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November 16, 2012

Fun in the Fourth Estate

Harry M. Covert

On the day I was sworn in as a member of the Fourth Estate, I was told to keep my eyes open, my ears ever on the alert, keep notes and never forget the five “w’s” and an “h.”


My editor emphasized to this 17-year-old rookie facts and facts, contacts and more contacts and short sentences. “There are so many good stories out there you don’t have to manufacture them,” said Gene Markham, my avuncular.


How exciting the news business can be. In moderneze (sic) it’s called journalism; but Edmund Burke, the British politician in the 1700s, said: “there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far more than they all."


It can be a plodding effort, but the results can be thrilling and those in the “lower” estates will give you more news than you can imagine.


J. Edgar Hoover, the tyrannical director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), must be turning over in his grave. No matter what the progressives like or dislike, Mr. Hoover had his hand on plow and files on everybody. Every agent was held accountable for their work and were terrified to make an error. They could end up in Montana, or Alaska, or some other unpopular outpost.


Anyway, back to the joys of journalism. Lately, the CIA director resigns. A four-star, Ph.D (not the abbreviation for piled higher and deeper), a man headed for bigger and better career moves, falls from grace also because of an extra-marital affair – another flag officer is going to fade into the sunset for the same reason.


Reporters don’t have to make up this stuff. They don’t have to become commentators or editorial writers. Just keep their eyes and ears open and the alleged smart people will give you more wonderful news.


I haven’t heard of anyone in Maryland who wants to secede from the Union. One official is trying to defend himself against library censorship. Another can’t hire a chosen assistant without a knock-down fight. News.


For example, in Texas, 80,000 alleged voters signed petitions for the Lone Star State to secede from the US of A. Yes indeed, sounds silly and it is.


With apologies to Lyle Lovett and his song, “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas,” other states recently have come up with similar petitions. Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee have attracted more than 20,000 supporters. Louisiana's petition has garnered more than 30,000 signatures. I’m just shaking my head to this idiocy. Does make a good news story, though.


I’ve never put much stock in the polls of the television people. It’s a good money business but fallacies run amok as they race to shape opinions.


Jack Germond, the respected journalist of print and broadcast, gave Hood College students a good lesson this week: "Too many voters are getting their information from people who wouldn't know a political story if it bit them."


Mr. Germond was critical of the polls during the presidential race. "They were saying all year that it was a close election." They were wrong; it was never a close election."


Journalism is indeed fun. Where else could you find the facts – CIA director quits (and the facts are???), the FBI helps him along, Mr. Hoover is still dead. He would have known all this anyway.


“By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation,” Edmund Burke said.


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