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Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? – By John Reed

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Who watches the watchers? The Roman poet Juvenal asked that question nearly 20 centuries ago, yet it’s just as relevant today. Even Libertarians will concede one of the absolutes of government is to provide for the common defense of the nation. Most democracies leave the jobs of external defense to the military and the interior defense to the police.
Authoritarian regimes blur those job descriptions. Often the interior police forces are, or act like, branches of the military. Nazi Germany and communist Russia are obvious examples of this, but the potential is very real elsewhere. Here in the US, state and federal police forces, including the FBI, are in charge of public safety and enforcing the laws. Our military and spy agencies like the CIA and NSA are supposedly bound by law to ply their trade overseas. But do they? Who ensures they do their jobs fairly and legally?
The federal groups are subject to oversight by Congress, and frequent committee hearings show politicians going through the motions. Often these hearings are nothing more than circus acts, a stage for members of each political party to grandstand for the cameras.
A more effective check on these groups is the press…since the term “media” has become so charged these days, let’s refer to newspapers, broadcasters, and their digital siblings as “the press.” Investigative journalism, FOIA requests, and just plain nosiness can bring to light malfeasance far faster than any senator.
Granted, the press hasn’t done itself any favors lately in the trust department, as political coverage descends into opinion rather than reportage. There will always be a certain amount of omitted details or erroneous information that respectable news sources will correct as the errors become known. Unfortunately, many editorial departments have decided they should guide the news rather than report it.
There’s still plenty of good work going on, but it often gets overwhelmed by the invented outrage and conspiracy theories being bandied about. One such example was last week’s piece by the Editor, a deep dive into the history, causes, and effects of flood control in the city. This in response to complaints often from folks with absolutely no idea of the issues involved after a once-in-a-quarter-century rainstorm.
Compared to the causus belli we hear constantly from Fox or MSNBC, it may sound like small potatoes. But Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite started small, too. If more local papers delivered quality, fact-based journalism like this one, maybe the big guys would notice.

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