The Myth Of A Free Press

The three estates of the French Revolution. The fourth estate just jumped on top

Journalism is called the fourth estate, along with the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. It’s important to understand it as an estate no more trustworthy than priests or politicians, and as distinct from the expression of people. There is no free press at all. It’s actually very expensive.

What we call a free press is actually a series of digital fiefdoms owned by billionaires, employing millionaires, deceiving the rest of the population. From Fox News to the New York Times they are a power and they defend the interests of power, there is no other reckoning.

The whole idea of a ‘free press’ is based on the idea that journalists are some incorruptible priesthood devoted to truth, but look at actual priests. They’re all just human, they’re all influenced by power and money, and they’re all prone to wild abuses, especially if you blindly believe in them. The press is just another estate along with the clergy, and no more worthy of obeisance.

The fact is that in this day and age it costs billions of dollars to control a ‘free’ press, which is the opposite of freedom for 99.999% of people. It’s just another industry that’s massively consolidating under capitalism. Thus the press will no more declaim capitalism any more than a big shoe company would. They’re both just corporations, why would they attack their own ecosystem, even as it becomes toxic to the living one?

Even the social media platforms that are open to people are engineered around copyright strikes by intellectual ‘capital’ owners and increasingly follow imperial censorship dictates on proxy wars (like Ukraine, or Palestine) and algorithmically do god knows what. These are still platforms owned by capital, deeply connected with power, and these digital estates can’t be trusted any more than landed ones.

It is a sad thing to lose faith in journalists as it is to lose faith in priests. Like God, the ephemeral idea of truth is worthy of worship. But we simply cannot trust its interlocutors. While Fox News tells Americans to hate Mexicans, the New York Times tells them to hate Russians. They’re two sides of the same imperial coin, and they’re certainly both capitalist, that goes without question.

Alec Karakatsanis laboriously documents media’s pro-caging-poor-people bias and he says: “A lot of well-meaning people look down on those brainwashed by Fox News but are unable to see how New York Times and other for-profit media does similar things to them. The mythologies differ, but they are just as ideological, and their role is to preserve structural inequality.”

Again you have to understand media institutions as an estate, another center of power, not resistance. And you have to remember that the press is in no way free, it’s a very expensive piece of capital. Just like the clergy contained the anarchic message of Christ at the right hand of power, journalists contain the very concept of truth at the left hand also. They’re both giving you a very earthly slap, as much as they talk about a higher power.

The trouble, of course, is that when people start losing trust in the mainstream media, where do they go? They end up swimming with crocs, delving into conspiracy theories and god knows what. The problem is that the world really is rife with conspiracy. It’s just devilishly hard to find out which ones.

The point of these interlocutors between us and truth/god was that they were supposed to make things easier, but they both end up exploiting us and abusing our children. We can’t trust them, but then who do we trust? It’s a frying pan/fire situation, and we’re not talking about hypothetical hellfire anymore. The planet itself is getting hot.

I, unfortunately, don’t know who to trust now that trust in the media is falling apart. I won’t even say ‘yourself’ because who wants to be doing that all the time, it’s exhausting. But that’s where we are.

I personally don’t read the news at all anymore, because I simply don’t have the energy to unpack all of their biases and triangulate what’s actually going on. I read the most ancient books I can find and follow human beings I trust on Twitter, but who’s got time for that shit?

It was nice to just open the newspaper on Sunday and believe that you understood life, just as it was nice to go to church and think that the afterlife was taken care of. If we don’t believe that shit we’re right, but also terrifyingly alone. Life on the estate was exploitative but predictable, and now we don’t know what the fuck is going on, in the next life or in this one.

The truth is we can’t handle the truth, we want another myth to give us comfort. That’s why people added another estate (of the press) rather than overthrowing the old ones. So we’ll probably add a fifth estate now, maybe bloggers (perish the thought). It sounds crazy but journalists were once considered pesky rapscallions, not the credentialed priesthood they are now.

If you want to see the future establishment, look at the people throwing rocks at it now. The establishment takes those rocks and builds another wall around itself, co-opting its rebels to guard the new battlements. Hence we get the myth of a free press which is really just another brick in the wall. There is no free press. It’s very fucking expensive, and you don’t have one.