The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

(from the introduction):

I have made no criticism in this book which is not the shoptalk of reporters and editors. But only rarely do newspapermen take the public into their confidence. They will have to sooner or later. It is not enough for them to struggle against great odds, as many of them are doing, wearing out their souls to do a particular assignment well. The philosophy of the work itself needs to be discussed; the news about the news needs to be told.

—Walter Lippmann, Liberty and the News, 1920

The U.S. business press failed to investigate and hold accountable Wall Street banks and major mortgage lenders in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. That’s why the crisis came as such a shock to the public and to the press itself.

And that’s the news about the news.

The watchdog didn’t bark. What happened? How could an entire journalism subculture, understood to be sophisticated and plugged in, miss the central story occurring on its beat? And why was it that some journalists, mostly outside the mainstream, were able to produce work that in fact did reflect the radical changes overtaking the financials system while the vast majority in the mainstream did not?

This book is about journalism watchdogs and what happens when they don’t bark. What happens is the public is left in the dark about and powerless against complex problems that overtake important national institutions. In this case, the complex problem was the corruption of the U.S. financial system. The book is intended for the lay reader—not journalists, not finance aficionados—but those whom the historian Richard Hofstadter called the “literate citizen[s].” That would be anyone who wonders why an entirely manmade event like the financial crisis could take the whole world by surprise.