Lost amid the scandal involving American response to the terrorism in Benghazi and the IRS overreach into groups that might oppose President Barack Obama is a third leg of the stool: The grab by the Justice Department into the phone records at The Associated Press.
Good, many might say. The press is too intrusive, gets the stories wrong, is too close to its sources, is part of the problem, hides the truth and is not needed in a world where seemingly everyone has a cell phone and access to Twitter.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Much of what the press does is misunderstood because of a lack of knowledge of history, government and the role the press is supposed to play.
Indeed, the First Amendment prohibits intrusion on a free press as a government-protected right. There is a reason for that. The Founding Fathers saw to it that the press would stand in the breach between the people and a government that could, if left unchecked, run roughshod over them.
The press was envisioned from the start as a player in the maintenance of the nation's freedom, serving as a vital check against the powers of government. It has, to varying degrees of success, played that role well for 237 years.
That role does not go away, though changed in the instantaneous world of smartphone communications.
The freedom preserved by an unfettered press runs from the Capitol to the city hall, from the FBI to the local police station, from the Department of Education to the local school board. It's all the more important in an apathetic world where people don't even bother to vote.
And that is what is at issue in the AP case. It already is tough in the world to try to provide perspective to the facts that fly at speed across the Internet and social networks, often by people who are uninformed or half-informed. And that atmosphere makes it tough for reporters to find people willing to share what they know to help build a story about what can be proven.
Add fear that government will intrude or pressure individuals who dare to tell what they know, then the job of a free press to check unchecked power becomes all the more difficult.
Lest you think that is melodrama, consider the other scandals under way now. What would the public know about the IRS pushing around possible presidential enemies or the holes in the administration's response to security warnings in Benghazi if no reporter was around to publicize them? Would they reach the level worthy of official action and response, or would they have remained in the rumor and innuendo department of the Internet?
Anyone who considers themselves a patriot, an American, a person who respects the freedoms the nation affords, should understand what is at stake.
No, the press isn't perfect. But it does have a constitutionally protected role.