President George W. Bush shakes hands with “Commander Bobby Thompson’’ of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Also pictured is political consultant Barry S. Edwards, at a 2008 Republican fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Good journalism illuminates and reveals by telling an individual story that helps us understand the bigger picture in all its complexities.

I want to turn you on two pieces of good journalism.

In March, the St. Petersburg Times wrote a piece about a group called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.

A supposedly charitable, tax-exempt organization that helped out Navy veterans, the group was headed by a board of 85 distinguished people.

But when the Times tried to find some hard information about the group, it was like walking into a fog bank.

The only person they found was a man named Bobby Thompson, and he wasn’t who he said he was. The 84 other distinguished people were either dead or never existed.

Subsequent stories revealed that the organization may have given thousands to veterans — but handed over millions to politicians. It was actually funneling money to NAVPAC, Thompson’s political fundraising committee.

As Times reporter Jeff Testerman and researcher John Martin doggedly followed Thompson’s trail, there were investigations and indictments.

The latest Times story, published Monday, put it all together in a spellbinding, maddening tale of the Wild West nature of political spending.

Read the NAVPAC story. Then tie it to the U.S. Supreme Court’s all-time gaffe — the extremely divided decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.  That ruling effectively dismantled regulation of political fundraising by declaring political spending by corporations is an expression of free speech.

Put the two together and it will — or should — make you fear for the future of our democracy.

That’s good journalism.

And then there’s The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald’s almost year-long investigation into child trafficking in Haiti.

Haiti is a place so plagued with problems and corruption that it can be overwhelming to most of us. So we simplify it: Haiti … earthquake … tragedy … too bad. Or we just turn away.

The Herald’s Jacqui Charles and El Nuevo Herald’s Gerardo Reyes didn’t just drop into Haiti, write about the earthquake and fly away. They followed children who were fleeing earthquake devastation and found a story of child trafficking, abuse and slave labor.

It is heartbreaking and compelling. About as far as you can get from simple. And something you certainly can’t turn away from.

Good journalism.

Enjoy.

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