Edmund Burke, an 18th century British political philosopher, came up with the the concept of the Fourth Estate. The “three estates” present in the Parliament were the king, the lords, and the commons. There was a “fourth estate” that trumped them all – the press said Burke.
“If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without a free press or a free press without a government, I would prefer the latter,” said Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if Jefferson would feel the same after an hour of watching shouting heads screaming at each other on today’s infotainment that purports to be news.
Edward R. Murrow was perhaps one of the most important reasons the nation turned against Senator McCarthy and his witch hunts. When Walter Cronkite began to sour on the war in Vietnam the sentiment of the nation began to shift. President Lyndon Johnson, watching live in the White House, reportedly said,“If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
No offense to Bryan Williams, the recently retired Diane Sawyer, Wolf Blitzer, or anyone else on TV news, but it is hard to imagine any of them shifting public opinion like Murrow or a Cronkite on any issue. As a tech geek, I understand that a big reason reason for this has been the internet and social media. Before the internet you had only two main sources for current news, the one on TV and the newspaper. You could even argue that even earlier than the internet, CNN began the transition to pablum news. Gone was the steak and baked potato and in with the applesauce.
Once they had 24 hours to fill the air, you began to hear a lot more banality and repetition as opposed to thoughtful commentary. Magazines provided more in-depth coverage but were much less timely. Now with Twitter, Facebook, and so many other sources, you can be alerted to an oil rig explosion or an earthquake on your smartphone a few minutes after the disaster instead of hours or days later.
The timeliness of these alerts is welcome but often such early reports are not always accurate and misinformation can spread quickly. There is still a great need for real journalists to verify facts, sources, and accuracy and give us the actual news with a good analysis of complex stories as opposed to jumping the shark and getting it wrong. This is especially true with events like elections or breaking national or international news.
So many false early reports over the bombing in Boston, the missing Malaysian airliner, and more recently the coverage of Ferguson proves how unreliable the media can become in their haste to get the scoop on the competition however. CNN and Fox could add the job titles of Chief Apology Correspondent to Anderson Cooper and Bret Baier for the number of mistakes these two have to correct almost daily for errors.
From Mainstream to Lamestream
On Fox news and right-wing radio talk shows, you will almost certainly hear the term lamestream media thrown around many times a day. They are correct that much of the media has been left-leaning for decades. This is not surprising nor new. What they fail to disclose is they are guilty of exactly the same thing in giving more importance to spin than to facts. The Washington Post was left-leaning during Watergate and is still left-leaning in editorials. But the answer is not to simply create a right-leaning one that is guilty of the same errors. Where is the middle of the road media more interested in “just the facts Ma’am” type of stories. Every scandal has deniers or believers depending solely on their own politics and the truth is harder to come by. A polarized populace did not happen without a polarized media to stoke the fire.
The people of the nation still need to know the facts and that journalist will vigorously pursue them regardless of who is in power. Right wing media cannot be seen to give a free pass to corrupt or incompetent Republican presidents and politicians any more than what are considered to be left-leaning media giving a free pass to Democrat presidents and politicians.
During the old Soviet Union they had propaganda down to a science. Their national newspaper Pravda or “The Truth” was little more than a government PR department that printed what it was told to print. Some could argue that is still the case today in much of Russia. But even in the Soviet Union with the KGB, an underground press sprang up called the Samizdat. Similar things are happening in North Korea, Iran, and other countries with an underground press that risk life and limb to provide the truth. In the U.S. we call the Samizdat bloggers. 😆
Watchdog groups and bloggers are often the only people interested in covering stories actual journalists often ignore because media is more about ad revenue than real news. There is a lot more competition for ad revenue than in the days of Murrow or Cronkite. So they often choose fluff pieces, stories that are salacious, and focus more on the latest antics of Justin Bieber than asking why America spends more money per pupil than most other countries in our schools but gets far worse results. Complex issues that matter simply aren’t sexy enough to sell papers it seems.
The fourth estate is in deep trouble and is undergoing a massive transformation to try and stay relevant. I am not optimistic that we will ever see unbiased news reporting again, but I am also aware that is largely our own fault for only being interested in news stories that cater to our own bias. Anything that disagrees with our preconceived ideas is garbage, or at least that is the way most of us tend to think. We don’t search for debate only assent. I am sometimes guilty of that myself but I do at least try to hear out the other side in any debate and I do not shy from people I disagree with. They may not change my mind but I am better off by gaining a wider perspective and understanding their positions.
