finem respice

The Strongest Argument for a 100% Estate Tax is Actually "The Fourth Estate"

Submitted by ep on Wed, 10/31/2012 - 10:22
reporting the really big stories

For reasons that should be obvious even to the neophyte finem respice reader, anonymity (and pseudonymity) are topics near and dear to these pages. Unfortunately, in this respect, there is a trend that goes back a long ways. Before the Dark Times. Before Going Private. You see, every 18 months or so, like cheap but alarmingly accurate quartz crystal clockwork, some barbaric event of such unyielding horror, and possessed of such unbearable and dark malevolence as to chill even Kate Upton's off-the-Scoville-scale blood to carbon dioxide's freezing point is committed by an anonymous or pseudonymous internet personality. The other day, that intelligence event-horizon creating event took the form of one (presumably but not certainly intoxicated) @ComfortablySmug pecking out a slew of what appeared to be wildly exaggerated or outright false Twitter-rumors about the severity of Hurricane Sandy's impact on New York City, including one suggesting the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange was under three feet of water.

Just another Twitter loon on another crazy Twitter evening.

Except it wasn't.

You see, this was a particularly special Twitter loon on a particularly special Twitter evening. @ComfortablySmug, you must appreciate, was "trusted by journalists" (finem respice leaves the terrifying and alienating contemplation of the bleak horror suggested by that phrase as an exercise for the reader). This is to say that many, many exhalted members of the ethically pristine and honorable Fourth Estate (also famed for the possession of personal literary hygiene habits entirely above reproach) found @ComfortablySmug's jocular if often childish antics and his, dare we say it, smug Twitter stream to be amusing and, occasionally, informative. @ComfortablySmug's Twitter account touted (and still touts) more than 6,000 followers. In the currency of Twitter Followers (1 ZWD = 2,503.40 TWF) this placed @ComfortablySmug in the "Fairly Tumescent and Pendulous Phallus" department. More (or less) importantly, among these number were are long list of "important" (and not so "important") journalists including the likes of:

  • Jennifer Ablan, Editor: US Investment Strategy: Reuters
  • Andrew Ackerman, SEC Reporter: Dow Jones Newswires/The Wall Street Journal
  • Amina Akhtar, Executive Editor:
  • Jake Beckman, Assignment Editor: Bloomberg TV
  • Marisol Bello, National Correspondent: USA TODAY
  • Julie Bykowicz, Political Reporter: Bloomberg News
  • Emily Chasan, Senior Editor: The Wall Street Journal (CFO Journal)
  • Dominic Chu, Markets Reporter: Bloomberg TV
  • Ed Crooks, US Industry and Energy Editor: Financial Times
  • Anjuli Davies, M&A Correspondent: Reuters
  • Bradley Davis, Editor: Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal, Contributor: Barron's
  • Sheila Dharmarajan, Markets Reporter: Bloomberg TV
  • John J. Edwards III, News Editor: Wall Street Journal
  • Josh Friedman, U.S. Investing Editor: Bloomberg News
  • Cassandra Garrison, Reporter: Metro in NYC
  • Rosie Gray, Reporter: BuzzFeed Politics
  • Courtney Gross, Politics Reporter: NY1 News
  • Randy Gyllenhaal, Reporter: WPBF News
  • Maggie Haberman, Reporter: POLITICO
  • Keach Hagey, Media Reporter: Wall Street Journal
  • Colby Hall, Digital Programming Director: Clear Channel, NY
  • Colby Hamilton, Political Reporter: WNYC
  • Tobin Harshaw, Editorial Writer: Bloomberg View
  • Nico Hines, US Reporter: The Times (of London)
  • Gregory Krieg, Political Reporter: ABC News
  • Miranda Leitsinger, Senior Reporter: NBC
  • Hugo Lindgren, Editor: The New York Times Magazine
  • Brian M. Carney, Editorial Page Editor: The Wall Street Journal Europe
  • Rubina Madan Fillion, Social Media Editor: The Wall Street Journal
  • Sheila Marikar, Entertainment Editor, Reporter, Producer: ABC News
  • John Martin, Vice Magazine
  • Dana Mattioli, Retail Reporter: The Wall Street Journal
  • Ryan McCarthy, Deputy Editor:
  • Graham Messick, Producer: 60 Minutes
  • Zeke Miller, Politics Reporter: Buzzfeed
  • Seema Mody, Reporter: CNBC
  • Jennifer Myers, Editor: MSN News
  • Alyssa Newcomb, Digital Reporter: ABC New
  • Chris Nicholson, Deals Editor: Bloomberg
  • Shira Ovide, Technology Reporter: Wall Street Journal
  • Anna Palmer, Reporter: POLITICO
  • Caroline Pickens, Producer: Evening News, Fox 19 WXIX
  • Leslie Picker, Segment Producer: In the Loop (Bloomberg TV)
  • Eric Platt, NY Deputy Editor: Reuters Global Markets Forum
  • John R. Stanton: DC Bureau Chief: Buzzfeed
  • Evelyn Rios, Producer/Writer: ABC News 7 (Bay Area)
  • Christine Roberts, Reporter: NY Daily News
  • Steve Rosenbush: Deputy Editor: The Wall Street Journal (CIO Journal)
  • Steve Schaefer, Markets Editor: Forbes
  • Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief:
  • Amanda M. Sakuma, Associate Editor/Producer: MSNBC
  • Jeff Sommer, Business Editor, Columnist: The New York Times
  • Julie Steinberg, M&I Reporter: The Wall Street Journal
  • Tim Stenovec, Trends Editor: Huffington Post
  • Laura Stevens, Reporter: The Wall Street Journal
  • Tony Tassell: Financial Times
  • Frank Thorp, Producer: NBC News
  • Shushannah Walshe, Contributing Political Reporter: ABC News
  • Jane Wells, Reporter: CNBC Los Angeles
  • Chris Whittall, Senior Reporter: International Financing Review (Thomson Reuters)
  • Nikole Yinger, Field Producer: CNBC Business News
  • Lauren Young, Wealth Editor: Thomson Reuters, Host: "Money Clip"
  • Michael de la Merced, Finance Reporter: The New York Times, DealBook
  • Mark Graham, Managing Editor: VH1

