The fourth estate is the public press, referred to as a collective and encompassing photographers, journalists, television broadcasters, and radio announcers, among others. Many people generally agree that the fourth estate has immense political and social power, thanks to the fact that the press can be used to shape societies while imparting news of note and commentary of interest. Because the fourth estate is recognized as such an important body, many nations have laws which protect the rights of the press, ensuring that citizens have access to reporting on matters of interest and of note.
The origins of the term “the fourth estate” are best explained within the context of the medieval “estates of the realm.” In medieval society, three “estates” were formally recognized: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. Each estate had a very distinct social role and a certain level of power, and the idea of the estates of the realm became so entrenched in European society that it still lives on, to some extent, although society is far more egalitarian today.
In the middle of the 19th century, people began referring to the press as a fourth estate, referencing the fact that most parliaments and other houses of government had an area set aside specifically for the use of the press, and pointing out that the press was a distinct group within the larger framework of the realm.
I’ve been very distressed in recent years about the condition of our “fourth estate”. I had been raised to think of reporters as people who objectively reported what was happening in the world. Additionally, I thought one of their primary roles was to keep an eye on our government. After all, the Soviet Union had a press that promulgated propaganda (catch that alliteration? lol); their job was to convince people that the party line was the truth. The name of the Russian newspaper, Pravda, actually means “truth” in Russian, and yet that newspaper was for many years widely considered a purveyor of propaganda. But here in America, it’s different! The press here protects us by being willing to fact-check the government and hold it accountable, and we in turn protect them by ensuring a free press.
Then came Bush’s rush to war – and the media was right there with him. I’d read an article here or there that said inspections hadn’t been allowed to be finished, or that claims by government spokespeople had been shown to be inaccurate – but the main thrust of reporting was basically cheerleading Bush and not addressing these other claims.
Of course, besides rarely holding the government accountable any longer, the press also seems to have become a willing partner in the distraction of the populace with inane subject matter.
Then Obama ran for president, and we all know the media’s shameful role in that. They didn’t do their job of vetting him, and now that he’s president, there are only now, 3.5 years into his term, a few voices starting to speak out about his inexperience and incompetence. During the election the media spent their time vilifying Hillary, taking her words and those of Bill out of context, and choosing to represent Hillary with the most unflattering photos they could find. They had an agenda – and it was not to present objective information!
The press has certainly let us down. We’ve come a long way from “watchdog journalism” (bolding mine):
The role of a watchdog journalist can be that of a protector or guardian. The role of a watchdog journalist as a guardian is to supply the citizens with information they must have “to prevent the abuse of power” and “warn citizens about those that are doing them harm”. In order to conduct their role as a watchdog journalists need to have a certain distance to the powers and challenge them, as opposed to “propagandist” journalists, who are loyal to a country’s ruling powers and elites. Because of the power distance and its overseeing function, watchdog journalism often officiates as the fourth estate or is used in the context of that term. The array of topics for watchdog journalism is wide and includes “personal scandals, financial wrongdoing, political corruption, enrichment in public office, and other types of wrongdoing”.
Watchdog journalism can lead to the successful resignation of power holders. A well-known example is Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein‘s reporting on the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post and the subsequent resignation of U.S. president Richard Nixon in 1974. Another more recent example took place in the Philippines, where president Joseph Estrada was arrested and resigned in 2001. The daily newspaper Pinoy Times covered the case of Estrada till “the ouster of Estrada”.
From the bolding: “In order to conduct their role as a watchdog, journalists need to have a certain distance to the powers and challenge them…”. Gee, I guess that doesn’t fit in too well with governments and media sources being beholden to corporations and the agenda of those corporations!
And then we come to today. People have different opinions on the Zimmerman/Martin situation, but I think we can all agree that the legal system is the appropriate place for this case to be decided, not in the court of public opinion. But in this land of “innocent until proven guilty”, the media judged Zimmerman guilty as soon as the bullet went off. And they have certainly done their job to fan the race war flames. This is anything but responsible or ethical. As a matter of fact, I’m of the opinion that they have put many innocent people’s lives in danger.
What stands out most for me was the choice of photos they used to represent each man. Zimmerman was portrayed by a 7-year-old photo showing him in an orange jail jumpsuit. Martin was most commonly portrayed by a 5-year-old photo which showed the 6’3″ 17-year-old as a cherubic 12-year-old. IMO, this was manipulation. This was propaganda. As I said, people have different opinions on this case, but it sure seems to me that the media have been complicit in advancing a certain storyline. One that coincidentally benefits the current office holders in Washington in this year that is coincidentally an election year.
There are so many examples over the last decade of the media being anything but objective. When our “fourth estate” devolves from watchdogs to Pravda, how are any of us safe? Our “Pravda” may be getting their marching orders from Washington or they may be getting them from their corporate offices, but they’re certainly not serving US anymore….
We need a watchdog for the watchdogs. We have to start demanding a higher standard from our media.
US Media: All the news that’s fit to