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Problems brought to light need a fix

Most journalists consider their ability and responsibility to cast light on problems to be a sacred trust.

Problems that are hidden _ and it would be all of them if those who cause and ignore them had their way _ don't get attention. Problems that don't get attention don't get solved.

In a perfect world we could point out a bad situation, the Bad Situation Response Team would show up and fix things, and we could all go off and write about how truly wonderful things are.

An amazing number of people would have us doing that anyway.

But if you need evidence that this is a less-than-perfect world, take note of what has happened twice in recent months when journalists tried to help.

When reporter Larry Dougherty and photographer Jack Rowland, both sensitive young men who take the troubles of others to heart, found a group of homeless people sharing an abandoned house, they told and illustrated the story. The homeless folks wound up getting tossed out of the house.

A couple of weeks later, when Rowland found a dumpster behind a grocery store from which people were taking food, inquiries by him and Dougherty wound up resulting in the store padlocking its dumpster to make sure nobody ate the garbage.

That is not what they had in mind.

The idea of reporting about homeless people who have a roof and not much else is not to deprive them of the roof. The idea of reporting people hungry and broke enough to eat discarded food is not to cut them off from even that source of nutrition.

Somebody is supposed to say, "This is awful, let's fix it."

Instead, somebody is saying, "I could get sued, let somebody else deal with it."

And, sadly, they are right and their concerns are understandable.

It is unfortunate that there is a court system to hold property owners responsible for such relatively rare occurrences, but no equivalent infrastructure to hold us all responsible when our neighbors are cold, hungry and without shelter.

And it is unfortunate that the people who are in a position to do that think the answer is to mumble a litany that sounds like a chanting of the phrase "1,000 points of light," punctuated by the words, "Desert Storm," followed by loud cheering.

The cheering is less audible in burned-out houses with no running water and darkened parking lots with floodlit dumpsters.

Reporters interested enough to notice problems such as these are sensitive enough to lose sleep when the people they set out to help wind up being penalized further.

But the same reporters will keep doing their job of pointing out what needs to be fixed in our society because the result is almost always (especially in an election year) an improvement in the situation, even though some individuals may temporarily have their burdens increased.

The political standard of the ends justifying the means could well be raised as justification.

But only by those for whom the ends and means do not have faces and names.