Many years ago, Bob Packwood represented Oregon in the US Senate despite a veritable career of sexual assault, often carried out in the US Capitol Building. Although the Oregonian, the largest newspaper in the state and one which likes to bill itself as the paper of record for Oregon, had the story, they declined to take it to press. IIRC, one reason for that decision was that they didn’t want to influence Packwood’s reelection bid by printing the story too close to November.
The Oregonian’s slogan at the time was, “If it matters to Oregonians, it’s in the Oregonian.” Naturally enough then, when the Washington Post printed the story of Packwood’s serial predations one immediately began to see bumper stickers around Portland stating, “If it matters to Oregonians, it’s in the Washington Post.”
This phenomenon isn’t unique to the Oregonian, however. There’s an old expression, “Don’t shit where you eat.” The message of the metaphor is that you don’t want to make a mess of the place where you live, because you’ll hurt yourself in the process. Though journalism writ broadly does like to hold powerful figures to account, it doesn’t like to do so if that’s going to make a mess of the places where journalists have to make a living.
As a result, it can sometimes be easier to get good, honest analysis of how fucked up your local situation might be when reading a news source based far away. The problem here is that the honest assessment and willingness to tell the truth even if it makes a local mess is combined with a lack of access to local facts. It’s simply harder to get all the details necessary for the analysis, even if it’s easier to do the analysis honestly once the facts are in place.
But every once in a while you’ll get good writing about your local situation in a foreign source that also managed to get access to all the most important facts, and when that happens it’s often the best reporting you can read.
Today, courtesy of Wonkette.com, I found my way to reporting in The Guardian on police violence in Los Angeles. The whole piece is worth reading, but the conclusion takes one’s breath away:
Lopez knew she wanted to get in engaged in local activism after watching George Floyd’s death. In June, she wrote to the mayor of Ontario, the southern California city where she lives, and outlined her own experiences with police over the years and the ways officers mistreat Black families like hers. She called on city leaders to stand up to systemic racism: “I tell you about us so that you are convinced that we matter.”
On 10 June, a police official responded to her email, thanking her for her words, but suggesting the George Floyd tragedy was unique and did not represent officers’ behavior.
The following day, police killed her father.
California god damn.