Watchdog Journalism and Democracy


Watchdog journalism involves the scrutiny of the actions of individuals and institutions in our society. The aim in this is to ensure that there is honesty and integrity in government practise. Those in power often have the ability to conceal their wrong- doing through the power that they possess. However, by upholding an adversarial standpoint a fear of public controversy or legal prosecution can be instilled into government officials to ensure a high standard of moral service.

Throughout history, a number of major events have been affected by watchdog journalism. In 1950 US Senator McCarthy began aggressive anti- communist investigations into thousands of Americans. In an effort to gain public support some investigations where broadcast live. Senator McCarthy was seen questioning an Army attorney on grounds that he had once employed a man who had previous had associations with the communist party. The attorney cut off McCarthy in a dramatic turn of events and called out, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”. Gaining an eruption of applause from the gallery, this exchange brought to close the Senators questioning and career as a respected figure

The second, and possibly most well known, is the Vietnam war and how it eventually came to end. Images released by journalists stationed in Vietnam caused public uproar in the US. The people came together and convulsed in a series of mass protests. President Johnson had no alternative but to end the war. The press and the public had won, and true democracy showed itself

In 1972 burglars authorised by president Nixon broke in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Journalists with the Washington Post assigned to the story found that the money paid to those arrested had come from the offices of the president. In their investigation the journalists were led by a Washington insider. This is significant in that it can be assumed that without this source they would not have been able to have obtained such high profile information. This also possibly suggests that ‘the myth’ of the scandal may not be true and that there may have been other intentions in the reveal of the sensitive information.

However, in my opinion the myth still serves a useful purpose. It represents the power of individual research and the value of investigative journalism as a whole.