The Flaccid Fourth Estate

Last year I asked myself repeatedly why we kept talking about Britney Spears’s ladyparts.  I wondered how an ungraceful limo entrance heard round the world could supplant everything more urgent, if not more critical, than Britney’s hoochie-cooch.

The answer, of course, is obvious: We pay for it.  Why would we seek out nebulous concepts buried in spin when Britney’s right there?  And she’s underdressed! And now she’s shaving her head!

I’m fortunate to live in a place where I have instant access to the viewpoint I prefer.  There’s no question we have some response to what’s up in this country.  There’s simply not enough of it to counter the oppressive “act first, think later” attitude that prevails.

Right now we’re looking at a unified Executive-Legislative one-two punch.  Legal scholars have added their collective voice to this collective thinking, calling for the Supreme Court to move further to the left.  Indeed, a few major left-leaning Constitutional scholars have begun to call for a Rooseveltian Court-packing scheme to “prolong [their] majority.”  Even without packing, the Judiciary may well move substantially to the left before Obama’s first term ends.

Traditionally the media provides a sort of “fourth check” to balance the government.  Arguments in the First Congress surrounding the passage of the First Amendment suggest that maintaining an objective media is a huge part of why the Bill of Rights passed at all.  The first of few enumerated rights, critical to our structure of government, is our ability to criticize.

Checks and balances have more to do with sharing powers than distributing them.  But in this past year the fourth branch has utterly failed to keep the government (“Big G”) in check.

Start with the legislature.  We’re seeing some massive bills rammed through the works.  Our unified Congress has brazenly expressed its determination to pass as much legislation as possible before 2010.  If you check Drudge this morning there is a list of pork included in the health care bill that includes actual pork: $1,191,200 for “2 pound frozen ham sliced”; $16,784,272 for — no joke! — “canned pork.”  Not only are these government-expansion measures blatant, encounter little complaint from the media.

In fact, the filibuster-proof legislature has been using the fourth estate to hasten its expansion.  Right before the first (or second, if you count Bush’s 2008 stimulus) bail-out we saw a flurry of fear-mongering propaganda among the major left-leaning news sources to stir up reactionary responses to the recession.  Without that propaganda, popular resistance would likely have hindered the bail-out from passing.  Markets may have found their way back to their feet by now.  But because so much main stream emphatically backs our otherwise-unchecked government, we see deference where there should be skepticism from the press.

Failure to check the Executive proves even more dangerous.  Honduras (Zelaya) coverage [last summer] represented perhaps the most egregious example of the media’s failure to perform its “check” duty as Fourth Branch.  Countless networks continued for months to refer to military action in Honduras as a “coup”!

If anything, that was President Obama’s greatest coup yet.  Honduras merely attempted to maintain its constitutional government and dignity abroad.  But the American president sided with such revolutionaries as Chavez and Castro to quash the rule of law in Honduras with one rhetorical fell swoop.

When former President Bush toed the Rule of Law line the media immediately – and rightly! — pounced to demand adherence.  With Honduras we should have seen a monolithic media declaiming Obama’s actions and demanding that we respect the rule of law.  We don’t want an irreverent media; we just need a press corps that does not behave like the President’s deferential interns, making a Lewinski of the Fourth Estate.

President Obama repeatedly takes advantage of media deference.  Last month he penned a Washington Post op-ed filled with rhetoric and aimed directly at latte-sipping, arugula-eating elites.  Kudos to the President for acknowledging that the bail-out failed.  But a Sunday morning “fireside editorial” is NOT the way to address those most affected by government failure.  Karl Rove mocked the president’s rhetoric in a subsequent Wall Street Journal column.  This was the extent of the fall-out calling for more action than rhetoric.

Rather than spin feeble verbal circles, the Executive branch should release its death grip on industry and permit markets to work.  As long as President Obama continues to apologize even while persevering in using Big G as a reactionary tool we will only see more problems.  An active “fourth branch” media check could demand results and halt further disingenuous appeals to elites who don’t know and don’t care.

Finally, in the least dangerous branch, an overly deferential media failed to demand soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor’s perspective on legal policy.  For the duration of last month’s hearings we all waited with bated breath to hear Sotomayor betray her position on…anything!  She never revealed a single viewpoint, and her adoring fans in the press took it in stride.

Without a media check we will inevitably see the judiciary follow the rest of Big G to spin further and further from responsibility to the political process.  With the rest of the government so united, a weak Judiciary will be a huge detriment to the future of our constitutional republic, and indeed, to the future of our Constitution.

Now is not the time to nod sheepishly and admit that we have not read the bills.  The First Amendment may cover Britney’s ladyparts better than she covers them herself, but this was not why 1A was passed.  The media can keep the government responsible, but deference is not the way.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Flaccid Fourth Estate

  1. Pingback: Deference and Decay « Unkategorized

  2. Pingback: Politics is a Country Club: Mubarak/Clinton Edition | OpenMarket.org

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