SAN FRANCISCO – Peter Coyote still thinks of the days when his father, Morris Cohon, would bring seven newspapers to their New Jersey home. Good papers. He thinks of reporters like Mark Danner and Gary Webb, guys who wrote about the El Mozote massacre and how Contra supporters helped contribute to the crack epidemic.
And he says it’s a bygone era.
“That’s why I’m angry all the time,” Coyote said.
In Coyote’s opinion, the media has lost its bite, its watchdog capability, its ability to rake the muck. He can’t identify when it happened or necessarily why, but he said the press was hurting the public because of its lack of investigative reporting.
Coyote, a San Francisco resident actor, writer and voiceover specialist, has an example of how the media is losing its watchdog capabilities. He investigated a story he claims is legitimate and tried selling it to Esquire. The magazine has so far refused to publish it.
It started in late October. Coyote read the story about how the U.S. military invaded Syria, reportedly killing a terrorist, Abu Ghadiya, but also seven civilians.
The stories all had Washington datelines with unnamed sources. Nobody published a picture of Ghadiya’s body. Coyote didn’t buy the death and wanted to investigate.
He went to Syria and Lebanon with a progressive journalist friend. After a series of interviews with Syrian generals, Iraqi opposition, former CIA agent Bob Baer and villagers in Al Sukariya, Coyote pieced together a story about what happened and said the government erred, that it only killed innocent civilians.
The U.S. Department of Defense didn’t return calls when contacted about the story.
Coyote worked with editor David Granger. Esquire won’t publish it for now. Coyote said it was because they didn’t have enough information from the American side about what happened.
And Coyote believes that’s where media fail.
“If you don’t report the story because you can’t get an official source or a European or white-skinned eyewitness,” he said, “you’re offering de facto censorship to the government.”
That censorship is built-in for people in media, he said, a Washington Consensus of sorts about what the press can publish that took away from investigative journalism.
“I think we need to stretch it,” Coyote said.
Coyote admitted he was no expert on journalism, but he does have some ideas. For one, admit bias. Include more information about reporters than just the name. And of course, get rid of that Washington Consenus-style censorship.
Coyote and his longtime friend and Hearst Newspapers executive, Philip Bronstein, have had many discussions about modern media. Bronstein would like newspapers to keep their objectivity, but he does agree that investigative journalism is going the way of the polar bear.
“You do those pieces and you can tick off advertisers,” Bronstein said. “I think it’s an endangered species.”
Coyote bemoaned the fact that too many Americans couldn’t read a bus schedule or find Iraq on a map. He believes those people need direction, and they need it from the press.
“I think human survival is at stake,” Coyote said.