Congratulations! If you started to read this column, you undoubtedly are one of a shrinking percentage of Americans that can call themselves informed citizens.
Why else would you begin an article about the Fourth Estate, or even care about it?
The term Fourth Estate is attributed to Edmund Burke (late-1700s,) but it was in use long before that time. While the meaning has continued to shift, in America it means the media (print, television, radio and now, the Internet.) Our founding fathers, in creating a new order in which the common man both created his own government and determined its course, realized that unless the common man knew the facts and could determine the truth, he could not make the necessary choices, vote and control his fate. That is why, as with lawyers, there exist certain privileges given to members of the press for protection of their sources so that truth cannot be suppressed by the powerful.
Sounds perfect. And for years, this was understood and practiced along with the idea that the job of the reporters and writers was to get us the truth, the facts of the matter and only the facts. If they had opinions, they would confine those opinions to the editorial pages.
No longer. What happens when a supposedly free and independent press moves from reporting to advocacy? Not only have we seen that facts go unreported but entire stories are ignored and statements are altered to fit the point of view of the news outlet.
Think Benghazi, Fast and Furious and altered 911 calls.
We the people; it’s an iconic phrase. We the people created our government. We the people invited others to come and share the dream. We the people not only defended our own country, but also proudly defended the freedom of others.
Thomas Jefferson said, “… Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” But in order to do our job, we the people require a Fourth Estate that gives us truth, and if it is not doing its job perhaps we should take a good, long look at the privileges it enjoys. Perhaps we should demand accountability.