October 11, 2006

The Fourth (And Very Necessary) Branch

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who read Time and those who read Newsweek. My family falls into the latter group. We worship Newsweek just as much as we worship the Redskins or my grandma's meatballs. Each issue arrives in our mailbox every Monday afternoon in pristine condition. By the next day, it's pages are usually dog-eared and the cover crinkled. What can I say? We take our news seriously.

Last week, the editor of Newsweek Mark Whitaker stepped down from his position to take a job at the Washington Post (another periodical that I adore). In his last issue as editor, Whitaker summarized in a letter to his readers the highs and lows of his eight-year tenure at the helm of the magazine. At the end of the letter, Whitaker reaffirmed the continuing mission of the magazine to inform and to educate the American people. He wrote: "We believe the mission of a free press is to shine light into corners the powerful would keep dark."

I agree with Whitaker whole-heartedly. In many ways, the press acts as the fourth branch of our government---a branch that keeps the other three in check. By uncovering illegal activities and breaches of power, the press can be viewed as the clucking hen of the U.S. government. It tries to keep our leaders from going too far and it isn't afraid of asking them the hard questions. A key example of this is the Watergate scandal that was exposed by two Washington Post reporters.

Of course, the press isn't perfect. In recent years, 24-hour news networks have made a mockery of real news. I shudder at the thought of Nancy Grace and the entirety of Fox News. Even CNN and MSNBC are prone to sensationalize every minor issue. George Allen has a Jewish mother? STOP THE PRESSES! Lance Bass is gay? BREAKING NEWS! Old McDonald has a farm? THE EVENT OF THE CENTURY! And so on and so forth. These 24-hour news networks take sensationalism to the next level; they are more concerned with entertaining than informing. What a disgrace.

Yet I still have a lot of faith in print journalism. Broadcast journalism seems to be going down the tubes, but print journalism still has a lot of merit. Periodicals like the Post and Newsweek aren't perfect either, of course, but they carry on the banner to educate the masses. They continue in the old tradition of writing the first draft of history. (And I think they're doing a good job too.) As long as reporters and editors hold onto the mantra to "just tell the damn truth," then I think the press and the American people will be OK.

(I tried to put in a picture, but blogger is being dumb. My apologies.)


  1. George Allen's gay Jewish mother is really Old McDonald and has a farm. Now there's the event of the century!

    Caroline, since blogs are growing in credibility as news sources, we are actually part of the fourth branch of the government (that neglected and maligned fourth estate of the realm). Though I guess we're pretty low in the pecking order. Almost like--dare I say it--congressional pages? :P

  2. Haha!

    Great comment, John. All of us---including congressional pages---need to bind together and stick it to the man. Hehe.

  3. Anonymous10:35 PM

    News on tv really is starting to become sensationalized and I think the intent is to entertain rather than inform much of the time. I think that has come about with the advent of satellite tv and hundreds of other channels acting as competition for veiwers. Mostly all of the big news stations are guilty of it.

    I feel that print journalism in some instances can be just as bad. Even though newspapers have been noble at times in shedding light on corners of a room with lurking shadows, they also do a disservice when divulging information that should be kept secret. Most recently the New York Times has succeeded in letting terrorists know exactly what we are doing to find them. News stories like that sell a lot of papers, but the writers are both irresponsible and haughty. The New York Times tells stories with a skewed partisan perspective. Of course, you say the same thing about Fox News. Which news source is closer to just straight up unsullied news?

    Who really does tell the "damn truth" today anyway? Should I believe the Washington Post or the Washington Times? Time or Newsweek? I wonder if there is truly a 100% bipartisan news source out there. If you find one, let me know! :)

  4. There really isn't a 100% non-partisan news source. Such a periodical is impossible to find because the news will always be written by human beings who are prone to their own biases and prejudices.

    I think the best way to learn about current affairs is to read a wide array of major newspapers and magazines. I like the New York Times, but I really love the Washington Post. (Mainly because I grew up with it and also because it's a great paper.) I'll read partisan sources for fun, such as Salon or Townhall, but I don't really trust them as entirely newsworthy.

    I've found the best sources of news are the BBC and the Economist. Since these news outlets take a more international perspective, I feel they give a more balanced view of what's going on in America. An outsider's perspective, if you will. They also concentrate on important events that are occuring throughout the globe that don't get a lot of attention in the U.S.