You don’t hear this term much these days… The Fourth Estate. It’s an evolved term (and we will discuss that in a bit) but it typically means the mainstream press. This would include TV, radio, and publishing. In some venues in America this is also referred to “the fourth branch”, implying an unofficial addition to the three Constitutional branches of government, thanks to the Second Amendment.
So what does this have anything to do with anything? Well, other than educate those of you who need it, consider this an introduction in how the press is doing these days now that there is a battle raging between the press and the new President and his supporters (according to the new President). In my usual way this is my opinion based on my common sense to hopefully inspire thought.
Everyone Knows the Press in General Has a Liberal Bias –
Well… perhaps. I’m not suggesting if that’s fact.. or an alternative fact. But this has been a mainstay opinion of the general public.. and conservatives.. for decades upon decades. So if you are thinking all this is anything new just to Trump and this election you are mistaken. Regardless of what Sean Spicer has bemoaned about the press sending the administration into some melancholy over their constant badgering of the new president, the press is basically just being themselves. But that being said, what exactly are “they” being?
The press is no one person or organization. It is also no single reporting medium; broadcast journalism, publishing journalism, blog journalism, are the basic one’s most of us know. It’s rather difficult to comprehend the idea that all these different entities are linked philosophically in political thought to have some sort of organized approach toward a reporting bias. But the one thing all these organizations do have in common… wanna take a guess?
Like Most Things in Life, It’s All About the Money –
If you guessed some nonsense like a secret organization with an agenda to take over the world, or, the coming of the anti-christ trying to take over just before Armageddon… you’re likely not correct (although one can never be totally sure, can they?). In our current reality all that matters is the ability to make money… to profit from dispensing news to the public. So.. not only do the news outlets compete with others in their own medium, they also compete across the mediums. TV tries to outdo radio, broadcasting tries to outdo print (newspapers, magazines, etc.), yada, yada. All the news reporting agencies sell some sort of advertising to make money.
To determine how much the news companies charge to advertise depends on their popular exposure… interest… from the public. Print has not been overly favorable in the last few decades because the internet and broadcast news networks are reporting events almost as they happen. In the early days of TV and radio the broadcasting of news on the three major networks was more of a community service required by the FCC for licensure (X number of hours for public service programming). The networks relied on entertainment programming to garner audience share. News reporting has become big business now as the public has a seemingly insatiable desire for instant news.
But here’s the evolutionary part. In the days of “simple” news reporting… Edward R. Morrow, Walter Winchell, Walter Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Douglas Edwards, et al, the news was fairly impartial in its reporting. Besides the fact that there was little network broadcast time for long-winded opinion with the news, there was a certain pride in how credible a news anchor could be… which in turn brought in more viewers/listeners, and more advertising dollars.
The Old News Anchors We Believed In Are Gone –
Today… well, the old, credible, news anchors of old are long gone. It probably was recognized in the 60’s when Walter Cronkite gave a short opinion following an evening newscast about how the recent communist Tet Offensive in Vietnam managed to catch all our leaders by surprise, thus suggesting the government was lying about the “light at the end of the tunnel” regarding the end of the war (now THAT conflict was full of alternative facts!) . President Johnson, after having seen that broadcast and Walter’s uncharacteristic delivery of an opinion, is reported to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite I’ve lost middle America.”
No one reporter or news anchor has that much impact on our society today, but the idea that reporters and correspondents can present opinion and analysis is what has made cable news blossom. This format has also expanded into providing opinion and analysis of breaking news from featured political leaders, pundits, and even celebrities. The cable news outlets provide no general entertainment hence everything they do is 24/7 coverage of world events as they happen. In between reporting the news they analyze the news. It’s this news analysis that I perceive is affecting credible… rather unbiased… news reporting… and people like Trump presuming the “press” is out to get him with all the “negative” reporting.
Is the Press Just Reflecting Us? –
Here’s the thing.. if you want sterile news reporting, without the alleged bias, the old reliable three major networks are closer than anyone. Why? Like in the old days.. the evening news must fit into a basic time slot so there is no time for talking heads. It’s true the three networks can catch up a little over the weekend with their various news shows, Like “Face The Nation” and “Meet The Press”, etc. but those programs are easily recognizable for what they are; they are not attached to reporting the news. The cable networks, like Fox and CNN, mix it all together so it gives the impression that breaking news is immediately followed by instant analysis.. thus blurring the objectivity and promoting appearance of biased reporting. But… most of us viewers love that format and the news networks know that… and it sells advertising. It appears most of us viewers need help in formulating our own opinions on whatever is the breaking news. Again, it’s not from a profound level of ignorance but it’s from the idea we want the news fast.. plus, we want to know just as quickly how to process the news for ourselves, determine how it might affect us personally, then as a nation… then move on.