and, perhaps most relevantly:

  • Jack Steuf, Writer at Large: The Onion

And this is but a fractional (and probably error-ridden) attempt to catalogue only the most obvious members of the unassailable intellectual trust that is the Fourth Estate from among @ComfortablySmug's many eavesdroppers. Suffice it to say that @ComfortablySnug enjoyed a wide (new and old) media following. As with most things, this either means something or it means nothing.

There is actually a strong case for this meaning exactly nothing about the "quality" (however we define this sort of thing these days) of @ComfortablySmug's Twitter feed. You see, the Twitter accounts of what finem respice will loosely call (slight retch) "reporters" often follow hundreds if not thousands of feeds. Even the accounts of the silverbacks of the Fourth Estate (and here, of course, finem respice refers to "Anchors") themselves often follow hundreds if not thousands of other Twitter feeds.

As of this writing, CNN Anchor Michael Holmes follows 815 Twitter users. Max Foster, CNN's "Royal Correspondent" (you can't make this stuff up) follows 665 Twitter streams. Perhaps finem respice is simply more limited in neurologic bandwidth than the CNN greats we cite here, but 42 follows already nearly saturates our ability to absorb even a small minority of the content that rushes by and still accomplish "real work" outside these efforts.

This observation brings up an important point: The Fourth Estate has come to rely on Twitter as a cheat sheet. And why not? With newsrooms bearing the brunt of the creative destruction in the media world it is quite expensive to send a reporter out to chase down a story. Making a few calls to follow up a Tweet, however, is cheap. This is, of course, why "Digital Editor" or "Digital Reporter" have become en vogue titles.

Well, yes, in fact, now that you mention it, making phone calls to follow up a Tweet is expensive too. How about we just omit that and report on the Tweet? A Tweet that would, in all likelihood, have floundered around for all of about 30 minutes had it not been blasted out, nearly sight unseen, by CNN. (ConEd corrected the worst of the rumors almost immediately).

And this brings us to the thrust of the instant entry (which always sage long-time finem respice readers will recognize immediately): The Fourth Estate no longer has the resources to maintain the estate grounds and has squandered any right to the public trust fund that grants it landed title.

Or, if you are overly fond of landed gentry for nostalgic reasons (or simply possessed of below average intelligence) at the very least we can make a few observations:

1. The fact that you gentlemen scoop farmers are relying on Twitter so heavily (we're looking at you, CNN) is only a warning sign in so far as hydrophobia is a warning sign of rabies. That is to say, by the time it presents, it's far too late. You're done for.

2. Add to this your inability (or lack of desire) to fact-check the sludge you rake up from Twitter and your prognosis slips from really awful to much worse (only six patients have survived- ever- via the Milwaukee protocol).

Really, why is it difficult to call the NYSE or ConEd to verify a story like this? Ah, and there it is. They weren't answering? It is a hurricane, after all, yes? We can hear your protests now: "But, if I don't go with the story someone else will get hold of the NYSE first and confirm and I will miss the big scoop!" And this, dear Fourth Estate friends, is why you are dying of rabies. Why you are madly flailing about desperate to justify your monthly "fact check" phone bill, chomping down on any sliver of nonsense you can find, all the while spreading the disease to your fellow landed gentry of the Fourth Estate through your virus-laden chomp-the-scoop saliva. And, in the manic phase of the disease, if your short-cutting is too aggressive, and your snapping jaws too eager, if your reputation is suddenly on the line, what is it you must do?