Macon Telegraph and the Charles Richardson Dilemma
(Although Charles Richardson is far from the only problem with the 4th estate in Macon he is perhaps the most egregious example. I have written several articles trying to correct his misinformation. http://gwmac.com/tag/charles-richardson/ If you only have time for one article, I suggest the one called “There is No Accounting in Macon”. In his editorial today, Charles attacked a board member without calling to speak with him first. He also couldn’t even get his facts correct and will issue a retraction tomorrow after the damage has been done. This is very much par for the course unfortunately. )
Many articles speak about the death of the Fourth Estate in terms of the national media or publications in large cities, but there is an equally troubling decline in standards at the local level. In Macon, GA the once proud and storied Macon Telegraph has degenerated into a stenography service with a hack opinion editor with a singularly bad inability to write persuasive prose or to cover any local stories of actual importance. This also extends to many other countries as well. In the U.K., the very country that coined the term Fourth Estate, Rupert Murdoch has done his best to dismantle their free press as he has done here.
The fourth estate died long ago in Macon, Ga, so count yourself lucky if your town still has a decent newspaper with any investigative reporters The Macon Telegraph no longer seems to have any investigative reporters, or at least none willing to investigate anything unless embarrassed enough by bloggers or a public groundswell to force their hand. They certainly have some reporters with the intelligence and ability to do investigative reporting, but instead are put on stenographer duty and simply report the news as it is spoon fed to them by the police, mayor’s office, and other local agencies.
Very rarely will reporters bother to interview witnesses or go to the jail and get the other side of the story from the people arrested. Rarely are local politicians ever asked anything but softball questions. We all know the Cotton Avenue mafia exist in Macon and controls millions in funds but you wouldn’t know that if your only news source was the local news that have continually failed to investigate even when people handed them proof on a silver platter. Given that Georgia ranks dead last in the country in corruption and Macon is likely near the very top in the state you would think there would be quite a lot to investigate.
Now I know some of you from other cities are probably thinking: “Well… what about the editorial section. Don’t you have an editor and other local opinion writers asking some important questions and probing into areas that need further scrutiny?” We used to have a few writers for the Macon Telegraph that would serve to get the ball rolling and get people to start to asking questions but not anymore. The Macon Telegraph has a senior editor named Charles Richardson that seems completely oblivious to any malfeasance or problems in Macon. His favorite expression is “Move along nothing to see here”. He is not blind, but more insidiously is just trying to protect his wife’s job and also is simply incapable of doing actual writing of substance even if he wanted to. He has a very open agenda to protect the Dallemand legacy and the minions that remain behind which includes his wife.
Charles has systematically pushed out anyone that dared contradict his own opinions. The Telegraph still has some very talented contributors writing for them. From what I understand there used to be far more balance at the Telegraph but Richardson seems to have stamped out the last voice of dissent when he pushed out David Oedel. People like Ed Grissamore, Bill Ferguson, Dick Yarbrough are all very talented writers, but they do not write articles about serious issues that we are facing in middle Georgia and instead focus on an eclectic but entertaining repertoire which is also needed. But voices that question authority and corruption are just as needed but absent. No one at the Telegraph seems interested in harder hitting topics since the few that did address these issues were sent packing by Charles Richardson because he viewed them as a threat. Anyone able to make a point should be viewed as threat to Charles though since he is only capable of using straw man logic. Did I mention he is not a good writer?
It is no wonder that Richardson wants people to move along since he has a huge conflict of interest that would never have been tolerated at any other newspaper with any credibility. His wife was hired by the disgraced former superintendent Romain Dallemand and given a very high paying job. Once his wife was hired, he suddenly began to write glowing reports of Romain Dallemand and his Macon Miracle. For those of you not from here, Dallemand (the former superintendent) was a buffoon that managed to waste around $52 million that has gone missing and has now fled the country to Haiti very likely because he fears incarceration if he returns. Dallemand hired many unqualified people that were given fat salaries in exchange for their support or since they were incompetent at their jobs he knew they could be easily controlled. Most have fled but a few remain.
