By Alex Emslie
America, our shining city on a hill, is afflicted. The sickness is a malignant cancer spreading through the nation at an alarming pace and its immune system has crumbled. It has targeted liberty and exploited civic lethargy.
Supposed benevolent elected tyrants have failed us, shirking their responsibilities to American ideals. The ailment is a shift in a delicately constructed balance between despotism and popular sovereignty during the Bush administration.
It’s not my intention, however, to write about the malevolence of recent administrations. Others have condemned corruption and power exceedingly well, albeit after the fact.
No, my concern is with the failure of the press. It function, as an implied check on our three branch system — the fourth estate.
Journalists walk a blurry tightrope, constantly subject to interpretation. We serve our country by opposing it, and unbridled cynicism is a requirement. The fourth estate’s failure is conducive to our current situation: an economy combusted, civil liberties a memory and American elitism the benchmark of foreign policy. How well will this republic function without the fourth estate? How well has it functioned since the press forgot its mission?
Daily newspapers are dying all over the country. It should make me reconsider my goal of becoming a professional soldier in the ranks, defending The Bill of Rights. It doesn’t though, because the old guard failed. They intentionally neglected, or forgot, their cause. They bought blindly and sold faithlessly an illegal war, failed to defend natural principles like habeas corpus, and chose false job security over their duty to inform.
Manipulating the commerce of the news, media corporations and the government with which they are irrevocably intertwined transformed our previously functioning noble check into a cheerleader for war mongers, murderers and thieves.
A four year hiatus in serious questioning of the tyrants, from post Sept. 11 to Hurricane Katrina, left the American people blind and sickened by the sweet fawning laxity of the news.
So I shed no tears for dying dailies. Their disintegration is fair punishment for dereliction of duty. Let the rotten house burn to the ground. On its foundation we can rebuild a system independent of the Scripps and Hearst stock prices and the press can again serve its readers — the American public — and not investors in media conglomerates whose only concern is profit margin.
Dave Krieger wrote in the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News, “I still don’t get how a newspaper with 200,000 paying subscribers and hundreds of thousands more readers on the Web cannot make a go of it… ‘Not our fault,’ the suits say. ‘[It’s the] business model’s fault’ So who came up with the business model?”
A combination of stockholder greed and society’s frivolity finds the fourth estate in shambles. Society was more attracted to screaming, red-faced propaganda than to factual reporting, and the republic suffers. Consumers, as much as investors, define the business model of the news.
If we are to revive our republic, then we, as citizens, must realize again our responsibility to vigilance against those who would trample liberty. Or, as Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Paine’s eloquence applies both to the press and to American citizenry as a whole. True patriots of a republic realize that constant cynicism and opposition to power fuels the machinery of freedom. I hope to do this professionally but I realize my work is only as effective as those who might take the time to read it. Let us never again forget our responsibilities and hope we’re not too late.