Journalism Declines And Scandals Rise

I know I harp a lot on the importance of accurate, credible journalism–especially at the local level, but it is really, really important.

Believe it or not, the ongoing scandals in Virginia, which have embroiled the top three state officeholders, are illustrations of what happens when local coverage goes missing.

As Amanda Marcotte observed in Salon, 

The Virginia scandal is a reflection of a larger trend where politics will be driven more and more by revelations, gotcha moments and resulting scandals. The decline in robust, in-depth journalism, particularly on the local level — coupled with the rise of social media and well-funded partisan opposition research — is creating an atmosphere where political scandals, legitimate or not, will increasingly dominate politics and media.

“You have this degradation of resources in local journalism, which has been going on for a while now,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, which is currently offering a fellowshipfor local investigative journalism. “You also have this counterpart, which is that it’s easier than before for opposition researchers on all sides to dig up dirt of this sort.”

Benton explained that the decline in local journalism allows politicians in the early stages of their careers, when they are likely to be running for school board or city council,  to escape the scrutiny they would previously have gotten from the relevant local media.

Philip Napoli, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, added that this trend has coincided with another, “the rise of social media and the ways that political candidates are able to communicate with their constituencies directly” and present a version of themselves that’s more to their own liking.

The result is that politicians simply don’t get the vetting they might once have received as they climb the career ladder from smaller offices to statewide and even national offices. Red flags that might have been noticed before a politician reached a position of significant power get overlooked, because local papers simply don’t have the resources to catch them.

The decline in local coverage has coincided with the rise of partisan outlets– not just national networks like Fox and Sinclair, but local talk radio and blogs less concerned with accuracy than with scoring points.  Add to that the gift of the internet– the wealth of materials that vigorous opposition research can now unearth– and you have a recipe for ongoing scandals appearing at extremely “inconvenient” times in politicians’ careers.

In the “old model,” Benton said, people  who wanted to share damning information like sexual assault allegations or past episodes of racist conduct would “go to a reporter and hand him or her the documents or the evidence,” and that reporter would “determine whether the information that’s being handed to them is correct or not.”

 “Now, increasingly you can just post it online and skip that step in the process,” he added. So questions about whether the information is true and legitimately newsworthy don’t get answered in advance.

It appears that the Virginia accusations are all true, although the stories were “broken” by a sleazy partisan web site. But in other cases, innocent parties and organizations sustained real (and sometimes permanent) damage before manufactured allegations could be debunked. Remember when Breitbart accused the nonprofit ACORN of being involved in sex trafficking? Its story was entirely false, but it led to the group’s collapse. A doctored video was used to accuse Planned Parenthood of selling “baby parts” from aborted fetuses and was gleefully spread far and wide. It was later shown to be part of the ongoing, deceptive effort to convince lawmakers to stop funding Planned Parenthood, but pro-life groups continue to cite it as “evidence” of the organization’s evil doings.

In the absence of adequate, reliable reporting, conspiracy theories and partisan invention will fill the void. And citizens won’t know what they can and can’t believe.

The problem is national, but far more prevalent at the local level.


  1. Hold the presses! Hold the presses! The problems presented in this piece cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of local media and the lack thereof. The media, both local and national, have and remain a reflection of what society wants to know about its world and how that society wants the world to see them.
    If the citizen’s of Virginia wanted a look at their candidate’s racial views from way back when they would have gotten it way back when. But those Virginian reporters and editors did what they and their readers had always done and would not look at themselves or others concerning matters of race. It would not have sold papers.
    The biggest example of the population not wanting to look at and accept the truth of a candidate can be found in the Trump story. He was covered by every segment of the news media for decades. His lies and misdeeds chronicled and spotlighted for all to see. The public did not so much “tut tut” and ignored all as they put him into office.
    The blame for the demise of local news coverage falls squarely on the shoulders of the population that no longer wants hard, factual news, but instead seeks out escape and entertainment in order to cope with a world going mad.

