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Checks And Balances

Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News anchor and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.

You have heard me say this before: In totalitarian societies, the government is the only source of news. In democracies, the press provides the second source which its citizens can then check against the government's version and decide which to believe.

As you consider that, think about these past weeks. The government put out quite a story in the days before and after the hurricanes. The trouble was it bore no resemblance to what people were seeing on television. Brownie was not doing a heck of a job, and once people saw the pictures from the scene, it didn't take them long to figure that out and to demand action.

Then think about Iraq. The government version just never seems to square with the pictures. It's hard to know what to believe about Iraq even with two versions. How much would we know if we had only the government's version?

Which brings me to New York Times reporter Judy Miller who finally got out of jail after 85 days of confinement because she refused to tell the government with whom she had been talking at the White House. Her defiance bothered some people. They said she wasn't protecting the usual whistle-blowers but ranking White House officials. And for sure, whatever it was that they were up to is beginning to have a real odor about them. But she went to jail for a principle that I believe was correct, and that is if reporters must tell the government who they talked to, they cannot continue to be that independent source of information.

And if these past weeks have taught us anything, it is we need to know a lot more than the government seems willing to tell us about any number of things.

By Bob Schieffer

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