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Americans once worried about the military-industrial complex. It’s still a concern, but a much more ominous and imminent threat to our freedom is what I call “the government-media complex.”

Even some establishment press organizations are beginning to worry about and expose the cozy relationship between these two powerful institutions that, in a free society, are supposed to be natural adversaries. Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a particularly good illustration of the way the government-media complex works in real life.

The front-page story by reporter Kevin Helliker described a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raid four years ago on the Montana home of Paul Berger, 72, and ill with emphysema.

“Yet when federal agents got a warrant to search his ranch,” Helliker wrote, “they assembled a force large enough to take on Rambo. At dawn, 21 men converged on the Berger ranch. They had a stockpile of weapons, a caravan of trucks and an airplane.”

What was the high crime Mr. Berger was suspected of committing? Poisoning eagles that were preying on his sheep — accusations, by the way, that came from former employees who hadn’t worked on the ranch for years. The agents who served the warrant the day of the raid wore wires — not, however, to feed a government recorder, but a Cable News Network tape.

“And three of the men who spent 10 hours scurrying around his ranch that day, dressed in the same street clothes as federal agents, didn’t belong to the government at all: They worked for CNN, the news network of Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting unit,” the Journal reported.

Though no evidence of eagle poisoning was found, Berger was charged with the crime. A jury of his peers found him innocent. That didn’t stop CNN from broadcasting a story on “Earth Matters” pronouncing the raid a huge success.

Now, Berger and his wife are suing the federal government and CNN for violating their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. His attorneys point out that the warrant never even mentioned the presence of CNN, which he claims is guilty of trespassing.

This case should raise some fundamental issues for the media. It is becoming routine for the press to cooperate with government authorities in covering law enforcement operations. In recent years, we have witnessed the tragic results of such ties. Most everyone now realizes that the initial raid on the Waco church was little more than a publicity stunt by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It turned into the worst law enforcement disaster in the history of the United States.

Did the media’s presence inspire cowboy theatrics by the police? And, in other similar arrangements, does the press give the government too much leeway in shaping the content and timing of its stories?

In the Berger case, CNN signed an agreement giving the government control over when — if ever — the network would show the documentary. CNN, aware that the government was improperly serving the warrant, did nothing to interfere or report the violation. The editors back in Atlanta also served up a piece that made it seem Berger was admitting to the federal agents that he had indeed poisoned eagles, when, in fact, he told them he had laced several sheep carcasses with poison designed to kill coyotes terrorizing his flock.

That’s the how the government-media complex works in its most insidious form. But you can see other examples virtually everyday in your daily newspaper and on the network news shows. How often do you see government waste, fraud, abuse and corruption exposed by the press? It’s extremely rare, these days. What we do see, however, is the press cooperating with big government by making hysterical claims, promoting junk science scare stories, fanning the flames of phony crises — all in the interest of some new government bureaucracy, regulation or tax.

The big media have signed an unholy pact with the devil. They’ve decided that it serves their interest more to work with the government than to expose it on behalf of the people.

The primary role of the free press in a free society is to serve as a watchdog on government. That’s what the founders of this great nation had in mind when they enshrined in the First Amendment special protections for the news media. They would turn over in their graves if they could see the way this ideal has been betrayed by the big media whores who have jumped into bed with big government.

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