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M a c r o M a y h e M

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NCTimes learning "Lessons from the Cunningham case"??

This is a nice piece on how things did, or in this case, didn't evolve.

"It was a Copley News Service report in June that started the unraveling of Randy Cunningham's web of deceit.

Marcus Stern, in the news service's Washington office, detailed how Mitchell Wade, founder of the defense firm MZM Inc., paid $700,000 more for Cunningham's Del Mar Heights home that he would sell it for less than a year later. That purchase provided the cash for Cunningham to buy the gated mansion in exclusive Rancho Santa Fe.

Until then, rarely was there a negative word about Cunningham, who had won regular endorsement for re-election from this newspaper.

At the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank and center for continuing education, vice president and senior scholar Dr. Roy Peter Clark suggested that until Stern's report, the media may have lost sight of its role as a government watchdog.

Newsroom budget cuts over the years that have reporters covering multiple beats and lack of money to fund bureaus in Washington are one part of the problem, Clark said.

'Communities should hold their news organizations accountable,' he said last week. 'Not necessarily for some sort of ideological bias, but in terms of performance and level of public service.'

But the greater failing may have been in forgetting"

"Every news organization has to walk the line between skepticism and cynicism, and it appears there may not have been enough skepticism directed at this individual ---- anyone who looks at politics through rose-colored glasses is just a fool."

The adage "follow the money" wasn't done until Stern's report, something Roberta Baskin at the Center for Public Integrity said may have been the media's biggest sin.

"It's always about following the money," said Baskin, executive director of the nonprofit and nonpartisan center in Washington, which conducts investigative research and reports on public policy issues.

"You always need to look beyond what people say and what they do to see where the money is coming from and where it's going," she said.

Stern's story did just that. Until then, no media outlet in San Diego or in Washington had really taken a hard look at Cunningham and where he was getting his money and where it was being spent.

North County Times editor Kent Davy said that when Cunningham was running for re-election in 2004, the newspaper failed to look below the surface.

"If we had been much more aggressive about trying to understand his finances and his lifestyle, we might have stumbled onto the key to the story," Davy said. "The recommendations about following the money are dead-on, and that implies that we need to be doing routine record checks of people in the news so that things like the house transaction don't surprise us."

While not first with the initial story about the home sale, Davy said the newspaper "responded in a very credible manner which has significantly pushed the story along."


It seems more and more that Newspapers are waiting for the watchdog groups to do the footwork for them. This article points out that news organizations are falling out of the "watchdog" role because it is expensive and easier for them to wait for news to happen then report it. Unfortunately, it doesn't make a newspaper credible, trustworthy or unique. It makes them a tool of the advertisers and the groups that routinely hand out press releases in news format. What you end up with is local contrived propaganda. Hopefully, this segment outlines what NCtimes and the Union-Tribune should start doing, rather than what they don't do.


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