By Bryan Boyhan
After 50 years in journalism, what have you learned?
My specialty has been investigative reporting, and what I’ve learned is what I picked up way back, when I was an intern at the Cleveland Press. The Press was a hot bed of investigative reporting. It was founded by E.W. Scripps, who was a leader in muckraking, and in 1960 the culture he created was still there.
When people called in with a story, if it was a real story of inequality or injustice, he gave it to a crew of reporters. What I picked up was, when you actually expose an unfair situation, half the time there’s a resolution. Investigative journalism, muckraking, works.
Written over the door to the Cleveland Press is: “Give people the light and they’ll find their own way.” What I’ve found, when you give people the light — for example the proposed highway on Fire Island, or the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant — and give them straight information, they’re intelligent enough, fair minded enough, that there can be a resolution.
What is the biggest threat to journalism today?
I just did a piece on Rupert Murdoch. The press is supposed to be independent, and, as academics call it, a libertarian press is supposed to be a check on power. It shows how flexible the system is that, when big corporations started gaining so much power, the press took on corporations. The press now needs to be flexible enough to take on scientific and technical power.
Benjamin Franklin saw the role of the press as not just a stenographer, but something that would challenge government.
The challenge now is someone like Murdoch, who is so politically powerful. The guy is so extremely political. One of the problems with our system is, if you have the money you can buy into it. When someone like Murdoch gets in you can corrupt the system. That’s one threat.
A second threat is, when you have little competition, the media gets fat and lazy.
The third thing is, the biggest thing since the typewriter is the Internet. We’re having a media revolution. What concerns me is government’s attempt to squelch this great new media form.
You’re reputation is as an investigative journalist. What do you think we should spend more time investigating?
The biggest horror stories, and we’re not doing it; Fukushima for example.
The stuff is hitting the California coast. There is a finding of mortality in the U.S. as a result of fallout over the past year. About 22,000 excess deaths they’ve found attributable to fallout since Fukusihima. This is a huge story, but the Washington Post said last week in an editorial that Fukushima was a non-catastrophe. I mean c’mon.
A 2009 study concludes the excess deaths from 1986 to 2004 as a result of Chernobyl were about 985,000. Dr.Alexey Yablokov, an author of that study, feels that Fukushima will be worse.
At Fukushima there were three reactors that went down. Dr. Yablokov, who was Gorbachev’s and Yeltisn’s consultant on the environment, estimates there will be more than a million deaths. Nobody’s writing about his.
We’re seeing the nuclear industry and people in government close to the nuclear industry saying people are not going to die from nuclear energy. In the U.S. we have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approving one after another of the same type plant as in Fukushima. Scripps would have had a team of journalists on this.
It took decades for the truth to come out about the dangers of smoking. I’m afraid it’s taking decades for the truth to come out about nuclear energy. Show people the light.
What is your advice to young journalists?
There’s a concern among my students in terms of daily newspapers dying. I tell them there will always be an active and vibrant press. I encourage them all to go into new media and community newspapers. The press just seems to get bigger and bigger, media is becoming a greater force,
Keep your moral compass; it’s so damn important to democracy.