Watergate, the scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon, is a popular subject this week on television talk shows and news magazines across the country.
It was 30 years ago that a night watchman busted five Republican operatives who had broken into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, setting off an investigation that consumed the nation for two years until Nixon resigned in 1974.
One of the many lessons of Watergate is the role of the fourth estate - the press - in maintaining the checks and balances which deter corruption in government. There is a very real possibility that had the press failed in its watchdog role Nixon and "all the president's men" would have escaped the justice they so richly deserved.
Investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate story, inspired a whole generation of journalists to a new sense of purpose and public duty. Enrollments swelled at journalism schools at America's colleges and universities, where the two Washington Post reporters were elevated to national folk heroes. Some of the media's best work was done during the ensuing years by reporters and editors energized by the Watergate saga. This was without a doubt the golden era of journalism in America.
Now, 30 years later, we wonder if American newspapers are up to the legacy of Woodward, Bernstein and the Washington Post.
No doubt some news organizations are doing exceptional work. The Sacramento Bee, for example, did an outstanding 10-part series of articles last year looking into the environmental movement. This series was extraordinary because not only did the paper expose the environmental movement as a big, corrupt, green cash machine, it took on a sacred cow in the process. We say sacred cow because the vast majority of people working in the media are politically and philosophically aligned with Al Gore, our country's most prominent environmental extremist.
Unfortunately, this kind of courage and resolve exhibited by The Bee is rare in a time when newspapers and news media are cutting back on their news departments to save money.
As a result, many important stories about corruption in government are got getting the exposure they deserve. The "lynx hoax" is one example. Here Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service biologists planted lynx furn on two national forests in Washington state in an attempt to skew a national Endangered Species Act survey, thereby restricting activity on public land.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's decision to cut off irrigation water to 1,400 family farms in the Klamath basin last year so that it could be allocated to protect two species of endangered sucker is another example of government corruption largely ignored by the news media, which failed to delve into the biological underpinnings of that decision. Only after the National Academy of Sciences, prompted by Congressman Greg Walden, looked into the matter was government misconduct exposed.
Pedophile priests in the Catholic Church have been hiding under reporters noses for years. Greedy corporate CEOs, unscrupulous stock market analysts, and book-cooking accounting firms have eluded financial reporters at a cost of trillions of dollars to millions of American investors.
These examples of corruption may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg ... and an untapped reservoir of information for the next Woodward and Bernstein. R.S.