Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Fourth Branch of Government

French Lick, Indiana – There is a famous story about the American war in Cuba against Spain –the war that features the charge up San Juan Hill. The story goes that newspaper man William Randolph Hearst sent a journalist there to “report on the war in Cuba.” But when the man got there, he sent word back that there was no war in Cuba. Hearst responded that if the man gave him the story, he would give him the war. The war in Cuba happened.

In my college textbook on Political Science, I learned about what it called the four branches of government; the fourth, and at times the most powerful, being the media.
The days are past, or nearly so, when a man such as William Crawford could be, according to the book Henry Clay: The Essential American, lost his bid for the presidency in the early eighteen hundreds, because many people had been told, and apparently some newspapers even printed that he was dead. He was very much alive, and very much a loser, in the election.
We heard about the Boston Bombings last year within minutes, even though some of us were thousands of miles away from where it happened. Journalists were, no doubt, scrambling to get the story off to their outlet as fast as their fingers could type or voices could talk.
The media has a great effect on the way people vote. They have great effect on which stories get out, and which are forgotten. Most people do not know about what happened in the Idaho legislature today, if they are even sitting. I do not. The story is not interesting enough for the big outlets. It hast to be something that people will click on when viewing on a website, or cause them to drop the quarter in the slot to buy the paper when they see it on the headline.
The subtle nuances of politics, the gathering storms, the exiting sidelines, the secret dramas, the shifting of alliances and coming and going of power through people’s hands, are too big to put in a headline, and take too long to catch on Sixty Minutes. Media is a good thing, a helpful thing. That is how I found out who the pope is, or why the entire Western Alliance might be leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year. But I would not recommend thinking you now know the story without further checking.
Media has had a long and varied history in our country, causing at times panic and at others mad rushes of euphoria. Especially at such times as when the evening news boys called out, while waving papers over their heads “Extra, extra, read all about it!” The headline that night read DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. When in fact, Dewey had lost.

Andrew C. Abbott

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