‘We pursue facts, we love facts’A treasure-hunting man, Long John Silver, and a young boy, Jim, will remind anyone of the novel “Treasure Island.” After Robert Louis Stevenson published the novel in 1883, various theories and rumors spread about whether a treasure island actually exists?. It was strongly suspected that he wrote the story based on pirate legends from the Caribbean, including the Virgin Islands, which compose about 80 small islands and was a factory of imagination that fueled the dreams of treasure hunters for a long time.
And recently, the small country was confirmed to be a real treasure island. Not pirates, but the rich and powerful from around the world reportedly hide their financial assets there. The treasure hunters were not Jim and Long John Silver, but an American nonprofit investigative group. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, has obtained the secret records of the treasure island and is now releasing the names of the people from around the globe who are linked to offshore companies and trusts.
Whenever new names of the people linked to the offshore hideaways are released, media across the world become busy. As of now, tens of thousands of people from about 170 countries and territories are on the verification list.
There are about 70 Korean nationals on the list, but they ?will be exposed at a later date. An official of the consortium said the lists will continuously be made public until next year.
The Center for Public Integrity has been a subject of interest in U.S. media and academia for some time.
“For much modern political and economic life and also, alas, for much media expression, nothing is so inconvenient, so unwelcome and often so powerful as the cold truth. This, the CPI for our pleasure and for our benefit provides,” John Kenneth Galbraith, former Harvard professor, said.
“An indispensable truth-teller in a treacherous time,” Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an American historian and social critic, said about the CPI.
And the power of this small organization comes from its unique but strong operation philosophy.
It was the summer of 2004 when I visited the CPI in Washington, and a center official said it produced about 40 investigative reports with a $4 million budget and 20 full-time reporters. Today, it has a $9 million budget and 30 full-time journalists.
?Charles Lewis, who was an investigative journalist and a producer for CBS, established the center in 1989 with his inheritance money, and it has been operating since by receiving donations.
And the principle of receiving the contributions was very interesting. The center does not take contributions from the government, political parties, conglomerates, labor unions and anonymous donors. Because it could be subject to pressure of a social power and populism, the center chose not to receive money from labor unions and anonymous donors.
Then, who funds the sizable budgets? The major donors are nonprofit foundations, small entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants and doctors, the center said.
The relationship with major media was also very special. The investigative reports are freely disclosed on the Internet, but the center uses the mainstream media to the full extent to investigate and release its reports.
Powerful media from around the world participated in scrutinizing all the data on the offshore accounts in the Virgin Islands. Although it is an independent media group, the center didn’t stay on the sidelines but stepped into the center stage of the media to cooperate with other news companies.
As the center’s investigative reports were unlimited, it won praise primarily thanks to its political neutrality. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, the center exposed that the White House allowed a large donor to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom to raise more political funds. During the Bush Jr.’s administration, the center issued a report that a defense contractor who finances the Republican Party was awarded many procurement deals during the Iraq War.
The center also has a unique way of creating teams. A young journalist who wants freedom in investigative reporting, a veteran journalist and a university student intern work together on team projects. Passion, energy and the spirit for challenge allow them to achieve great journalism at a low cost.
The center mainly publishes in-depth investigative reports on politics, accountability, environmental issues, the justice system and national security. A team usually consists of three to four people who investigate one subject for more than six months. After their investigation is done, they post the results on the Internet and publish a book, containing a report that is as long as a novella or a full-length novel. They call it a media project, but it operated more like a research institute.
The center also seeks to achieve objective, empirical and in-depth public integrity, and it sends a serious message to a society that has long been tainted by political interests, profiteering and populism. It is small, but open, and its effective modus operandi sends an important message that will benefit the people who are a member of an organization or who want to establish one.
I still remember the remark that I heard from a senior official of the CPI nine years ago. “We pursue facts, and we love facts,” he said.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Kyu-youn