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Investigative reporter for <i>The Arizona Republic</i>
An address by Robert W. Greene, editor of Newsday and president of Investigative Reporter's and Editors Group, Inc., honoring posthumously Donald F. Bolles, investigative reporter for The Arizona Republic, as the 25th Elijah Parish Lovejoy Fellow.
My name is Greene. I am a reporter and an editor. I am here tonight to speak not only of Don Bolles, but also of the tradition in which he lived and died. It is the tradition of public service reporting. The responsible exercise of this tradition has earned the communications media its memorable moments of greatness. Callous disregard of this tradition has occasionally exposed us as venal, craven and manipulated.
Don Bolles died approximately 17 months ago at the age of 46. A bomb destroyed his car and mortally wounded him. Polles was a fighter and he fought death. But his pitifully torn body could not survive. First he lost one arm, then a leg, then another arm. He died. The subsequent history of events has shown that Don Bolles was assassinated because of the stories that he wrote. They were investigative stories and they were in the highest tradition of public service reporting.
"Don Bolles is not the only member of our media to die because he sought to find and report the truth."
Time, geography, inadequate support and local apathy--all are elements that have conspired to deprive Don Bolles of any reputation for greatness in his profession. But he was responsible, persistent and courageous. He sought out and identified those who chose to abuse and corrupt their positions of power to the detriment of the citizenry. And he died because be was doing his job. He was a good reporter, if not a great one. He was also a martyr. And martyrdom in a just cause is in itself sufficient to merit the accolade of greatness.
Don Bolles is not the only member of our media to die because he sought to find and report the truth.
There was Socrates, the preeminent commentator or his times, who sipped from the bowl of hemlock rather than retract the truth as he had reported it.
There was Christ, The Man, the ultimate teacher and commentator on the raison d'etre of existence, who chose death by crucifixion rather than renounce His truth.
There was, in our own nation, Elijah Parish Lovejoy of Colby, the editor, who persisted in telling the truth about the horrors of slavery and was torn to death at his presses by an angry, proslavery mob.
There was Gerald Bradley, the Detroit radio announcer, who was machine-gunned to death in 1932 because he planned to name the members of the corrupt cartel that was savaging his city.
There was George Polk, the network correspondent, who was mysteriously murdered in post World War II Greece when he dug too deep and went too far in reporting on the real nature of that infernal war and the real nature of the involvement of other nations in the conflict.
And, there was Don Bolles.
Others have also suffered rather then deviate from the path of truth or surrender their Constitutional rights. There was Peter Zenger in New York, the Sacramento Four, a still-blinded Victor Riesel. And today, facing detention in a Moscow, Idaho, jail, there is newspaper editor Jay Shelledy who chose imprisonment rather than to reveal his sources of information.
The work of these men, and the like work of many other men and women in the media who have paid a lesser price, represents the high water mark of our greatness. It was, I am sure, people like these and the media owners and editors who encouraged them, that our forefathers had in mind when they framed the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment singles out the press for special privilege when is comes to legal interpretations of freedom. This unique caveat was a succinct way of saying that the press--now our entire communications media--was of vital importance in our scheme of democratic government and that any tampering with its freedom to report could effectually thwart the very essence of the Constitutional design. No other craft or profession, even the law, has such a specific Constitutional guarantee of freedom.
"No other craft or profession, even the law, has such a specific Constitutional guarantee of freedom."
The debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights clearly demonstrates the thinking of the Constitutional framers. Giants, such as Thomas Jefferson, perceived the people as the government. The people were the substance. The actual structure of government and the holders of office were merely the form. If the people were to govern wisely, they must be made aware of the continuing nature of law, economics, foreign affairs, domestic policies. They must also be accurately informed as to the activities, performance and probity of those acting as their representatives in government. The only practical way in which the people could. gain this knowledge was and is through the press. The more the press ignored the form of what it was reporting and concentrated on substance, the more wisely the people could govern. Hopefully, the press would report not just what others proclaimed to be the truth, but also the truth itself.
As Emerson so aptly phrased it: "Truth is the summit of being. Justice is the application of it to affairs."
