The Most Trusted Names in News (Really!)

American journalism is not represented by the media establishment, which has essentially been co-opted into an extension of government-sponsored propaganda, or else has demeaned itself into a Vanna White-style superficiality, spinning content in order to sell another product.

But in a media era where propagandists and shills are ascendant, there remain a number of journalists who sustain the principles on which our free press was founded: to protect the governed from their elected officials and from the unelected corporate elite, always determined to skirt the law and undermine the social contract.

What the mainstream press has shamelessly proven -- more so over the last five years, is its complete contempt for its readers and viewers -- by presenting nifty parcels for purchase, as though facts can be diced and repackaged and still maintain their original meaning.

Or as the legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow put it: "If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable."

While attacking the pundits is something all too common, and usually well-deserved, it is worth taking out the time to praise those who are the most "fair and balanced" and those who are really "the most trusted names in news."

There are people, not institutions or organizations, who I trust and turn to when I need to know the truth or need clarification. Sometimes I simply am comforted by their presence or byline. Just knowing they are out there, that I am not alone, is enough.

In no particular order, here is my own list of reporters worthy of praise:

Facts are not fair or balanced:

  • Keith Olbermann -- the anchor for MSNBC's Countdown: If we had today a moral equivalent of Edward R. Murrow, Olbermann would be it. Olbermann respects his audience and speaks to them as peers about complex issues and events. He is eloquent, passionate and probing. He is also someone who takes the time to connect the dots and provide historical context in order to help make sense of the information he is tasked with delivering. There is sarcasm and silliness too, which nicely lightens the load after what are sometimes very emotionally draining reports. Above all else, he is my hero because he stands in front of the schoolyard bully and defends those who cannot defend themselves. A good example of all these traits can be found in his look at the Nexus of Politics and Terror

  • Lou Dobbs -- the anchor for CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight: While we may philosophically disagree on various issues, such as immigration, and are politically of different backgrounds, his screaming demands for corporate accountability, for government oversight, for the "damned facts" of it all, is breathtaking. He is the quintessential skeptic, who comes riding in just in time to say, "What the hell is going on here?"

Courage is a prerequisite to be the "most trusted"

  • Sy Hersh -- investigative journalist for the New Yorker: Sy is the role model on which all investigative journalism should be based. He is meticulous, ethical, defiant, and fearless. He also lets me annoy him periodically. His work does not simply "run" or simply "get published," it arrives like a slap of reality across the befuddled face of complacency. Take a look at a few of my recent favorites, which went kaboom all over the sanitized news rooms of American media: The Stovepipe of Iraq prewar intel, breaking the Abu Ghraib story, and the story of military brass saying "no" to Iran in the Last Stand.

  • Helen Thomas -- senior White House correspondent for Hearst Newspapers: This smallish woman has single-handedly taken on whole administrations, made grown men nearly cry, and arrogant leaders nearly wet themselves. She is demanding but not arrogant, patient but not willing to sit quietly through doublespeak, respectful but not yielding, and she has managed to outlast most journalists and politicians in her 50 years of service to this nation. She is my hero from beginning to end. In fact, the first time I called her to ask about a story I was writing, I spent the first 10 minutes shivering, crying and generally making an ass out of myself. I spent the next three days telling anyone who would listen that I had spoken to Ms. Thomas.

  • Michael Smith -- defense and intelligence reporter for the London Sunday Times: While for most reporters and media organizations the revelation of the so-called Downing Street Memos was "old news" before they ever even reported it, Michael Smith took on the archaic States Secrets laws of the United Kingdom and managed to publish the most damning proof of a cooked motive for the Iraq war. "Fixing the facts around the policy" has since become something that the Bush administration does on all fronts, both foreign and domestic, and at times as a first choice method. Smith has been an investigative journalist for over 20 years and is considered by most to be the Sy Hersh of Britain because of his meticulous reporting, his care in dealing with sensitive subjects and his reputation for decency and humility.

  • Laura Rozen -- intelligence and national security correspondent for American Prospect: If Sy Hersh has a female counterpart, then Rozen is it. She is the muckraker's muckraker: gutsy, demanding, skeptical and aggressive. She drops her bombshells and goes about her day with no pretense or self-hype. She is methodical, careful and trustworthy. If you want to know what the Defense Department is up to, then Laura Rozen is the reporter you read right after you read Hersh. From chasing the Iran Contra II scandal to the 2001 Anthrax attacks, she is one of maybe three women with the balls to take on these stories.

  • Robert Dreyfuss -- national security freelance reporter and contributing editor for the Nation: Having climbed into Dick Cheney's lair and emerged to tell about it should be enough to land Dreyfuss on both the courage list and the no-fly list. He has demanded to know on our behalf what our government is doing, and he has reported his findings without whitewash, presenting the facts but also providing context and raising serious questions about the world in which we live. From the Neocons and their Lie Factory to the Pentagon's New Spies, Dreyfuss does in fact report so that we can actually decide.

Digging leads to scooping

  • Mike Wilkinson, James Drew, et al, on Coingate -- Toledo Blade reporters: The sleuths over at Toledo Blade were nominated for a Pulitzer for the investigative series that broke open the scandal of money-laundering, bribery and all sorts of hanky panky going on in Ohio with the state's Republican leadership known as Coingate. I suspect that we will see much more national-level investigative work from these reporters.

  • James Meek, Ken Bazinet and Thomas DeFrank -- New York Daily News: The paper of note, the new "Grey Lady," the now nationally acclaimed New York Daily News is largely the result of Meek, Bazinet and DeFrank's taking on national political stories that one would have expected from the New York Times and doing it without having minders at the White House or sitting on important news for nearly a year. Beyond that, the New York Daily News is a paper that has not abandoned its city and the victims and heroes of 911, doing a tremendously brave series on the toxic air at and around ground zero and calling on the mayor to do his job.

  • Ken Silverstein -- Washington editor for Harpers: He has taken on Riggs Bank, ExxonMobile and the CIA, and all before breakfast, usually while the mainstream press is busy running after a missing blonde woman. He is gutsy and solid in my book.

  • Charlie Savage -- Homeland Security and Supreme Court reporter for the Boston Globe: Taking on the unitary executive theory used by the Bush administration to justify its own reading of the Constitution, Savage made waves when he exposed the extent of the Bush signing statements, which number around 750, more than all the other presidents put together. Having not yet been set up by Rove, Savage is a solid bet on future news stories.

These are some of the better known examples, but by all means not all of my personal heroes are listed. Special mention goes out to Walter Pincus and Dana Priest at the Washington Post, Warren Strobel at Knight Ridder, and the expert on NSA dealings, Jim Bamford.

But there are yet more brave, determined, honest muckrakers and opinion makers, some of whom exist in the mainstream, but most in the alternative press:

Dahr Jamail, Robert Fisk, Christopher Delisio, Justin Raimondo, Naomi Klein, Peter Arnett, Andrew Gilligan, Dan Rather, Max Blumenthal, Jim Moore, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Molly Ivins, Bob Scheer, Bob Kohler, Brad Friedman, Rich Sale, Greg Palast, Josh Micah Marshall, Danny Schechter.

Of course this could go on and on, as there is so much talent to admire, so much courage to respect, and so much more to learn.

In the end, however, we all have to determine who it is we trust on our own.
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