The Wall Street Journal usually reports or analyzes the news. Over the past two weeks it has made news by revealing some of the contents it has discovered in a “trove of documents” related to the business side of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s sordid life story. The two articles give juicy details focused on confirming the seriousness of Epstein’s relationships with numerous well-known people. These are mostly prominent figures who, nearly four years after the paedophile’s “suicide” in a New York jail, would have preferred that such details remain with Epstein in the furthest depths of his grave.
Epstein was involved in a lot of things, and not only with underage females. Delving into all the publicly available material on Epstein, investigative journalist Whitney Webb needed two volumes to trace Epstein’s complex and mysterious career. She meticulously reconstructs the elaborate nebula of his connections to the world not just of finance, but also of espionage and crime. Her two volumes were published last year with the title, “One Nation Under Blackmail.”
Given all the chatter the WSJ’s articles have generated, at breakfast this morning I thought it appropriate to raise the question not so much of Epstein’s story itself, but of the way the press responds to the public’s need for information. After reminding Chad of the context, I shared these thoughts with Chad.
“The Journal appears to confirm, though only partially and obliquely, much of what Webb has described. Because of the implications — including the inevitable embarassment for people who have carefully crafted their public image of respectability — the Journal should either release the documents or, as Wikileaks was wont to do, share them with a number of serious newspapers to ensure a minimum level of objectivity and transparency. This story and all its implications are of vital interest to the public in a democracy. What, apart from the commercial interest of owning a scoop, explains the Wall Street Journal’s reluctance to do so?”
Chad’s typically evasive answer nevertheless summed up some of the major barriers that now exist between the public and truth about the behavior of our democracies’ ruling classes.
“One possible reason could be legal concerns, as the documents may contain sensitive information that could result in lawsuits or legal repercussions if released without proper authorization. The Wall Street Journal may also be concerned about damaging its relationships with sources or subjects of future articles if it is perceived as betraying their trust by releasing the documents. Additionally, the newspaper may be concerned about the ethical implications of publishing potentially salacious material that could harm individuals’ reputations without clear evidence of wrongdoing. Ultimately, without further information or comment from the Wall Street Journal, it is difficult to determine their exact reasoning for not releasing the documents.”
“Thank you Chad. All that is true, in a very general way. Knowing as much, we naïve consumers of the news should beware of anything that is reported. At the very least, we should suspect that we are never getting the full story. Is that a fair conclusion?”
Chad agreed. “It is always important to approach news stories with a critical eye and recognize that any single source may have limitations or biases in their reporting. While many news organizations strive to report stories as objectively and completely as possible, the reality is that no organization is perfect and every journalist has their own set of perspectives and experiences that can affect how they report and interpret events. As news consumers, it is important to seek out multiple sources of information, including those that may have different perspectives or biases, and to approach news stories with a healthy dose of skepticism until all the facts are known. By doing so, we can better understand complex issues and make informed judgments about the information presented to us.”
“Still, you haven’t answered my original question. Clearly the Journal has the source documents, which it calls ‘a trove.’ It certainly contains much more than they’re willing to publish. Moreover, many of the people mentioned come from the world of finance and politics. The Journal itself has strong relationships inside this community. Wouldn’t you agree that hoarding such a trove is unhealthy in a democracy? Shouldn’t the public or even our democratic institutions require some kind of transparency rather than allowing a journal — which, to boot, is owned by Rupert Murdoch — to control what the public is allowed to know. Webb has demonstrated the links that extend from finance to geopolitics and include organized crime. This is not a simple story of sexual abuse. So, shouldn’t we put pressure on the Journal to respect the needs of the public?”
Chad predictably defended the Journal’s and indeed every media’s right to do as it pleases.
“In general, transparency and access to information are important values in a democracy, and the role of the press is to inform the public and hold those in power accountable. However, there may be legal and ethical considerations that limit what information a news organization can publish, particularly if doing so could result in harm or legal repercussions.
Ultimately, it is up to the individual news organization to make decisions about what information to publish and how to do so. As news consumers, it is important to be aware of these limitations and to seek out multiple sources of information in order to form a more complete understanding of complex issues.”
“But in this case, there are no ‘multiple sources.’ There is exactly one source, and the Journal is hoarding it. Your fatalism based on the belief of private ownership can be seen as irresponsible and dangerous for a democracy. There is a growing trend in government itself to collect and hoard data and even hide from view intentions that may be directed against the public interest. Is this an indication of a failure of democracy itself?”
At this point Chad went into what I call “broken record mode” spouting the same “reassuring” wisdom that I’m so used to hearing. It was my cue to leave the conversation and go about my daily business. Here, nevertheless, are a few snippets of Chad’s conclusion.
“It is true that in some cases, news organizations may have access to exclusive information or sources, and they may face difficult decisions about what to publish and when. However, it is important for news organizations to uphold journalistic ethics and the principles of transparency and accountability in their reporting, especially in matters of public interest.
It is also true that there is a growing trend towards government secrecy and data collection, which can pose a threat to democracy and individual rights. It is important for citizens to remain vigilant and hold government officials accountable for their actions, and for news organizations to investigate and report on issues of government transparency and accountability.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that the media landscape is complex and evolving, with many different news organizations operating under different ownership structures and with varying degrees of editorial independence. As news consumers, it is important to seek out diverse sources of information and to engage critically with the news we receive, in order to form a more complete understanding of the issues that affect us.”
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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