But it is the nature of government to be self-perpetuating, eventually arrogant and imbued with a sense of self-preservation. If the press were to fulfill its role in truthfully reporting to the people, it was inevitable that the press would occasionally pose a threat to government and those in similar positions of power. It is also natural to assume that government threatened by the press would seek to interdict the press. And it was precisely because of that eventuality that freedom of the press was emphasized by specificity in the Bill of Rights. For, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt remarked: "Truth is found, when men are free to pursue it." Freedom of the press, our forefathers were convinced, was quintessential to government by the people.
So, in the pursuit of truth and in the performance of public service, we have produced our honor role of heroes and organizations. It is a list studded with familiar names and situations: Pulitzer, Steffens, Watergate, Tarbell, Mollenhoff, Nelson, Hersh, The Boston Globe, Newsday, The Chicago Tribune, Fred Friendly and Edward P. Murrow, Radio Station KOY-Phoenix, Horace Greeley, and the Sacramento Bee. Large and small, all have had their moments. When the founders of our government chose to emphasize freedom of the press, there was a non-articulated but clearly expressed faith that our press would be worthy of that freedom and would accept the enormous responsibility that it entailed. This responsibility was noted by the late, Zechariah Chafee, Jr., a prominent Boston lawyer and Harvard professor. Said Chafee:
"Freedom from something is not enough. It should also be freedom for something. Freedom is not safety, but opportunity. Freedom ought to be a means to enable the press to serve the proven functions of communications in a free society."
Despite our honor role, have we merited this unique freedom? In balance, I would think not. There is hardly a college in this nation that has not produced a long succession of journalists. But less than a handful can boast a journalistic alumni with the courage and tenaciousness of an Elijah Parish Lovejoy.
In an age when more and more of our newspapers are being purchased by corporate conglomerates our value too often is judged not on editorial excellence, but in multiples of annual earnings. And, in pursuit of those earnings, we put increased emphasis or what the public wants to know instead of what it ought to know. On the corporate reward scale increased circulation figures, jumps in Nielsen ratings and surges, in ad linage, overshadow Pulitzer prizes and Peabody awards. It is no wonder in these circumstances, that S. I. Newhouse, Ruppert Murdoch and Roone Arledee play powerful roles in the industry.
"There is hardly a college in this nation that has not produced a long succession of journalists. But less than a handful can boast a journalistic alumni with the courage and tenaciousness of an Elijah Parish Lovejoy."
There are some notable exceptions to this trend. The Times Mirror Corporation, for which I work, is an outstanding example. In what is inaccurately known as the age of investigative journalism, few newspapers, radio and TV networks employ 5 investigative reporters, much less investigative teams. Few even give competent reporters the time or financial support to responsibly pursue stories of an investigative nature. Some of this is deliberate. Depth reporting and investigative reporting have been known to enrage some advertisers, lead to circulation boycotts, to precipitate expensive libel suits. On their scale of priorities too many publishers and editors place avoidance of all three high above the chance to render public service.
There is also the less deliberate avoidance. Many Publishers earning substantial profits for themselves or their stockholders squeeze-cut extra dollars by keeping their editorial staffs undermanned. Harried city editors and assignment editors, faced with short staff and gaping daily news holes, are forced to opt for the less time-consuming story--the form, but not the substance. And, in this rather general broadside, I do not excuse the editorial craft unions which, having performed a much needed job, now encourage mediocrity and punish reporters who wish to devote their own time to developing sources and improving their own knowledgeability.
How many papers are there like the Boston Globe or the Chicago Tribune that sometimes field as many as three investigative teams simultaneously in their incessant battle to scourge corruption from the local body politic? Or like Newsday, that will spend in excess of $50,000 every year to brings its readers a special voter's guide, or eight months and close to $200,000 to learn the source of heroin coming to Long Island? How many networks are there like CBS that dare to bring you the Murrow reports on Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Boston bookie expose and the Arizona Project? Very few.
Even our current heroes are not exempt. Watergate was an exception, not a rule for The Washington Post. And the New York Times so concentrated upon becoming a national fixture, that it could not hear the death rattles of its own New York City. Its current excursion into an examination of Third Avenue boutiques, Houston Street delicatessens and. the delights of a freshly-made chocolate mousse offers little in the way of redemption. These are two of our finest newspapers . No one can forget the courage that they showed in the pursuit of Watergate or the Pentagon Papers. But even they lack consistency in the public interest.
