- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Roberta Baskin was preparing to begin her job as a reporter for the PBS newsmagazine “Now” in February 2003 when she got a call from her new boss, Bill Moyers.

The show was trying to expose a quiet plan by the Justice Department to expand the Patriot Act. Would Ms. Baskin mind starting work a little earlier than scheduled so she could help nail the story down?

No problem, she told Mr. Moyers.

Good, he said — then gave her 48 hours to get the job done.

So began another adventure for the fearless Ms. Baskin.

Over the next two days, she showed up unannounced at the home of a high-ranking government official she needed to question; had the same confidential source toss a sensitive document she needed into the back seat of her car because he didn’t want to hand it to her; and ambushed Sen. Charles E. Grassley at Union Station, where the Iowa Republican gave her a crucial sound bite before boarding a train.

Ms. Baskin has thrived on this kind of high-pressure, cloak-and-dagger reporting since the 1980s, when she led the I-Team at WJLA-TV (Channel 7), the local ABC affiliate.

So what is she doing here, in a glass-encased office at the Center for Public Integrity, the nonprofit watchdog group that recently named her executive director?

“Because this is just about the only place doing serious investigative reporting,” she said.

Charles Lewis, formerly a “60 Minutes” producer, founded the center in 1989. It has become a respected bastion of independent journalism with an annual budget close to $4 million and 32 staffers.

The center has broken stories other news organizations were too lazy or too timid to tackle, including the Lincoln Bedroom scandal during the Clinton administration and Enron’s donations to President Bush’s campaigns.

The center turned to Ms. Baskin when Mr. Lewis, a longtime friend, announced his retirement last year. She began the job Jan. 31.

Ms. Baskin wants to make the center’s research more accessible and position the organization as a source for information people can’t get elsewhere.

“Business values are trumping journalism values today. It’s creating opportunities for the center to fill that void,” she said.

After WJLA, Ms. Baskin worked at CBS News, landing in hot water in 1998 when she accused her bosses of derailing an update on working conditions at Nike because the sneaker company was sponsoring the network’s Olympics coverage.

She left “Now” last year amid budget cuts.

Ms. Baskin concedes she has much to learn about fund raising, a critical skill for any nonprofit executive. “I’m candid about my strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

Mr. Moyers has a lot of confidence in the reporter who pulled off that Patriot Act expose in just two days.

“Roberta has got the old-fashioned reporter’s instinct for news. She doesn’t take the first response as the final response,” he said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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