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.)