Journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein only come along every few generations. Doggedly investigating, exposing and, ultimately, bringing down a U.S. presidency made the two Washington Post reporters household names. (Being portrayed in the movies by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively, probably didn’t hurt, either.)
But what Woodward and Bernstein accomplished from 1972 to 1974 stands as the yardstick by which all other reporters are measured when it comes to shedding light on the truth, especially when it comes to the government at all levels, from the White House to the statehouse to city hall. It’s what is known as the Sunshine Law, which requires certain proceedings of government agencies to be open or available to the public.
Despite this law, there are still some agencies and those who serve those agencies who believe they are above the law, that they don’t have to be transparent about how they conduct business. The public is entitled to pursue the truth behind such clandestine shenanigans, and can ultimately prevail. But it is the media, which is the watchdog for the public, that is ever vigilant —and indefatigable — when it comes to holding public entities such as government accountable. The public should expect and accept nothing less.
While those who try to operate outside the law surely view media pursuits to bring the truth to light as meddling or malicious or even fake news, journalists are simply doing their jobs, doing what is expected of them, holding government’s feet to the proverbial fire. If a citizen breaks the law and is apprehended by law enforcement officials, there is no malice or revenge. They are simply enforcing the law. That’s how the Sunshine Law works, too.
To be sure, most government entities and those who choose to serve are more than happy to comply with open meetings and public records, not necessarily because it’s the law, but because they believe government should be transparent. Transparency instills confidence, trust and pride in those who serve our communities, our state and our nation.
While Woodward and Bernstein are known for what they achieved on a national stage, those who work on a smaller stage — such as The Daily Times — are brethren with the same printer’s ink flowing through our veins. Just as might does not make right, smaller newspapers deserve no less respect. What we do in covering local governments in Scioto County is just as important as what Woodward and Bernstein did. Our results just may not be as far-reaching.
When it comes to exposing the truth and making sure our government officials are doing what we elected them to do, sunshine is a perfect disinfectant. We, as journalists, aren’t trying to focus on what’s wrong, just what’s right.
Hold those in power accountable. Expect truth and transparency. Realize that the media has the same expectations and commitment to accountability. We don’t hear gossip and rumors and run with it. We check our sources. We dig for the facts. We expose our pusuits to the cleansing sunshine. And the truth shall set you free.