12 October 2008

I long for a liberal media...

Ever since the good old days of Nixon, the Right has pounced on the concept that we have a "liberal media." As evidence of such, they point to the Watergate investigation (apparently breaking and entering, diverting campaign funds to criminal activities, exerting executive power to cover up wrongdoing, and basically running a criminal organization from the Oval Office are OK; it's reporting on them that's wrong), Vietnam War coverage, media reports of Ronald Reagan's attempts to get ketchup labelled a vegetable, Dan Rather, CNN, PBS, NPR, the New York Times (and most newspapers in general), coverage of Bush's lies on Iraq, etc. Basically any news that sheds critical light on a Republican policy or action becomes evidence of "liberal bias."

As a term, "liberal media" is so pervasive that any neocon can conjure up a defense and a counter-attack all at once simply by uttering it. It's nearly as powerful as the term "soft on communism" was in the 1950's and 1960's. The latest development in this whole hoax is the new coinage, "Mainstream Media," or "MSM" for short. The MSM is invoked not as it properly should be, which is to differentiate it from the marginal publications out there, but rather as shorthand for both the "liberal media" and some sort of monolithic elitist conspiracy. Somehow, though, FOX News (one of the most popular television outlets), the Wall Street Journal (certainly a venerable and respected example of the print press), widely circulated tabloids like the New York Post, and the nearly inescapable stranglehold right-wingers have on talk radio don't actually count as MSM.

I honestly don't understand that contradiction, unless we are to understand "mainstream" in some context other than "popular" or "widespread."

But back to the Liberal Media. They seem to be everywhere, if you listen to any number of fearmongers on your radio dial. Ann Coulter, widely syndicated columnist for the "MSM," tells us they're everywhere. However, it's also utterly untrue that we have a "liberal media" in the USA.

It's true that liberal media outlets exist: Pacifica radio (WPFW 89.3 in the District for example), small run magazines such as The Nation, but to consider them mainstream or pervasive is nothing more than a perversion of truth. That's why I have to read The Guardian for a dose of liberal press.

Back in the run up to the Iraq Boondoggle, the so-called liberal media couldn't get enough of the Bush Kool-Aid...remember Judith Miller, disgraced reporter for the most prominent target of right-wing hate, the New York Times? Miller was so eager to promote the Bush Adventure that she didn't really give a crap about the veracity of her sources. The Washington Post nearly wore out the skins on their war drums. How about CNN, the supposedly liberal cable news outlet? They were too busy fine-tuning their war production values (ominous music, iconic graphics) to bother to investigate Bush's fabrications. This so-called "liberal media" helped Bush right along.

Personally, I don't see any way out of this utterly false discourse, because in a world in which a sizeable amount of the US electorate can believe both that Barack Obama is a Muslim AND that he's anti-American because of his Christian preacher, you don't stand much chance applying reason.


Lonnie Bruner said...

Great post.

However, I remember seeing a poll a while back that said that only about 12% think Obama is a Muslim.

cuff said...

LB: 12% of McCain supporters or 12% of people polled? I suppose those are the same 12% that pass the vetting process to get to McCain and Palin's campaign events.

Anonymous said...

You're twisting words when you descibe how conservatives depict liberal bias.

Look at the last couple of elections. Then look at polls of media members and see how they vote. You will find that they overwhelmingly favor the Dem. candidate, even when the nation as a whole is voting GOP.

cuff said...

Anon: It doesn't matter how media members vote. Are you suggesting that if police officers vote Democratic they won't protect Republican neighborhoods or campaign headquarters?

This fallacy is used to support similar utterly vacant accusations of leftwing "bias" and "indoctrination" on college campuses. Party affiliation does not equate to bias in the workplace (but I do find it interesting that people who are paid to investigate, analyze, and research our society do tend to be affiliated with Democrats or even the Left...either they have a pre-disposition to be inquistive or being inquisitive leads to certain conclusions).

As for the "nation as a whole," I think you could argue that most of the nation -- including the media -- favored the Iraq War. Those of us who opposed from the beginning would argue that it's hardly a valid argument to suggest that being utterly misinformed validates your opinion just because you're the majority.

Anonymous said...

"Great" post!

JES said...

Nicely done.

