Washington Post had a piece on investigative reporting following Mark Felt’s death last week. It asked the question could “the kind of reporting that Woodward and Carl Bernstein pulled off be done today, more than three decades later, in the age of the Internet?”
The writer, Leonard Downie Jr, was one of the newsroom editors during the Watergate scandal.
Just as it was with Mark Felt and other confidential sources used by Woodward and Bernstein in their Watergate reporting, few of these officials simply seek out journalists and spill all the beans. They usually have to be painstakingly pursued and wooed, and they often are wary of providing more than snippets of information that must be pieced together over time from numerous sources for the most explosive stories. Still, it happens every day in Washington, during every administration.
But two young local reporters chasing hunches and scraps of information about a criminal conspiracy involving the highest officials in government, including the president? Could that really happen again?
There’s no reason why not, even though so much has changed since 1972. New technology actually makes investigative reporting somewhat easier. We can now use computers and the Internet to search records and other information, and we can use pre-paid cell phones for conversations with confidential sources. Of course, an administration under siege would also have more sophisticated resources for investigating leaks and marshaling counter-attacks in the news media and the blogosphere.
Reporters working today on a story such as Watergate would be unlikely to be left relatively alone, along with their sources, for as long as Bob and Carl were. Now, from day one, the story would be all over the Internet, and hordes of reporters and bloggers would immediately join the chase. The story would become fodder for around-the-clock argument among the blowhards on cable television and the Internet. Opinion polls would be constantly stirring up and measuring the public’s reaction.
Facts and rumours are so mixed nowadays you’d need an extra fine sifter to tell them apart. So don’t just dismiss a newsreport just because it’s mainstream, and don’t take everything your favourite ‘blogger source’ say as the whole truth also. Because we’re all human.