What It Takes To Be A Great Investigative Reporter

Fenster writes:

Political types can be classified as either hedgehogs or foxes, with the fox knowing many things and the hedgehog knowing one big thing.  Bret Stephens says John McCain is a hedgehog, and admires him for the knowing one big thing: honor.  Stephen’s  contrasting animal, however, is not a fox but the famed honey badger, the animal that just doesn’t give a sh*t.  And according to Stephens Steve Bannon is the honey badger, and he is not a fan.

Well, here’s one thing McCain knows: whether POWs were left behind in Vietnam after the war.

There has long been a belief in some quarters that he was part of a sustained effort by the US government to cover up the fact that POWs remained behind, and to belittle and attack anyone who said otherwise.

Here is a very long piece by Sdney Schanberg supporting that view.  It was run at the time McCain ran for president and was re-run recently at the Unz Review.  Schanberg, who died in 2016, was no conspiracy nut.  He was the New York Times reporter who did the Pulitizer winning story on the killing fields in Cambodia.  Left the Times after his column there was cancelled, this following his criticism of the proposed Westway highway project.

This is what happens to great investigative reporters.  They get awards until they come across something that is really troublesome and then they find themselves without a regular by-line.

Another: Seymour Hersh is the legendary Times reporter who unearthed the My Lai massacre.  There’s a recent recording of him saying that authoritative sources told him that Seth Rich, the DNC staffer who was murdered, tried to pass along emails from the DNC to Wikileaks.  These are the emails that Russia allegedly stole, and that form the basis for the collusion charges against Trump.  The counter-theory has been that Russia didn’t steal them and the disclosure was an inside job–possibly involving Rich.  You would think the press might be curious about a Hersh’s inquiries, to the extent that might shed light on the Russia collusion story.  Any interest?  No.  Hersch no longer works at the Times.

Then there’s Julian Assange at Wikileaks his self.  A darling of the left until recently.  Hillary and the intelligence community now say he is in bed with the Russians and his stuff can’t be trusted.  Congress is trying to designate Wikileaks as a hostile state power when it is in effect acting as an organ of the press, publishing information it gets from others, even if the material was classified.  You know, like the Pentagon Papers.  People I know on the left now nod their heads in approval: Assange now a very very very bad man.

On the other hand we have Brian Ross, ABC News’ “Chief Investigative Correspondent”.   He’s a big success!  He was on the news just last night.  He started his piece by saying that no, the Russia story has not gone away.  I thought maybe that meant he was going to discuss the Clinton/Obama/Mueller uranium deal that is in the news.  But no, ABC passed on covering that one.  Instead Ross described a rap video that was allegedly funded by a Russian troll farm.  The rap artist who did it had no knowledge of the Russian funding and the video he produced had no political edge.  It appeared to be the kind of video that ABC News would find unobjectionable, or even laudatory, were it not for the fact that it was allegedly funded by Russians for the purpose of sowing discord.

Ross concluded by pointing out to David Muir that we have elections coming up and incredibly we still have no “national strategy” for how to deal with this Russian threat. The Russians truly were up to no good on the uranium deal but that was Obama and Clinton.  But that’s old news.  So let’s find someone to blame–I wonder who?–for the fact that we have no “national strategy” for dealing with the rap video menace.

Schanberg dead.

Hersch on the outs.

Assange discredited and in new legal trouble.

Brian Ross on the nightly news.

Suck ups win.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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4 Responses to What It Takes To Be A Great Investigative Reporter

  1. plwinkler says:

    Funny how, what with millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians living in their own countries and of course, tourists and business people travelling and living there, not even one person has ever encountered so much as one of the supposed MIAs.


    • Fenster says:

      Good point. Though I was in the post less interested in whether McCain was complicit and more interested in the lack of curiosity shown by venues like the Times, where Schanberg earned his Pulitzer, than in the facts of the case.

      When this story came round in 2000 I knew of it vaguely but that was it–vaguely, given the lack of curiosity and subsequent lack of coverage. I expect that if I gave it any mind back then I might have said “well, Schanberg is well known but who am I to judge how an editor at the Times thinks? There is probably good reason the story, however interesting, lacks legs.”

      The last year or so observing the media have disabused me of my past trusting ways. It is as clear as day to me that big media has taken sides, and is more than willing to ignore a story when it suits their interests. That was the point of the parable of the Brian Ross. The look back at Schanberg’s McCain story was prompted by the almost complete lack of trust I now have in the mainstream media, a lack of trust I think they completely deserve and that is relevant to past editorial judgments.


      • JV says:

        Of course it’s true mainstream media, or at least the vast majority of mainstream journalists, lean left. But almost to a man/woman, the whiff of a good story trumps (boy do we need another word for that now. Supersedes, maybe?) politics. Political leanings may inform the stories they naturally gravitate towards, but I find it hard to believe that bringing someone like McCain down would make a good, left-leaning journalist blanche.


  2. Fenster says:

    JV. Your comment, like plwinkler’s above is reasonable on its face. Sure you can make a decent general argument that reporters are self serving and will go first for the jugular if there is a story in it. My rejoinder is in several parts.

    First, the idea of the media putting the story above all else does not conform with my own reading of the press this past year or so. You may have a different experience. That is mine. I see the press in the anti-Trump tank daily and I think there is a ton of good evidence for it.

    That brings us to the second point, which is that on some stories the reporter’s instincts for glory may be tempered–or reversed–by the views of the editors. And, for that matter, the publisher. Yes they are looking for money too but the higher up you go in the food chain the greater the chance of interests that cross -cut against just making money or getting a hot story.

    And that leads to the third point, which is that all good general arguments need to grapple with the specific facts at hand, which may make one or another reading more credible. In that regard did you read the Schanberg piece? All well and good to say gee it just doesn’t make sense that reporters would refrain from piling on McCain if there were a good story in it. But the facts developed in the story make me question whether that is a useful lens for understanding what went on here.

    For one the picture that Schanberg paints is not one of McCain conniving on his own, or for no good reason. Indeed, the logic of Schanberg’s piece is that it was in the national interests of both the United States and Vietnam to drop the matter. This is painted as a tragic situation in some ways, one that no one would have relished but that neither side felt able to do anything about. So if the picture Schanberg paints is at all valid it is not a matter of a renegade or traitorous McCain but national policy. Under those very extenuating circumstances, if such circumstances actually prevailed, it is not hard to see a world of pressure coming down on Perry Whites, Jimmy Olsons notwithstanding.

    Then there are the many cookie trails Schanberg develops in the piece. Some are more compelling than others and none constitute hard proof. But as you read them over can you sincerely say that they don’t present a pretty strong case on the face of it? I am not asking you to say you agree that the case has been made 100%. But unless you can blow up all of the arguments on their face why would you think further inquiry useless? Even if the arguments could have been blown up why did no one write that Schanberg’s cookie trails don’t lead anywhere? Why the silence? It is not as if Schanberg was a fringe character. Why pay no attention to the arguments he made?

    I mean, really, how do you think Schanberg’s case stands relative to the Russia collusion case against Trump? In the case of Schanberg we have a well-developed historical context and a lot of well-developed leads. In the case of Russiagate the opposite. Yet Schanberg got no follow up while Russiagate plods on and on.

    I do find the behavior of the press inexplicable. Or worse, explicable.


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