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Just Who Has Earned Your Trust?

May 20, 2012
Mike Myer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Here's the thing, Mr. Strickling: Your boss, on whom you depend for your job, has to worry about getting re-elected just once every four years. Here at the newspaper, we face an election every day.

In our case, the Wheeling News-Register has been winning them for nearly 122 years. That's the difference between us - newspapers - and you politicians and bureaucrats.

I'm referring to U.S. Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling, who testified before a House of Representatives subcommittee last week.

Strickling, appointed by President Barack Obama, was on the hot seat over press reports concerning purchases of $24 million in computer network routers, right here in West Virginia. As this newspaper has reported, questions have been raised over whether the state spent far too much on high-capacity routers not needed in many of the places, such as schools and libraries, where they are to be installed.

Several members of the House panel, having read newspaper stories about the situation, grilled Strickling on it. They were concerned because federal money was used. You guessed it: The "stimulus" program is involved.

"First off, I would warn everyone, don't believe everything you read in the newspaper," Strickling urged the lawmakers.

Really? How many times have we heard that - usually from politicians upset the press reported something they'd hoped to sweep under the rug?

Leave aside the question of whether state officials wasted taxpayers' money in purchasing the routers - though, it should be noted lawmakers who quizzed Strickling are not doing that. Let's talk about credibility.

Do newspapers make mistakes? Absolutely. When we learn of errors, we publish corrections. When was the last time you recall hearing a retraction from a politician?

For many generations, though, our record for accuracy has been excellent. Normally, we get it right the first time. If we didn't, people would stop buying the newspaper - along with the hundreds of others Strickling wishes lawmakers (and, presumably, taxpayers) didn't trust.

Strickling, like so many others in government, doesn't want you to believe anything you read in a newspaper, especially if it raises questions about how taxpayers' money is being spent. He'd rather we just print his news releases and not check into whether they're telling the truth.

But you can trust us. Day after day, we're up for re-election, as it were. And we keep winning because you know you can rely on us.

How many politicians can you say that about?

There's a saying about the bureaucracy, to the effect that its denizens feel secure because they were there when the current politician in power was elected - and they'll still be there after he's gone.

Guess what, Mr. Strickling? We in newspapering feel the same. We'll be around, giving taxpayers the facts about how their money is being spent and misspent, long after you're out of office. And our readers - tens of millions of them throughout the United States - like that idea.

They don't need to be warned to not believe everything they hear from politicians and bureaucrats.

Myer can be reached at:

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