My husband, a reporter for 30 years who now teaches journalism, didn’t jump up when the credits started to roll on “The Post,” nor did I. I won’t speak for him, but I needed a few minutes to compose myself before anyone saw how teary I was at the end.
At a time when the free press is attacked daily by a man whose oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States seems as sacred as his marriage vows, the story of newspapers taking existential risks to tell the truth worked on me like a tonic.
This is an Opinion
In his opinion concurring that The New York Times and The Washington Post had the right to defy the Nixon administration by publishing the leaked “Pentagon papers,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black declared that “[t]he press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” Most journalists will never have the opportunity to hold the government of the United States accountable, and most will never be famous — even locally. Most of us have never been forced to risk the financial viability of our publications, as The Times and Post did in 1971.
But all of us who are practicing real journalism — this mainstream stuff, with reporters and editors — are constantly looking for opportunities to serve our communities in big and small ways.
Last week, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics was sentenced to spend the rest of his miserable life in prison for molesting more than 150 young girls entrusted to his care. But Larry Nassar is only the most egregious participant in a scandal of abuse ignored and whitewashed until it was uncovered in 2016 by the Indianapolis Star.
In Arizona, an education reporter asked enough questions that the Tucson school district finally revealed what it had long denied: It did have a “blacklist” of some 1,400 former employees who would not be considered for rehire for reasons as petty as using all their vacation days. Meanwhile, the school district has depended on long-term substitute teachers because it couldn’t attract and retain enough permanent employees.
Hank Stephenson’s scoop won’t make the national news the way Nassar’s crimes did. But in its way, it could change and improve just as many lives.
Here at home, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is keeping a watchful eye on the all-important relationship between the University of Arkansas Athletic Department and the Razorback Foundation. (A suspicious proposal to lower season football ticket prices while requiring bigger donations to the foundation was abandoned. It certainly would have made it harder to maintain the fiction that the foundation is a separate, private entity unaccountable to the public.)
I suspect Arkansas’ entire congressional delegation fired another shot (and issued a press release) last week in the war on the controversial Clean Line project because our reporter, Kyle Massey, had been making a lot of calls for the story, Plains & Eastern Clean Line Appears Doomed In Arkansas, that appears on Page 1 of this issue.
I’m positive that the Legislature’s Joint Performance Review Committee invited the administration of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to explain its contract to provide physicians to Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway because of Mark Friedman’s Jan. 8 report, UAMS Shakes Up Conway Hospital Rivalry, on how that contract has tilted what would otherwise be a crosstown competition between private entities.
The newspaper industry has taken a beating (see Outtakes, Printing the Paper, and Avoiding Red Ink), but I did see some encouraging news last week. A national poll by Politico and Morning Consult found that 53 percent of respondents said they had “some” or “a lot” of confidence in newspapers. That’s nothing to write home about, but it’s better than the 47 percent who had confidence in the presidency (not merely the current president). What’s more, it was the only institution out of 15 that held steady. The other 14, including small business and religion, lost ground over the past year.
Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of one of the biggest news stories of my career: the disappearance of John Glasgow, the chief financial officer of CDI Contractors of Little Rock. Three days passed before I heard about the search that was going on at Petit Jean, and a few fruitless weeks passed before I broke a story about the accounting dispute Glasgow and CDI were having with Dillard’s Inc., then half-owner of CDI, when he vanished.
Almost every hard fact that has ever come out about the Glasgow case, other than the discovery of his remains in Petit Jean State Park seven years later, was included in that story. There was and is much speculation, since the medical examiner was unable to determine a cause of death. It still occupies my mind regularly because it’s also the least satisfying story I’ve ever covered.
Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.