The headlines echo of the not-so-distant past this morning. Yesterday, media outlets around the globe began to report on the Paradise Papers, a massive leak of documents detailing the offshore investments of politicians, business tycoons, and corporations. Le Monde, which dedicated 12 journalists over the past year to the multi-outlet investigation, writes that the probe “shines a new light on the black holes of global finance.”
This is the second time in less than two years that the financial details of some of the world’s richest and most powerful individuals have been released to the public. In April 2016, the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung first reported on the 11.5 million leaked documents known as the Panama Papers. The same publication is again at the center of the latest reporting effort with the assistance of more than 380 journalists working at some 90 media outlets in 67 countries.
The Paradise Papers are yet another coup for investigative journalism. Like the Panama Papers, these documents single out key figures in global politics and business, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and even the Queen of England. There is also a new focus on the fiscal and investment strategies of some of the world’s top corporations, including Apple and Facebook.
What is the perfect chemical mix necessary for current events to provoke a watershed moment?
As with the Panama Papers, the ensuing scandal following the Paradise Papers’ release will impugn a fair share of politicians and business leaders. But whether the revelations will undo careers is another story. In 2016, for example, Australian Prime Minister Michael Turnbull, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Argentinian President Mauricio Macri appeared in the Panama Papers. All three still remain in office.
Though of a wholly different nature, yesterday's mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, also awakens a feeling of having been there before. With 26 killed and some 20 more wounded, this was the worst mass shooting in the history of Texas. The shooter, identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old who was discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 2012 for allegedly assaulting his wife and child, was pursued by two locals and appears to have been killed in the chase.
The age of the victims, between 5 and 72, as well as the fact that eight members of the same family, including a pregnant woman, were among those killed, underlines the horror described by witnesses' accounts. "People covered in blood and screaming. It was pandemonium everywhere," one witness told CNN. But these horrific scenes keep repeating themselves across the U.S., from Columbine to Newtown, from Orlando to Las Vegas, without ever leading to changes in policy that might help prevent others, most notably of the evident need for stricter gun control laws.
Whether it is a new report of mass inequalities in wealth and fairness or real-time coverage of the latest mass shooting, we read (and write) articles these days with a bitter aftertaste of futility. Each leak and each shooting reinforce the public’s perception that the status quo is simply too entrenched to budge.
Besides such basic elements as bloodshed and hypocrisy and a first blast of public outrage, what is the perfect chemical mix necessary for current events to provoke a watershed moment? Perhaps we are seeing it play out in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Four weeks after the first report was published about the Hollywood producer, a rolling series of revelations of similar accusations has kept the questions of workplace harassment and sexual assault still very much in the news. But even here, it remains to be seen if the outrage will be enough: Inscribing lasting change in society is always harder than writing tomorrow’s headline.
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