The NY Times has an article this morning about the little town of Gerald, MO. which illustrates how strongly television rules our lives, as well as how important a free and active press is to an open society.
Here's the short version--Gerald, MO had a meth problem until a stranger showed up, walking and talking like a federal agent, and he started kicking ass and taking names. Sound like something out of the made-for-tv movie genre yet, maybe starring Michael Biehn or Udo Kier? Actually, this stranger aimed higher.
When the call was placed, a woman — whose identity is unknown — answered with the words “multijurisdictional task force,” and said that the city’s request for federal services was under review, the mayor said. Mr. Schulte said he now suspects that Mr. Jakob adapted the nonexistent task force name from the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies starring Eddie Murphy.Nice. It would be easy to make fun at the people in this town for going along with this for as long as they did, but the fact is that this story isn't much different from the one in Tulia, TX, where a town stood by and allowed a rogue law enforcement agent abuse their citizens because of an outsized respect for authority. Look at what happened to one citizen of Gerald.
Mr. Withington said he had not yet been charged with a crime; Gary Toelke, the Franklin County sheriff, confirmed that no local charges had been issued against him. But the mortification of that day, Mr. Withington said, has kept him largely indoors and led him to consider moving. Since the search, residents have tossed garbage and crumpled boxes of Sudafed (which has an ingredient that can be used to make methamphetamine) on his lawn, he said, and he no longer shops in town, instead driving miles to neighboring towns.Why didn't the local authorities question this guy more closely? Why did they fall for something like "multijurisdictional task force"?
It's important to note that the reason the story fell apart is because a local reporter asked questions. Oh wait--she didn't even have to do that much:
When Linda Trest, 51, a reporter at The Gasconade County Republican, started hearing complaints from people whose homes had been searched, she began making inquiries about Mr. Jakob.This isn't to diminish what Trest did--she asked questions and got answers, which is a hell of a lot more than the local authorities did--but in this day and age, are we really so deferential to people who claim authority that we don't do a google search on them? This guy flashed a security company badge and claimed to be a DEA Agent--there's no excuse for this guy getting away with it for five months.
“Once I got his name, I hit the computer and within an hour I had all the dirt on this guy,” Ms. Trest said.