The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism
In this sweeping, incisive post mortem, Dean Starkman exposes the critical shortcomings that softened coverage in the business press during the mortgage era and the years leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. He locates the roots of the problem in the origin of business news as a market messaging service for investors in the early twentieth century. This access-dependent strain of journalism was soon opposed by the grand, sweeping work of the muckrakers. Propelled by the innovations of Bernard Kilgore, the great postwar editor of the Wall Street Journal, these two genres merged when mainstream American news organizations institutionalized muckraking in the 1960s, creating a powerful guardian of the public interest. Yet as the mortgage era dawned, deep cultural and structural shifts--some unavoidable, some self-inflicted--eroded journalism's appetite for its role as watchdog. The result was a deafening silence about systemic corruption in the financial industry. Tragically, this silence grew only more profound as the mortgage madness reached its terrible apogee from 2004 through 2006.
Starkman frames his analysis in a broad argument about journalism itself, dividing the profession into two competing approaches--access reporting and accountability reporting--which rely on entirely different sources and produce radically different representations of reality. As Starkman explains, access journalism came to dominate business reporting in the 1990s, a process he calls "CNBCization," and rather than examining risky, even corrupt, corporate behavior, mainstream reporters focused on profiling executives and informing investors. Starkman concludes with a critique of the digital-news ideology and corporate influence, which threaten to further undermine investigative reporting, and he shows how financial coverage, and journalism as a whole, can reclaim its bite.
The Watchdog That Didn't Bark, given its in-depth analysis across the landscape, steeped in history, and Starkman's keen understanding of the business of journalism, can stand as a potentially enduring case study of what went wrong and why.
Alec Klein, director of the Medill Justice Project and award-winning investigative reporter formerly with the Washington Post
Starkman is literally a reporter's reporter. As such, he gets to the bottom of the story of how the U.S. business press could miss the most important economic implosion of the past eighty years until it was too late, and he does so with prose that is intelligent, engaging, and erudite. I recommend The Watchdog without reservation.
Eric Alterman, Brooklyn College, and media columnist, The Nation
Here is the missing piece in the financial-crisis mystery: how did our vaunted business-journalism sector manage to miss the problem with mortgage-backed investments? The answer, as Dean Starkman shows us in this amazing autopsy, is that the business outweighs the journalism and that it is getting worse, not better, as we go forward.
Thomas Frank, author of Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right
Journalism was complicit in the predation and corruption that brought down world financial markets and wrecked the lives of millions. Obsessed with shallow scoops, giddy from the laughing gas of access, financial journalists abjectly failed to connect dots, and left abusive, reckless, and criminal corporations free to drag the global economy into the abyss. Dean Starkman is the author we have been waiting for to tell this story. He not only puts forward a keen, subtle, and fair account of the journalistic default, he names names.
Todd Gitlin, author of Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives
With American journalism at sea, here comes a navigator who really knows its mission, the riptides it is facing, and the ports it must reach. Starkman tells it all with the heart, clarity, and dry wit that redeem business journalism even while showing how it lost its anchor and compass.
Jim Sleeper, former editor and columnist at Newsday and the New York Daily News
Journalists did not miss the subprime lending that spun into the devastating financial collapse of 2008. Excellent reporting was available, from the Financial Times to the Los Angeles Times to a small alternative publication, Southern Exposure. Yet Dean Starkman shows that even reporters who were on top of things buried the lead: the story was not new financial instruments, risky investments, or high-pressured Wall Street. The story was corruption. There were old-fashioned, greedy villains. Old-fashioned moralizing was called for. It would have had the advantage of being both true and fascinating. So how did so many fine journalists miss the big story? Read Starkman's powerful and disturbing analysis of how business journalism came to write for an audience of investors, not citizens. You may not share his every judgment, but this account has the advantage of being both true and fascinating.
Michael Schudson, Columbia Journalism School, author of The Power of News
As fair and balanced as a solar-plexus punch can be.
Starkman provides keen analysis of how the media failed in its mission at a crucial time for the U.S. economy.
Compelling... Starkman offers an excellent and clear theoretical explanation for some of the problems with watchdog journalism generally.
Detailed and fully satisfying...
Introduction: Access and Accountability
1. Ida Tarbell, Muckraking, and the Rise of Accountability Reporting
2. Access and Messenger Boys: The Roots of Business News and the Birth of the Wall Street Journal
3. Kilgore's Revolution at the Wall Street Journal: Rise of the Great Story
4. Muckraking Goes Mainstream: Democratizing Financial and Technical Knowledge
5. CNBCization: Insiders, Access, and the Return of the Messenger Boy
6. Subprime Rises in the 1990s: Journalism and Regulation Fight Back
7. Muckraking the Banks, 2000--2003: A Last Gasp for Journalism and Regulation
8. Three Journalism Outsiders Unearth the Looming Mortgage Crisis
9. The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Disappearance of Accountability Reporting and the Mortgage Frenzy, 2004--2006
10. Digitism, Corporatism, and the Future of Journalism: As the Hamster Wheel Turns