Do more investigative reporting

Question: Any thoughts to the possibility of seeing some type of investigative reporting along the lines of covering national/political news? You talk about puppet masters from afar dictating the spin, yet your own reporters seem to rely much to heavily on the "official" pabulum, spun by the White House or Boise/Olympia PR people.

I remember a day when reporters were far more independent when it came to scooping. We could always rely on a few restless souls who weren't satisfied with the propaganda regurgitated by politicians. With all the misinformation that the presses around the country have been fed for the last three years, isn't there an interest or desire by some in the media to start doing more of their own research and having the healthy attitude of questioning authority?

After all, isn't that what makes our Democracy and freedom of speech such a hallmark of the U.S.? It used to be anyway? Just curious - not attacking! I think more and more of us feel like we're all being manipulated by the press - right or left - we all hunger for the day when there will be a return to more independent even handed accurate and intelligent information, and those among you who have the courage to do their own investigating and the courage to ask the hard questions, demand the hard truths. -- Thomas D. Keenan, Coeur d'Alene

Answer: This is a difficult question to answer because the assumptions behind it are stated as fact but are, in fact, arguable.

What political truths are reporters failing to uncover? There certainly may be some. But the press, in general, has never been more aggressive in trying to cover politicians, bureaucracts and governments. In fact, there are some media observers who believe this aggressiveness, and resulting appearance of negativity, has led to a debilitating cynicism that drives citizens away from politics, voting and public service.

At the national level, the national press corps still conducts aggressive investigative and watchdog reporting. I think coverage of the national budget deficits has been quite effective in getting past official spin. And who would argue that the press has been asleep on the war in Iraq, on intelligence failures and on shifting policy statements from the administration? Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell would hardly agree that the press corps has been soft on them. And President Bush's attempted manipulation of the press is a hot topic in our industry and has fostered the predictable, and opposite reaction from reporters more anxious than ever to get at the facts.

At the local level, we take our watchdog role quite seriously. Anyone reading our Olympia coverage from reporter Rich Roesler know he pulls no punches and is frequently at odds with legislators and the governor's office. Betsy Russell, our reporter in Boise, is leading the fight against the Idaho Legislature's attempts to close its doors to the public and hold meetings in secret. But we are a local paper, so it will be a rarity for us to tackle significant issues at strictly a national level. We must leave that work for others.

News consumers face enormous challenges in sifting through the mass of information available to them in a 24/7, cable-saturated world. Politicians can find ready audiences for their PR-driven spin on cable networks that have political agendas and on talk radio. The Internet has spawned thousands of Web sites that promote "news" that is frequently nothing more than rumor, at best, and deliberate fiction at worst.

Nevertheless, as a First Amendment absolutist, I think the proliferatuion of media, even agenda-driven media, is good for society. The burden on citizens has never been greater. But a savvy information consumer can navigate the crowded, noisy marketplace of ideas and discern important truths. -- Steve Smith, editor

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