Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Death of Investigative Journalism?

Could it be that the hype surrounding Woodward and Bernstein's investigative of Watergate has over the years led directly to the decline in actual investigative reporting?

Don't get me wrong. I think what they actually did was a fine piece of investigative journalism complete with lots of hard 'legwork', an editor demanding confirmation and a lot of serious thought. The hype, however, has always surrounded the mysterious "Deep Throat" (who may have unmasked himself last week, as you've probably heard) --- perhaps leading to a belief in having "inside sources" (a.k.a. Washington gossip) as the gold standard of investigative journalism.

Thus, we come to the recent Newsweek scandal over a putative holy-text-in-toilet incident. Here, the authors met this new gold standard -- they had a confidential inside source who told them something; and they indirectly cobbled together a confirming second source, pro forma. What they didn't do was to actually investigate anything -- for example, find out the name of the soldier who supposedly mishandled the Word of Allah, and ask his side of the story; or call up anyone at Gitmo or the Pentagon to directly ask questions; or ... anything at all beyond hearing a juicy piece of gossip and then telling us about it.

Someone needs to tell Washington's press corps: passing on anonymous gossip can be fun, and can sell papers, but it isn't journalism. And we really need good journalism.


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