Whatever happened to investigative journalism?

Greg Palast, journalist for Salon and the UK Guardian, has a website for the new edition of his book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The story of the many irregularities of the Florida election, which most likely handed the election to Bush, is kinda old hat now. There’s really not much we can do about it until 2004. But of more interest to me was Greg’s story, which you can read online in Chapter 1, of how the mainstream US media refused to pick up the story (despite it being widely reported in print and TV in the UK). CBS news, for example, didn’t run it because the only check they did was to call Jeb Bush’s office and, surprise, surprise, he denied the facts of the story.

Is investigative journalism simply non-existent in this country? Greg attributes the lack of follow-up on this story to the fact that the media would actually have to investigate to validate the story, and this would cost time and money. In fact, the only reporting that was done was after the US Civil Rights Commission had delivered their report six months after the fact. Seems like it’s easier just to wait for someone else to investigate and report the results.

The chapter mentions two of my favourite news sources: the Guardian and BBC2’s Newsnight. I’ve spoken of my love for the Guardian before, but I never knew it was owned by a non-profit corporation. Newsnight is a British intitution, an occasional (2-4 times weekly) evening news program, which spends 45 minutes discussing 2-3 (and sometimes just one) current news story in detail. Often it involves a live interview by the inimitable Jeremy Paxman with an MP or CEO, and it’s generally a no-holds-barred affair (but not in a 60-minutes way). Jeremy asks the tough questions, and it’s a joy to see the politicians squirm. (There was a famous incident when he asked the then Home Secretary the same question: “Did you overrule the director of the prison services” fourteen times before finally getting an answer, by which time it was kinda redundant, since not answering 14 times makes it pretty clear what the answer was.) But Newsnight, and in particular Paxman, is held in such high regard, that for it to be stated that you “declined to be interviewed for this program” so obviously means that you have something to hide that it’s a bigger expenditure of political capital not to appear. Why aren’t there any programs like that on US TV?