The Fake Fourth Estate

As a person who has taught mass communication courses, and before that had to study the subject in grad school, I half-jokingly say to people I have a professional obligation to keep my ears and eyes open virtually every waking moment to get as clear idea of what passes for NEWS!

Well, okay. Not every waking moment. Hardly. I’m now a bit adrift in our 21st century, cyber laden access to myriad sources of, at best, “information” and at worst, utter inanities. News? Fact checked news? Finding such is akin to strenuously digging a well only to discover a few drops of potable water. 

While I may have to invoke the mass media to make some points in the classroom, honestly, this absolutely abnormal new “normal” media is offensive. In its quite evident subversive abnegation of journalistic integrity, the mainstream media now advances terms such as fake news and alternative facts with little to no blow-back to confront these assertions and their spooky Orwellian blood lines. Doublespeak, anyone? No, I can’t regularly any longer indulge this strange new media landscape, littered with pop trash, misinformation, and glaring biases. One must undertand that “news” isn’t just what is selectively spoken or written about. It’s also a matter of what, selectively, is NOT spoken or written about. Objectivity in reporting? Editorial honesty? Keep digging that well…

As a palliative,  I’m thinking of an ether I.V.

The media. Electronic or print, social platforms, and more, sometimes referred to as “the fourth estate,” once-upon a time simply know as our free press, kept an eagle eye out for that which might undermine our country’s democratic ideal: of, by, and for the people. The power of the press! Confronting abuses of power. Protecting free speech, practicing investigative journalism, finding iron-clad facts, striving to adhere to the famous quote by Finley Peter Dunne that the press should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

Not so much these days, in my humble (but informed) opinion. Whereas the press once flung facts in the face of one Richard Nixon, a la the Watergate scandal, having doggedly dug incriminating detail from the mouth of one deep throat, causing Nixon to resign from office, what example of the same fearless fourth estate is evident today? Rather than dig for facts, it legitimizes nonsense such as “alternative facts” and “fake news” by repeating their utterances from those for whom some affliction is long past due.

Don’t hold your breath waiting on that type of old-school, roll-up-the-sleeves-and-let’s-get-to-the-bottom-of-this story journalism. I’ve witnessed the “new normal” style of American non-fourth estate journalistic ethic starting, primarily, with the U.S. invasion of the Persian Gulf in 1990. In that instance, the press–both print and electronic–allowed the military to play editor on what it could or couldn’t report about the goings on during our rescue of Kuwait from Iraq. Why? The Pentagon remembers how in the 60s during the Vietnam conflict, showing the actual carnage and body bags fueled the anti-war forces that helped end that disastrous effort to halt the spread of the Communist boogeyman. Thus, in order to “justify” putting our troops in harm’s way to protect Kuwait’s oil, the press was told to get “imbedded” with the troops, subject to editorial control over its reporting or get lost. And the press said, hey, we’re on board! The entire Gulf I deployment was a classic propaganda campaign that demonized Saddam Hussein (Time magazine put Saddam’s mug on its cover and declared him global enemy # 1)  and the drumbeat for war was thus given a thumbs up by a compliant and supportive press. I was appalled. And alarmed. But then came Gulf II in 2003 and George W. Bush’s resumption of hostilities against Saddam, again with the press in non-snarling, lapdog mode, but only after it had been again compliant and complacent in the blatant theft of the White House in the 2000 presidential election that saw the Supreme Court order Florida to stop counting votes, followed by the Court’s virtual insertion of W into the White House. The press didn’t scream foul then and demand democracy be respected. For that matter, neither did Al Gore, who had his victory blatantly nullified. W used the castrated Fourth Estate to further propagandize and lie about the need to stop Iraq per the mantra either we fight them there, or we fight them here. Oh, really? Hey, if that oft-repeated assertion wasn’t going to be challenged for evidence of its accuracy, then it was a fait accompli, in my view. And how did that military strategy work out? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

But all of that is fetid water under the Bridge of Lies. What’s with our Fourth Estate these days? Hmm. Let’s see. Must be something. Oh, right! There was that 2016 election, you know the one in which much consternation and controversy has followed, with the–again–apparent loser (by 3 million popular votes, but saved by apparent Russian tinkering, voter suppression and a Democratic candidate unwittingly determined to repel voters) being declared the winner.

How is our new faux President doing? To some, just swell, to others not so good. He seems to be teflon coated from any critical thinking person, private sector, public sector or most disturbingly–and again–that Fourth Estate. How so? Recall his many signs of being one rotten human being: disparaging a “gold star” family; mocking the disabled; demonizing Muslims and Mexicans; declaring he could shoot dead someone in Manhattan and his supporters wouldn’t abandon him and, unquestionably, his one stunning pronouncement (via TMZ, caught on audio/video during his pre-candidacy incarnation as a reality TV show host) that he could grab attractive women by their pussies because he was such a celebrity. Hmm. I thought sexual assault was a crime. Wait, it is! Without question. Just ask Harvey Weinstein. Or Kevin Spacey. Or George H. W. Bush. Or Dustin Hoffman and Jell-O Man, Bill Cosby, all of whom the media have relentlessly been filling air time and column inches to confirm their alleged criminal activities. Ah, that snarling news hound shows its teeth!

Somehow, someway, however, Mr.President Pussy Grabber, (unlike all of the aforementioned named who did NOT openly BRAG about their alleged sexual assaulting ways while knowing an audio/video recording was now evidence of such admission of criminal activity) seems immune from getting bit by such bad press. Hell, he hasn’t been held to account by that Fourth Estate for any of his vile characteristics. The mainstream media apparently loves this loathsome lout. But while other celebrities are being hounded by the intrepid investigative snoop dogs–aha! gotcha!–the one person who openly gave those same hounds the most scandalous, meaty case of all to pursue is apparently beyond reproach. Why? What? There’s no there there? What happened to all the women who–like with Weinstein and Cosby et al–corroborated such Mr.Apprentice self-disclosed attacks? They were just joshing? They didn’t really exist? Were they ever looked for? They were made an offer they couldn’t refuse?

Comfort the afflicted? Depends. It’s a selective process, okay? Afflict the comfortable? Selective… Fake news?Oxymoron anyone? Fake journalism. Yeah, right. I vote yes on that. For real. Recall the Mark Twain quote: If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

Paging Bernstein and Woodward, 2017 editions…

Okay, time to publish here. Hope I afflicted a comfortably numb mind or two. If not, well at least I’m trying!






About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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1 Response to The Fake Fourth Estate

  1. Great use of your telescopic lens to show where we are (God help us!) and how the press, passive at best and collusive at worst, got us here. Can we assess the future based on this trajectory? I would be afraid to look!


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