Why We Should Care About Taxes … And Journalism

By FRANCESCA MIRABILE

When Jesse Drucker, an international investigative reporter for Bloomberg News, encouraged his former Wall Street Journal (WSJ) colleagues to revolt against Rupert Murdoch’s empire, he already knew journalism had to be used as a weapon for good. “Journalism can fix things that seem wrong,” Drucker says. “It’s a tool to correct world problems: homelessness, poverty, corruption – whatever they might be.”

In his office on the fourth floor of a building in Piazza del Popolo, Drucker explains the reasons why he chose his career. Born and raised in New York City, Drucker interned at The Village Voice when he was only a high school junior. “The Voice was very different 26 years ago,” says Drucker.

“It dealt with more serious political journalism than now, and I worked as the assistant of an editor who was very passionate about gay issues.” This is where Drucker developed his own passion for the problems that were not commonly talked about in mainstream media, especially those surrounding homosexuality and the outbreak of HIV throughout the country.

While majoring in History at Columbia University, Drucker organized homeless advocacy groups to help out in the community. Drucker jokes around, “I never wrote for the school paper, but I worked for the Radio Station at Columbia – although my main job was to play records.”

Then, for four years, Drucker worked as a fact checker for “The New York Observer.” At the Observer, Drucker met one of his mentors, Peter Kaplan, who opened his door into the world of journalism. Drucker obtained a reporting job, covering city hall at the Newark-based “The Star-Ledger.” The gig allowed Drucker to investigate and report on the issues that he was most passionate about – those ignored by the rest of the public.

In July 2000, Drucker started writing for the WSJ. Inspired by Pulitzer Price winner David Cay Johnston and his thorough investigations, Drucker had the idea to create a new reporting position that focused on taxes. “When I told people I was going to write about taxes, they asked me what I had done to get the bosses angry,” Drucker admits. “Truth is everyone thinks taxes are a dull topic, but they don’t understand taxes are the main way wealth gets transferred.”

Focusing on corporate taxes, Drucker began exploring a topic that he thought was not considered enough. “People don’t pay attention to tax issues,” Drucker says. “But there’s billions and billions of dollars at stake when we are talking about corporate taxes.”

When Murdoch’s News Corp. showed interest in acquiring Dow Jones & Co., owners of the WSJ, Drucker pushed for a revolution in the offices of the publication. “The Bancrofts are under tremendous pressure to accept News Corp’s offer,” Drucker’s letter to his colleagues reads. “And that pressure will only become greater in the likely event that Murdoch raises his bid.” In July 2007, Murdoch bought off Dow Jones for $5 billion. Drucker left the paper and started working for Bloomberg News in Rome, where he is currently based.

“There was a greater opportunity to do investigative journalism in long form at Bloomberg,” explains Drucker, whose goal was to expose the fallacies of American corporations overseas. Drucker continues, “Europe is a great place to avoid taxes.”

While in Europe, Drucker dedicated his investigations on internationally acclaimed companies, such as Google. In 2010, he wrote a series of stories showing that the company had avoided $3.1 billion of taxes by shifting the majority of its foreign profits into accounts in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Bermuda.

“I am very proud of those stories,” Drucker says, commenting on the pleasure of the reporting and how clearly he remembers the “aha” moment of solving the case. “It was literally one line of numbers in an enormous list I was checking,” Drucker says. “If I hadn’t looked for it, no one would have ever noticed.”

Drucker passionately recounts the steps of his investigation processes and the pleasure of reporting on the job, commenting on the detailed work that goes into the analysis of court files, reports, corporate records, and interviewing people.

“If there is one piece of advice I would give to anyone who hopes to go into journalism, it’s not to be dissuaded by the inevitable confrontations of the job,” Drucker says. It might take time, but it is worth it, especially when it means practical results. In fact, after Drucker’s Google story was published, Ireland started taking action to shut down tax shelters.

“Journalism is a difficult and complex profession, especially when it is related to the financial world,” Drucker says. “But it is also an amazing tool. The hope is that some change will come out of it.”

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