Recently, I had the honor to address a group of some 500 students at Boston University. Fired by Watergate and a vision of the communications media as it was seen by the framers of our Constitution, more than 300 of those students stated that they intended to become investigative reporters. Similar situations have been reported from journalism schools throughout the nation. What a tragedy! What cynicism we will breed in this incoming generation when it learns that the vast bulk of the communications media offers them little encouragement or opportunity to become even perceptive reporters.
"How many networks are there like CBS that dare to bring you the Murrow reports on Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Boston bookie expose and the Arizona Project? Very few."
I would submit that we have had our moments of greatness and we will have them again. But at this moment in time, most of our industry is no more deserving of special Constitutional preference than General Motors, Lockheed Aviation or the Ideal Toy Company. Our ability to present the news in form if not substance, is unparalleled. But our inability to comprehend our service responsibilities would lead a current-day Otto Von Bismarck to repeat his observation that "A newspaper writer is someone who has failed in his calling."
So bitter is our intermural competition for advertising and circulation dollars that we give only lip service--if that--to the defense of our colleagues when they are subjected to attacks upon their first amendment rights. How many newspapers and broadcasting networks filed in support of The Washington Post and The New York Times when the government sought to prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers? And where is the outraged voice of the print media in the face of continued government insistence that it has jurisdiction over the type and quality of news programs presented by radio and TV? And how intensive is the spotlight that we play upon reporters like Jay Shelledy who are jailed because they refuse to reveal their sources of information? Why else do we care so little? It cannot be ignorance of the fact that only massive collective response in the face of all First Amendment threats will keep us from being individually but systematically deprived of our freedom. The Don Bolles assassination is a case in point.
The killing of Don Bolles was the ultimate deprivation of his First Amendment rights. He was murdered because of what he wrote and because he might write more of the same. Bolles was one of a kind in Arizona. His newspaper, hopelessly co-opted by the reigning power structure, cracked his shield and blunted his sword. But he was still capable of an occasional thrust. With the death of Bolles, a powerful voice was stilled. Even if his murderers were apprehended, the assassination had served its purpose . And this successful method could hardly escape the notice of other power brokers in other parts of the country faced with similar exposure problems at the hands of the press. They are only too well aware that pawns are readily expendable in pursuit of a queen.
The inherent threat involved was more quickly perceived by the reporters of this nation than by its publishers and network presidents. And it was a reporters organization, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Group, that decided that the time had come for a collective response. The plan was to establish an investigative reporting team, broadly representative of the communications media, which would go into Arizona to expand upon and conclude Bolles work. Vengeance was not the motive. The team would not and did not work on the Bolles murder. It was an attempt to show that the solidarity of the American communications media is such that it is ready and willing to finish a reporters work anytime and anywhere to demonstrate that assassination is an Ineffective weapon against our First Amendment rights.
A nation-wide call was made for volunteers. And from this whole nation, 21 publishers, one local radio station (US-Boston) and one small TV station agreed to supply reporters and pay their expenses for periods ranging from eight days to six months. The volunteers were highly predictable: The Boston Globe, Newsday, The Miami Herald, The Detroit News, The Kansas City Star, The Indianapolis Star, The Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, The Eugene Register-Guard, The Arizona Star and other, smaller papers with a long tradition of public service.
Opposition to the project, strangely, came from two of our nation's foremost editors, Benjamin Bradlee of The Washington Post and A. M. Rosenthal of The New York Times. Bradlee. variously remarked that investigative reporters were too egotistical to work together and that it was arrogant for outside reporters to feel that they could do a better job in Arizona than the local press. History has since proven Mr. Bradlee's assessment to be incorrect.
More provocative, however, were the thoughts of A. M Rosenthal of the Times. He said, "One of the great strengths of the American press is its diversity and competitiveness. We shouldn't be getting together; if a story is worth investigating, we should do it ourselves. If you do it on this story, why not on other stories? Why doesn't everybody get together and investigate everything; you'd soon have one big press and no diversity."
