pull quoteThe Fourth Estate in Shameful Disarray

This week, Publisher Bill Bowman yields this space to community advocate and former Associate Publisher at Up & Coming Weekly, Janice Burton.

In 1841, Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

That Fourth Estate Burke talked about was the media and its power to effect change through words. Just words. Growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer. But while at Campbell University, I saw the power of the media in the work of dedicated student journalists who took a stand to defend the right of an author. That author was Clyde Edgerton, then a professor at Campbell. Edgerton released his highly successful book Raney, which poked fun at some traditional Baptist beliefs. The Baptist institution did not look fondly at Edgerton’s work and dismissed him. (They are much more open now.) The students, particularly the editors of the paper, went to bat for him. While it didn’t change the outcome, Edgerton was still dismissed, it showed me that the media could make a difference.

The next semester, I signed on to write for The Campbell Times. It became my passion. I found I love writing. I loved digging in and finding the story. I loved taking a stand. So I pursued that passion. I can say that for more than 20 years, I have been proud to be a journalist. I have been proud to be a member of the Fourth Estate. That is no longer true.
The state of journalism in America is a disgrace. Blame it on the 24-hour news cycle. Blame it on the internet and faux media sites. Blame it on the Left. Heck, blame it on the Right. The media has lost its way and in doing so is threatening the very fabric of our nation.

It is not the job of the media to pick a side. Instead, it is the job of the media to deal in facts — nothing but the facts. If you pick a side, it needs to be on the opinion page — not the front page.

I read at least six different news sites every morning so that I can try to find a nugget of truth. Articles on the same topic are so disparate that sometimes I don’t even believe the journalists were at the same event. (And, I’m not just talking about national media. I see it in within our own local media as well.)

The latest news dominating the headlines is about President Trump’s immigration executive order. Everyone is running around like the sky is falling down. But this is nothing new. If you deal in facts, not emotion, not hearsay, all of the past six presidents have signed executive orders limiting or banning the immigration or travel to America by certain groups of people. Again this is fact. You can find it in the National Archives if you take the time to look … which is what any self-respecting journalist would do before writing a story.

So, let’s do that. Let’s look at facts:

• In April 1980, as the U.S embassy in Tehran was under terrorist control, Carter signed an order invalidating “all visas issued to Iranian citizens for future entry into the United States.” The order said that the U.S “will not reissue visas, nor will we issue new visas, except for compelling and proven humanitarian reasons or where the national interest of our own country requires.” (Sounds an awful lot like what Trump just did, except he included seven countries.)

• In September of 1981, Ronald Reagan barred the entry of “any undocumented aliens arriving at the borders of the United States from the high seas.” In August of 1986, Reagan signed an order “barring entry for any Cuban nationals or immigrants except in certain cases.” These “certain cases” included Cuban nationals who had applied for entry into the U.S. as immediate family members and those who under the law were “special immigrants.” (Kind of sounds like special groups Trump’s order talks about.)

• President George H.W. Bush only used this executive authority to undo a previous executive order by President Ronald Reagan that suspended entry of officers and employees of the Nicaraguan government.

• In May 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an order “barring entry for members of the Haitian military, their immediate families, any major participants in the coup d’état of 1991.” And again, in January 1998, Clinton signed an order “barring entry for members of the military junta in Sierra Leone, and their families.”

•In January 2004, George W. Bush signed an order “barring entry for public officials who solicit or accept bribes in exchange for any act or omission in their public duties that has serious adverse effects on the national interests of the U.S.; anyone who provides or offers to provide such a bribe; any current or former public official whose misappropriation of public funds or interference with public processes has had serious adverse effects on the national interests of the U.S.; or the immediate families.” Specifically, the groups Bush barred from entry included members of the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe and the Lukashenka government in Belarus.

•Not to be left out, in July 2011, President Barack Obama barred the entry of “anyone under a UN travel ban; anyone who violates any of 29 executive orders regarding transactions with terrorists, those who undermine the democratic process in specific countries, or transnational criminal organizations.” And again, in 2012, he barred the entry of anyone “facilitating computer or network disruption that could assist in or enable serious human rights abuses by or on behalf of the government of Iran and Syria; anyone who have sold or provided goods, services, or technology to Iran or Syria likely to be used for such purposes; or to have materially assisted anyone whose property or interests are described.”

Each of these executive orders left it up to the executive agencies like the Department of State, Homeland Security, etc., to make special exemptions, as does Trump’s order. So, instead of painting Trump as a power-grabbing president who is breaking American law and dealing the death blow to the Statue of Liberty, the media should have reported this not uncommon practice as just that, along with the fact that there are numerous agencies that have the ability to make decisions about who gets in or out. This is a presidential practice that crosses both party lines and that has affected numerous classes of people.

But that’s not what the media has done. Because that would be reporting the news, not making it. And that is why I am ashamed of the Fourth Estate. Not because I am a conservative or a liberal, but because I am an American, and I am a journalist. The media is wreaking havoc on all Americans, and quite frankly, we deserve better.

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