Presidential administrations and the media have had an adversarial relationship from the beginning. Our first president, who now is almost universally revered, had his own struggles with America’s “Fourth Estate.” During his first term, this quintessential American icon suffered repeated attacks by the press. By the end of his second term, these attacks evolved into personal assaults on his character with some aiming to discredit Washington’s integrity, including his military renown.

Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of our hallowed Constitution, is quoted saying, “[o]ur liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” However, after serving as our 3rd president, his love for the press vanished as his presidency endured constant criticisms.

No president was spared from the press and its cynical inquiries nor should any have been, not even our beloved founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin, a long-time member of the press corps, once wrote, “[i]f all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”

The primary function of the free press is to question those we have elected to govern us and the intentions of every policy, not to nurture their egos. Furthermore it is their duty to be entirely skeptical of government leadership, never giving to the treasonous crime of complacency by giving the benefit of the doubt to anyone. Unlike our justice system, which shrouds every accused person under the veil of innocence, the press must investigate with the presumption of guilt until proven otherwise. The world we live in is a cynical, unforgiving one and though we have great capacity for kindness, it is more than matched by our malicious, deceitful nature.

Deceit is one of man’s most powerful weapons, forged and perfected over millions of years to ensure the human race’s survival in a hostile world. In other words, it is a hard habit to break and if left unchecked and unchallenged, we only need look to our past to see what to expect.

Enter the great weapon that is the free press. A weapon designed to protect us from ourselves and our own duplicitous nature. The founders of this nation, knowing the dangers of placing governing powers in the hands of others, ingeniously framed our constitution with a shared balance of power equally distributed by three federal branches, then further checked by an outside force composed of the governed free citizens, our Fourth Estate.

Love it or hate it, a free press is an absolute necessity to our way of life as Americans, “[t]he liberty of the press is essential to the security of the state,” said John Adams. Franklin called it, “a principal pillar of free government,” and went on to say, “when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”

This isn’t to say that the press is infallible and just as prone to mistakes and even deceit. It is after all, a human creation and subject to our ever-present moral shortcomings. However, when used in conjunction with the other three branches, each pulling against the other, a balance is found and our free society endures. When one branch becomes overbearing and overreaches while at the same time another branch is weakened, a real failure can occur which is why ensuring the strength of each individual estate is critical. A strong and independent free press is vital to our national security and crucial to every citizen.