Analysts offer various explanations for the public's widespread contempt for the media. My own hypothesis is that Americans distrust unanswered power of the kind the Globe deployed against Joseph Ellis—power exercised without responsibility, without regard for the consequences of its use, wielded to reduce a man's life to its most shameful moments. Media apologists say, We are the working out on earth of Freedom of Speech; we act for the public. But media institutions act for themselves. Profit comes first with them. Business imperatives drive stories like the one on Ellis. The media is the only business whose competitive dynamic is protected by a constitutional amendment. We citizens have First Amendment rights; the media has First Amendment privileges. We have speech, they have power. The media has constitutional protection against the government, but, as the drive for profit sanctions more and more lurid snooping on ordinary citizens, we need protection against the media.

Hi, this is the last paragraph of the source text and I'm having trouble understanding the part marked in bold.

Since there is "the" before "working out", I guess working out here is used as a noun (Or do you think the "the" is a typo?) but I don't know what "working out" means and it only gets more confusing if I'm trying to put that in a context. What does "earth" refer to "on earth of Freedom of Speech"?

(I also don't really get what "unanswered power" means here, so I'd much appreciate it if you could help me with that as well.)

1 Answer 1


I am a native speaker and it isn't clear to me, so I presume it is poorly written. My guess would be that earth is in contrast to heavenly and metaphysical realms so it means that the media is the real world embodiment of the metaphysical ideal of Freedom of Speech.

The phrase “unanswered power” seems to lack a formal definition, but has been used before in the context of “limitless, irrevocable and unanswered power” (Worlds Within Worlds: The Novels of Ivan Turgenev). From context, it is clear that unanswered emphasizes the magnitude of the power. In a normal a conversation each participant gets into answer the other's statement. If it is something unanswered, something was said without an answer. “Unanswered power” functions as a metaphor to describe one-sided power where one party can act on the other, leaving the other with no ability to respond.

Talking about unanswered power highlights how much power the media wields. It is particularly apt in the case of the media, because the media has the power to raise questions about one's character in the minds of millions, but a private individual can not answer those questions except in the minds of tiny fraction of those.

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