Not all burglaries are about cash and pricey stashes. Sometimes information is more valuable.
By which I mean: Happy fortieth, Watergate hearings!
For those of you old enough to remember (it was the first news story I remember), Watergate makes the current IRS dustup look like a tea party. Oh gee. I mean … Let’s make that a trip to Disneyland.
For those of you who don’t remember, a sitting president presided over a break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., to snoop on DNC records and bug the place.
The most entertaining evildoer ever—the irrepressible G. Gordon Liddy, modern-day birther, patriot, mustachioed star of right-wing talk radio—was in charge. Nixon resigned. Forty-three people went to jail. There’s really been nothing like it in this country since.
Not even the Clinton impeachment compares. Don’t let Fox News tell you otherwise.
Okay, so four decades later the IRS busted a tea party organization’s balls. Like that’s a big surprise. Yeah, the IRS went about it all wrong, but if any group applying for tax-exempt status should expect a good old-fashioned taxman third degree, it’s a group whose main purpose is to oppose taxation. Duh.
Maybe I’m not the audience for this story, but I’m just not feeling it the way I’m feeling some of the other scandals circulating right now. Scandals like … Oh, let’s see … Maybe the government’s snooping on reporters’ movements and phone records—which the Obama administration is busy defending while making a good show of going after the IRS.
I dunno. Is it just me (and every other journalist type with old-timey journalism ideals), or does this strike you as a bit of a double standard? On one hand you have a government agency scrutinizing a group requesting special status … possibly more than it scrutinized liberal groups requesting that same special status. On the other hand you have the government spying on reporters—protectors of the free flow of information—for simply doing their job.
I guess there’s as little sympathy for reporters these days as there is for the IRS. That’s too bad on both counts. IRS agents don’t deserve the comparison. And reporters? Believe it or not, they’re actually doing something valuable. When they’re doing something valuable.
Investigative journalists do good work. And there aren’t many of them anymore. Mostly because investigations are expensive, and no amount of armchair blogging will get you there.
A real investigation requires getting off the couch. (Believe me: The irony’s not lost.)
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—the Washington Post reporters who broke the news about a conspiracy to cover up the break-in at the Watergate that extended to the highest levels of government—know all about investigative journalism. Unfortunately, most young people today would need Google to investigate who they are.
So screw the tea party’s complaints about partisanship in the Obama administration. And let’s instead put the screws to the Obama administration (and every other non-journalist on the planet) for their lack of equivalent concern about the flagrant violation of reporters’ rights.
To do good investigative journalism is tough enough these days. But to make criminals of the investigators themselves sends a very bad message: An informed citizenry isn’t that important. But how did we get here—under a Democratic president, at that?
I imagine more through the slow burn of ignorance than a Gulag-style attempt to suppress free speech. Because, unfortunately, in this era when most Americans associate journalism with TMZ and trending Twitter hashtags, no one but journalists actually know what journalists do.
But that’s not the journalists’ fault. It’s all of ours—for not demanding truth and in-depth news. For refusing to pay for quality journalism … and getting exactly what we paid for.
Let’s face it: Information is valuable. Just ask Liddy.