  2. In this morning’s news the North Carolina GOP candidate’s son testified against his father in a hearing yesterday. Ooops. Dad had claimed that he didn’t know the person he hired had a history of illegal ballot tactics.

    His son is an assistant U.S. attorney in NC and chose ethics for the state and citizens over protecting his lying father who was willing to break the law to get a seat in Congress.

    It was nice to read that there are still honest people who refuse to protect family members when they partake in illegal acts.

  3. “Journalism” has changed. It is no longer the daily newspapers or the 6:00 news on television. Any organization that doesn’t have a very strong on-line foot print will not survive. As a society, we must adapt to a new way of life. We must have new rules. This is the hard part. Can we have rules that don’t impede expression, but limit untruths and attempts to divide us?

    It’s too bad we don’t all come with a built-in bs meter.

  4. There is no valid argument against Theresa’s comments. “Local media” is a misnomer at best; an oxymoron at worst. There is no longer local media in any form in major cities; it is all owned by corporations and they change ownership seeking the most money to provide the owner’s personal views. The Indianapolis Star is a prime example; as is local CBS TV channel who sold out to what was a local based TV stations till it was bought out. I have read no more about Gannett, Inc., still titled the Indianapolis Star but in reality is USA TODAY NETWORK, is again on the market…or has it been sold. Dealing with the Star being privately owned by the Pulliam family and their right-leaning views for years was known but they did publish opposition articles…if only to prove their own point of view. Steve Goldsmith as Mayor got away with much of his underhanded privatization of much of our local government due to being married to Eugene Pulliam’s granddaughter. Two journalists, one for the Star and one for the Pulliam owned Indianapolis News, reported one of Goldsmith’s budget tricks of placing his Mayor’s Office employees in other Departments and paying them out of that budget. Both were gone not long after that news was published. So much for local news.

    “The problem is national, but far more prevalent at the local level.”

    I ended my decades of subscribing to the Indianapolis Star on December 1, 2018; but that has no meaning to them, only to myself for ending support for the Republican party locally owed daily newspaper. Even that is of little solace. I see a darkening future for the Indianapolis Star which has a far more important position in the city of Indianapolis being the anchor for Circle Centre Mall. When the Star fails; in all probability the Mall fails with it; where will that leave financial stability of downtown Indianapolis? There is more than the future of media at stake here and in how many other cities?

  5. Just the facts? All facts are presented with a perspective that we may not like. I agree journalism is not what it should as Walter Crokite noted we have to present both sides of the story.
    Where there is money to be made you will always find people “ willing to sell baby parts”.
    Disinformation is hard to decypher

  6. Theresa’s opening response to this blog sums it up pretty well: It seems that the capitalists running the media are playing to the most basal instincts of the audience it “serves”. In truth, that audience is the stockholders and they don’t care about the news, only the bottom line.

    Then again, which came first? Was it the thirst for lurid reporting of even more lurid events that drove the media in this direction? Or was it the media’s ownership that realized that sex, drugs and violence sells more papers and air time? Either way the ideals of objective journalism are relegated to a very few – and declining – core of true journalists.

    I often see TV reporters struggling to keep from throwing up when covering such wretched stories as the David Pecker/Trump/Bezos cesspool. I guess there are a few who can somehow get past the messes our society provides in abundance.

  7. “…conspiracy theories and partisan invention will fill the void. And citizens won’t know what they can and can’t believe.” And why should we believe this man?

    From the OIG Report on McCabe:

    “We found that, in a conversation with then-Director Comey shortly after the WSJ article was published, McCabe lacked candor when he told Comey, or made statements that led Comey to believe, that McCabe had not authorized the disclosure and did not know who did. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.5 (Lack of Candor – No Oath).

    We also found that on May 9, 2017, when questioned under oath by FBI agents from INSD, McCabe lacked candor when he told the agents that he had not authorized the disclosure to the WSJ and did not know who did. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath).

    We further found that on July 28, 2017, when questioned under oath by the OIG in a recorded interview, McCabe lacked candor when he stated: (a) that he was not aware of Special Counsel having been authorized to speak to reporters around October 30 and (b) that, because he was not in Washington, D.C., on October 27 and 28, 2016, he was unable to say where Special Counsel was or what she was doing at that time. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath).

