civics, government, politics

On the Importance of the Fourth Estate Part 1 “The Role of the Media in a Democracy”

Our country and the Democratic institutions that support it up are experiencing an assault unlike any in our history. These unprecedented changes have the potential to unravel 100 years of social progress and looming, potentially disastrous changes to our climate.

Part of our country wants to see these institutions destroyed and part of our country can’t wrap their heads around that destruction as it unfolds in real time during the 24 hour news cycle.

We are living in a time where parents have to tell their children to not be like the man who will be the President of the United States, ostensibly the most powerful and influential person on the planet. A person evaluated by tens of millions of US citizens as being the person they want representing them and our country to the rest of the world.

Never before has it been so important for We the People to have access to accurate and reliable information and analysis. Never before has it been so important to understand science and technology, and to be able to think clearly and reason critically.

The single most important partner we have in this democratic experiment is the Fourth Estate. Without a free and fair press it is impossible to have a functioning democracy.

Journalists are charged with the production and dissemination of news reports. These reports are required for the citizens to know what is going on with the government as well as events and trends of importance from around the world. Before making my case about journalists lets look at the facts.

It’s a challenging, thankless and sometimes controversial job.  Between 1992 and 2011, 887 journalists were killed worldwide (1); 115 journalists were killed just in 2016 (2). In the interest of providing some background and context, I want to share a few more bits of data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 41,050 Reporters and Correspondents in the US making an average of $22.30 an hour ($46,560/year) (3).

The Atlantic describes journalists as “…older on average than we used to be, slightly more moral, and far more lugubrious about the future of our profession.” (4)

The media is often characterized as being liberal. A 2014 Gallup poll found that a plurality of Americans believe the media is biased to favor liberal politics (5). To further complicate this, a survey from Indiana University reports that slightly more than half of all reporters and editors self identify as Independents, although of the journalists that affiliate with a party, 4 out of 5 identify as Democrats (6). (Compare with a recent Gallup poll that reports that 29% of Americans identify as Democrat and 26% as Republicans) (7). What does that mean? It means that yes, there is probably a liberal bias in the media and that it mirrors the liberal bias of American society.

In spite of this liberal trend there are plenty of partisan outlets for consumers to get their news from.

Since 1992, the journalism profession has lost a third of its workers (8), and the number of journalists who report being “very satisfied” with their job is only 23%. (9) 59% of journalists think their profession is moving in the “wrong direction” (10).

Not a very inspirational figure.

51% of Democrats say they “trust the media” compared to 14% of Republicans. (11) Overall, trust in the Fourth Estate is at an all time low.

There are a couple of theories as to why this is. One is that the media themselves are to blame. “… a bonanza of false equivalence and theater criticism masquerading as political analysis during the election” (12).  Another blames the election itself. (13). I don’t think any one theory adequately explains it. It does however seem that the events of the last year have accelerated the public’s dissatisfaction with the media.

Regardless of the reasons behind this trend, I believe that we as a Nation need to come to terms with this. We need to figure out how to re-establish some level of legitimacy to this field and find outlets that report factual news in a way that is trustworthy. I watched, read, and listened to the pundits say Hillary Clinton was going to win the election for a year- all the way up to the late evening of November 8th 2016, and they were wrong.

Subsequently, I have seen nothing from the  media to indicate that there was a problem, and I have seen no changes in the way that they are conducting business. If anything, it has been worse. During the last two months the U.S. based broadcast news outlets have been unwatchable.

My responsibility as a citizen is to vote for elected officials. The only way I can make an informed decision as to whom to vote for requires that I have the pertinent information. Journalists are charged with collecting, investigating, analyzing, and packaging that information so I can discharge my civic duty. I have neither the training nor the resources to go collect this information myself.

We have created special privileges for them. They get credentialed. They get access. They use sources (often anonymously) to break stories that I can’t. The events of the past year have seriously jeopardized this system.

To make mattes worse, our elected (and our soon-to-be-elected) officials are systematically destroying the credibility of journalists and news outlets. I watched Donald Trump’s first press conference in six months unfold like a slow-motion horror show this morning. Verbally abusing reporters, not answering questions, and disparaging entire news outlets. To make matters worse, the reporters seemed ok with it. After the first reporter’s questions went unanswered, the next reporter should have repeated them.

What happens when, as a group, 40 thousand highly educated, under-paid, and un-appreciated media employees with decades of experience decide to move on to something better? Do we then surrender to Breitbart and Trump TV?

We need an intervention and we need it now.

In Part 2 I hope to explore some remedies to the issues brought up here.


Daniel Cashman, EAMP, MS (AOM), NCCAOM Dipl. Acup









  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.

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