Consider some of the work published last year by us “enemies of the people.”
The Miami Herald, along with an international consortium of investigative reporters from more than 300 news organizations, examined 11.5 million records leaked from a shadowy Panamanian law firm. The operation specialized in creating shell companies where autocrats, criminal kingpins, Russian oligarchs, sports stars, crooked politicians and so many billionaire wheeler-dealers could stash their money. Well beyond the reach of the tax collectors back home.
Here was the best of the America media, disparaged by Donald Trump as “the enemy of the American people,” exposing the corporate pipeline feeding Appalachia’s opioid crisis, championing victims of sexual assault at a Utah university, documenting unfettered agricultural pollution in Iowa, examining the lack of code enforcement that led to a deadly fire in Oakland, revealing how Vladimir Putin’s henchmen employed assassination, online harassment and the planting of fake evidence to eliminate his critics anywhere in the world.
ProPublica, which White House spokesman Sean Spicer dismissed as a “left wing blog,” teamed up with a New York Daily News reporter to document how police were evicting hundreds of tenants (90 percent of whom were minorities) from their New York homes using bogus nuisance abatement claims, never mind that criminal charges against the residents were dropped or dismissed.
Meanwhile, The New York Times examined the tattered life of a single soldier, a veteran of horrendous combat who returned to civilian life as a traumatized wreck.
Trump’s use of that particular slur, enemy of the people, was curious, given its historic context. Maximilian Robespierre coined the term as he and his Jacobins orchestrated the bloody Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. A century later, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin revived “enemy of the people” to characterize the millions he and Stalin banished to the Gulag Archipelago.
Of course, Trump has no better grasp on history than he does on feminist philosophy. (That Frederick Douglass “has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”) Chances are he didn’t really mean to suggest reporters ought to be carted off to Siberia or the guillotine.
Still, the reporting behind this year’s Pulitzers might give Trump and his perpetually angry media-hating minions a better understanding of their “enemies.”
Consider Art Cullen, editor and owner (with his brother) of the Storm Lake Times, a small-town bi-weekly newspaper in Northwest Iowa, where taking on the agricultural industry would not seem to be a savvy business decision. Yet Cullen began his series of editorials on local farming practices this way: “Anyone can see how filthy Storm Lake is, how the Des Moines River near Humboldt is a mud flow, how shallow lakes in Northwest Iowa have eroded into duck marshes.
“Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion.”
I grew up reading the Charleston Gazette-Mail and appreciating its courageous reporting, taking on West Virginia’s famously corrupt politicians, the all-powerful coal industry and unrepentant corporate polluters. Last year, the newspaper went after the pharmaceutical industry and won a Pulitzer on Monday that was a long time coming. “In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers.” And, “The unfettered shipments amount to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia.”
The Pulitzer committee cited Gazette-Mail reporter (aka enemy of the people) Eric Eyre (a former Tampa Bay Times intern), “For courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.”
So were these reporters enemies of the people or enemies of massive corporate misbehavior? Trump and his Cabinet full of billionaires might not grasp the distinction.
The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold probably caused the people, at least the president’s people, a bit of discomfort with his prize-winning reporting into not-so-very charitable spending by the Trump Foundation. Fahrenthold enlisted his own considerable Twitter following to hunt down the Foundation’s dodgy purchases, including a couple of large portraits of Trump himself, one of which turned up in a bar at the president’s Doral golf club.
Meanwhile, the Miami Herald’s Nicholas Nehamas and Jim Wyss were poring over the Panama Papers, where they discovered that at least 19 foreign nationals (a number of whom were dogged by criminal allegations) had created offshore companies used to purchase Miami real estate.
And now you know who the hell could afford all those luxury condos going up in downtown Miami.
Oh, and the Herald’s editorial cartoonist Jim Morin, a notorious lampooner of swollen-head power mongers and well-known foe of the peeps, was awarded his second Pulitzer Monday.
With enemies like these, who needs friends?