Better buckle up. Gannett news sites and columnist Matt Reed are reinventing crusading journalism, 21st century style. They are pushing a bill that I helped write that would amend Florida’s “Misuse of Public Office Act” to make it easier to prosecute corrupt politicians and those who aid them.
“Who would oppose this bill?” Reed asked me.
“The only people I can think of would be corrupt public officials,” I replied. The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, representing our elected state attorneys, endorsed the legislation 20-0.
Reed came to me with his project last year. He told me of a grand jury investigationconcluded in December 2010, which made recommendations to reduce public corruption in Florida. Somehow, the legislature had failed to implement any of them.
He asked me to review the grand jury report and draft a proposed bill based upon it.
I took the grand jury’s recommended language, tweaked it, and elicited comment from advisers, including Phil Archer, the state attorney for the 18th Judicial Circuit. Later, Reed interviewed Archer and me for a TV special and started publishing columns and editorials Sept. 24, making the case for change in Gannett news sites in Brevard County, Fort Myers, Tallahassee and Pensacola.
Within 24 hours of publication, state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, a former Senate president who has spent his legislative career fighting for ethics reform, stepped forward and said he would sponsor the legislation. Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, stepped up as House sponsor.
The rest of the story is now unfolding before your eyes. Reed and Gannett did not just report news about the amendment. They have pledged to you, the public, to use their power to help ensure it passes.
Focus on service
Crusading journalism has a storied legacy throughout the history of our great country. David Copeland, a professor of media history at Elon University, has written a marvelous book that chronicles the history of journalism as an agent of change. The book is aptly titled “The Media’s Role in Defining the Nation: the Active Voice.” With his permission, I will share material from his book.

In 1897, William Randolph Hearst gave this type of journalism a name. For him, it was the “journalism of action.”
“It doesn’t wait for things to turn up,” Hearst said. “It turns them up.”
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt classified similar reporting tactics as “muckraking.” Roosevelt used his bully pulpit to rail against social injustice and said “there is filth on the floor and it has to be raked.”
Whatever its name, journalists taking action have played a pivotal role in the history of the United States.
“The (New York) Journal holds the theory that the newspaper may fitly render any public service within its power,” Hearst said. “Acting on this principle, it has fed the hungry, put criminals to justice and forced by legal methods the responsibility of public officials.”
Hearst also wanted to emulate one of his peers and competitors, Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer long believed the press was “an institution which should always fight for progress and reform; never tolerate injustice or corruption.”
The watchdog function of the press, Professor Copeland writes, requires journalists to investigate perceived wrongdoings and improprieties in the name of public welfare.
Add your voice
For me, it is a privilege to participate in this project. As the son of parents who published newspapers near Pittsburgh, I know the powerful effect of crusading journalism on communities and have seen the rage of citizens against so-called public servants who dine at the public trough and then walk away unprosecuted. As a Duke Law graduate and a practicing lawyer for many years, I also know how meticulously statutes must be constructed to ensure their intended effect.
You can call your lawmakers and tell them, to quote the movie “Network,” that you are “mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.”
You can demand that they pass an amendment unanimously endorsed by Florida prosecutors.
This reinvention of the journalism of action comes not a moment too soon. Gannett and Reed have said they are going to watchdog this legislation for you and champion its passage. Too often, reform legislation dies in legislative committees and never sees the light of day.
Passage of the amendment will soon lead to prison time for corrupt public servants.
Then, I will say to Reed, “OK Matt, what’s next?
Michael Kahn is a Melbourne attorney and member of FLORIDA TODAY’s editorial advisory board.