This book will trace the development of the watchdog from its roots in muckraking and its struggle to win a place in the mainstream media. In a sense, I hope to write the story of the Great Story. The reasons for this historical approach are threefold: to demonstrate that accountability reporting is indeed a potent weapon on the public’s behalf; to show why its absence was so harmful during the mortgage era; and to secure its future in whatever journalism emerges from the digital disruption—because without accountability reporting, journalism has no purpose, no center, no point.
The first goal is especially important in order to rebut what I regard as facile criticisms, from both the political right and left and the digital-news advocates, that tend to dismiss all “mainstream media” as either hopelessly biased (as the right contends), uselessly timid (as the left has it), or just generally lame (as new-media enthusiasts believe). All three critiques may have some merit. Much of the old MSM indeed should be left by the wayside. But accountability reporting should always be understood as the core practice that defines and distinguishes American journalism.