    We additionally found that on November 29, 2017, when questioned under oath by the OIG in a recorded interview during which he contradicted his prior statements by acknowledging that he had authorized the disclosure to the WSJ, McCabe lacked candor when he: (a) stated that he told Comey on October 31, 2016, that he had authorized the disclosure to the WSJ; (b) denied telling INSD agents on May 9 that he had not authorized the disclosure to the WSJ about the PADAG call; and (c) asserted that INSD’s questioning of him on May 9 about the October 30 WSJ article occurred at the end of an unrelated meeting when one of the INSD agents pulled him aside and asked him one or two questions about the article. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath)

    Relevant Statutes, Policies, and Practices A. Lack of Candor The Offense Codes Applicable to the FBI’s Internal Disciplinary Process punish FBI employees for “lack of candor.” Offense Code 2.5 (Lack of Candor – No Oath) prohibits “[k]nowingly providing false information when making a verbal or written statement, not under oath, to a supervisor, another Bureau employee in an authoritative position, or another governmental agency, when the employee is questioned about his conduct or the conduct of another person.” Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath) prohibits “[k]nowingly providing false information in a verbal or written statement made under oath.” Under both offense codes, lack of candor is defined to include “false statements, misrepresentations, the failure to be fully forthright, or the concealment or omission of a material fact/information.”

  8. Explaining where we are in terms of venue and the demise of the newsroom in corporate newspapers needs some history. Thus Breitbart and other scandal mongers represent the dark underbelly of NYT v. Sullivan, an important 1964 case which changed the rules of defamation in re public figures. That was before social media (which was without rules of play) came to the fore – and the holding in NYT and social media combined exploded on writing and saying most any old thing one pleases without regard to truth and when called to account, scream NYT and First Amendment rights.

    In a sense we have decided that all of us left, right and center have decided to disrespect the freedom of the press Jefferson so loved by using it for our own narrow purposes, the gross impact of which is destructive of the constitutional intent. Today’s corporate capture of organs of expression, skeletal newsrooms, competition for news from the internet, and reductions in advertising revenue are more symptomatic than causal of this breakdown in the depth of reporting through the editorial sieve.

    How to honorably and honestly match public distribution of the spoken and written word by selfish interests in an age of radical change in the means of distribution of fact and opinion? I wish I knew.

  9. “WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has called former FBI acting Director Andrew McCabe a liar, a disgrace to the country and, on Wednesday, “a poor man’s J. Edgar Hoover” — the latest example of efforts by the president and his supporters to undercut the credibility of an impending report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

    The attacks on McCabe in particular serve a dual, if internally contradictory, purpose for Trump: to discredit McCabe’s highly critical new book while using it to advance a case that he is the victim of a corrupt “deep state” plotting an administrative coup.”

    John Neal; your lengthy comments are from the DOJ Inspector General’s report dated April 13, 2018. Above I copied and pasted portion of an article from Philadelphia’s The Inquirer dated February 21, 2019. These are part of the ongoing Trump & Co. attacks on anyone who opposes them, including their own appointees and cabinet members who fall into disfavor. Where are the results from the investigation into the report you included in your comments? Was there an investigation; IS there an ongoing investigation? We are now watching and waiting for the firing of Dan Coats, one of the staunchest Republicans to ever serve this government at any level now that he has submitted Intelligence reports in opposition to Trump and his supporters accusations. I am not now and have never been a supporter of Dan Coats but must applaud the fact that he knowingly jeopardized his high level position in the Trump administration to submit the truth to the public in opposition to the president.

    Your submitted accusations against McCabe would carry more weight if there were any results submitted supporting or proving the accusations or any information regarding an investigation into the accusations from last year. They are again raising the old GOP bugaboo of accusations against Hillary Clinton’s single-server use and those lost E-mails Trump asked the Russians to please find. Colin Powell, Condolezza Rice and other government officials also used single-servers, obtained from the government and with government approval. I have yet to see reports questioning their use…or abuse…of single servers.

