The Fourth Estate

It is appalling that those now in power seek to undermine all confidence in the media in order, we must suppose, to then be able to inform us themselves about those things they think we need to know. This type of control over what we are privy to, coupled with the recent attempt to suggest that there are “alternatives” to the facts which determine the truth, are disquieting to say the least. A free people, as Thomas Jefferson insisted, require adequate information and the education necessary to separate facts from alternative facts.

And as a nation, we are slipping behind other developed countries in our commitment to an educated citizenry — which is essential to a democracy. But, despite this, we must be armed against any attempt to quiet criticism and stifle open debate which are the lifeblood of that type of government. Jefferson was, before all else, the defender of a free people in a free democracy, that freedom being predicated on a free press and a citizenry capable of reading and willing and able to discuss openly the issues of the day.

Accordingly, I thought it timely to return to some of the things that Jefferson said in this regard as we seem to be living in a period in which those in power would disarm us and render us ignorant of what it is they do and propose to do. A leader who brings his own audience with him to press conferences in order to hear their applause and who plans to expand the space in which the press corps meets to discuss the issues of the day in order, presumably, to allow room for his supporters and make it extremely difficult to hear those who object to what is being said, is a leader who would declare war on the exchange of free ideas and opinions and the open debate of decisions that will affect us all. This is not to be endured. It is antithetical to the fundamental principles on which this democracy were founded and they signal the death knell of this democracy if they are allowed to go unnoticed and unopposed.

Accordingly, I attach herewith some of the comments by Jefferson that speak to our present concerns:

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have their propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

“. . . truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate — errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

” . . . were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

It is true, of course, that once he became President Jefferson was less enamored of the press, but this is to be expected. No one likes to be criticized and as President Jefferson made some terrible blunders — reducing the army and navy at a time when Britain was once again rattling its saber, for example. But he was large enough in the end to realize that his personal objections to what the press had to say about him were less important than the freedom of that press to write what they regarded as pertinent truths. No one in the public eye can expect to have his or her every move applauded unless they stack the decks and silence opposition. But that is not to be tolerated in a free government where the Constitution guarantees the right of the media to tell the truth and deny “alternative facts.” We as citizens have a right to know just as the press has a right to express itself without censorship. Thus, we must hope that these rights are protected in the next four years during which time they will be severely tested and attempts will no doubt be made to deny their legitimacy.


24 thoughts on “The Fourth Estate

  1. I would say that Britain was going to come and take your country back as you obviously can’t look after it, but after Brexit I don’t think this country has a right to say anything like that.

    All Presidents will make at least one terrible blunder. Unfortunately the one in power now wants to outdo all the others … combined!

  2. Hugh, a concerning post. Two comments. First, I read in Reuters or it may have been The Guardian that people who don’t pay attention to news think Trump had a wonderful first week. Those who do, regardless of affiliation, think that it was a troubling week. That speaks volumes. Bannon said the media should shut up. I am sorry Mr. Bannon, but they enabled the election of this President by not delving into his history like they should have. Now, the press is doing its job.

    Second, Teddy Roosevelt did not like the press as much either, but he asked them to go meet with his cabinet members and department heads. He told his staff to be open with press. His reason is this allowed him to keep better tabs on what was going on. He could step in if he did not like where something was headed.

    Like Trump, Teddy Roosevelt had a large ego, which was one of his weakest attributes. Yet, unlike Roosevelt, Trump wants to control communication. Which is the wiser course of action? Which action reflects that someone’s ideas may not be sound?


  3. Very fine writing here, and expressive of high principles withal. An ‘arrest’ upon the example of Trump would only distract from these same high principles, that afford us true example that such scenario has ever been that experience (somehow) we find ourselves in, right-back to Jefferson and hundreds of others through the centuries. What we merely see here is a kind of Cosmic Saturnalia, the outcome of which is apparently uncertain, but whose advent must be always suspected in the works, given a hundred or so years, and to lesser degrees everywhere in-between, which such remarkable facts tend to tell exactly where things went then or go now wrong.

