Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, July 20, 2012

Another Black Eye for the Fourth Estate

In June of 1946, a radio news program premiered on the NBC Radio Network called “Fourth Estate,” featuring Mark Hellinger as narrator, and actor Edmund O’Brien in the lead “dramatic” role.  The series involved a dramatization of a real news story, with the reporter of that story receiving a $1,000 prize.

Later, in the age of television, somewhere around 1970, NBC tried a short-lived televised version of the series.  The American Legion to this day presents a Fourth Estate award to leading journalists, and new versions have popped up on the Internet and even Al-Jazeera TV.

Last night, 13 people were killed and 38 people injured in a mass shooting at a midnight showing of the new Batman film at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado.  According to CBS Denver:

“Reports first came in that there were explosions in the theater showing the new Batman movie, ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ Shots then rang out, and a frantic scene followed.

“Police said a gunman with a gas mask on and dressed in black shot and killed dozens and dozens of people. Authorities say the suspect, James Holmes, 24, killed 10 people inside the theater complex and that three others died after they were taken from the scene. A three-month-old was among the dozens who were hurt, but the baby was treated and released from the hospital.

“’Witnesses tell us he released some sort of canister. They heard a hissing sound and some gas emerged and the gunman opened fire,’” Chief Dan Oates said.

“Jennifer Seeger was in the theater and thought it was a theatrical thing at first when the suspect came in the theater covered with black clothes, a vest and wearing a gas mask.'

“’I thought he was just doing it as part of the show to add some pizzaz or something,” said Seeger, who dove to the ground and managed to avoid getting hurt. He didn’t say anything he just took a gas can that was filled with gas, he took the cap off and threw it and it exploded everywhere. At that point people thought it was an effect so they didn’t think anything and then he shot his first shot into the ceiling and that made everyone scatter. It was mass pandemonium at that point.’”

WABC’s Brian Ross followed up with a report that James Holmes was a member of the Tea Party.  Another rush to judgment by the Media before the facts are in, just as with Treyvon Martin killing.  WABC got the wrong James Holmes.  The Tea Party James Holmes, according to other reports, is 50 years old and had nothing to do with these horrible killings.

Not everyone is familiar with the term, the Fourth Estate. 

The Fourth Estate is a societal or political force or institution whose influence is not consistently or officially recognized. “Fourth Estate” most commonly refers to the news media; especially print journalism or “The Press.”  Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of Press reporting of the House of Commons of Great Britain.   Earlier writers have applied the term to lawyers, to the British queens consort (acting as a free agent, independent of the king), and to the proletariat. The term makes implicit reference to the earlier division of the three Estates of the Realm.

In current use the term is applied to the Press, with the earliest use in this sense described by Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship:

“Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Edmund Burke, born in 1728, was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party.

He is mainly remembered for his support of the cause of the American Revolutionaries, and for his later opposition to the French Revolution.  The latter led to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig party, which he dubbed the “Old Whigs,” in opposition to the pro–French Revolution "New Whigs", led by Charles James Fox.

Burke was praised by both conservatives and liberals in the 19th century.   Since the 20th century, he has generally been viewed as the philosophical founder of modern Conservatism, as well as a representative of classical liberalism.

In Burke’s 1787 coining he would have been making reference to the traditional three estates of Parliament: The Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Commons.  Carlyle wrote in his French Revolution (1837) that, “A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up; increases and multiplies, irrepressible, incalculable.”  In the French context, the other three estates are those of the French States-General: the church, the nobility and the townsmen.   Thomas Macaulay wrote in an essay of 1828 reviewing Hallam's Constitutional History: “The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.”  By 1835, when William Hazlitt (another editor of Michel de Montaigne—see below) applied the term to an individual journalist, William Cobbett, the phrase was well established.

In old days, men had the rack.  Now they have the Press.  That is an improvement, certainly.  But still, it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing.  Somebody – was it Burke? – called journalism the fourth estate.  That was true at the time, no doubt.  But at the present moment, it is the only estate.  It has eaten up the other three.  The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it.  We are dominated by Journalism.”

In America, the English phrase “fourth estate” is used to connote the press, or the media, as the “fourth branch of government.”  The word “estate” is used to emphasize the independence of the Press, while the "fourth branch" suggests that the Press is not independent of the government.

Awhile back, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. struck a deal to acquire 63 newspapers.  He said that he may buy more publications as the industry rethinks whether to offer free content on the Internet.

He called the printed press an unsustainable model. Some of his papers are “already making progress in moving to something that makes more sense,” Buffett wrote in a letter to editors and publishers of Berkshire’s daily newspapers. “We want your best thinking as we work out the blend of digital and print that will attract both the audience and the revenue we need.”

While circulation may slip, papers only fail when there are dailies competing in the same town, a publication forfeits its position as the primary source of locally important information or the market doesn’t have a sense of identity, he said.

“We don’t face those problems,” Buffett, 81, wrote in the letter, also posted on the website of Berkshire’s Omaha World-Herald, which is in the Nebraska town where Buffett’s company is based. “Berkshire will probably purchase more papers in the next few years. We will favor towns and cities with a strong sense of community.”

Berkshire is the largest shareholder of Washington Post Co. (WPO)and purchased the World-Herald last year. Buffett said the company’s newspapers won’t “move the needle in terms of Berkshire’s economic value.”

Competition is bad for the newspaper business, according to Buffett.  That’s what my father and mother, both reporters, told me years ago.  Television and radio, and then the Internet changed the business model even further.  Reporters can no longer slant the news in their political favor – and get away with it.  They must do their due diligence in reporting stories.

Single dailies are no longer the only game in town.  Unions helped reduce towns to single dailies through strikes, job actions, and intimidation.  Until the government comes to their aide and enact legislation to regulate the Internet, they must depend upon Capitalists like Warren Buffet to buy up the venues and domains.

For the time being, the press is restricted to its fourth estate.  True independent news hounds are baying at their gates.  The new generation of newshounds not only track down the true story, but howl at the gates of the Fourth Estate until they retract the misinformation.

Finding out the true information about George  Zimmerman took some months.  For the innocent James Holmes, it took several hours.  He’s had to disconnect his phone because he’s been getting death threats.  The real news can now be about the innocent moviegoers who went to watch a violent movie, and wound part of the actions.  Our prayers to the injured and the families and friends of the deceased.

Need a steak for that black eye, Brian Ross?


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