Monday, August 27, 2007

Definition: Fourth Estate

The Fourth Estate refers directly to journalists. The term comes from the idea of the three estates of the Ancien Regime: the First Estate is the clergy, the Second the nobles and the Third the commoners. The Fourth Estate is responsible for advocating the needs of the other three estates, as well as framing issues so that each estate can understand them.

There is a quasi-mythical attribution of the term to Edmund Burke, which Jeffrey Archer summed up in his novel, The Fourth Estate:

In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the Estate General. The First Estate consisted of three hundred clergy. The Second Estate, three hundred nobles. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.'

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