Douglas MacKinnon

The new year means resolutions, and we can only hope that the Fourth Estate will make at least one of its own: A resolution that, for the sake of the nation, puts honorable journalism before political, cultural or religious bias, before competition, and before ratings.

While complaining about bias and unprofessional conduct by the media is nothing new in the post-Sept. 11 world we inhabit, the consequences of purposely flawed reporting have been magnified exponentially. At the end of the 18th century, historian Thomas Carlyle quoted Edmund Burke as saying, "there were Three Estates in Parliament; but in the Reporter' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact ... Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in lawmaking, in all acts of authority."

While some believe Carlyle erroneously assigned credit to Burke regarding the "Fourth Estate," the tone and the warning attached to the Carlyle reporting could not be more accurate or timely. Our media do speak to the whole nation and in some ways have grown more powerful than some branches of government. As a profession, the various media outlets have the largest megaphones, and when they choose to unite on a subject — say, their opposition to the war in Iraq — then for the most part, that is the only opinion the vast majority of Americans will hear.

Having the means and the will to spread monolithic thought that shapes and molds the beliefs of the masses is a power long sought throughout history.

The only way it could get better is if left-leaning newspapers and networks got together to then "poll" the American people on the one-sided news they offered them with regard to the war and the Bush administration.

Well, things are much better. In a medium that basically polices itself, offering slanted news and then "polling" such myopic information is the norm for many. While a majority of journalists may still consider such conduct unprofessional, dangerous and diametrically opposed to the best interests of readers and viewers, none can deny that it is not a part of their industry.


Douglas MacKinnon

Douglas MacKinnon is former White House and Pentagon official who spent three years working in a Joint Command.

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