could rally to him, and they’d still win, but it’d be a PR blow to Republicans.
Now… I’m not going to say that the people setting this up didn’t see all of these possibilities, and probably more, coming. But I am going to guess that they hoped for the first two. Voters, especially young voters, have the memories of mayflies, and as much as they’ll try to milk the situation for every headline they can get out of it, I think they’d have preferred the seat.
It also brings inadvertently a truth into the light: The people who ran this story… They care about politics more than the victims, more than their espoused principles, because if they cared about their principles, they wouldn’t have waited to time the story to do the most damage, they just would have run it. This breaks a tenets of journalistic ethics: Do as little harm as possible (although to be fair: snort! This isn’t the hill THAT died on.). It’s a golden rule violation, but more than that… it made the lives of the victims harder. Had the story broken 60 days earlier, and the Republicans been able to relatively painlessly replace Moore, pushback to the victims would have still been there—let’s be real—but there would have been less, because the entrenchment of party politics wouldn’t have been so strongly bulwarked.
But the people who did this… They didn’t care. Well, they cared about something.