Checks and Balances

Programs 105, 106 • 58 mins


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Free Podcast Available

America’s founders established a remarkable system of checks and balances, designed to restrain the excesses of both monarchy and mobs. But how well is that system working today—in this age of powerful lobbies and corporate-controlled journalism? This provocative one-hour documentary examines a number of forces that threaten to upset that delicate balance: the influence of big money on our government and media, America’s soaring national debt, the war in Iraq and the tension between national security and our tradition of civil liberties.

Hear legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas, taped here at age 85, astute historian Kevin Phillips (best-selling author of “American Theocracy”), former U.S. Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson, Alex Knott of the Center for Public Integrity and others. “Checks and Balances” was recorded in diverse locations including Independence Hall in Philadelphia (where America was born), the New York skyscraper office of a major investment banker, the halls of Congress, and Washington’s K Street, also known as “lobbyists’ row”.

Helen ThomasI believe that in the search for truth, asking the questions, making every top official accountable for what he does, and having to explain it—I think definitely it stops them from folly, in a lot of ways. When the press can really do its job, it can tell the truth. I think I should question everything that they do, on behalf of the American people. But I think I’m privileged to be at the White House and to be able to do that. And I think you default when you do less than that.

—Helen Thomas, White House correspondent and author of “Watchdogs of Democracy?”

Kevin PhillipsPeople like Adams, in particular, have this sense of mankind as not being perfectible, and that people, if they had too much power, would take advantage of it. And that you had to contend with greed, and with—you know, people would dance on the head of other people if they could. And that, therefore, there should be checks on the ability of too much power to develop in any branch of government. And that you also wanted to check the sort of mass appetites of the people, collectively, because if they turn into a mob that’s another set of problems.

—Kevin Phillips, Historian and author of “American Theocracy”

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