"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What and why is the Fourth Estate?

Question Number 2

What is the Fourth Estate?

The public press and mass media, emphasizing the role of journalists in maintaining a society free from authoritarian government.

The term has been attributed to British politician Edmond Burke (1729-1797), quoted in Thomas Carlyle’s book, “Heroes and Hero Worship in History.” (1841)

“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.”

The three estates of the British parliament Burke referred to were the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual, and the House of Commons. In America, the three estates—branches of government--are the Executive, the Congress, and The Supreme Court.

But the free press ideally provides the fourth check on the powers of government, representing the people with information free of censorship.

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