I honestly had no idea who Charles Richardson even was a few years back. I have been reading the Economist magazine since I was around 16 years old and was never that interested in local news. I knew more about Cambodian politics than I did about a Cotton Avenue mafia in Macon that controlled millions of our tax dollars locally. I relied on websites like the New York Times, the Times of London, and other websites to get my news fix but had largely ignored what was happening in my own backyard. Then when I heard about a Haitian snake oil salesman that was bringing in Chinese acrobats and circuses, spending huge sums travelling the world and staying in luxury hotels, and trying to introduce something called a “Macon Miracle” I became intrigued then outraged the more I learned.
Surely the local news media and especially the editorial writers would give this guy a thrashing, or so I thought. But instead of pointing out the insanity, the local editorial writer was and continues to be his biggest cheerleader. Luckily others in town and even at the Telegraph didn’t buy into the story Charles was trying to spin and people began to look deeper and we started to finally understand what a mess his friend had made in a very short time.
To my shock and horror Charles Richardson transformed into little more than a shill for Romain Dallemand. Even to this day with Dallemand on the lam, he continues to try and make excuses and pass the blame to the Board of Education and hint that his pal Romain was just misunderstood. Certainly some of the board are responsible and those would include Tommy Barnes, Tom Hudson, Wanda West, Ella Carter, and Susan Middleton. Charles Richardson’s eyes are wide open and now he is just trying to circle the wagons to protect his wife job. It is also apparent he boxed himself into a very indefensible corner.
A little advice to Romain Dallemand since you seem to be reading my blog as I get a lot of visitors from Port Au Prince, Haiti that I imagine are you. The next time you want to co-opt an editor as your shill, at least hire one that can actually write and has some talent. You threw your money away with Richardson.
Charles would be hard pressed to write instructions for escaping a paper bag let alone convince the stakeholders of Bibb county that Dallemand was anything more than an incompetent buffoon. Albeit a a much richer buffoon thanks to his golden parachute. Charles is a hack that can’t even master a good five paragraph essay. His poor writing skills offends me almost as much as his conflict of interest with his wife. At least more and more people are waking up and demanding this hack be sent packing. I imagine the groundswell and loss of subscribers will eventually reach a point that McClatchy can no longer ignore. My poll below seems to be rather accurate of the sentiment I have heard from many in the community.
What we can do to Resuscitate the Fourth Estate
I would love to tell you an easy answer but I am afraid none exists at present. Bloggers and social media offer a glimmer of hope as news becomes decentralized and no longer the exclusive domain of certain elites. News companies are only interested in ad revenue and little else. An old expression in the news business is “Sex sells and if it bleeds it leads.” This is nothing new and even good old Ben Franklin was guilty of some salacious news stories in his Pennsylvania Gazette.
The most we can do is try and watch the few left that actually cover news and turn off the shouting heads. But there is at least hope on the local level. Voice your opinions to your local media asking for more coverage of important local issues of concern. Start your own blog or even better write articles and have them published on this site. As more and more big mergers happen there is simply not a lot the average citizen can do to stop these mega mergers,
If you become so disgusted with the local paper you decide to cancel your subscription then take a few minutes to write the publisher to let them know the reason you cancelled. In Macon for example you can tweet Donald Bailey and Patrick Talamantes the CEO of McClatchy. (Please use #4thEstate , #gwmac, and #McClatchy in your tweets as well so we can all read them and retweet them)
If you live in another town with a similarly inept editor then try and find the name of the publisher and let them know you are dissatisfied. Twitter can be a powerful tool to quickly mobilize opinion. The point is we all need to at least try and demand better from our news organizations and even if we fail we must try and make our voices heard. Mark Zieman is the McClatchy executive directly in charge of the Macon Telegraph. McClatchy is the parent company which owns 30 daily newspapers in 15 states.
Instead of complaining endlessly about Bush, Obama, guns, God, gays, and abortion… start writing letters to the editor about all the problems affecting your community. I can guarantee you that no one with the power to do anything about any of those national issues will read your letter to the editor in the Macon Telegraph so you are basically whistling Dixie to an empty room. You can’t change D.C but you can change Macon or wherever you may live.
Perhaps the biggest problems facing your town is crime, taxes, homeless, the schools, or so many other problems all communities have to tackle. I guarantee you if more people started focusing on local issues with their letters to the local papers you would have a much bigger effect that endlessly wasting your breath about national and international news that are a waste of ink. Better yet get out and help clean things up. Volunteer for a cause your support and make a real difference.
