The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism

Nothing defined the financial crisis of 2008 as much as the degree to which it took the public — and the press — by surprise. In a world of twenty-four-hour news coverage and financial reporting, how could so many mainstream journalists, covering something so closely, miss something so big while a few, mostly outside the mainstream, got it? More broadly, what did the business press's failure say about contemporary journalism's ability to explain looming systemic problems to the public?

In this sweeping, incisive study, Dean Starkman answers those questions, exposing the critical shortcomings that softened coverage during the mortgage era and the years leading up to the collapse. The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark travels back to the early twentieth century to find the roots of the problem in business news’s origin as a market messaging service geared toward investors. This access-dependent strain of journalism was opposed by the grand, sweeping work of the muckrakers. Propelled by the innovations of Bernard Kilgore, the great postwar editor of the Wall Street Journal, these two genres merged when mainstream American news organizations institutionalized muckraking in the 1960s, creating a powerful guardian of the public interest. But as the mortgage era dawned, deep cultural and structural shifts—some unavoidable, some self-inflicted — eroded journalism’s appetite for its role as watchdog. The result was a deafening silence about systemic financial industry corruption that, tragically, grew more profound even as the mortgage madness reached its terrible apogee from 2004 through 2006.

    • Dean Starkman
    • Dean Starkman is an award-winning journalist and media critic.  An editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and the magazine's Kingsford Capital Fellow, he is the author of "The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: the Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism," a sweeping critique of business news and i...

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