The power the ‘Fourth Estate’ holds in the United States is nearly unmatched by its ability to control over how the audience thinks and operates over the course of events that happen in our country every day. “The ‘Fourth Estate’ is a societal power, force or institution whose influence is not consistently or officially recognized as such” (Ubuntu FM, 2017). They have the ability to observe the political process that happens within our federal government as well as publishing content they see as necessary information to an American audience. Their role is very crucial as it can control the outcome of the political issues and events within the country by pressing a certain agenda that could cause the manipulation of the American mind set.
For this paper, my research question is, “How much power does the ‘Fourth Estate’ hold over the people and the government in the United States?” This essay explores into the ‘Fourth Estate’ as it can control over a massive audience, I will first discuss on the credibility of these major news networks, and then I will talk about the role of journalists in the media. In my concluding piece of evidence, I will discuss about how the ‘Fourth Estate’ holds more power than the three traditional branches of government. The ‘Fourth Estate’ holds too much power over the general American audience and we need to create certain limitations so the ability of how much information can be made public to the viewers and listeners is regulated.
The ‘Fourth Estate’ plays a major role within the United States as it observes the political process that goes on within our government buildings. Their job is to watch the government system and make sure that the participants do not exploit the values of our democratic system that we hold as a country (Ubuntu FM, 2017). The ‘Fourth Estate’ also plays a crucial role when dealing with the outcomes of political issues and/or candidates based on what the media believes to be a more significant issue or race going on at the time. The media could sway the public’s opinion by pressing their own personal agenda, and networks could dramatize headlines to gain network exposure to increase ratings over their competition.
In the media today, audiences attempt to detect what is either factual information or “fake news” to make sure that they are receiving the full story of what is currently going on within our government. The job description of journalists is to deliver news in way that does not contain any form of bias or prejudice. It seems to be an impossible task for many as everybody has their own opinions and set of ideas, but any form of biases may take away the true context of the story. Many networks have been surveyed by audiences on whether or not their programming can be defined as a credible source. Many over-the-air networks that include ABC (67%) and CBS (65%) have high credibility compared to the cable news networks that include Fox News (55%) and MSNBC (55%) (Business Insider, 2016).
My hypothesis to why this is the case is probably due to the programming on these cable news networks that contain extremist’s views that cause moderate audiences to turn away from these programs. Many audiences who do not watch these forms of programming will state that the commentators do not have credible newscasts as a reason why they do not tune into these networks. For a majority of cable networks, each one carries their own set of opinions expressed by journalists and reach out to different audiences that share these ideologies. That’s the key for these networks as they attempt to capture an audience by focusing on a set of ideas that align with their intended audience.
While doing my research, I realized the best way to gain the full truth in media is to watch and listen to public broadcasting programs which include the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). The reason why these programs have a higher credibility is due to the fact that government-paid programming does not include entertainment while broadcasting the news. The United States Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act back in 1967. This has become the single largest source of funding for public radio, television and any mobile services (cpb.org). Although these programs carry a lot more credibility than other cable news program, they still tend to follow the trend of most media outlets and lean left on the political spectrum.
The idea of more government control aligns most with the Democratic Party so the issues and topics that will be presented on these programs tend to align with greater government control. That is not just what is seen in the United States; A British government-paid program named the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) almost mirrors where PBS and NPR align on the political spectrum. These government-paid programs also have a different approach at presenting the news to their audiences. Their broadcasts are much more informative compared to cable news broadcasts which are more entertainment-based media. Many cable news networks have primetime hosts that appear at a specific time five nights a week. This format leads to the hosts feeling as if they have more control over what they can speak about on the current issues and topics happening in the world.
In the media today, journalists are given a lot of power to state their biases on a massive platform, either on television, radio and social media. The task for journalists is to report the news that contains no bias and to deliver the truth of the topic more clearly to their audience. It is understandable for all of these journalists to express different forms of bias, because it is a natural feeling to relate to one side of the issue more than the other. The problem with presenting one’s bias on a national level is that you may forget to talk about the ‘truth’ and could start a trend that might mislead your audience from the actual description of the issue and topic.
President Donald Trump has attacked cable news networks in the past giving them the title of “Fake News” which has started a war between the media and the President. A lot of people have aligned with the President’s positions as they have lost their patience with how the media has presented stories. Some of these stories have made some sides look weak and that undermines at exposing the full story of what has happened during their broadcast.