  4. Story Time:

    There once was a Father who had two sons (what to expect of the Future), one of whom went-off to fight an heroic war for his People, the other who remained to orchestrate his father’s interests, dutiful as the Day on both accounts, and happy for the devotion. It was said then, of this man, how greatly fortunate and admired he was for having resource to both rescue the Estates AND maintain the domestic cares. But the first son was gravely injure in war, and it was thought that the Father’s grief was great, to which men thought Fortune had abandoned him. So did the Father take a redoubled Joy in the remaining son, to whom he must award his lifetime’s work, and was glad at heart the more by what he has, than was sad over the treasures lost.

  5. Another Father of great material wealth had two sons. The first spoke Yes, Yes to every word of his Father, and promised every virtue in the name of him from whom he derived or invented his privileges. The second son spoke, Nay, Nay to every word of his Father, and refused every virtue in the name of that from whom he derived or invented his privileges. The first son went-off into the world and did as he pleased, offended every high principle of his Father, and lived recklessly and wanton as a Flee Market Barker. The second son went-into the fields of his Father, and tended the Vine and Olive against Bandits and Ruffians.

    To whom then does the Father owe allegiance?

  6. Yet another Father had two sons, one remained and the other took leave of his father’s inheritance, forever gone. It came one day some word to the Father that his first son was lost, whence great grief descended upon him and darkened the Realm with sorrow. For a long time this aftermath occurred, till one day it was said to the Father: Behold, your son that died is alive, and stands waiting for you at the gate of the City. Rushing to greet his son, the Father tore from himself ALL his clothing to arrive at the gate of the City wholly naked and bleeding and weeping. He embraced his Lost son, who now was found, and ushered him into the City most welcomed, called to the Festive Hours a Celebration that would last for many days, stretching into weeks whereupon great wealth was distributed and enjoyed. it was after this time that the second son came to his Father in the midst of night weeping…and plead to his Father…Why have you not celebrated me, ever, in such manner, who took to your side like a moth to flame, while this, my brother, who turned profligate of your cares and, wasting half your fortune, returns to you with such glorious unrestraint?

    To which the Father added: You know, my son, how all that I have is yours (without question). But consider your Father, how he was bereft and too often coveted sorrow for the loss; but these days, my son once lost has returned. Let US rejoice together.

      • Just a “little exercise,” professor, thinking of how your comparison works between the Medieval minds’ ‘symbolic’ language that fashioned their world-view, and what you describe as ‘modern’ in discursive method/s that displaced such idioms of meaning and experience…for the most part, one must assume. What has the medieval Irish Monk, scrawling designs in paint and line-translation, illustrated withal, to do with the modern garage station mechanic? They both take whatever comes to hand…on All accounts, secular or sacred.

      • I dare say none of my blog readers has read the book which you refer to! Your comments don’t seem to move the dialogue along, I’m afraid.

      • Referring to “The Inversion of Consciousness,” your “little exercise” from the ‘book’ I am currently infatuated with. I really only thought that I was addressing the writer, not the audience…my bad?

      • A bit. It seems inappropriate, that’s all. I enjoy your comments, but I daresay others would simply be confounded! No need to confound them further.

  7. Thanks, Hugh. Your point about Jefferson being professional and grown-up enough to rise above the criticism he received while in office is very important. It means he put the Constitution and national interests — and the public’s right to know — ahead of his ego and self-interests. Several presidents have done so, including Obama. Some haven’t, and as history has shown, they’ve tended to be our worst presidents in one regard or another. Nixon is the prime example, of course. Trump is already on that path.

  8. I like this one … the biggest concern I have, and believe me I have many, is that we will begin seeing curtailment of freedom of the press to inform us of the things we need to know. Actually, we see it already with the red herrings, the arrest of six journalists covering the protests at the inaugural, and the press briefings which are filled with ‘alternative truth’. I am still disappointed in the press, as it seems like they are still more caught up in the red herrings than the real news.

    • My friend Dana, who has considerable experience in journalism both as a reporter and an editor defends his colleagues, but I must say I don’t see much hard evidence that the media are determined to hold this man’s feet to the fire.

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