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Texas Politics Needs its Watchdogs

"Don't Mess with Texas" may be a product of the state's Department of Transportation effort to clean up litter, but the adage also applies to those who act as a watchdog over Texas politics. As also holds true in many other states, issues pertaining to the Texas government often fly under the radar and are either unreported or underreported by the daily newspapers and television news broadcasts. When that happens, it's up to watchdog groups and publications to shine the light on political transgressions and hot button issues that can impact Texas and the rest of the country.

Traditional Media and New Media

The Information Age has opened the floodgates and allowed individuals to gain more access to information and utilize more communication channels than ever before. As a result, we are witnessing a sea change in the way that political stories are covered. Whether in Texas politics or on a national level, individual bloggers are often breaking stories that are unreported by the news dailies, and are cracking through the political spin and uncovering the truth about politicians and timely issues. Indeed, major news outlets are now often forced to cover stories that they would have previously ignored.

Because the Internet has to some degree leveled the playing field when it comes to political coverage, the voices of independent, progressive publications have also been amplified. Magazines like the Texas Observer have long devoted teams of investigative reporters and editors to cover issues like illegal immigration, the border fence, death penalty issues, and other timely topics, but now their coverage is resonating more strongly with the mainstream media. These publications are also defter in their integration of new media, and are more likely to have their proverbial fingers on the pulse of Texas politics.

In-Depth News, Breaking News, and Commentary

Watchdog groups and publications often stand for progress in government, and a cornerstone of progress is shining the light of truth on timely issues. For example, watchdog publications serve to connect the dots in brewing political scandals, such as the allegations that House Speaker Tom DeLay used his political action committee for untoward purposes, or Jack Abramoff's alleged connection to gaming interests and the White House. Often, these publications are several weeks or months ahead of the mainstream media in unearthing and reporting these stories.

In both print and online, progressive publications offer insightful commentary on issues brewing in Texas politics and elsewhere. The late Molly Ivins, for example, was a colorful voice that shed light on Texas-Mexico relations and "The Lege" (as she called the Texas Legislature), as well as national issues like the Iraq War.

The media - whether traditional or New Media - has a constitutional role as a political watchdog. From Thomas Paine's advocacy of American independence in "Common Sense" to the Texas Observer's coverage of racially motivated drug stings, it's clear that Americans need the independent voice that political watchdogs provide.

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