The failure of America’s fourth estate
It’s difficult to have a citizenry who gives a damn about voting when they immediately associate politics as a shouting match between two sides who are constantly trying to undermine the other. There is the office of the presidency and then there is the President of the United States. There is the governorship and there is the governor. In both of these instances, the titles and the individuals themself are not synonymous but you must have civility when discussing the man or woman holding that office. When the media is critical of, and investigates Gov. Scott Walker or President Barack Obama’s policies it is healthy and just as much a part of the democratic process as voting, calling them names in an effort to boost ratings or web traffic, is not.
Gov. Scott Walker has been in the hotseat in a nearly relentless stream of attacks by the media over topics ranging from Right-To-Work legislation to whether or not he believes in evolution. Behind a lot of the debate regarding the potential 2016 presidential contender is a style of namecalling you’d expect to hear on a children’s playground. I’m not even talking about the comments section on a Facebook article. There are media outlets, like The Washington Post, who are entrusted to report the news yet refer to Gov. Walker as a hooligan. A Salon article even called him “The Great Whitebread Hope.” It’s well within these organization’s purview to do these things but it doesn’t add anything to the story which begs the question: Why do it?
Unsurprisingly, President Obama has been the subject of similar attacks around the country. President Obama’s attacks began even before taking office when he was accused of being Kenyan despite releasing his birth certificate, a problem which somehow plagues him to this day. In February, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani asserted President Obama was un-American on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” where no one on the panel refuted his nonsensical claim. The “Fox & Friends” panel continued to indulge Giuliani in his ridiculousness and failed to critically question his position.
When I read those kind of articles or watch those news segments, I immediately lose interest. Not because I’m offended by their language, not by a long shot. It’s because their method of “reporting” is contributing to the current state of America’s political discourse and giving it any further attention, even sharing it on Twitter or Facebook, implicates me in supporting that language in the media.
The media act as the fourth estate in America, or they’re supposed to. This means the media takes up the task of reporting on and watching over the government and is responsible for keeping the electorate informed of the government’s actions. The power of the fourth estate has eroded. Today there are a plethora of “news” sites littered across the Internet. These sites allow people to find their own little corner of the Internet that reports “news” and highlight video excerpts validating their position and thus creating a vicious cycle of continually influencing the readers political leanings. It’s much easier to make a legitimate looking website today than it was to maintain a consistent, widely distributed print publication in the past.
Name calling in the media immediately degrades the conversation. If you claim to be a trusted news outlet and you call someone names, you’re not reporting anymore, you’re levying personal attacks against the individual you view as the opposition. No matter how justified you feel calling Gov. Walker a hooligan or President Obama un-American, once you do it or even allow others to do it unchallenged, you’re contributing to the decline and ultimate failure of the fourth estate. Reporting the news, particularly American politics, requires restraint and courage.
Legislation will be passed that you don’t agree with and people will be elected that you didn’t vote for. It is the media’s job to report these events carefully and avoid the easy jabs at the person you disagree with.
Look, this isn’t a desperate plea from a naive political science major asking everyone to sing Kumbaya. It’s simply illustrating a point: The fourth estate is failing us. The media’s job is to report the news, not rock it left and right.
Cullen is a senior, graduating in May, majoring in history and political science. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter