The rich and well connected have great power and, given human nature, may use their power to help themselves and hurt others.
Journalism isn’t the only way to hold accountable rich people and powerful organizations, but it’s an essential one.
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were only in their twenties when they began investigating the Watergate break-in. The clues they followed and the news stories they published helped reveal crimes of the sitting president of the United States, Richard Nixon. In August 1974, less than two years after Nixon won reelection in a landslide, he resigned from office.
Newspapers of every size continue to uncover actions that some wanted hidden.
Just a few days ago, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for sex trafficking minors as young as 14 in two different states. What added to the horror was that the justice system initially failed Epstein’s victims.
As the Miami Herald uncovered in November, in 2007 Epstein “was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.”
Epstein could have gone to jail for life, but, as the Miami Herald put it, he received “the deal of a lifetime.” Negotiated by then-federal prosecutor Alex Acosta, currently the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Epstein didn’t go to federal prison for a single day.
Under the deal Epstein plead guilty to soliciting prostitution, a state crime, had to register as a sex offender, pay financial settlements to victims and serve 13 months in a Florida jail. And then the details of the case were sealed.
But even this absurdly light punishment was weakened. As investigative journalist Julie Brown reported, “Instead of being sent to state prison, Epstein was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County jail. And rather than having him sit in a cell most of the day, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office allowed Epstein work release privileges, which enabled him to leave the jail six days a week, for 12 hours a day, to go to a comfortable office that Epstein had set up in West Palm Beach. This was granted despite explicit sheriff’s department rules stating that sex offenders don’t qualify for work release.”
If not for the incredible effort that went into this reporting — which involved tracking down and interviewing over 60 victims, unsealing federal documents and reading thousands more pages of records — we wouldn’t know about this miscarriage of justice.
Even more, Geoffrey Berman, the federal prosecutor who brought the new charges proclaimed they “were assisted by some excellent investigative journalism.”
Our own Maine papers are essential to our well-being. Every Mainer benefits from the ongoing reporting of what bills are up for debate, what the governor signed or vetoed, which candidates are running and what they are saying to voters.
Investigative reporting by Maine reporters provides additional sunshine.
For example, Bangor Daily News’ Maine Focus editor Erin Rhoda recently revealed the poor handling of sexual assault allegations at some college campuses. In another probe, Rhoda found that funds raised to monitor domestic violence abusers were spent for other purposes by Gov. Paul LePage.
A series by Colin Woodard, published in the Portland Press Herald, shone light on how links between industry lobbyists and the environmental agencies whose job it is to protect the public led to needed regulations being scuttled. Kevin Miller and Scott Thistle of the Press Herald revealed the high spending habits of LePage when he traveled, including costly bookings and food at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant, but, unlike sunlight, reporting isn’t free. For the sake of transparency and democracy, we all need to support it. If you don’t subscribe, the time to do it now.