3. Why attack the source, of course.

And so @ComfortablySmug finds that he has suddenly come to the attention of the New York County District Attorney's Office. And how does the Fourth Estate effectuate this attack?

4. How about by asking various public officials: "Will you be seeking to prosecute that Twitter user who spread false rumors during Hurricane Sandy?" Then you can pen a scoop like:

New York City Councilman Peter Vallone told BuzzFeed Tuesday that he's asked the Manhattan DA's office to look into charges against a Twitter user, [@ComfortablySmug], who spread misinformation during Hurricane Sandy.1

Of course, it is no accident that every reporter who now calls the New York County District Attorney's Office or the Office of the New York City Graft Collector for the 22nd District, Mr. Peter Vallone with a question like:

So... will you be seeking to prosecute that Twitter user who spread false rumors during Hurricane Sandy?

...just feeds the fire. As they are intended to. That question begins as a self-fulfilling prophecy and, if well executed, ends as a bonfire of the vanities. This bit of "objective" revenge (the media created prosecution crisis) is one of the powers granted to the Fourth Estate. To wit:

Is there any thought of prosecuting the source of the leak, Mr. President?

There is now. No one answers that question with a simple "No." Not ever.

And why, instead, have the Fourth Estate not asked after Mr. Mayor Bloomberg's quote:

Although we’re expecting a large surge of water, it is not expected to be a tropical storm or hurricane-type surge. With this storm, we’ll likely see a slow pileup of water rather than a sudden surge, which is what you would expect from a hurricane, and which we saw with Irene 14 months ago. So it will be less dangerous....

Or the related Tweet from the official Twitter account of the New York City Mayor's Office (@NYCMayorsOffice):

Mayor: Although we’re expecting a large surge of water, it will be a slower pile-up and not a sudden wall of water.2

And, of course, no one would dream of the Mayor of New York fibbing to the press, or even inadvertently Tweeting inaccuracies. (Though one assumes @ComfortablySmug was a bit more of the former and a bit less of the latter).

But really this is about the inconvenient fact that, unlike @ComfortablySmug, Mr. Bloomberg can distribute (or seize) the coin of the realm for the Fourth Estate: access.

Certainly, there is no talk of prosecuting various press secretaries of various executives even as they knowingly spread half-truths, rumors, outright lies, or otherwise manipulate the press with at least as much expertise and certainly far more resource, cunning, and ability than @ComfortablySmug. No one is going to haul Jay Carney out of the White House briefing room in cuffs and perp-walk him out the front door.

But then, this is what has become of the Fourth Estate. An entitled, rotten client state of a duchy. Apt to attempt to unmask any who expose their foolishness, lack of industry, or triviality. After all, it's difficult to mount ad hominem attacks, or employ a media created prosecution crisis if you can't put your hands on the speaker (or his employer), even if the communication at issue was personal in nature.

Though, in this case that doesn't matter very much. While CNN was blindly retweeting @ComfortablySmug one intrepid reporter was digging around. Ironically, that reporter was Jack Steuf, Writer at Large: The Onion.

Again, you just can't make this stuff up.

But the larger question with respect to anonymity remains: How is the Fourth Estate to make its detractors pay if it can't find them in the aether? And, failing that, how will the Fourth Estate defend its rabid behavior before lethargy, coma and, finally, death seize it? Surely, if not for Mr. Steuf, or @ComfortablySmug's anono-complacancy, someone might be busy drafting subpoenas to Twitter as you read this.

Obviously, anonymous sources are just fine for The Fourth Estate in some circumstances. Namely, when they don't make the Fourth Estate look like rabid fools. And perhaps that's the real issue here. Whatever else @ComfortablySmug may or may not have done he certainly made some large news organizations look pretty brainless.

It seems finem respice has been laboring under the misconception that one of the great values of the Fourth Estate has been its role in distilling from a fermenting sludge derived from various sources some semblance of "the truth." But, in retrospect, it seems obvious that in this day and age the Fourth Estate is nothing but a frothing Twitter relay- be that Twitter account spelled @ComfortablySmug or "The White House Press Secretary."

  1. 1. Kaczynski, Andrew, "Councilman Pushes For Charges Against Twitter User Who Spread Falsehoods" BuzzFeed (October 30, 2012).
  2. 2. Tweet from October 27, 2012 New York City Mayor's Office Twitter Account.
[Art Credit: Unsung CNN Cameraperson Hero "Untitled," video recording (unknown date), CNN Archives. Who can blame them for scouring Twitter when the lot of the video hurricane reporter has become a means to punish newsroom office demerits.]

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