Recently, three journalists tackled the question of what ails investigative reporting today. Two of them with long careers in television, Charles Thompson, a former producer on 60 Minutes and 20/20, and Bill O?Reilly, the host of The O?Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel, agreed that substantive investigative reporting on television is on the skids.
Thompson, the author of “A Glimpse of Hell,” an excellent expos? of the Navy?s effort to cover up the cause of the disastrous explosion on the battleship Iowa ten years ago, said former TV investigative reporters had told him that “substantive investigative reporting on television is dead.” Both he and O?Reilly agreed that the corporations and their executives, not the reporters, bore most of the blame.
Thompson cited the role played by network executives in spiking investigative reports. He said this was terribly demoralizing for the staff. He thought it was just as bad as running a dishonest story. In the cases he cited, the reasons for the spiking varied from concern by CBS over being sued by a tobacco company to fear that a story might result in exposure of the sexual dirty linen of the president of ABC News. O?Reilly said the big corporations had “swallowed the news departments.” He said they don?t want investigative reporting because it is expensive, draws lawsuits, and tees off the government.
Philip Weiss, a liberal New York columnist, has studied the evidence in the Vince Foster and TWA 800 cases and has written about both. He said that reporters for the mainstream media are making so much money that they don?t want to do anything that might rock the boat.
O?Reilly was asked about his own reluctance to report the evidence that Vincent Foster did not kill himself. Noting that 60 Minutes has declared that Foster committed suicide, he said, “I have to reach millions of people every day. That?s what my job is…. I can?t be painted as a lunatic. Then my credibility and my career go down the drain. I can?t fight 60 Minutes and The New York Times….All Bill Carter (of The Times) has to say is, ?O?Reilly is a lunatic?…and that will label me forever. I got to walk a wire. That?s how intense this game is….The Clinton people… know that. And they have people in the New Yorker magazine, in Talk magazine, in the Times, in the Post, in the L.A. Times. They?ve got people that can pick up the phone and say, ?You know, you ought to get this guy….Look what we got on him.? And they?ll get him.”
He said, “It?s not easy to say you got to rush in and you got to do this. If there?s a smoking gun, let?s see it, but otherwise, very few people inside the establishment are going to take on these causes…. you?ve got a lot to lose. You?ve got your career to lose. You?ve got your reputation to lose. You better be right. But I?m a person who puts stuff on the air, airs both sides of it and lets the audience decide.” We?re looking forward to getting his invitation.