    “Journalism Declines And Scandals Rise”

  10. im living in a world that has tottaly disrespected the people. seems its all, real issues,just a fantasy world of lieing. i guess the new world of virtual reality,is,everydays segment of whatever. soap operas never had it so good. when i was running through stories after clintons fail. i was reading gobs of who on her staff, was going to do now. basically whoring themselves off for,,,money… same as the ongoing soap opera,called America, whats next? anything? decorum to hell, money rules. as we have allowed, follow the money,and see the names. every damn thing has a price tag,disasters,wages,insurance,cigars,gas,mortages,and its the numbers that sell. any number, didnt bob marley once say something about numbers,and you will never find what is real?
    sometimes we need a refreasher course on ethics,civics,and a basic rule of principle, we only have one nation,one land,one goverment. if we fail now, we loose it all to,,,money,and the whores that control it.. best wishes..

  11. Much of this outpouring of disgust and condemnation of the state of local news reporting is true. However, reports of the sad state of recycling in Marion County, and the undermining of solar power in the Senate have been a welcome read for those who still receive a paper copy and those who read online. We have Sarah Bowman, Emily Hopkins, and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust to thank for this example of reporting in the public interest.

  12. Gov. Northam, seems to have gone back and forth on the infamous photo of “black face” and the KKK person.

    At some level his beliefs and behavior were validated by his surroundings and friends. He may not have been Jim Crow racist. The symbols the black face and KKK instead of being repulsive as representation of a brutal past were viewed as “funny” or harmless. I see a complete lack of empathy.

    To be clear though the “college” thought this picture was appropriate to print in 1984. Institutes of higher learning struggled with the free speech movement. The free speech was about the individual or groups right to free speech.

    The college or university would have in most cases the final say so on what would be printed in a yearbook. This college by printing this picture was sending a message.

    At the check out counter of grocery stores you have the section devoted to “tabloid journalism”. The tabloids had some eye catching headline about some Hollywood person or politician having some personal life difficulty accompanied by an unflattering photo. There were enough people who would buy the tabloid to make a profit. It was not a giant step for them to realize that certain people headlined sold more papers, so we had an endless number of stories about Lady Diana, or OJ.

    The McMega-Media of today has found President Agent Orange as the ultimate story to be aired 24/7/365 to the exclusion of all else.

    One tactic of propaganda is the spread of disinformation. Social media has allowed for the silos to be built, where even the most fantastic information or outright smear is shared and re-shared. You can find the most bizarre and sometimes dangerous posting, like the anti-vaccination cult.

    President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence have fueled these willfully ignorant people and their social media silos are there to validate their beliefs.

  13. Thank you Sheila,

    Local news coverage by our print media, The Indianapolis Star, borders on being nonexistent unless you have your news whistle satisfied by seeing only three main first section news stories each day if you’re lucky and where those news stories have to compete with news items in regard to new sandwiches which are being offered at local restaurants. The only component of the newspaper that actually has any relevance is the sports section. For a metropolitan area the size of Central Indiana having such a pitiful newspaper as its only newspaper of record is ridiculous.

    My guess if there was a scandal of the size you have written about Sheila that happened here news about it would have to compete with still another story about a new club sandwich being offered by a restaurant in Carmel for column space. It would probably lose out to the gushing story regarding the sandwich.

  14. Thank you Sheila,

    Local news coverage by our print media, The Indianapolis Star, borders on being nonexistent unless you have your whistle satisfied by only three main first section news stories each day if you’re lucky and where those news stories have to compete with news items in regard to new sandwiches which are being offered at local restaurants. The only component of the newspaper that actually has any relevance is the sports section. For a metropolitan area the size of Central Indiana having such a pitiful newspaper as its only newspaper of record is ridiculous.

    My guess if there was a scandal of the size you have written about Sheila that happened here news about it would have to compete with the story about a new club sandwich being offered by a restaurant in Carmel for column space.