You can also support and help spread the word about alternative sources of information. I would like to think this website has written some pieces you will not read elsewhere because I have no agenda but uncovering the truth about any and all malfeasance, corruption, incompetence, and waste in Macon. I hate corruption and ineptitude no matter the race, gender, or the party affiliation of the person. Since the local media refuses to cover these issues I decided to step up to the plate and so can all of you in your own way.
There are also several other sites that are doing their best to give people alternative views you won’t read in the Telegraph thanks to Charles Richardson pushing his agenda. It appears Charles Richardson is far from alone in trying to repaint the sad story of Dallemand into his own fairy tale and has many allies still in Macon trying to look out for their own salaries and give a damn about the students, teachers, or schools. Dallemand fled but his minions remain and are still trying to stir up trouble and line their pockets. Their only agenda appears to be the color of a persons skin and not their qualifications or abilities to do a job. Racism is an evil that must be stamped out wherever it appears and we cannot allow unfounded lies and rumors to go unchallenged. I encourage you to read this article if you have not already done so by Bill Knowles. Local Group’ Tries To Smear And Distort The Efforts of Interim Bibb Superintendent Steve Smith. Bill gives some actual comments from the mindless Dallemand minions left behind that are trying to keep the conversation solely about race and not education.
My main goal in this article was to ask all of you to be aware that most media now has an agenda. Unless you are deaf, blind, and dumb you probably already knew that. Some are left-leaning, others right–leaning, and all ad revenue centric that have morphed into infotainment. They are doing their best to divide us as a country and they are succeeding. We are more polarized as a nation today than we have ever been since the Civil War.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote what I consider to be an excellent opinion piece for Time magazine two days ago about Ferguson I hope you will all read. You may not agree with all of his points, but I think he is on to something and I found myself nodding in agreement at most of the points he hit on in his article. Jabbar said “How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.”
The fourth estate has been on life support for a while. They are desperate to keep the lights on and have resorted to cheap tactics to attract viewers and get clicks for ads on their websites. CNN and other sites now will play ads for any video you click now which was not always the case not long ago. The internet and social media has shifted the power balance and journalist are desperate to stay relevant. They try and creates memes and promote hashtags to stay current and hip. It remains to be seen if they will succeed.
All articles I write have a muse or an inspiration behind them. Something will always trigger an idea for an article. The impetus for this article came from a new HBO series I decided to check out just last night on HBOGo on my AppleTV called The Newsroom. It is a series by Aaron Sorkin. If you enjoyed the West Wing you will love this show as well. Like him or hate his politics you cannot fail to notice Sorkin is a great writer and very talented.
The Newsroom is a story of a very bright news anchor that has been playing it safe for years. Wikipedia gives a good synopsis. “ Jeff Daniels stars as news anchor Will McAvoy, who takes a mandatory leave of absence after a public tirade about America’s shortcomings during a political debate. Upon his return, he discovers that most of his staff have quit. Seeing an opportunity to return to the glory days of televised news instead of ratings-driven infotainment, his boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) has hired Will’s ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) as the new executive producer. McHale shares Skinner’s vision of TV news, and she and Will immediately butt heads.
Here is a short video excerpt that caught my attention and I encourage you to watch it to the end.
I suppose this show hit a nerve. I long for a powerful and independent fourth estate ready to take on corruption and incompetence instead of screaming talking heads we see on the screens today. My efforts with this blog may be small but at least it gives me a sense that I am trying to make a difference. Already here in Macon I can see the fruits of my labor thanks to all the great feedback I have received. I might not be able to change the world but I am pretty sure I can enlighten a few people in my hometown and get people focusing on the real problems facing our community. Georgia is 50th in the nation in terms of corruption and it would not surprise me if Macon was the worst in the state and by extension the worst in the country.
As long as people like Charles Richardson control what is printed you will not read stories that delve into anything but the mundane and trivial. He is an apologist not a journalist. He writes unpersuasive propaganda not editorials. He also writes editorials of which he adds little to the conversation since he fails to get the facts straight and tackles subjects on areas like national defense budgets far above his pay grade. Here at gwmac.com we will do our best to try and provide editorial pieces that try and restore some sanity to counterbalance the propaganda spewed out by a hack that should have been fired long ago. Charles is desperate to stay because he knows another paper after reading through the garbage he has written would never give him a job as an editor again. He is far more suited to handling classifieds or similar.