As a veteran of more than 25 years in our industry, I am second to no man in my enormous respect for A. M. Rosenthal. But his reasoning in this instance was charged with big-paper elitism and totally lacking in comprehension that the Arizona Project was far less of a quest for a story than it was the first attempt at collective media response to the ultimate First Amendment challenge.
"Obviously, when it comes to profits, the American newspaper industry has no philosophical reservations about teaming up to share operational expenses."
The fact that a giant like A.M. Rosenthal could not think in these terms is, I fear, a most serious indicator of our problem. His reasoning is also curious. Because there is a trend towards economic collectivization in the American print media and it is done in the name of preserving press diversity. I refer to the pooling of production, advertising and circulation departments by some of our larger papers operating in the same cities. This practice is now in effect in 22 U.S. cities including Pittsburgh, St. Louis. Miami and Sap Francisco. The argument, as advanced in the Newspaper Preservation Act, is that two newspapers with diverse editorial voices in the same city sometimes can only survive if they pool their production costs.
Obviously, when it comes to profits, the American newspaper industry has no philosophical reservations about teaming up to share operational expenses. Nor, do I deplore this. It is the nature of our society that any business, including the media, must make a profit if it is to survive. But I seriously doubt if our industry can successfully offer maximum profit to its stockholders in head on competition with other industries and still effectively maintain an expensive public service profile.
Nor is Rosenthal's reasoning any less curious when he applied to the editorial side of the ledger. As William Sexton, associate editor of Newsday, recently noted, The New York Times is a member of Associated Press, a news-gathering collective formed by the American newspaper industry so that all members could obtain the same news stories at lower cost. And The New York Times has salesmen spread throughout the country asking other newspapers to buy for publication reportage of news events by New York Times reporters. Here, it would seem that the Times is in the business of selling news collectivization.
Mr. Rosenthal's reasoning is also taken to task by Columbia University journalism Professor Melvin Mencher in the current edition of the Columbia Journalism Review. He writes: "If the choice is between journalistic cooperation and, say, a Watergate inquiry left to a captive Justice Department, where does the public interest lie? Would appraisal of water rights in the West best be left to the attention of a state agency sympathetic to agribusiness? Finally, given a choice between waiting for a large news organization such as The New York Times or The Washington Post, to take up a subject, or forming a reporting group from smaller newspapers or broadcasting stations, isn't the pooling of resources the more responsible course?"
Naturally, I agree with Professor Mercher. The Arizona Project, of course, was unique. Newsday, for example, had the financial resources and talent to field its own team in Arizona. This was the first inclination of Newsday publisher William Attwood and editor David Laventhol. But this would have been the very story-hunting envisioned by A.M. Rosenthal. Because it was important that the Arizona Project be an industry-wide response, Attwood and Laventhol endorsed the concept of the project and gave it unstinting financial and leadership support. This same selflessness was demonstrated by all of the other media organizations involved.
"If the Arizona Project can stimulate increased interest in public service reporting and broader participation in such reporting by the American communications industry, the tragic death of Don Bolles will have become meaningful."
If smaller newspapers and radio and TV stations are to properly exercise their public service responsibilities on a local and regional basis, pool reporting on a team basis may well be the most effective and economic answer. And for even larger papers and the electronic networks selective pool reporting may be the most effective method of handling such major public quandaries as the Warren Commission Report and the Martin Luther King assassination. Reporter Carl Bernstein recently told an IRE convention that the entire Watergate story would have surfaced much sooner if the three or four major newspapers working on the story had pooled their information. "We all had a piece of it," said Bernstein, "and together, the pieces made the whole."
The Arizona Project was a pioneer experiment. It worked. So says the vast majority of the participating newspapers and CBS radio. So says all of the leading law enforcement authorities in the State of Arizona. So says such recognized experts on investigative reporting as Bernstein, Clark Mollenhoff and Jim Polk. More importantly, says the Columbia Journalism Review, the Arizona Project points the way to further experiments of its kind.
If the Arizona Project can stimulate increased interest in public service reporting and broader participation in such reporting by the American communications industry, the tragic death of Don Bolles will have become meaningful.
And on that day, when we all embrace our responsibilities to truly and courageously inform the people, we will be deserving of the First Amendment to our Bill of Rights.