Catholics and the Fourth Estate

Over the past 200 years, the power of the press in democratic societies has grown dramatically. The influence of the press led the 19th century poet and playwright Oscar Wilde to write that :

 

In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it [Edmund] Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time, no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three . . . We are dominated by journalism.

 

Of course, Oscar Wilde was not exactly a model of piety and Spartan virtue. But he had the gift of very keen perception, and we should think about what he said. When the press portrays itself as the “tribune of the people,” ensuring the honesty of the other major institutions in our society through relentless critical scrutiny – then we need to ask the question, who scrutinizes the press? Who keeps our news media honest? Who holds them accountable for humiliating one political candidate while fawning over another? Nobody elected Brian Williams as the NBC news anchor. And readers can’t impeach the editor of The New York Times – though some people I know would find that a happy thought.

What we can do is refuse to be stupid. We can decline to be sandbagged by our news establishment into thinking that marriage for homosexual partners is inevitable or an obligation of social justice; or that Islam and Christianity lead to pretty much the same conclusions about freedom, society and the nature of the human person; or that the abortion issue is somehow “settled” when thousands of unborn children continue to be legally killed everyday.

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