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The Lamberty Report: "The Fourth Estate Sale and Estate 4.0"
by Ron Lamberty

The term “Fourth Estate” has been used to describe the press since the early 19th century. In pre-revolution France, the first, second, and third estates were the clergy, the royals, and the commoners, respectively. Many years later Edmund Burke (who was kind of the Will Rogers of England) looked up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons and said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.”

Our founding fathers felt the same way, writing freedom of the press into the First Amendment of the Constitution. The idea was that we need to have someone who will be willing to search for the truth and print it for all to see – to keep government and businesses honest, and to challenge the “conventional wisdom.” And for a couple hundred years it worked.

It isn’t working very well today.

Conventional wisdom leads a lot of people to the conclusion that using a food product – like corn – to make something that isn’t food – like ethanol – leads to higher food prices. Conventional wisdom might also conclude that since Oklahoma City is the capital of Oklahoma, New York City must be the capital of New York. That’s the problem with conventional wisdom – sometimes it isn’t very wise.

Unfortunately, our Fourth Estate has devolved to the point that they would rather find the mortal enemy of the guy who said New York City was New York’s capital and get him to call the other guy an idiot, and say that everybody knows New York’s capital is Buffalo. Unfortunately, in today’s press, being equally wrong on both sides of the issue and reporting on the argument is what passes for “balance.”

Meanwhile we’ve got a nation full of people who think they can rely on these so-called “journalists” to deliver the truth to them, and tell them the capital of New York is Albany, when in fact, most of those “journalists” don’t seem to have any desire to get up and go find the truth.

Perhaps that is what led to the barrage of uninformed-but-never-in-doubt stories about food and fuel last year, or the slug of small-engine damage stories this year, and the seemingly endless stream of anti-ethanol stories that run nearly every day in some newspaper or radio station or TV station in America. But there is likely more to it than that. The frequency of certain catch-phrases and buzzwords in anti-ethanol articles and editorials make it clear that they are part of a larger PR campaign to discredit the ethanol industry. The dirty lobbyists aren’t gone, they have just turned to lobbying our newspapers, television, and radio stations. They’re buying the news, financing their version of the truth for their own profit.

The Fourth Estate gets paid when companies buy advertising. Guess who spends a lot of money on advertising? Food manufacturers spent about 12 billion dollars on advertising in 2007, and car companies spent over 14 billlion. The five largest auto companies in the U.S. spent more than 1000 bucks a car for advertising in ’07. Now I know the editorial side of every media outlet will swear they don’t take those kinds of things into account, but in a communications industry struggling for its life, it looks like there has been a Fourth Estate Sale.

Some blame the Internet for the fall of the American media. I blame the media itself and its desire for fame and money over truth. If you’re reading this, you’re online. That is where most people get their news today. And it is right here that “freedom of the press” can mean something again. We can build “Estate 4.0” – true freedom of the press, alive on the Internet. Sure, there are plenty of crackpots here, too. But the beauty of free speech is that it is easier to know who the crackpots are when you read their stuff.

In Colonial times, some lamented the fact that only those with printing presses could really influence issues. The phrase “never argue with people who buy ink by the drum” was the cry of people who felt the media was unfair to them. But today, “Joe Sixpack” can have just as big a presence as any of the major media outlets – on the Internet. People who know the truth only need to go spread the truth, whether it be on a website, a blog, or even just leaving comments on forums where people are discussing the erroneous news of the day. We have a fighting chance today. We can be part of restoring some true fairness and balance to the news.

 
© American Coalition for Ethanol, all rights reserved.
The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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