“The ‘Fourth Estate’ is viewed more as a counterbalance to the other branches within the government, as it is does not obliged to operate by the same, traditional separation of powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches” (Tran, 2016). Their power comes from within themselves as they produce stories as they seem as necessary to themselves and not regarding of how the government would respond to their reports and stories. However, this does not mean that they are not separated from the checks and balances of government surveillance. Back in midst of the Civil War, United States President Abraham Lincoln shut down up to nearly three hundred Confederate newspapers (Bulla, 2009). The reasoning was because these newspapers were interfering with the war by publishing content that described and listed out the Union army’s movements.
The reason why the ‘Fourth Estate’ has so much power is because they operate differently than the other three main branches. When it comes to the Executive and Legislative branches, we elect individuals to these positions to decide whoever we see is deemed necessary to operate over a specific area of the United States government. For the Judicial branch, the judges are typically nominated and selected for position affiliations that align with the other Legislative and Executive leaders. American citizens play an indirect role in that selection process. But when it comes to the ‘Fourth Estate’, we do not select who is hired by these news networks. This means we do not elect the people who present information to us every night.
Throughout this course, we participated in weekly readings that required us to answer the Digital Day Discussion on Wednesdays. One reading that we did for class was Wendy Chun’s Programmed Versions: Software and Memory, and I believe this closely relates to my paper because Chun talks about our lives according to the software. Chun states in the text that software is “almost intangible, generally invisible complex, vast and difficult to comprehend”. This relates to my view of the media because it talks about its invisibility to all of us, but it is powerful in exerting over our thoughts and actions.
The way that the news and other forms of information are presented to the audiences is the way the media wants you to see the story. Their ability to provide the information to the public could be a quite powerful method to push an agenda that the media wants the audience to take away from their presentation. Although most news outlets will not draw away from the credibility from the stories, the commentators that have primetime television “windows” that offer new opinions could persuade the audience. We often see this in politics when the branches of government talk about certain reforms to current laws and possible new amendments to the Constitution.
These news networks can control on what they want to highlight about the new reforms and new proposals, which makes the audience watching these programs focus on the issues they are exposed to by the journalists. This ties to the point that I was talking about earlier in the paper: to gain a full understanding about the story, the best option is to watch and listen to public programming. Since these programs are government-paid, they are the best “software” to watch to gain the full intel of the event.
Another reading that we did for the class was Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang. This reading provided a specific example of how the media manipulated audiences’ belief that the Democrat Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, was going to win the Presidency with ease over the Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, polls using many versions of algorithms indicated that Hillary Clinton was going to run away with the election to become the first woman President of the United States.
As the election night reports went on, the predication of who was going to be President suddenly switched and Donald Trump went on to win of the most unpredictable Presidential elections in the history of the United States. The reason why I really like Wang’s use of this example is because it just shows us how little we control what happens in future. Many news networks believe in the uses of polls and trust these methods to help determine the possible outcome of future events. The main problem with these news networks is that it tricks the audience to believe that the outcome of these events is already determined and that nothing could change the course of the outcome.
I was incredibly disappointed that these major networks who wrote off with Hillary Clinton as winning the election, because it potentially kept voters at home because they did not see any value in voting in an election in which the outcome was already determined. This example, once again, supports the power of the ‘Fourth Estate’ because with doing something as simple as posting poll results can capture the audience’s attention and change the amount of support the audience has on the issues.
The ‘Fourth Estate’ is powerful because of the lack of regulations that exist against them and their ability to manipulate an audience’s perception of how they should focus on a certain set of issues. The ‘Fourth Estate’ has gained the autonomy from the government and other politicians and does not derive any of its authority from the traditional separation of powers present in our government. This type of power could allow the publications of stories and news presented to their audiences to persuade the point a view.
The ‘Fourth Estate’ must be regulated to what can be presented on their news networks so that the American audiences are to gain the full truth about the story and to limit the amount deception to different audiences for viewing different news networks. It should not be difficult for these major news networks to deliver the truth to the audience, but networks prioritize ratings over the truth.
The networks are too focused on it being a numbers game, and this drives them to produce content that does not have to relevant to them the truth. Until the networks keep sticking to their agenda and until networks realize that the method will no longer work, they will continue to keep ratings up by sticking to their agenda. Although the ‘Fourth Estate’ does have a powerful method of pushing their agendas and presenting the information, it is up to the people to change the ways the media control us by forcing changes and regulations before news networks manipulate the audience any more than it already has.