The Fourth Estate: Our Last Leg Standing

Our government was formed with checks and balances in place in case one branch or another was to fall under tyrannical rule. Say a despot-wannabe engaged with a hostile foreign power to sway an election, in this day and time by hacking into voting systems and falsifying outcomes or pouring money into social media accounts to sway voters erroneously. In the case of Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after his participation in Watergate, the Congress stepped up and forced his hand, including members of his own party. In other words, Congress, the second branch of government, prevented an illegal breach into America’s political process by the Presidency, the first branch.

But what if the party of a candidate (then president) was complicit, and the minority party in Congress had no legal recourse? That would mean that yet another branch of government must keep the Republic democratically healthy.

But go one step farther. What would happen if the third branch of government were compromised? What if the president and his majority party in Congress also strong-armed the last and final check—the Supreme Court? What would that scenario mean for the health of the country?

Although not considered one of the three branches of government formed in 1787 when the Constitution was created—the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court—the fourth estate, or the FREE PRESS, has been around for centuries. First in Europe and later in America, the free press has guaranteed people true checks and balances with independent oversight and a commitment to keeping the operations of government transparent.

I doubt the Founding Fathers foresaw a scenario where even the fourth estate were threatened, but these are strange times indeed. Who, in his or her right mind, would ever have imagined a president who called the free press the “enemy of the people” and why would he do this?

In a meeting leading up to a November 2016 interview with CBS’ Leslie Stahl, Trump revealed his purpose. Stahl asked when he planned to stop attacking the press. According to Stahl, “I said, you know that is getting tired, why are you doing this — you’re doing it over and over and it’s boring.” Stahl continued, “He said you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

Now, two years into his presidency, Trump’s continual harsh rhetoric against the press has wider repercussions. Whether intentional or not, reporters around the globe have been threatened and killed. In June 2018, five reporters were shot to death at the Baltimore Sun’s Capital Gazette. In August 2018, a man was arrested after making 14 calls to the Boston Globe after the news organization led a campaign against President Donald Trump’s assault on the media. Robert D. Chain allegedly called the Globe the “enemy of the people” and threatened to kill employees.

Most recently the Turkish government revealed that Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post reporter living in Virginia with a Green Card, was brutally murdered and dismembered in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey. The Turkish government reports that his murder was caught on their audio and video surveillance. Most intelligence sources believe the reason for his death was his criticism of the Saudi royal family, namely Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince. The question becomes—did the Saudis read the president’s disdain for the press as “the enemy of the people” as a green light to eliminate a journalist? The president has stated that US moneyed interests with Saudi Arabia are not threatened even with Khashoggi’s death, so any punishment will be painless.

Once journalists are threatened, jailed, or killed, citizens of the world have no last line of defense, no investigative powers to make sure authoritarians don’t seize power with impunity. It is UNHEALTHY for any country to have no reins on power. Apparently, no one can stop the president from his irresponsible rhetoric, but on November 6, citizens of this country can restore the checks and balances on this president, his complicit congress, and their stacked Supreme Court by VOTING!!!!


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