Will the truth really set you free?

“All the President’s Men” was a movie made in 1976 with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman playing the parts of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters for the Washington Post who investigated the Watergate Scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation as president.

I’d read about it at the time and watched the hearings on television. This past weekend I watched the movie for the first time and really enjoyed it.

These men were doing investigative reporting at a time when newspapers considered it a vital part of our democracy.

In today’s world there are many news broadcasts, but it doesn’t seem that any of them contain much real news. There are lots of opinions, friendly chat and updates on the lives of celebrities, but not a whole lot of information about issues that affect the lives of our citizens.

olivia6-25 Page 4A.inddPart of the reason for that is the quest for higher and higher profits.

When most of the newspapers in the country are owned by just two major entities, there are not going to be a lot of reporters covering anything.

That’s a shame, because one reporter’s work should not and cannot give complete coverage on anything. And then, if there’s one version of what has happened, we have only that one reporter’s view of an event.

This is a dangerous state of affairs.

Newspapers have to be concerned about profit. But when more emphasis is put upon profit than on informing the public, journalism no longer exists.

This is an especially difficult challenge for small local papers that have a limited pool of advertisers and usually a skeleton staff.

That’s one reason there’s so little in-depth coverage of important issues. Now that most major elected boards in the county have hired public relations officers, it’s even more difficult to get information.

In my experience, press releases from these sources are heavy on happy news but often neglect to include any information that could be construed as negative.

And unless a reporter can find a source who will explain what is going on and can find a way to verify that information, it is a hopeless state of affairs.

Public bodies have tried at times to censor local news. I’ve wondered if this happens because they are ignorant of the law or have such a sense of their own importance that they feel powerful enough to control the press.

I can’t list the number of times in my own past career I’ve received warnings about certain issues I was covering. I’ve been told “Don’t write that down.” I’ve been expected to leave out negative comments or pivotal votes.

At first, when I was younger and more naïve, I was shocked. Eventually shock wore off and I realized that these people really thought they had the right to control what I wrote.

Some officials don’t realize that they can’t legally withhold public information. They do withhold it. I suppose the idea is that the public shouldn’t know the truth about anything because it could be considered harmful to those withholding it.

That job that’s supposed to receive three bids? Well maybe the public shouldn’t know the job went to your brother-in-law because you wanted to help him out. It’d probably be better for them not to know how friends and buddies are told how much the other folks are bidding so they can come in at low bid.

What we don’t know can hurt us a lot, and it’s usually in the pocketbook.

It’s nice to read about how perfectly everything is operating. It’d be even nicer if this were true. But time and time again we see that when problems and deficiencies are covered up as a matter of course the problems grow bigger and bigger until sometimes they’re too big to hide anymore and impossible to solve without a great deal of expense and anguish.

We shouldn’t be afraid to know the truth. And we shouldn’t be afraid to speak truthfully. But that is not the way things are. That is the ideal.

We depend on journalists with skill and integrity to tell us what is happening and how it affects us.

There are still journalists out there who are trying to inform the public. It’s a shame that it grows more and more difficult to have access to facts and reliable sources necessary to report accurately and fairly what is happening in our world.