Friday, February 06, 2015

Can politicians and journalists be trusted?

Politicians and journalists can’t always be trusted. That is not a new revelation but follow me and you may be surprised where we go. 
Think of politics and my generation thinks of Watergate. Think of journalists and many people think of uncaring, unfeeling, wielders of power who cannot be touched by human feelings and who have too much power. 
I used to joke we have more responsibility than surgeons. They can only kill a patient, we can destroy a reputation. 
I decided to pursue journalism, as a sideline at first and later as a full time occupation, after spending a week in my one-room apartment, devouring books. That week in 1975 I did not come out except to buy fast food once a day and watch a movie with some friends one evening. 
One of the books I read that week was “All the President’s Men” by Woodward and Bernstein.
I was enthralled with their ability as the Good Guys to set America straight.
Of course, many other people had a different take on things — that they wrecked America by interfering with the affairs of State and the Republican Party can do no wrong. In other words, they were akin to the surgeon who kills the patient by severing the aorta while removing a cancer. 
I contacted one of my best friends from college a couple years ago. He had just retired from working in the bakery of a large grocery store near Springfield, Ill.
What was I doing, he asked.  
“I’m a newspaper reporter,” I told him. 
“Oh … one of those,” he said. 
That hurt but I understood where he was coming from. He had been through his share of problems, many brought on his own poor choices. I didn’t know but I could imagine he had been reported in his local newspaper and in ways that were not flattering. 
I’ll admit years ago I was a cynic —. If someone committed a crime they were fair game for whatever the media threw at them. If they were in politics, likewise. 
But I’ve changed over the years. I hope it’s for the better but I don’t know. 
I have heard city and county politicians mention the number of hours they spent in classes learning information needed to do their jobs. I have gone into my office after noon because I was assigned to cover the city council meeting that night. The men and women on the council had been at work since early than morning and were still working on city government business at the meeting I was covering. It finally dawned on me that they were not cut from the same cloth as Nixon, H. R. Haldeman and the other Watergate yahoos. 
I’m still not ready for a group hug with any city council or county board but I appreciated it when the mayor of Crawfordsville gave a reception in my honor when I left that city to find work here. I have a picture of the mayor and I with our arms around each other’s shoulders and I will never forget that many of his department heads stopped by for cake baked by his administrative assistant.
I attended a journalism seminar several years ago. I believe it was during one of the "Better Newspaper" programs put on by the Hoosier State Press Association. 
The speaker asked if we ever refrained from approaching the victim of a house fire out of respect for their feelings. 
Some reporters have charged ahead with no respect for anything but The Story. 
I am definitely in the group that has backed off out of respect for the people who have experienced loss. My readers don’t need to know what they mumbled while in shock as their lives were coming apart. 
My line of thought today was brought on by the resignation of our county treasurer. Sam Glover is more than a public servant; he is a friend. We have worked together on a committee to plan the Rotary Fourth of July Celebration; I called him when our water at home went out unexpectedly one evening (he was on the city council); we bought two cars from him and nearly bought a house.
When he resigned as county treasurer, I “broke” the story but I did the right thing by passing off the story instead of grabbing on to it and getting the rush that comes from breaking a big story. 
Don’t misunderstand; Sam did nothing wrong. He had run into personal financial issues during the recession. People stopped buying cars and houses and his income dropped. His personal issues meant the bond required of county treasurers would be very expensive for taxpayers.
Just the idea he had to be bonded is a great example of criminals causing problems for good people, in my estimation. He has always been and still is one of the good guys, in my book.
For the first time in my life I handed off an important story to my editor and mumbled an excuse about having to pick up my wife from work. At one time I would have jumped on that story and felt very good about telling our readers “what they need to know.” 
Linda and I went out to eat as we planned. But I kept thinking about Sam. 
My editor, Pete Wilson, did a fine job with the story. He let me look it over before he published it. I was glad he took it instead of asking me to write it. 
How far I’ve come. I hope it is in the right direction. 

Frank Phillips is a reporter for The Brazil Times.