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Aristotle, regarded as “The Father of Logic”, once said, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.”
Do the laws created by man always serve justice? A citizen watchdog from Washington would object to that notion. Melissa Genson, the editor of Watchdog Wire – Northwest, exposed a juvenile Level II Sex Offender’s unsavory social media activity after he had been accepted into a court-ordered rehabilitation program. The local sex offender remains under public protection because of his alleged remorse for molesting of a 5-year-old boy, despite the disturbing reality presented by Melissa to justice officials.
As this month’s Citizen Spotlight, Watchdog Wire asked Melissa about her personal experience in this investigation and as a citizen watchdog:
What motivates you to be a citizen watchdog? It’s not easy and you don’t get paid. So what keeps you going?
I am motivated to help people who are treated carelessly and recklessly by those in power. They feel helpless. I also hate to see tax dollars wasted and misused, because I know how hard people work for their money.
How did you first get started as a citizen watchdog?
As a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor (CPA/CIA), I audited Washington State agencies in the 1980’s. I saw abuse of power at all levels. I saw how frequently government officials spoke in terms of tax dollars belonging to them, rather than belonging to the citizens. It opened my eyes. I have been watchdogging ever since.
What issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I am passionate about issues involving people whose voices can’t be heard, like children. I am passionate about rural land use, because it is so easy for government to treat private property like public property. I am passionate about any government action where the rules are so complex that the ordinary citizen has a hard time understanding them.
What triggered you to dig deeper into juvenile sex offender Tahoe Wiseman’s social media activity?
This was the worst case of absolute recklessness that I had ever seen on the part of multiple government officials. The little victim simply wasn’t real to them. The victim’s mother cried and told me, “Nobody cares what happened to my little boy.” I told her I did, and I would do everything I could to get other people to care, too.
When government officials are allowed so much power and secrecy, and place so much confidence in their own experts that doesn’t appear deserved, it is up to citizens to prove them wrong. Especially when the experts feel bulletproof, like they did in this case.
Quite simply, social media provided the proof I needed to show that the experts were wrong, and that justice had not be served. And if they were wrong in this case, then they were probably wrong in a lot of cases.
What was great was that ordinary teens and their moms were the ones to provide the evidence. In their own way, they were true watchdogs.
What did you learn from investigating this story?
I learned that citizen watchdogs need to focus more on the courts. I learned that there was not enough separation between the judge, the defense attorney, and prosecuting attorney. The prosecutor is supposed to be an advocate for the people, not part of one big happy courthouse family. I learned that the courts can rely too much on their own experts and not enough on common sense. Citizens tend to put judges and prosecutors on a pedestal, and assume that they are less likely to abuse power than other government officials. I learned that wasn’t true. We need to remember that courts are simply another branch of government that needs watchdogging, too.
What has your experience been with the mainstream media? What advice do you have for them to better serve their audience?
Mainstream media has become simply another branch of the government. That’s not the job of the press. I remember being a kid during the Cold War. We were taught that behind the Iron Curtain, the government ran the media, and citizens could only learn what the government wanted them to know. I remember the commercials for Radio Free Europe, explaining how important it was to get outside information to people living in those countries.
Mainstream media has created its own Iron Curtain, right here in this country. Mainstream media seems almost ashamed of ordinary American citizens, and the things they care about.
My advice to mainstream media is to remember your job. Your job is to question those in power, not be their mouthpiece. And stop ridiculing the concerns of ordinary people.
I think it’s too late for a lot of mainstream media. The Internet has made citizen journalism accessible, and a viable alternative. We have become our own version of Radio Free Europe—just in our own country.
Who is your favorite Founding Father?
George Mason. “Virginia’s Declaration of the Rights” was a masterpiece, and the basis of so many of our freedoms today.
How has Watchdog Wire helped you as a citizen watchdog?
Watchdog Wire has linked me up with so many people who can help me with resources and skills. It’s great to feel connected to other people who are part of such a huge new revolution. It’s a wonderful time to be involved in citizen journalism. There is so much access to information that allows us all to be better watchdogs.
What advice do you have for others who want to get involved?
Don’t be intimidated. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the mass of information out there. Take on one issue at a time, and take your research one step at a time. Learn how to get information from government agencies and officials. Don’t feel like your questions are stupid. They are there to serve you, and not the other way around.
What can we do better? How can Watchdog Wire improve to help more citizens become watchdogs?
Watchdog Wire helped me so much. I think we all just need to get the word out. We need to let people know that it’s okay to be a novice, and to learn as you go.
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