The Fourth Estate — a term I first heard in AP Government my senior year in high school — is the unofficial fourth branch of government, like Billy Preston is the fifth Beatle. The media are the Fourth Estate, traditionally television, radio and print. In the age of social media, bloggers and other social media outlets are of the Fourth Estate, as well.
The Fourth Estate exists to keep the three branches of government honest. It holds our elected officials and bureaucracies accountable to We the People. When something is array in our government, it is the charge of the Fourth Estate to honestly report on the matter so that the great American public is informed, aware and capable of taking action when necessary.
The Fourth Estate is supposed to speak up for the great American public — to be that voice for the voiceless and call out wrongs when the powerless have no means to do so. The three branches of government do not intimidate the Fourth Estate — or at least they are not supposed to.
Since President Donald Trump assumed office, his administration has bombarded We the People with countless streams of lies, racist attacks and moronic inaccuracies about how our government functions. Most noticeably, the Trump administration regularly refers to the media as an “Enemy of the State,” which, if I were of the Fourth Estate, I would consider those fighting words.
Now, do I expect to see a fistfight between a member of the press and the White House press secretary? No. I expect civility among professional adults at all times. However, I also expect professional adults to fully defend themselves when attacked, especially when the attacks are detrimental to their work product — in this case the quality and validity of the information and news that they, the media, present to the great American public.
I have friends and a cousin who are news reporters and analysts, so here are my suggestions to them and their colleagues. These suggestions are free, so of course, do with them as you please.
First of all, it is common knowledge that Trump loves flattery and attention, so stop giving it to him. When every word he puts on Twitter becomes a focal point for the news, it only fuels his ego, prompting him to keep treating his tweets like campaign slogans and cheerleader chants to keep his base motivated.
Considering that Trump is not responsible with his words, it is incumbent on the media to be responsible for his. When he tweets irresponsibly, do not report about it. Do not give it any attention. In fact, I challenge the media to dedicate one day to ignoring Trump’s tweets. The worst that can happen is that he counters with a negative tweet. Wait! He would have done that anyway.
Furthermore, while I know that being a member of the White House press corps is an extreme honor, they must take action. When is the press corps going to say, “enough is enough”? Some have suggested, and I agree, that because of the constant lying and attacks from all of the White House press secretaries since Trump took office, the senior established members of the press corps ought to boycott their seats and have interns or junior reporters stand in for them for a few days. Would the White House be upset? Yes. Will Trump or the White House press secretary say something negative about their action? Yes. But then again, they would act and speak negatively of them anyway.
I also believe it is the media’s duty to remind the three branches of government as to their particular duties — call them out when they step out of bounds. When an elected or appointed official intentionally lies, call him a liar. When they are caught cheating, call him a thief. Watergate taught us the importance of not placing our elected officials on pedestals. That means holding them accountable just as we would our next-door neighbor or work colleague.
We the People have so much access to information that is imperative for the media to be the first to call out an elected official when caught in a lie or double talk. Not doing so erodes the faith and trust that We the People have in the media, a sentiment that is detrimental to the foundation of our society.
For the first time in our nation’s history, the Fourth Estate truly finds itself in a position where it may be the last defender of our American way of life. It needs to accept this reality and embrace the glory of the leadership challenge.