Five years ago, the word in the media was that investigative journalism was dying. No longer would corruption and morality be kept in check through journalists such as Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (Nellie Bly), Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, and Seymour Hersh.
Well, to paraphrase another famous news man, Samuel (“Mark Twain”) Clemens, reports of the death of investigative reporting have been greatly exaggerated. Thanks to Progressive digital media sites like Huffington Post and The Intercept, that tradition is returning with a vengeance – and heaven help the corporate and political villains who attempt to hide under rocks and in the shadows.
What happened to investigative journalism in the first place? The short answer: it was about the money. Traditional investigative reporting is very expensive and time-consuming. It requires travel, research, extensive interviews with many people and rigorous documentation. It also entails risks; not surprisingly, investigative reporters are targeted by those persons and institutions who are the subject of their reports.
Small wonder that Corporate America, which has been consolidating media under its control for years (and often the target of investigative reports), has been happy to see investigative journalism killed off. In 2009, an article published by the Illinois College of Media, entitled “The Future of Investigative Reporting,” acknowledged that there was a future for such journalism – but posed questions of “how will it be defined, how will it maintain high standards and quality, in what forms and with what methods will it thrive, and how will it be financed.”
In 2010, UK documentary filmmaker Kevin Toolis, speaking to The Guardian, pointed out that “it takes money and time – you have to send people, [and] pay for it. The commitment to spending money on this stuff is dying a death.” That same year, award-winning investigative journalists were being let go by media companies right and left. By 2012, Andre Vltchek of CounterPuch wrote, “The Death of Investigative Journalism” – a pessimistic account of that lingering demise as media companies cut funding for real reporters and corporate America harnessed the Internet for the purpose of distracting the public with the proverbial “Bread and Circuses.”
Nonetheless, Huffington Post recently demonstrated that if investigative journalism ever died, it has come roaring back to life in no uncertain terms. Recently, the Ring of Fire’s own Sam Seder brought you an interview with New York journalist Sharon Lerner, author of The Teflon Toxin: DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception. Her three-part story about corporate felon DuPont Chemicals presented the lurid history of its cover-up over the toxicity of C-8, the primary ingredient in Teflon. Last week, Huffington Post presented its own in-depth exposé on DuPont’s lies and deceptions.
“Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia” represents the type of hard-hitting, in-depth reporting those of a certain age remember from a time before media consolidation and the dumbing-down of society. It is a story worthy of the late Edward R. Murrow, putting human faces on the tragedy of C-8 and describing how DuPont spent decades hiding the truth from the community and even its own employees. The seven-part, multi-media report features graphic, heart-wrenching photos of C-8’s effects. It includes video interviews and examples of DuPont’s own advertising and propaganda, which was so effective in convincing the public of the “wonders of plastics” that people in Parkersburg turned on those who were affected by the company’s poisons and were speaking out.
It’s a story that DuPont and other corporate offenders wish would have stayed buried under the garbage of trivia, mindless consumerism and celebrity sensationalism. Unfortunately, Corporate America underestimated the power of social media and what happens when the World Wide Web allows concerned, intelligent and outraged citizens all over the world to connect with each other. Corporate America also failed to take into account the power of user-friendly technology that makes it possible for ordinary people to produce high-quality presentations and distribute them to hundreds of millions of others.
Check out “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia” and be prepared to be shocked and outraged. You will also be heartened to know that investigative reporting is back – and that increasingly, there is nowhere for corporate criminals to hide.