While its title certainly doesn’t do anything to shed an elitist image, the new Showtime documentary series “The Fourth Estate” shows viewers, for the first time, how news is made in the unprecedented news environment that began in late January 2017. The series producers had unprecedented access to the New York Times, every day for months, to show how reporters and editors live, how they made decisions, how they scrutinize words and phrases, how they break stories and even how they handle mistakes and HR issues.
Spoiler Alert: The series saves its most important revelation for its fourth and final episode. Viewers begin to discover the “a-ha moment” when a Times reporter, Jeremy Peters, is interviewing the chief strategist for Roy Moore’s failed Senate run the night before the special Alabama election in December.
“You think people in news organizations, people like me, are actually making things up, fabricating sources and situations that didn’t actually occur to take out somebody they perceive to be a political opponent? You think that’s actually happening?” Peters asked.
“Yep. I know it happens. I’m sitting here watching it,” he responded.
Yet, the strategist was more than willing to interview with a Times reporter, with the documentary cameras rolling.
Later that night, the Moore campaign gave Peters exclusive access to campaign cheerleader Steve Bannon, who infamous called the White House Press Corps “The Opposition Party.” Peters interviewed in in the car from a private jet to a Moore rally. At the end of the interview, Bannon gave Pierce an off-the-record news tip, by no media relations definition a sign of true disdain.
Right after that Bannon fired up the rally crowd by reciting the President’s “fake news” manta. But, “They love talking to us,” Peters said in the documentary. “There were at least two reporters from mainstream media outlets backstage at Bannon’s invitation.” There it is – in plain sight – at best, hypocrisy and, at worst, fraud in action.
Peters called it “ironic.” But it sure seems bigger than that. The series also features the President proactively calling Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman to share news and, later, calling over Times investigative reporter Michael Schmidt at his golf club to talk on-the-record for 30 minutes. That’s not the way anyone would treat someone “corrupt and dishonest.”
25 years ago, Rush Limbaugh told listeners “Don’t read the paper, I’ll read it for you,” as a way of engendering loyalty and sowing mistrust to build audience. Years later, Fox News took it a step further by constant bashing of “The Mainstream Media,” even with ratings that more than qualify as mainstream. Then, the current President took it way beyond with his “Enemy Of The People” and “So Fake” rhetoric, designed to discredit any reporting that may reflect anything other than exceedingly positive about his actions.
Research shows that millions of our family, friends and neighborhoods are buying the act. It’s an act that somehow has to wear thin. Our society and ways of life depend on it. If you agree, take a few hours inside on a hot night this summer and watch the documentary series.