Darts & Laurels

The Phoenix's ashes, Weil's catch, the WSJ's 'experts,' etc.

Laurel to In These Times, for exposing how, in the face of tough economic times, state legislatures are slashing budgets for agencies that enforce minimum-wage laws. The result is that some of the most vulnerable people in society—like the Virginia house painter who was facing eviction after a contractor shorted him $1,000—are getting screwed out of their already meager earnings.

Laurel to The Boston Phoenix, which succumbed in March to the economic forces roiling the industry, for nearly a half-century of independent journalism and many launched careers (Charles Pierce, Susan Orlean, David Denby, etc.).

Laurel to Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil, for his great catch on the wrist slap administered by the Justice Department to Ernst & Young for helping 200 clients use illegal tax shelters to cheat the government out of billions of dollars. At the bottom of the document spelling out E&Y’s chicanery, Weil notes, was this love letter from the US Attorney’s Office: “The wrongdoing in this case by a small group of professionals at E&Y represented a deviation from the more than 100-year history of ethical and professional conduct by E&Y and its partners.” After getting no comments from the US Attorney’s office and Ernst, Weil details 19 serious settlements, charges, and sanctions against the accounting firm over the last two decades.

Laurel to scholars Riley E. Dunlap, of Oklahoma State University, and Peter J. Jacques, of University of Central Florida, for their study that links a rash of new books denying the reality of manmade climate change to conservative think tanks, including the Heartland, Cato, Marshall, and Competitive Enterprise institutes. (There have been 108 such books between 1982 and 2010, with half appearing since 2005.)

Laurel to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for its landmark series on offshore tax havens that has law enforcement scrambling and scofflaws sweating from Mongolia to Germany, Greece to the US. The investigation illustrates how shadowy firms that specialize in setting up shell companies to anonymously hold foreigners’ assets make it possible for fully one third of the world’s wealth to reside in offshore jurisdictions—some of it legitimately so, much of it not. The project involved 86 journalists from 37 news organizations—including The Washington Post, Le Monde, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., and The Guardian—and relied on 2.5 million records relating to 120,000 companies. The philanthropically funded consortium was launched in 1997 as a project by the Center for Public Integrity. The idea was to foster collaboration among news outlets to extend the center’s watchdog journalism to cross-border issues.

Dart to The Wall Street Journal, for leading off its March 21 “The Experts” column—Should People Buy Long-Term Insurance? was the question of the day—with answers from gameshow host Pat Sajak and actress Morgan Fairchild, neither of whom apparently knows much of anything about the subject. Sajak’s answer began, “I can’t speak with much authority on the advisability from a financial perspective,” and then proceeded unhelpfully from there. Fairchild had sense enough to stick to the obvious: “Consult a good financial planner for advice.” Got it. Thanks.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.