  15. Wayne Moss @ 11:07 am mentioned recycling in Marion County. A bigger story is happening in connection with recycling.

    From The Guardian:
    Since January 2018, China hasn’t accepted two dozen different recycling materials, such as plastic and mixed paper, unless they meet strict rules around contamination. The imported recycling has to be clean and unmixed – a standard too hard to meet for most American cities.

    In July 2017, China told the World Trade Organization it no longer wanted to be the end point for yang laji, or foreign garbage, with the country keen to grapple with its own mountains of waste.

    Claire Arkin, campaign associate at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. “You may think burning plastic means ‘poof, it’s gone’ but it puts some very nasty pollution into the air for communities that are already dealing with high rates of asthma and cancers.”

    If the political will existed in the USA to use science and technology to solve our recycling problems, we could do it. Unfortunately, for the most part we have politicians who view science with suspicion and an out of sight, out of mind mentality.

  16. John; I accessed your suggested web site and found the Redacted report, dated February 2018 which stated “The OIG is issuing this report to the FBI for such action as it deems appropriate”. I did read the “Introduction and Summary of Findings”…and then what happened? You still have not provided results of any action taken by the FBI which they deemed appropriate. You did document the accusations; maybe the findings have gotten lost among the many thousands of accusations, distortions and lies made public by the Trump administration which continue almost hourly some days. They produce no results either and deny proven facts provided by their own Executive Department heads. Most of whom have been fired or driven out of office by threats, name calling, unfounded accusations via Trump’s on camera rants and/or morning tweets after a night of watching Fox News.

    Wayne Moss; I also found an occasional news item in the Star worth reading but not enough to be worth the $47 monthly subscription fee plus additional charges for a “special section” such as recipes or a special event which should be part of local news reporting. There is bound to be an occasional article worth your time to read; strictly due to the law of averages. “Even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day.”

  17. Extremism doesn’t work in culture in business, in families, in politics. That means that we are stuck at least for awhile in dysfunction. Can the country recover? Can we recover?

    It doesn’t matter what I think or you think about the odds. The question is beyond our control.

    What we can do now as the smallest of starts towards the possibility of recovery is work within the structure of the system we have and try to unite Democrats around a candidate for 2020.

    It all begins at home they say.

  18. John Neal,

    You SHOULD have a lot more to say about the matter. You might note that “lack of candor” is not a crime. If it were, McCabe would have been indicted. This “report” is a pure political hit conducted by the most egregious administration this country has ever seen.

    We should ALL give the FBI the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are just human….just as you and I claim to be.

  19. OK Vernon I’ll take up the “SHOULD” challenge.

    Please support your contention that this “report” (which it was) is a pure political hit.

    Make sure it comports with these facts.

    Micheal E. Horowitz, the Inspector General in question, is an Obama appointee.

    This office is a statutorily created independent agency.

    This same person and office reported Comey’s press conference on Hillary’s e-mail server was
    “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions (about the press conference) from his superiors”, and that “we found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies.” Comey’s October decision to send a letter notifying Congress that the investigation had been re-opened one week before the election was described as “ad-hoc” and “a serious error in judgment”. (Political hit job, huh?)

    The Inspector General cannot indict but only refer (which he did) and lying to the FBI is a crime and he may very well be indicted. Ask Flynn et al.

    Meanwhile, MSNBC, CNN and others are parading McCabe him around as if he was Moses coming down from the mountain top.

    I just simply want journalism and it’s sourcing to be credible, building on Ms. Kennedy’s theme of the day. In my opinion McCabe cannot be a credible source under these circumstances.

  20. JoAnn,

    I think you are confused. The OIG Report is final and it was referred to the FBI to determine whether they would recommend criminal prosecution to the AG’s office (OIG cannot indict). The FBI’s investigation is to determine whether what he did rises to the level of a recommended criminal indictment(s). They don’t dispute the core facts of the report’s findings, as the FBI (Wray) fired him for them.



  21. Surprised to find that a few people are still subscribing to the Indy Star (maybe just for the X-word and the Obits column).

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