Every American and most cable news watcher from around the world watched in shock and possible awe as the NATO missiles destroyed the old city of Baghdad. The regime of Saddam Hussein ended thanks to the American invasion in what was the alleged pursuit of Al Qaeda and the terrorist remnants. The missing link to this event was an independent role of the media and the subsequent pivotal role of the fourth estate in ensuring that whole account of war was independent. The much cherished liberal media in the western world lacked the precise corner stone that was supposed to provide guidance for its operation- impartiality. During the Iraq war, the American media merely played a cheerleading role and did not question the government even though it was apparent that the reason for the war was quaky (Media Watchdog Website, 2012).
It is guaranteed that the White House and the entire Bush administration were doing their role of selling the war to the public. It was in order for the Bush administration to paint the picture of the war as necessary and instrumental for American security interests. The irking part of the whole process was the stand taken by the American media. During the early stage of the war, the leading news channel in America, acted as the mouthpiece of the Bush administration. As the facts came on the table, the media took a swift turn and admitted, although grudgingly that they had been at fault with their coverage of the Iraqi war. The bottom line is that the liberal American media had misled American public about the war on Iraq. The credibility of the media as independent check on the government was flushed through the toilet. BBC’s Greg Dyke was one of the few media personalities that openly criticized the American forth estate for its blind patriotism pertaining to its coverage of the Iraqi war. Dyke described the whole phenomena as “gung ho- patriotism”. Fox TV channel was perhaps the biggest casualty because of its reverence towards the war. At one time, Fox described the war as an “Operation Iraqi Freedom, which was the same title used by the Pentagon. Was the role of the media comprised in this setting? I would argue yes.
Let us go back to the original meaning of the term fourth estate. Conventionally, the term fourth estate is used to refer to the media (including the press, print, and the internet) as an official branch of the government that plays the role of checking on the excess of other branches of the government. Usually, the role of the fourth estate is to inform and educate the public on the doings of the government. The term fourth estate came to the surface from the work of English politician Edmund Burke (1729 -1797). In the American context, the First Amendment grants the freedom of expression (Senevirtane, 2012). The key responsibility of the media, under this amendment is to play the role of the people’s watchdog. The increasingly divisive media that play the taste of political and religious inclinations threaten this role. In addition, the shrinking readership of the newspapers thanks to the internet and over focus on entertainment from the television makes the skewed news channel the only viable sources of news for many Americans. Independent news is thus lost in the paradise of divisive media.
In my view, particularly from main sources of nationwide news channels such as CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and Fox News, there is considerable level of bias that distorts the meaning of the role of the media as being a watchdog to the public. For many of the channels, news and current affairs are tuned so that events, characters, and controversies are interpreted in a way that supports certain bases such as liberals or conservatives. The motives of the leading channels are primary to make money by solidifying the bases of the support. Fox News will give a hopeful analysis of the presidential elections to make sure that conservatives get a feel good and a realistic chance of winning the election. MSNBC will cover up events that make the liberals look bad. Fox plays the role of a watchdog to the extreme when the liberals are in power and so does the liberal media when the conservatives are in control. What results from this fiasco is the confusion on the part of the viewer and the apparent lack of information for the public.
In the end, the absence of credible and independent journalism creates a situation where the official sources are lost and the extremists and biased opinions skewed to the taste of sympathizers take center stage as official news sources. This is damaging to the concept of free space. It becomes self-preservation of the freedom of speech and not the watchdog of the public. The American media has become bedrock of liars and moneymaking organizations with little or no interest of the public. This is an insult to the very idea of freedom of speech.
Senevirtane, K. (2012). Crumbling of the Fourth Estate. Retrieved on October 16th, 2012. http://cyberjournalist.org.in/estate.html
Media Watchdog Website. ( 2012) The Media. Retrieved October 15th 2012, http://www.newswatch.org/