Last week, if you read about the conviction of Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, and the grand jury investigation of pedophile priests in Pennsylvania, it probably didn’t occur to you to think about how all that happened.
You probably didn’t even consider thanking the folks who brought these crimes to light by doing one of the most thankless jobs on the planet.
I’m talking about reporters.
Bringing these criminals to justice would never have happened without bird-dog reporters.
Asking impertinent questions of the rich and powerful, digging into piles of mind-numbing documents, and uncovering the unsettling stories of traumatized victims is not glamorous work. But sometimes the big, hairy, audacious stories as well as the less dramatic stuff produced in the daily grind of checking records and calling sources, against all odds, changes history.
Crooks get caught. Presidents get impeached. Popes get woke.
Then Hollywood hires unnaturally good-looking people to play reporters in movies, and turns them into heroes.
We’re rapidly approaching that phase now, no matter what the Tweeter in Chief says to the contrary.
A recent poll by the Poynter Institute found that 76 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in local television news and 73 percent trust in local newspapers.
Last September, a similar Gallup poll on trust in the media found only 41 percent of respondents gave them a vote of confidence.
Curiously, the last time trust in news media was even close to this high was in 1976, two years after the impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon. A Gallup poll then found 72 percent of Americans reported high levels of trust in the media.
Is anybody else seeing a pattern here?
When reporters uncover stories that produce convictions of the rich, powerful and corrupt, the only thing that’s fake about it is the alibis. It’s why demonizing reporters so often is that last pathetic desperation move of scoundrels just before they take the perp walk.
And it’s not just reporters who deserve our gratitude, but the editors and publishers who stand behind them.
It takes guts to put your business on the line for the truth.
Back in the 1980s when I was working in Cleveland, a free-lance reporter named Jason Berry brought me a story — complete with boxes of documents to back it up — about a priest who had been transferred from Michigan to Ohio after serving a prison sentence for sexually abusing several young boys.
The priest was assigned by the diocese to a parish in a suburb of Cleveland and, stunningly, was charged with running the youth programs for the church.
You know, the usual: counseling programs, overnight campouts, ski trips. The parishioners verified it, though they had no idea the guy was a convicted pedophile.
The story was fact-checked, edited and ready to go when, in response to a request for comment, the diocese sent its army of lawyers to meet with the publisher, threatening to sue the paper if we published it.
I met with the editor. I reminded him that our first responsibility was to our readers and to the children in our community. He said he’d spoken with the publisher who said the priest had served his time. We’d get sued for invading his privacy.
End of discussion.
This is why the Pulitzer Prize for investigating clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church went to the Boston Globe in 2003 and not the Cleveland Plain Dealer 20 years earlier.
We need the kind of publishers, editors and reporters who will keep going even when the politicians and the angry mobs they incite threaten to snuff them out.
We especially need them when our elected leaders exhibit blind fealty to their political parties instead of loyalty to their country and the rule of law.
Think about it. When Michael Cohen testified under oath in federal court that he broke the law “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” and that he did it “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016, what did we hear from our Republican members of Congress, the honorable Sen. Cory Gardner, and Reps. Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman, Scott Tipton and Ken Buck?
It’s clear we can’t depend on them. That’s exactly why we need tenacious reporters.
And, by the way, you’re gonna love the movie.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant and a regular columnist for the Denver Post.