No Access; No Accountability

Investigative journalism is in a sad place and Dean Starkman in The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark provides a eulogy as regards the financial press which includes bifurcating the profession into “access reporting [which] tells readers what powerful actors say while accountability reporting tells readers what they do.”  Basically this means that the mainstream press is provided access if they behave and the alternative is to educate yourself first and then your readers without regard to how you feel (or benefit) personally from your subject.  Most mainstream media provide ‘access reporting’ while ‘accountability reporting’ remains rare since

institutionalization carries a price, and it is telling that some of our era’s great investigative reporters chose, or were forced, to work outside major news organizations.  Seymour Hersh was in and out, mostly out, of mainstream media for most of his career before becoming a regular contributor to The New Yorker; Wayne Barrett, a muckraking urban-affairs reporter, worked the bulk of his career at the Village Voice; William Greider, the great economics-affairs writer, left the Washington Post for Rolling Stone; Lowell Bergman, a long-time network reporter and producer, works across multiple media, including for the public-affairs program Frontline.  for advocates of institutionalized accountability reporting, it is problematic, to say the least, that so many of the country’s best investigative journalists worked outside the mainstream and that to do so they in some ways had to transcend it by becoming brands in themselves. (pages 118-9)

This all hit home when I read today’s lead editorial in New Jersey’s largest newspaper bemoaning their endorsement of Chris Christie for governor last year while admitting:

Christie has boycotted the editorial board for years, an attempt to bully us into more loving coverage. So we’ve had a front-row view of what a creep he can be.

So there was no access and, based on some amazing pronouncements in the rest of the editorial, no accountability……..on the part of the Star Ledger.

Christie has made good progress on education with a focus on struggling cities, especially Newark and Camden. His pension and health reforms helped contain public costs that were spiraling out of control. (Star Ledger)

Thankfully they left out the mantra about the property tax cap since it has been a sham and I can’t speak to education reforms but the assertion that we have any public benefits reform is ignorant.  The illegal elimination of cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) on pensions (the main legislated savings in the ‘reforms’) is about to overturned (though they wouldn’t know that since they didn’t cover the recent hearing) and their rationale for seeing progress is not some detailed examination of the changes but rather the word of some ‘creep’.

Yes, we knew Christie was a bully. But we didn’t know his crew was crazy enough to put people’s lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn’t know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn’t know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. (Star Ledger)

All these events happened before the election.  If you, the people who get press passes to report back to us, do not know then who is supposed to know?

If one of the tea party favorites gets the Republican nomination, then the country is at risk. Because as we have just seen, one scandal can flip the board in politics. What if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, and some dark secret emerges about her tenure as secretary of state? How does President Rand Paul sound to you?

Now ask yourself this: If the Republican primary came to a choice between Paul and Christie, which candidate would you endorse?

At the risk of repeating a mistake, I’d pick Christie in that primary, even now. And if you think that makes some sense, then you understand how excruciating the endorsement process can be. (Star Ledger)

The process is only excruciating if you know nothing about what the candidates will do since you have no access to their thoughts or are too lazy to review and understand their actions on real issues.  A sad commentary.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by skip3house on February 9, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    News reporting slid deeper into ‘speculation’ at the Star Ledger with the passing of Dunstan McNichol, and his deep understanding of numbers, especially relating to NJ pension/medical funds, and cruel property tax system.


  2. Posted by Eric on February 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    I do not understand why anyone would let any “newspaper” influence how he or she may vote in an election.


  3. Posted by George on February 14, 2014 at 10:47 am

    What’s this Rand Paul stuff? According to the editorial the whole election exists to stop Paul from being elected.


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