I don't know (yet) if you've done a post (yet) on the poisonous phrase "political correctness," but a similar thing is at work in the Right's using it as a bludgeon. Rather than acknowledge the truth behind the statements of the "politically correct" -- let alone the kindness and generosity at the heart of the "politically correct" impulse -- the Right simply slaps the label onto any speech (literal or otherwise) which points out that how you say things matters as much as what you're saying.

To say nothing of the irony. I mean, it's not like the Right itself objects to liberal code words, hmm?

When they started going after Bill Moyers as a liberal fanatic I knew (as though I already didn't) they'd lost it.

JES said...

P.S. Unsurprisingly you have covered political correctness already!

Michael said...


You responded to Anonymous with "It doesn't matter how media members vote," which sounds like you just conceded that media members overwhelmingly vote Democratic (FNC and talk radio being the proud exceptions).

The same reporters that write sensational front page stories about the slightest "appearance of impropriety" from public figures refuse to acknowledge that their political views can have any possible effect on their writing or editorial decisions. But that's utter nonsense - no one can self-quantify a bias like that. That kind of disproportionate party representation among journalists surely raises questions about how politics impacts their work, wouldn't you agree? Besides, we're not asking police officers (no matter what party they're in) to act as the Fourth Branch of government. Arguably, journalism should be subject to a higher level of scrutiny, much like public service, because it channels official communications to the people, who are then expected to make informed decisions at the voting booth.

Pivoting from the media to academia doesn't help the cause, either, as it doesn't address the larger point. Sure, Fox News Channel is further to the right than CNN is to the left - but if you agree to that, you also agree that CNN *is to the left*. Then we're not talking about an unbiased, objective, professional media, but degrees of bias. And that can't be nearly as much fun.

cuff said...

Michael: Oh I agree there's a bias in the media, but it's typically a sensationalist, business oriented bias (business oriented in two senses: first, in the sense that digging dirt and hyping events sells papers/ups ratings, and second in the sense that no media outlets will seriously examine the corporate model -- their labor reporting is atrocious).

I honestly don't know how media members vote; I'd imagine they vote Democratic, because they're supposed to understand the issues. However, anyone who thinks that media voting records represent some sort of valid argument about media bias in their jobs simply doesn't understand correlation properly.

Of course, we have editorial pages that lean one way or the other, but I wish we had a solid major newspaper that represented the Left in America, the way in which the Wall Street Journal editorial pages so consistently represent the right wing.

Jes: Thanks for doing the research on that post...I figured I had. I find that term ridiculous. Language matters. Palin's rallies are great examples of the ugly use of language to demonize.

Michael said...


My problem with your statements here is their broad stroke. You seem to claim that, based on the Iraq War reporting, "liberal media bias" is a myth, but fail to note the deafening silence on any good news in Iraq, for one minor example. Yet dozens of conservative authors can point to jaw-dropping examples of reporting gone awry on the left wing. The fact that the critics are right-wingers doesn't make their arguments wrong just because the media herd followed the Administration's lead during the run-up to the war.

You make a good point about business-oriented bias but lapse into party promotion yourself when you suggest that media members vote Democratic "because they're supposed to understand the issues." If that's a quip, okay, I chuckled. My point is less that there's a liberal media bias (though I can certainly point to a few examples if you'd like) but rather that journalists should accept the same level of scrutiny they impose on others. And that would mean responding to legitimate questions about why so many reporters vote Democratic, and how that might impact reporting.

I'd have to dig it up to confirm this but I recall one study concluding that roughly 90% of the White House Press Corps voted for Clinton in 1992. If they can disregard their politics and do their jobs completely objectively, fine, but why do the same reporters then assume that others are incapable of doing the same?

The New York Times editorial page hasn't endorsed a Republican since Eisenhower. Does that page not consistently represent the Left? I find it hard to believe that not a single Republican candidate since 1956 could be found desirable (and that includes Reagan in 1984!) And if they don't consistently represent the left, I wonder what page possibly could if more than fifty years of Democratic endorsements don't count.

To your last response to Jes, I'd simply point you to Instapundit: "So we've had nearly 8 years of lefty assassination fantasies about George W. Bush, and Bill Ayers' bombing campaign is explained away as a consequence of him having just felt so strongly about social justice, but a few people yell things at McCain rallies and suddenly it's a sign that anger is out of control in American politics?"


sexy said...