The new Jeremy Renner thriller, Kill the Messenger, purportedly recounts the discovery and subsequent reporting of the CIAs involvement in the distribution of crack cocaine to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s. While the unraveling of this controversial arrangement offers an interesting historical narrative, the more compelling storyline is the response of the national media to journalist Gary Webb’s explosive report. Instead of investing resources to dig further into uncovering the extent of the government’s involvement, elite media outlets instead focus their sights on destroying Webb’s reputation and providing cover for the CIA. It is a shameful stain on the legacy of investigative journalism.
Sadly, that approach has marked the journalism profession during the tenure of the Obama administration. Rather than dedicate relentless effort to exposing acts of deception, malfeasance, abuse, incompetence and political intimidation, the media have decided to protect the White House. They demonize and sully the reputation of any reporter or bureau with the backbone to investigate stories unfavorable to the administration.
This embarrassing abdication of professional duty has dire consequences on America and the corridors of power in Washington. It emboldens officials to lie, deceive, and act in the interest of the president and his party instead of for the benefit of the American people. Aware the national media will pursue no rigorous, independent investigation of their misdeeds, the administration operates with a license to advance their agenda by any means necessary, truth and legality be damned.
In contrast to the cozy, symbiotic relationship that currently exists between the White House and media, previous administrations encountered more aggressive correspondents. Journalists acted as attack dogs and bloodhounds on the scent of any inappropriate conduct in the Executive branch. They pursued stories tirelessly, irrespective of whether they agreed with the policies of an administration. Now they behave like lapdogs, content to rest comfortably and digest whatever narrative the president offers.
I applaud investigative reporters of yesteryear who revealed transgressions committed by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Their dogged determination to uncover the story and expose the crimes and deceits of government officials is commendable. We need a healthy, vigorous, and skeptical press for our government to operate optimally. It is as critical to good governance as a strong and independent judiciary.
Reporters need to return to the days of asking, what is the truth, instead of asking, will this story hurt the administration I support? That dramatic shift in philosophy changes the reporter from an investigative journalist to an administration advocate. We have too many of the latter. What we need now are more of the former, trained to pursue their profession with passion and integrity. What we need now is investigative journalism to rise from its slumber and hold administration and government officials accountable for any and all misdeeds.