The Fourth Estate

by Deck Deckert

November 4, 2002


A lot of people are stunned that the ugliness of the Bush administration is so well hidden -- the theft of the election, the assaults on the Constitution, the bald assumption of imperialism, the militarization of America, the tax cuts for the wealthy that amount to a raid on the treasury, the embrace of a vicious and felonious corporate culture, and the fact that there is no right in law or morality for an unprovoked war on Iraq.

The average American knows little to nothing about these issues, or, too often, believes the opposite of the truth. How can the public in a nation with such enormous communications resources be so blind to what is really going on?

Some attribute this to the deftness of the Bush/Cheney machine; the Bushites have simply out thought and out flanked the opposition. The Christian Right simply assumes that the administration's position is unassailable because he is doing God's work; others assume that the president's high popularity figures demonstrate that he is doing what the people want.

The reality is something quite different.

Bush high crimes and misdemeanors are either unexamined, or transmuted because the American media has become, as Edmund Burke claimed tongue-in-cheek in the 18th Century, a Fourth Estate "more important than they all."

The other three estates in American life are the Congress, the White House, and the courts, all well balanced through the genius of the American Constitution. The media, despite the grandiose claims of Forth Estatedom, was never as remotely powerful and important as the three branches of government.

Until now.

The media is now in the hands of a handful of giant corporations and is thus part of the corporate power structure that has seized power in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world in an unrecognized coup.

In some ways, the media is now the most powerful of the four estates.

It can't declare war, as Congress once could before cravenly turning that power over to the White House, and it can't maneuver the vast military might of the U.S. as the White House can. But by careful and selective reporting it can insure that war is the only option discussed. The media can and does:

* Blur the fact that Bush's excuses for an unprovoked attack on Iraq are ever shifting and have no foundation in reality, minimize discussion of the roles of oil and U.S. imperialism in the decision to go to war, and dismiss as irrelevant the vast costs of mobilization and war.

* Cover up corporate crime, dismiss the concerns of labor while paying fawning attention to corporate management, ignore the destruction caused by the WTO, IMF and World Bank, and disregard the fact that the rich are gaining at the expense of the poor and middle class.

* Prevent discussion of serious election issues and discourage any meaningful dissent, hide the fact that the War on Drugs is primarily a war on minorities, conceal the failures of the War on Terrorism, and casually dismiss the destruction and anarchy that followed the U.S. war on Afghanistan.

* Insure that the hundreds of unanswered questions about 9/11 are dismissed as irrelevant or of interest only to 'conspiracy nuts.'

* See that there is no meaningful discussion of the root causes of terrorism directed against the U.S. by accepting the Bush fairy tale that the terrorists hate us because we are so good, and that our support of Israel's brutal occupation of the Palestinians, our malignant sanctions of Iraq, and our constant wars have nothing to do with it.

* Cover up its own power grab of the public airways, and its moves to control the Internet.

This media control of the public discourse was on full display during the recent mass anti-war demonstrations in Washington. If the anti-war protests were covered as the sniper was handled -- or as Elian Gonzalez, Princess Di, and O.J. were handled -- we would have had saturation coverage. There would have been profiles of the major groups and individuals behind the protests. There would have been analyses of their goals, a thorough discussion of their arguments. There would have been man-in-the-street interviews with individual protesters. There would have been quotes from government officials. Instead we had ...

... virtually nothing.

The Sunday edition of the Palm Beach Post, for example, carried one short story buried inside. NPR's Sunday Edition undoubtedly had a few words -- I missed the very beginning of the program -- but spent far more time on some puzzles and a discussion of a book about the Salem witch trials. Yahoo News gave minimal coverage in its top stories category before moving it to the electronic version of the inside pages. Google News did little better.

All this is possible because the mainstream media is controlled by a half dozen giant corporations. Nearly everything we hear or see on TV, movies, radio, magazines and newspapers is filtered through that oligarchy.

The corporate media is concerned primarily with corporate concerns, which include the U.S. government that is now effectively under corporate control. Anything that interferes with those concerns is ignored, minimized, dismissed or ridiculed.

War may be bad for people and other living things, but it makes for a great bottom line for the bomb makers and other corporations, including those who own the media. So it is hardly surprising that the media embraces and endorses a war against Iraq, and hardly surprising that it so readily adopts the White House propaganda language, "Pre-emptive strike" for unprovoked attack, for example, and "regime change" for assassination and war.

The media has been so successful in parroting the White House line that the public, like the Red Queen readily believes a number of impossible things -- e.g., that Iraq was somehow implicated in 9/11, and that it has nuclear weapons.

Americans used to laugh at the Soviet government-controlled media. It's time that we became appalled by our corporate-controlled media.

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Related Internal Links

If The Media Were Liberal... - Deck Deckert (June 2002)

Controlled News; Dying Democracy - Deck Deckert (June 2002)

Propaganda Then And Now - Gilles d'Aymery (November 2001)

The Media Marches Off To War - Deck Deckert (October 2001)

The Media - Deck Deckert (April 2001)


Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic.

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Essays published in 2002 | 2001


Published November 4, 2002
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