The Need for Watchdogs in Washington

The need for Watchdogs in Washington is more important than ever.

I recently had a conversation with a progressive news organization. They intrigued me by explaining how they are expanding their political coverage online. But employees, for the time, are to be based in New York City. Don’t get me wrong, I am currently wearing a tee with those exact letters strewn across it. But leave Washington at this moment in history? It would feel so wrong.

dc_wards_smallIt is a natural concern for all of us, as newspapers collapse and resources constrict, that American journalism is about to suffer. In an article in The New Republic called “Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to an Era or Corruption),” Paul Starr wrote:  

“One danger of reduced news coverage is to the integrity of government…” He went on, “…corruption is more likely to flourish when those in power have less reason to fear exposure.”

Does anyone else think it is ironic, and completely illogical – that at a moment when the news media is finding it financially impossible to do their job, the government has more power and influence than ever before?

Let’s just think about the facts. As Break the Matrix pointed out, the government is firing CEOs and controlling billion dollar businesses. In the last 100 days, our government has nationalized companies and promised trillions of non-existent dollars to fix the economic collapse.

The best part? Since we don’t have any journalists to comb through records, papers and public documents to track how stimulus dollars are spent, the Obama Administration has created a web site, Recovery.Gov, to track it for us. It feels like a coy PR move – to provide the American people (and strapped-for-time journalists) this service. Let us all have a moment and be honest: how can we possibly take their word at face value and trust that a politician and his staff will offer all the facts?

The fact of the matter is this: no matter how popular, “transparent” or open a Presidency claims to be, journalism watchdogs are critical. The Constitution protects the freedom of the press and with it, emphasizes that a thriving system of journalism was, and is, inextricably linked, to the health of our democracy.  

With all of this, it is no surprise all eyes are all on new forms of media. But even these modern muckrakers, like Daily Kos, Break the Matrix and Huffington Post are facing a great disadvantage and it will not be easy for them to pick up where old media left off. As Paul Starr also pointed out:  

“The reality is that resources for journalism are now disappearing from the old media faster than new media can develop them.”

One thing is for sure: if the amount of original reporting continues to decline, our nation will have far greater problems than the buyout of GM or the wars abroad. We will be facing a government too big, too powerful and too in control to take direction from the public – because the public will know little more than what sites like Recovery.Gov offer.

So what can we all do? I certainly don’t have all the answers. But one thing for sure. I’m going to try and figure it out from inside Washington.

2 comments

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  1. John Seng

    Hi, Erica: Very though provoking. Historians may write some day that it would have been better – in the long run – to allow GM, the banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to hit the wall.

    Keep up the original thinking!

  2. Jaclyn

    Erica, this is an awesome post!

    I’m also a Washington-based journalist and it is absolutely essential to cover the government from the place where it operates. But, there’s also merit to covering government from outside the Beltway because as you probably know all too well, being in D.C. can cloud your perspective. At the same time, news organizations (new and old) MUST think about how they gather their news about the government. This Washington Post column (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/17/AR2009041701900.html) highlights some of the problems with the way news orgs are covering the Obama administration.

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