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The “fourth estate” refers to the press as an additional power in society. In the enlightenment, French society was seen as three estates: the king and the clergy; the aristocrats; and the middle class and poor. In the American political system, the three primary estates correspond to the branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. In the U.S. version of the fourth estate, the press is as an additional branch, one that has a role to play in power-wielding. The function of the press is to provide information about the activities of government and other powerful entities.

In a remark about parliament, political philosopher Edmund Burke allegedly made reference to a fourth estate. In Burke's construction, the press was the most important element in society, presumably ...

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