The Art of Investigation in the Google Age


Most film buffs are familiar with the 1976 movie called All The President’s Men, which starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Through the years, the movie has become considered a classic film which showcases the art of investigation. The movie is a fictionalization of the Watergate scandal and the role of “Deep Throat” in the investigation, which, in real life and before the Google age, ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

What strikes most profoundly in this movie is how doggedly the main characters, Woodward and Bernstein, fight to uncover the truth. In a time where search engines did not exist, information was sorted and processed manually, which  meant that investigations entailed sifting through and skimming sometimes thousands of documents. At the beginning of their investigation, the men did not even know what it was they were seeking; they simply knew that something crooked was happening and they were determined to discover what that was.

In the age of Google and search engines, one wonders if the art of investigative journalism has been lost. Information is more freely available than it ever was and exists right at the tip of the fingers. In a world so used to finding everything one could possibly need to know on Google, it becomes easy to believe that if it does not appear in the search engine’s results, it simply did not happen.

This mindset leads to all sorts of conspiracy theories, even by former CIA agents. According to one named Robert Steele, the tech giant is “in bed with the CIA,” which hints that the government, through Google, is controlling the information available to its citizens. Interestingly enough, Steele’s quote was discovered on the Google search engine within 30 seconds.

For whatever the reason, there is information that is not available on Google, and must be discovered with an old-fashioned investigation. The act of investigation begins with somebody noticing that a few threads of his universe do not connect the right away, or a person getting a whiff of something rotten underneath what seemed so pleasant. When those holding the knowledge will not share the information, and there is no inkling of its existence on Google, the long-lost art of actually, physically searching for answers as part of an investigation comes in handy.

Investigations can be performed at a state library, through the sifting of documents or the skimming of microfiche. It can be a tiresome experience, but as information reveals itself, the small thrills of discovery make it difficult to stop searching. Without the Internet, the phone becomes not just a device for chatting with friends and playing games, but provides a real-time connection to those who might be able to assist in the investigation. A working knowledge of the justice system, which can be acquired at the library, will aid in finding addresses and filling out necessary forms such as subpoenas and Freedom of Information Act requests which may help to uncover the information your investigation seeks.

Old-fashioned investigative journalism, a la Woodward and Bernstein, is not dead, but it does require time, determination and a fair bit of stubbornness. Google does not have all of the answers, but they can be found – a fact which President Nixon certainly learned, thanks to the dogged art of investigation practiced by Woodward and Bernstein.

By Guineith Isaacs


Image by Frédéric Bisson – Flickr License

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.