Sarah Palin and the Fourth Estate

As most people know, the Fourth Estate is the press — the first, second, and third estates being the religious establishment (the clergy), the secular establishment (nobles), and the common people. The term goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle, in the first half of the nineteenth century; Carlyle himself attributed it to Edmund Burke, who lived in the eighteenth century, and who is reported to have said, looking up at the press gallery in the House of Commons: “Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.”

They still are, although they often don’t act like they understand their role in a free society. Politicians, and all established interests with something to hide, understand that role, of course. Which is why the McCain campaign is refusing to let the press get anywhere near Sarah Palin. They have something to hide — or, more precisely, something they don’t want the public’s attention drawn to — namely, Palin’s consistent lies and distortions about her record, her ignorance about national and international issues, her extreme positions on social issues, and her total lack of the kind of experience that any candidate standing a heartbeat away from the presidency should have.

That’s what McCain’s campaign manager means when he tells Chris Wallace that Palin “won’t subject herself to any tough questions from reporters ‘until the point in time when she’ll be treated with respect and deference.’ “

The press is not supposed to treat political candidates with “deference.” Respect, in the sense of the same kind of respect we all owe to any of our fellow human beings, of course — but not deference. Their job is to uncover the truth and inform the public, not to defer.

Ironically, as I’ve suggested before, the McCain campaign’s refusal to allow the press to ask questions and demand answers is becoming a story in and of itself — one that reflects very badly on Palin and her handlers.

Case in point: this video of Chris Wallace questioning Rick Davis on Palin’s earmarks spending and her support for the Bridge to Nowhere. The questions Wallace asks, and Davis’s weak non-answers, are damning in and of themselves — and then there is the dissonant experience of having Davis speak for Palin, because the McCain campaign doesn’t trust her to speak for herself.

Joe Biden made lots of hay from that on Meet the Press today:

Joe Biden is accusing the McCain campaign of sequestering Sarah Palin, his counterpart on the Republican ticket, and challenged her Sunday to sit for network interviews.

“She’s a smart, tough politician,” Biden told Tom Brokaw in a “Meet the Press” interview live from Wilmington, Del. “So I think she’s going to be formidable. Eventually, she’s going to have to sit in front of you like I’m doing and have done. Eventually, she’s going to have to answer questions and not be sequestered. Eventually, she’s going to have to answer on the record.”

The McCain campaign says Palin will eventually do interviews, but none are scheduled.

Biden also shared his views on abortion, which are much more moderate than Palin’s reported views on that subject, which is of course one of the reasons why McCain doesn’t want her opening her mouth.

As Josh Marshall points out, though, she really doesn’t have to, because Rick Davis and company have actually answered the questions by not allowing them to be asked:

Davis says Palin won’t give any interviews until she feels “comfortable” giving one. And this morning he added that she wouldn’t give any “until the point in time when she’ll be treated with respect and deference.”

Sarah Palin could be the President of the United States in four and a half months. We tend to think of this as an abstraction; but it’s true. And yet today she’s so unprepared and knows so little about the challenges and tasks facing the country that she can’t even give a softball interview.

That’s really all we need to know. Yes, she’s off being prepped at some undisclosed location. And I’ve little doubt that by the time her debate rolls around she’ll be sufficiently pumped full of slogans and bromides to make a show of it. But now, this moment, is the one that tells us all we need to know.

Update 1: I see mattt posted on The Invisible Palin while I was writing my post. Nice to see Chris Matthews jumping on the McCain campaign’s “It’s about personality, not issues” bandwagon. Newsflash, Chris: If this election is won or lost on the “likability” factor, Obama will be in the Oval Office in January. And if the election is won or lost on the issues, Obama will be in the Oval Office in January.

Update 2: I see now that Palin has agreed to be interviewed by Charlie “The Crowd Is Turning On Me” Gibson at ABC News. Good choice for the deferential treatment.

2 Responses to “Sarah Palin and the Fourth Estate”

  1. roschelle says:

    This whole thing is so bizarre to me. It’s like being in a bad dream and not being able to wake up. Palin was virtually unknown outside of Alaska just ONE week ago. A woman, who in her own words “wondered what it is a Vice President does all day”. A woman who wants to deny women the right to terminate a pregnancy even if conception occurs as a result of rape or incest.

    Now, she’s more popular than Obama or McCain. What does that say about the mindset of voters in this country. I’ve heard people express how much they love her, her kids, even her parents…who’ve only been shown on TV once at the RNC and have never uttered a word (as far as an interview goes) So what is it about her that has endeared her to so many people.

    The scandalous baggage that accompanies her nomination is as lengthy as the Bering Strait…yet she’s almost revered by many woman and some men that have been interviewed since the announcement by McCain that she would be his running mate.

    The “maverick” is looking more and more like a sidekick…merely going along with the powers that be…he says and does whatever he thinks his champions want to hear. Just like calling lobbyists ‘birds of prey’ which is a total contradiction to what his true ties with these unnecessary evils in Washington are.

    Come on America…are we so shallow that a pretty face is all it takes to win us over? Gov. Palin hasn’t given not ONE interview outlining her plans for this country as VP since McCain picked her….only pre-written rhetoric aimed at tearing down the Democratic nominee and his party.

  2. karen marie says:

    “[Coinage of the phrase “fourth estate,”] with its present meaning, has been attributed to Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797), a British politician. It comes from a quote in Thomas Carlyle’s book, “Heros and Hero Worship in History” (1841).

    “Burke said that 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 in the above quote refer to the British parliament, the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual and the Commons. The Lords Temporal and the Lords Spiritual combined being The House of Lords, the upper House of parliament. And the Commons is The House of Commons or the British lower House. ”

    none of the “estates” is religious — you mistake the phrase “lords spiritual.” And as Henry Fielding (1707 – 1754) points out in “Covent Garden Journal,” the fourth estate is “the mob.”

    “None of our political writers..take notice of any more than three estates, namely, Kings, Lords, and Commons..passing by in silence that very large and powerful body which form the fourth estate in this community..The Mob”

    other than that, have at la palin with vigor.

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