Russ Mitchell

The Mitchell Report

Russ Mitchell is editor of The Dickinson County News. He has been in Spirit Lake since January 2010 and began in journalism in 1997. The Mitchell Report can be about anything and everything. Comments are invited.

Who guards the guardians?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A late-October visit to Milton Cycle in Fostoria included a few vintage motorcycles and a classic misconception.

U.S. Rep. Steve King was in a room where bikes outnumbered constituents by a 10-to-1 ratio, so it was going to draw some attention when a guy with a camera, recorder and notebook arrived.

King’s supporters at the shop had their fill of cable news – and they didn’t mind telling their congressman how unsavory the taste was. As that conversation revved up, eyes that were focused on the guest of honor shifted to the guy holding a camera.

It’s better to be forgotten. People should say what they were going to say or do what they were going to do. It’s better for the story. It’s better for the pictures.

But sometimes it’s hard to blend in and back in October I was “the media.”

It didn’t take long for them to realize they weren’t with George Stephanopoulous, Don Lemon or even Sean Hannity. The unflattering things they were saying about political coverage didn’t apply to the guy with the notebook.

But the story from October illustrates the misconception and challenge reporters face in a conservative part of the country. They may or may not be liberal, but they’re in a profession where left-leaning journalists guide national conversations from the coasts.

In that context, you can understand why members of the right-leaning Iowa Legislature dabbled with an idea that would make it harder for those perceived left-leaning Iowa journalists to find the truth.

Barbara Rodriguez and Ryan J. Foley of the Associated Press confirmed on Monday that a bill to eliminate public access to the content of many 911 calls would not advance in the 2017 session. Audio, video and transcripts of 911 calls would have been classified as confidential medial records and exempt from Iowa’s open records law, the report went on to say.

It only died because some Republicans were worried about how the law would apply to the use of body cameras by the law enforcement community.

The bill needed to die for another reason: Instead of making records unavailable “just in case,” they need to find ways to open up information “just in case.” Any reaction to an act of violence begins with a 911 call – and those responses deserve to be open for review.

"Shielding 911 calls from the Iowa public records law would deprive the public of important information it needs in order to properly evaluate government behavior," AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said.

The Latin phrase quis custodiet ipsos custodes translates to “who guards the guardians?” The answer, when it comes to law enforcement communications is: You do. You guard the guardians. Don’t let your eyes and ears in Des Moines make that process any harder.