Feehery: The Fourth Estate needs to heal thyself

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote from Paris that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers. 

That was back in the old days, when the 4th Estate stood up for the people and not for the government. 

Finley Peter Dunn wrote that his job as a journalist was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

These days, the media seems to be more interested in supporting government narratives than it does in exposing government corruption. 

It perhaps is no surprise that the approval ratings of both government officials and journalist rank at the bottom as the least trusted “society leaders”, according to an annual trust meter put out by Edelman.  Interestingly, the country where the media scores the lowest is in Communist China. Our 4th Estate seems to be headed in the same direction, seen as a shill for the corporate and governing elite instead of an independent voice for the people. 

According to Gallup, last year the American people’s trust in the media to fully, accurately and fairly report the news fell another four points to an embarrassing 36 percent, the second lowest ever.

And according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford “few individual news organizations have clear incentives for investing in building trust with indifferent, skeptical, or outright hostile parts of the public.” They would rather preach to the choir than fairly report the news because it is better for business.

As a former press secretary and a voracious consumer of all news, here are my suggestions on how the 4th Estate can heal itself.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).

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