In the world of journalism, reporters want scoops. It doesn’t matter whether political, sports or entertainment; beating the competition is paramount, and the bigger the story, the more satisfying the feeling among staff and management.
This week, one of the most amazing scoops in history took place, and it defied all the standards, because of its sheer size and the amount of work it took to bring to fruition. It may take months, maybe even years, to fully appreciate and understand the ramifications and fallout that will take place on a global scale.
The “Panama Papers” offshore tax evasion network story started as a traditional scoop, by Suddeutsche Zeitung, a large German daily newspaper. It began more than a year ago, when reporters in Munich were contacted by someone connected with a Panama law firm that creates anonymous offshore companies across the world, many used to hide money. But because of the magnitude of documents — some 11.5 million, at least — the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was brought into the fold. Roughly 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in more than 60 nations were involved in an investigation that covers roughly 40 years of financial deceit by some of the most powerful people in the world.
And yet, one of the most surprising things about the entire fiasco is the lack of surprise we have in what has been discovered. Yes, the sheer volume of data and individuals involved is pretty amazing. But is anyone actually shocked that the wealthiest individuals in the world have been afforded (for a price) the opportunity to hide their earnings in order to not pay taxes on said financial gains? Let alone the people who were using their offshore money havens for even more illicit purposes.
It is amazingly ironic that this disclosure came within days of April 15, when last year’s taxes are due here in the United States. For years, there has been a growing disconnect between the “haves” and the “have not quite as much” and the “we have almost nothing” in the United States and across the world. This isn’t just about individuals, either. Large corporations have benefited from extremely favorable tax laws to either pay a much lower percentage of taxes, or even get refunds despite millions (sometimes billions) in annual earnings. Meanwhile, smaller companies and ordinary citizens end up paying a comparatively larger percentage in taxes.
Much of the political discord taking place in the 2016 presidential campaign is tied to this. The reason so many people are angry with government — and leaders in both major political parties — is due in large measure to the financial frustration individuals have faced over the past decade. Whether the situation is worthy of such anger is up to debate, but the world of “perception is reality” has resulted in thousands of individuals voicing their displeasure with the political status quo in a way not seen for years.
Regardless of who is elected to take over the reins next year, this is a situation that those in Washington — whether the current political elite or those elected to lead a political revolution — need to take seriously. There must be some measure of tax law fairness that gives the vast majority of us a belief that government truly is of, by, and for the people.