Imagine that you are in your early- to mid-twenties. That you are talented, ambitious, and assertive. That you recently graduated from college, where you ran the news section of the student paper.
What reason would you have to become an investigative journalist?
*Money. Maybe fifty years ago, but not today. If you personally aren't saddled with loans, then your parents are quietly wondering what will become of their $30-$150K investment. Either way, it makes no financial sense to join the local paper instead of a consulting or investment firm.
*Idealism. Twenty-five years ago, certainly. Today, not nearly as much. Two reasons for the change: 1) in 1984 the FCC began significantly relaxing ownership limitations, sparking a twenty year wave of media consolidations; 2) roughly a decade later, the public began noticeably losing its faith in the sanctity of "reportorial privilege." Each of these factors is culminating in the Plame case (Matt Cooper's magazine, Time, is owned by the media conglomerate Time Warner Inc). The end result? For someone who's young and idealistic, it's exceedingly difficult now to see the press as a way to serve the public good.
*Obsession. Thankfully, now as ever, yes.
As I hope this illustrates, for my generation the Plame investigation is not about Karl Rove or Judith Miller or Matt Cooper themselves. It is about the scandals that will happen when we are their ages, and the many reporters who won't be there to uncover them. The Judith Millers will still be around, sure. But we will have lost the Coopers -- the men and women who entered the press not because they loved it, but because they found it modestly enjoyable and saw in it a way to make a positive impact.
Needless to say, that loss is a shame. We'll surely need all the Coopers we can get.
I'd like to retract the rhetorical coda in my last post. Although I think there needs to be a place for flippancy in our public discourse -- and especially so on sites such as this -- the impudence of that line is nonetheless something I personally regret.