THE FIFTH ESTATE
Over the past few months, columnist Guy Farmer has written, what I feel, are inflammatory, ignorant dismissals of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. Specifically, Farmer claimed Snowden “betrayed his country,” violating an oath to “keep the secrets.” Farmer seemingly proudly adds he does not call for prosecuting cooperating members of the press; he suggests the first amendment protects journalists, of which these three “aren’t.”
Farmer’s argument relies on authoritarian thinking and collectivist use of language. When Farmer uses terms like “betrayed his country,” he alludes to an idea that an America exists as a collective entity, greater than each citizen that comprises it, to betray. In a literal, concrete sense, such an entity does not exist. Rather, there’s a subsect of the population that has, justly or unjustly, assumed power over other individuals, which we may call “the government.”
Although Americans generally consider our government to be democratic, some organizations, such as the NSA, are comprised almost entirely of unelected officials. Snowden provided information to the rest of us about actions this small segment of the population undertook, in our name, without our consent, that we would not otherwise be able to hold accountable. Even if Snowden violated an oath to the individuals that comprise the NSA, he fulfilled a journalist’s oath to the rest of us.
The “old media” isn’t dying because the public wishes to remain ignorant. Rather, the public recognizes old media’s failure in its role as the fourth estate, a check on abuse of political power. If Assange, Snowden, and Manning aren’t journalists, they’re something better: a fifth estate.
Guy Farmer is the Nevada Appeal’s (of Carson City) senior political columnist.