Monday, February 1, 2010

Solid reporting is a politician's kryptonite

When it comes to lying, cheating and sleaze, politics is an equal opportunity employer.

Congress may argue till doomsday on health care, but dishonesty is a bi-partisan effort. Both parties have their poster boys (John Edwards, Mark Sanford) with tales that just make your jaw drop. The only thing more outlandish would be if Nancy Pelosi had made a connection with Tiger Woods.

How do these guys get this way? And how can you break a big political story?

Well, it's really easy to answer both these questions when you get inside the mind of the politician. Some of these people actually have good intentions when they're first elected, but eventually most of them get arrogant and think they're bulletproof. The longer they're in office, the more powerful they get...or the more powerful they think they are.

Don't forget, two young reporters brought down Richard Nixon.

If you're one of those young reporters who is dazzled by the celebrity of a notable politician, well, time to take the blinders off. If you're a card carrying member of either party, time to realize that there are good Democrats and bad Democrats. There are good Republicans and bad Republicans. A Republican label doesn't make a politician a paragon of family values, just as a Democratic label doesn't make a politician a flaming liberal.

When you start to realize politicians are people, that they are subject to the temptations of any human being, you'll begin to get the picture.

You wanna break a big political story? You need to follow the money, look for the wandering eye, or both.

One thing to remember about politicians; their bulletproof attitude means they often leave a paper trail. Think a politician is stealing? Get the campaign disclosure forms and find out who is contributing to the campaign... and see if there might be a connection. If XYZ construction company is dumping money into someone's campaign and that someone keeps awarding government projects to XYZ, well, you've got a story. Even if you don't think a pol is stealing, you should always keep an eye on the money.

Think a politician is cheating on his wife? Look him in the eye. If you're a female reporter you've got a built in sleaze detector as a woman anyway. If you're a male reporter and you catch a comment about women that would only be made between guys, that's a tip there's something to investigate.

Finally, know this: Politicians think they are smarter than anyone else, especially reporters. It's up to you to prove them wrong.

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