Now, that doesn’t mean the media doesn’t deserve blame for its failings. In fact, the media makes me cringe daily, especially when I see the word “news” next to the words “Britney Spears.”
I was sometimes ashamed to be a journalist during the later Clinton years, when the rising tide of al-Qaeda was largely ignored in favor of coverage of stains on a blue dress.
And, I have probably been the most relentless critic of the Detroit Free Press. Too often, the newspaper’s coverage has been dumbed down, especially since the paper was sold to Gannett in 2005. Two years ago, the newspaper utterly ignored a historic joint lecture by three Nobel Peace Prize winners in Detroit.
Instead, they ran a story on the front page the next day about how the editor liked to eat peanut butter right out of the jar.
But in its coverage of what is being called “Textgate,” the newspaper has been doing work in keeping with the finest traditions of American journalism. Indeed, I think the paper deserves a Pulitzer Prize for public service, if not investigative journalism.
Both Detroit papers, in fact, have been admirably serving the public in their coverage of the mayor, and I find very little to criticize what they have done. And their jobs haven’t been easy.
Detroit is nearly ninety percent black, and its two newspapers are each owned by out-of-town corporations. They worry about being seen as carpetbaggers and closet racists.
The current mayor is a talented, charismatic man-child who has charmed the business community. But he also has behaved as if being mayor meant the city is his playpen. The newspapers documented a vast range of mayoral abuses throughout 2005, and the voters then reelected Kwame Kilpatrick anyway.
I worried then that the papers would stop scrutinizing the mayor. But their reporters stayed alert, and relentless. Let me make something clear – whatever anyone says, this isn’t about race, and it isn’t really about sex. It is about a pattern of abuse of power that already has cost the taxpayers of one of the nation’s poorest cities more than nine million dollars.
It took lots of hard work, many man-hours and a considerable amount of money to bring this to light. This is what journalism at its finest does. This is a public service that, whether the citizens appreciate it or not, is absolutely essential to a free society.
Journalists are a scruffy and unpopular lot. When we do our best work, we are normally telling you that your food is tainted and your water is polluted and your politicians are corrupt.
You mostly don’t want us at your banquet. But deep down, you know you really need us, and what we do. And if you ever forget that, our democracy will clearly be down the drain.