Let’s start this essay with some generalities about the Fourth Estate.
The term Fourth Estate refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues. Though it is not formally recognized as a part of a political system, it wields significant indirect social influence. An unbiased fourth estate is considered by most people as being vital to a functioning democracy because it provides the general public the information they need to know to develop rational opinions and make personal choices based the available facts and information.
The press and the media has long been guided by some ethical standards for journalists that I think are covered nicely in Jim Lehrer’s 16 Rules Of Journalism (source):
- Do nothing I cannot defend.
- Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
- Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
- Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
- Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
- Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
- Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
- Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
- Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.
- Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.
- Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
- Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
- Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
- Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
- My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
- I am not in the entertainment business.
Here is another source of ethical standards for journalists; Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
Since power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely ethical standards are the kinds of guidelines that journalists and others in the media need to follow when the press and the media in general wield their inherent power of the rhetorical sword.
The media has long been recognized as a very powerful political and cultural tool and as such it’s a tool that when ethical and moral standards are not appropriately applied to the journalism profession that’s controlling the media, unethical and immoral people can wield the power to intentionally manipulate society as a whole instead of simply informing the public of the facts and information. The ability of the press to manipulate the masses is well known word-wide and unfettered power by unscrupulous people wielding that power can be devastating to a society. Again, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely and the media is the closest thing to absolute power as we can get in society without using physical force.
The public is literally at the mercy of the press. Society has absolutely no choice as to what the press chooses to present to the masses. The only choice the masses have when faced with a press that’s behaving unethically is to choose a different source. What happens when all, or nearly all, of the available media sources are behaving unethically, in cahoots with one political party and are knowingly presenting propaganda tainted information to the masses as if it’s fact? Remember, an unbiased fourth estate is vital to a functioning democracy so, if the Fourth Estate is no longer unbiased, it’s not functioning in a journalistic ethical manner and choosing instead to present partisan biased propaganda then the Fourth Estate is a cancer, or an extremely infectious virus, that’s being used to intentionally infect and manipulate society. When the Fourth Estate becomes an outlet for partisan biased propaganda then the Fourth Estate becomes an enemy to democracy and therefore an enemy to the people in a democracy.
Now let’s shift from generalities to something a bit more specific, the last four years (2016-2020) of our highly emotionally charged political environment.
Since the moment in 2016 when President Trump was called President Elect until today, four years later, the majority of the mainstream media has put themselves 100% inline with the political left and in direct conflict with President Trump. For four years straight, the mainstream media, and the political left in general, have attacked the President of the United States with endless propaganda, accusations, innuendo, etc, etc. President Trump did not create the left’s hate, bigotry, irrational aversion to truth and facts, anti-American and anti-Constitution ideological leanings, leaning towards totalitarianism, bastardization of words and symbols, anti-history stance, anti-social behaviors, anti-respect, anti-logic, anti-critical thinking, and anti-civility or the left’s Pravda like propaganda media machine. All President Trump had to do was voice an opinion, any opinion, and the media immediately jumped on the “Orange Man Bad” wagon and attacked his opinion. Everything the President did and does regardless if it’s legal or within the powers of the President of the United States was and is attacked as being illegal, corrupt or impeachable. The political left pushed their hateful propaganda all the way to a unconstitutional and politically embarrassing partisan witch-hunt circus and they had the gall to turn into an actual impeachment that failed in the United States Senate. To be sure, President Trump has a loose cannon unethical mouth and a unique ability to present things to the public in such a way that pours volatile fuel on the unquenchable fires of hate that the political left has built using the kindling of partisan biased propaganda. I think the last four years is likely going to go down in history as the most contentious political period between an openly biased anti-President hostile press and the Democratic Party (but I repeat myself) and the President of the United States since the United States was conceived by the founders in 1776.
The propaganda problem infecting the Fourth Estate is so damned bad in the 21st century that President Obama, a staunch far left Liberal that actually benefited from a partisan biased propaganda laced press and media, is now publicly calling it out for what it is. President Obama sat down with author and former PEN America president Ron Chernow for a wide-ranging interview on being a writer; the power of the pen; and the freedom to write. When Obama was asked about the relationship between the President and the press and can we get back to a more civil relationship between the two, President Obama stated the following interesting perspective, here is the statement in its entirety…
The fact that President Obama thought this was a big enough problem to bring up in a public interview knowing the fact that it was surely going to roll back on the actions of the political left over the last four years is signature significant that the problem is extremely bad and he thought it was worth the political risk to spend some of his enormous political clout to out the problem from the perspective of a Democrat.
This propaganda problem is the most serious problem we have in the United States right now! It’s way over the top of the unsupportable accusations made by Black Lives Matter but the propaganda is fueling it, it’s way more problematic than the myriad of ANTIFA members assaulting those they oppose but the propaganda is fueling it, it’s more important than the utterly irrational movement to defund the police but the propaganda is fueling it, it’s more important than the riots that we’ve seen in the last eight months but the propaganda is fueling it, it’s more important than all the personal and political hate leveled at President Trump over the last four years but the propaganda is fueling it. The problem is that unethical and immoral partisan biased propaganda is a direct threat to an unbiased Fourth Estate and therefore it’s an indirect threat to the thing we hold most dear here in the United States of America – liberty!
Propaganda emanating from the media is an enemy of the people!
Propaganda is an existential threat, it’s a freedom eating malignant cancer consuming the core commonalities that support the entire premise of liberty in the United States of America and trying to turn us into a cultish hive mind.
Without suppressing free speech, something needs to be done to stop all the propaganda.