Wednesday, March 11, 2009

• The Fourth Estate – R.I.P.?

For generations we have accepted the “press,” as a vital element of democracy. It has been known as The Fourth Estate because it came to represent a counterbalance to the executive, legislature and judiciary. This fourth leg providing balance in our society was given birth through a network of independent single page papers distributed by hand that evolved over two centuries to include radio and television. Its current manifestation, however, no longer plays the role of independent pillar supporting the social triumph that is democracy.

The Fourth Estate brought us news, presented opinions and often played the role of guardian, even becoming an attack dog, when it found abuse of power in one of the three branches of government. We did not assume complete objectivity, which would have been too much to ask of fellow human beings, but we expected truth, and at the very least we demanded a dearth of ideological paddling of particular political creeds.

The past twenty years saw enormous consolidations occur at alarming rates throughout the corporate landscape, to an extent that the term, “too big to fail,” became acceptable, terminology. Through repetition, the phrase evolved into an affirmation, and the insanity of its meaning escaped inquisitive common sense.

These consolidations inevitably affected all areas of media and resulted in the formation of gigantic entertainment and culture empires with some subsidiaries masquerading as news companies. In today’s media sovereignties, the term, “journalism,” no longer applies to any performance or occupation preoccupying their employees. Their commissions have dissolved into endeavors that would more appropriately be called, “celebrity reporting.” The writers and talking heads have themselves become celebrities, and the objects of their reports are celebrities created by the media conglomerates. The “star” making machines are profitable cogs for their masters.

Whether the celebrities are the Hollywood version, the corporate executive edition or the latest political rendition, the pandering dialogue is neither inquisitive nor analytical. Whether addressing business or politics our media has become boringly consistent and vacuous as if every news program or publication was its own adaptation of People magazine. Pretty pictures passing by, saying nothing, providing no insight or truth, but shouting, “look at me, I am a trademark.”

We witnessed in dismay as not a single member of the media questioned the irrational invasion of Iraq. We watched interviews adoringly pander to too many business leaders of corporate America as they abused their positions, and in some cases personally took hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, from their corporate coffers. More than a few committed acts that should have been considered fraudulent, but were acceptable because everybody else was doing it. The business media simply looked on approvingly as ethics evaporated. They would not dare question celebrity, or inquire uncomfortably of those who had the power to terminate advertising and therefore affect their paychecks. What else can we expect when there is greater concern for the interviewer’s sex appeal or status, than for the quality of the interview. It is not that the interviewers are airheads, far from it. It is simply not their job to delve, probe or question, plowing for truth, while well armed with information. The objective is to attract audience and advertising.

It may be some time before we recover from the lack of analysis into the ideological games that were played by politicians manipulating the levers of influence that created the housing bubble. Not one member of the Administration, present or previous, nor any member of Congress, has been purposefully brought to task by anyone in the mainstream media. We have not benefitted from any vigorous investigate reporting on the creation of the financial fiasco currently being endured and creating stress for all taxpayers. Where are our 21st Century versions of Woodward and Bernstein? The few who attempt such efforts are independent, and considered marginal. Their labors bear little fruit. If the mainstream media doesn’t pick up the story, its likelihood of gaining traction is minimal at best.

It is fortunate that the internet’s pervasive presence provides ample sources for those who wish to research. While there are stimulating ideas coming out of the blogosphere, expecting great things from the net now appears to be misguided. The influential web sites also need advertisers. They rush to attract more eyes than the next, and in so doing, only join the ranks of the irrelevant, ratings obsessed, mainstream media.

And so, we remain passively entertained, perched on the sidelines, as our lives become altered by special interests. We wish we had the time to become energetic participants, but we have jobs, sometimes 2 or 3, the rent is due, and just around the corner tax payments will demand attention. We can’t understand it all and wish some elected official would tell us the truth, for once. We yearn for that unusual political candidate that will once elected, keep promises made on the campaign trail. We wish members of the media would be more objective, and occasionally root out some of the schemes siphoning off our tax dollars for purposes no-one understands or cares enough to follow-up on.

The time has come for the phrase, “too big to succeed,” to take effect, and become entrenched in our vocabulary, particularly as it relates to members of The Fourth Estate. We need to clamor for a refurbishing of the fourth pillar so necessary in the sustenance of a healthy democracy. The accelerating polarization being perpetrated on society by the entertainment and culture industry posing as, “news,” must be reversed, before we return to a state similar to pre-revolutionary France where the Three Estates considered were the Aristocracy, the Clergy, and the People, however, the People had no say in the allocation of their tax money once it was collected.


  1. Well I can only shudder at the thought of life without the blogosphere...
    Now that our mainstream media are pre-occupied with "advocacy journalism" or reality TV shows the only source of news that counts is online. I am daily outraged by news that is not covered (admittedly I live in a media backwater, but no matter, news is available but ignored.)
    The blogosphere has simply become as essential to me as a car...and the greens are keen to take my car away...

  2. As a perpetual optimist... I expect Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty to win the war for us through the Internet and on college campuses... yet it may take a while.

  3. Travlyr,

    We are becoming the Fourth Estate, however, we're not there yet.

    The past twelve months of obscene pretense otherwise by powerful web sites, such as Huffington Post, suggests that ideology remains very ensconced along with a need to pander.