When a journalist’s home office is raided by the state of California for his coverage of a next generation consumer product that rubbed it’s manufacturer (Apple Inc.) the wrong way and a publicist is arrested by the FBI for exposing a security flaw in the website of a telecommunications company (AT&T), readers express little care or, if they do, tend to side with the large corporations, reserving what little concern they have for freedom of the press to what appear to more obvious violations of press freedoms. Same for the news media. The lack of attention these two recent episodes received from mainstream news outlets makes clear that the freedom of online business journalists is thought by many to be less vital than the freedom of those who cover more obviously political news for larger organizations. While the political media corps goes ballistic when the President ditches the press pool to watch his daughter’s soccer game, signs bills behind closed doors, or limits summit access, little outrage is mustered when bloggers face criminal charges for aggressive investigative journalism. Even legal scholars often diminish the worth of business journalism. In reference to the Gawkier iPhone story even noted law professor Jonathan Turley expresses the view that the mission of a mere gadget blog is not akin to “journalists publishing information from a whistleblower or releasing leaked documents showing corruption or public dangers.”
Yet now, just a few months later, we see that corporate activities and public dangers can collide spectacularly. Today, the corporation crushing journalistic inquiry is seeking to protect something far more menacing to the nation as a whole than a mobile phone that makes calls and plays games at the same time or an email address spewing website for an $800 electronic clipboard. There has been extensive reporting that BP has been influencing, and in some cases employing, local law enforcement agencies and the Coast Guard to harass and intimidate news organizations from covering the horrific oil spill that is devastating the entire Gulf Coast. Amid these widespread reports that BP is squelching the truth about the extent of the spill and pace of the cleanup, the public is coming to realize that allowing corporate interests to unduly influence law enforcement to trample on the free speech rights of journalists is harmful to the core of our existence.
If we’re concerned about the health of our environment, the integrity of our food supply, and the well being of millions of families whose livelihood can be impacted by the hidden malfeasance of a single corporation, we need to honor, protect, and celebrate all those who make sacrifices to shine the light on public activities, no matter if they be commercial or more directly political in nature. And no matter if the exposer of truth is modest in his approach or seeking spectacle. All truth seekers must be protected from interference by those whom the truth will incriminate. Without such a check on the power of corporate actors, the devastation caused by Enron, MCI, AIG, Bernie Madoff, and BP will be dwarfed by the harm done by future negligence that is allowed refuge in the darkness beyond even the most enterprising journalist’s reach.