The 5th Estate
You were taught in grammar school that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government separately and independently represent the people so that they can check and balance each other.
As should be explained in all journalism textbooks (but isn't), the theoretical purpose of ALL theoretically "free" press in England and America as the unofficial 4th estate (the unofficial 4th branch of government) is to act, actually for ALL humanity and for truth itself, as a more certainly independent check against the three OFFICIAL branches of government, just in case, being so cozily bundled together in the seat of power, they forget who THEY officially represent and that THEY are supposed to check each other. In fact, the mainstream commercial media COULD do that if they wanted to.
BUT, the mainstream commercial media DON'T work in any such respectable way, for the same reason the LA Times and NY Times don't check each other, the Democrats and Republicans don't check each other, and Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court don't check each other, either. They don't because there's another unofficial UNCHECKED branch of government with more power than all the rest. This 5th branch of government (which maybe I'm the first to call the 5th estate), which has been in place and in power for as long as the Pennsylvania Gazette or the Constitution that didn't mention it, is, obviously, the one that OWNS all the others and most of their subsections.
The real and very powerful 5th estate, the real top branch of government, are the richest elite who've always privately OWNED and run America and have privately legislated by unreported but unquestioned fiat all along that this country's most sacred cornerstone is private property, private enterprise and (semi-secretly) private government.
Is there a 6th estate, by the way? Sure - the church - which was considered the 1st estate when Edmund Burke coined the phrase 4th estate to describe the media over 200 years ago. The church hasn't been so powerful in America as in olde England, but it's still part of the government and appears to be rising again fast in Washington D.C. and California these days.
So what does that make me and other usually (often, sometimes) really independent publishers and reporters of the so-called "alternative" media? Are we the REAL 4th estate, that REALLY try to check and discredit the sold-out, dishonest government? Some logically challenged small-time journalists call themselves the 5th estate (there's an "alternative" pub so-named in Canada). But we don't have any such parallel power. We're really just 4(b), a poor bee, a wee swarm of sting-free gadflies, outnumbered, outshouted, and outbankrolled - not so hard to swat, or buy, or legislate against, or make misleading movies about, or (deadliest of all) imitate. The big-budget sterile-male technique (think Air America and Al Gore) works best because the lumpen public whose attention we're vainly competing for can't tell the difference and always follows the money. The word follows there is a double entendre. Stay awake!.
The real 5th estate works in mysterious ways and IS the most effective unofficial check on government and on government critics, too, because it writes the checks. Get it?
Machiavelli and the modern western princes
Machiavelli advises princes only about how to relate to other big shots, not on how to relate to or how to rule and certainly not on how to make life better for the people. He dismisses the people in a sentence or two. You should know Machiavelli, not to take his advice but because big shots take it, whether they know it or not, and you should know that.
In a short chapter on a prince's civic concern, Machiavelli says in ONE sentence that there are too many ways to win the approval of the people to bother talking about and that to expedite the lesson he'll just assume a worthy prince will do THAT (win the approval of the people) - somehow. But he, Machiavelli, passes over the issue. He's not interested in it. He's only interested in how princes (and their cunning advisers) make out.
At the end of that one short discourse on civic concern, he simply adds that the people will support a state if they "think" they "need" it. But his emphasis is on the word "think," not the word "need." The church told the people what to "think" they needed in those days. The media tell them now. Machiavelli, today, would still be sure. There's no need to burden a prince or a president with any obligation to meet the people's needs.
To Machiavelli, perception was always more important than reality. Obviously, the modern princes and the media who support them agree with that. A governor or president today will theatrically and publicly (thanks to the embedded media) wring his hands and weep for the poor and, with practiced sincerity, assure all the suckers that WE're going to do SOMEthing about the poor ("Have faith!), but he'll never get around to whatever that is. And all embedded pundits agree with Machiavelli that an illusion is cheaper than action would be and less likely to risk the prince's much more necessary reputation for toughness.
But they've been proven wrong in Cuba, where the loyalty of the people to Fidel, who has lasted longer than all the princes in the world, is certainly based on his having really met their needs. They (the Machiavellians) have been proven wrong, you see, and that's why they hate Fidel and call Cuba a "rogue" country. And of course they can count on the American people, whose supposedly independent thought they daily rehearse, to "think" that what's important is not good homes for everyone and healthcare for everyone and to provide for everyone's daily needs but to revere the princes and sneer at Cuba.