In the old days things had to sink in more. For example, you just watched the 6 o’clock news and Cronkite reports about President Nixon sending B-52’s over the border into Cambodia to clobber the Viet Cong on the Ho Chi Minh trail. So, how do you process that? Get on the phone with your friends and ask them, “Hey, what do you think about Nixon bombing inside Cambodia?” or.. wait until the weekly poker night on Saturday, or the next trip to the grocery store to discuss the politics of it all and get feedback? “Maybe we need to demonstrate against the bombing.. set a time within the next week or so. Better call as many people as possible.” Yeah.. slow for sure compared to now.
Now.. to the credit of some cable networks, when they get the talking heads together there is some attempt to find pundits with opposing viewpoints. But when you get into volatile discussions, like those initiated by Trump’s personality, it can get pretty difficult to separate the emotion from the facts… or the facts you prefer to hear.
There is also one other thing to keep in mind in trying to understand motivations of the press. I have certainly noted, mostly with the broadcast press of old but still hanging around today, that there is a distinct difference in agenda between the desire for professionalism and dedication to accurate news reporting on the news staffs, and the agenda of network management.. which is to make a profit. This is not to say that management influences news reporting for ratings… but adjusting formats for reporting is likely… and makes perfect sense to me. There’s a difference in the format reporting and content between Fox and CNN as an example… yet both have large audiences (even though CNN has slipped a bit in the ratings in recent years… likely for other reasons). Yet Fox is considered to have a more intentional conservative slant (bias?) in its reporting personalities and talking heads.
Bias in the Reporting of Fact is Still Fact? –
Another thing to consider regarding the possibility that the news either IS biased or simply can be presented in a biased fashion although the news itself might be factual, is that there is a kind of checks & balances at play between the networks. If network A reports inaccurate news, or fake news, it’s sure to follow that networks B, C, etc. will be taking that into their own reporting and certainly would not hesitate in making the appropriate corrections to embarrass network A. Seems to me the mainstream press is self-correcting. Again, it’s about credibility to encourage viewership and subsequent profit for the owners, which in many cases are public corporations with average investors.
So how does all this change anything regarding Sean Spicer’s lament about the press constantly picking on Trump and making everyone in the administration feel badly? Not a damn thing.. but… hopefully one might understand better the mechanisms surrounding the press, and that it’s not so much WHAT is reported but HOW it’s reported and the impression on the viewer… hence, bias.
Get Real, Mr. President –
Trump might want to get mature quick because if he thinks he’s being picked on now wait until down the line. This isn’t about him and how he feels. He’s president… time to act the part. The whole world does NOT love him (or any other president) so deal with it. Absolutely no one knows how to react with his radical misbehavings, lies, and character flaws.. so the press is going to pick on him. Why should he be any different than any other president?
If you are one of those persons who hates the press… which is a populist cry these days, what exactly are you hating? No.. forget the “they are liberal” crap. There is no one person pulling the strings of the press. Those folks are so independent business-wise that there’s no way there’s some organized plot afoot, liberal or conservative, any more than you can get any single political party organized. The press is necessary.
Mark my words on this one.. we are going to need the press more than ever for at least the next four years. Even as I am writing this, the news is reporting on Trump’s mouth-gone-wild about claims that 3 millions votes against him were fake. God help us all.
That brings us to…
The Fourth Estate, The Fourth Branch…
According to Wiki…
The concept of the media or press as a fourth branch stems from a belief that the news media’s responsibility to inform the populace is essential to the healthy functioning of the democracy. The phrase “Fourth Estate” may be used to emphasize the independence of the press particularly when this is contrasted with the press as a “fourth branch”.
The Fourth Estate term comes from the British as it relates to their three “estates of the realm”, which are an interpretation of past hierarchical classes in English government… Lords Spiritual, Lords Temporal, and the Commons.
By comparison, the Fifth Estate has taken on the meaning of blogs, internet reporting, and sources outside the traditional press.
Dare I say that the Trump administration’s concern, frustration, and morale issues over the press constantly pushing the “negatives” is NOT the fault of the press. Again, Trump seems of the opinion that he has some populist mandate and he’s answering the call to change the world as some kind of savior, and the press is into some conspiracy to prohibit him from saving the world. In reality he might be better off asking himself the question… “Why are so many people pissed at me?”, then be a president for EVERYONE and fix that and quit whining about his “enemies”.
Here’s a quote from President Nixon as he was saying goodbye to his staff just before boarding Marine One for the last time…
“Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”