Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The myth of the "left-wing media." Exposed.

Madrid's famous left- and right-leaning office towers.
Rush Limbaugh derides the press corps as Obama's personal PR firm. Glenn Beck sketches a vast network conspiracy to help the president undo the Second Amendment and subvert the Constitution as a whole. Sean (DMoTV) Hannity bemoans the task facing any GOP presidential candidate, who—to hear Hannity tell it—will have to win the hearts and minds of voters despite constant sabotage by the mainstream media (a phrase the talk-show host spits out as as though he were some giant cat ejecting a world-class hairball). This same theme is reprised daily in countless tweets, letters to the editor and person-on-the-street interviews.

Although the long-term sociopolitical significance of today's extreme Right remains to be reckoned, without question these new-breed conservatives have been remarkably successful at one thing: selling the myth of The Liberal Media. Today, according to Gallup, the number of Americans who believe that the media tilt left outnumber by three to one those who discern a starboard tilt.

Of course, belief and truth are two different animals. Even if Fox commentator Bernie Goldberg was onto something in his 2001 network expose, Bias—and in fairness, he was—that day is long past. With the possible exception of the president himself (who's newsworthy because he is, after all, THE PRESIDENT) has anyone been more of a fixture on newscasts over the past year than Sen. Ted Cruz? Cruz is arguably the most-sound-bited (sound-bitten?) politician on TV, and he has no regularly featured Democratic counterpart: no one as far out on the left as Cruz is on the Right. No, not even if you include Obama himself. In fact, the media uncritically allow the GOP to portray Obama as ultra-liberal when in reality the president has done nothing to earn the label. Even the man's much-maligned signature healthcare legislation was an unoriginal mash-up of several plans of mostly Republican origin. (The single-payer option that inspired all those overwrought cries of SOCIALISM! was kicked to the curb early on.)

Besides which, not only has media coverage of Obamacare’s woes been unrelenting, but the president's veracity and integrity are called into question daily. So if the press are Obama's PR firm, he needs to take them off retainer.

Which brings us to my larger point. Today's “liberal” media actually allow the Right to frame public debate and circumscribe its limits.

Consider the endlessly looping Tea Party mantra, "We can't tax our way out of our this mess!" It has become the authorized prism through which the media view our fiscal woes. When was the last time you saw one of the networks present a talking head who argued for a return to 1960s-era tax brackets, with their highest marginal rate of 90 percent? How 'bout, never? The media regard such an idea as a non-starter—too far “out there” to be taken seriously.

Or take the so-called furor over “income inequality.” Here too, there are precisely zero mainstream financial reporters who dismiss the GDP as a measure of the nation's overall economic health and turn instead to metrics that more pointedly track the progress of the bottom 99 percent. (For example, Google the Theil index or the Gini coefficient.) Meanwhile, would you agree with me that all this giddy coverage of Wall Street's multi-year bull run tells us nothing about how Joe and Jane Lunchpail are doing. Then why are all these supposedly pinko financial correspondents so, well, giddy? Bottom line, in an era in which boosting the minimum wage is apparently a revolutionary leftist notion, you will not see CNN give anyone a platform to espouse a French-style confiscatory penalty on corporate high-earners.

Speaking of confiscating, let's move on to gun control. In today's TV news and commentary, those who simply call for gun registration are routinely cast as liberal outliers. No one who argues that we need to ban new gun sales, or go around collecting the guns already in circulation, is given prominent media play. The Second Amendment is considered inviolate. Once again, it follows, the media have thrown in with the Right.

Similarly, the Right's calls to step up military spending are “rebutted” mostly by people who argue for the status quo. The media do not give us voices who hope to dismantle the military or meaningfully disarm. To be clear, I'm not saying that's what we should be doing. I'm saying that anyone diametrically opposed to the right-wing hawks does not get a place at the media's table.

Things get even sillier when the Right characterizes its media gripes as a culture war between traditional America and the forces of some quasi-Satanic rebellion. With the daily family-values bellyaching from Cruz, Coulter, Palin and O'Reilly, you'd think the mainstream media were pushing to ban heterosexual marriage! Sarcasm aside, how did we reach the point where upbeat news about gays who at long last are allowed to exercise their civil rights constitutes tearing at the fabric of an unsuspecting nation?

Finally, the Right's media complaints suffer from a fatal case of confirmation bias, wherein even the tiniest snippet of negative news about a conservative politician or cause is ascribed to media witch-hunting. But coverage of negative events is not the same as negative coverage—no more than a sports journalist who reports a final score is biased against the losing team. Still, conservatives act as though the media's mere decision to report on “ChristieGate” is evidence of a covert determination to undo Christie. If the media are all over Gov. Christie, it's because newspeople chase scandal—all the more so, yes, when it involves a president or presidential hopeful. Or have we so quickly forgotten the wall-to-wall coverage of Gary Hart/Donna Rice, John Edwards/Rielle Hunter or Clinton/Lewinsky?

I'll say it plainly: There is no liberal media bias. And the fact that you may even suspect there is, is evidence of the potency of the Right's Big Lie.


There is, however, one myth that may even out-myth this one: It is Limbaugh's "low-information voters" meme, parrotted unthinkingly by Rush's millions of so-called Dittoheads. It is used to demean liberals and their supposedly mindless (uneducated) followers, but think about it: Which states habitually lag the field in standardized test scores? Red states. Which states lead in obesity? Red states. Which states lead the world in the belief that the Bible presents literal truth? Red states. So who are the real "low-information voters"? Need I say more?


whistle said...

The media is not liberal. It is statist.



I guess liberals might be slightly more statist than the conservatives right now, but it's hard to tell because they're both so in love with the state's involvement in their own pet issues.

Enjoyed the post, Steve.

RevRon's Rants said...

Anyone who has even rudimentary dealings with the media knows that there is no such thing as a "liberal agenda" in their offerings to their audience. Every media outlet is driven by only one agenda: economics.

Whatever will bring in the highest viewer/readership ratings, and thus the most advertising revenues gets top billing. And nothing draws an audience like confrontation and discord. Rush & company know that, and structure their presentations accordingly.

Furthermore, if you took a survey of all media owners and management, you'd be hard-pressed to find a "liberal" among them. Yet even these people recognize that their bottom line is enhanced more by even the most misinformed diatribe than by any reasoned discussion. That is why people like Rush, Hannity, and Coulter get higher ratings than does anything PBS has to offer - even such reasoned reporting as is the norm on shows like Washington Week in Review.

in short, the "liberal media" is about as real as the War on Christianity or the Tooth Fairy.

Steve Salerno said...


You really think you can make that allegation (statism) as a blanket statement?

roger o'keefe said...

First of all there's no question Bernie Goldberg was "on to something" when he wrote Bias. The media tilt back then was deplorable, no one even tried to conceal it. The bigger point is that even if the media today makes more of a conscious effort to SOUND more even-handed, the same biases are still easily visible in the way the MSM covers stories and the stories they choose to cover in the first place. Every story on gay marriage is covered as a celebration. Why should that be? Even the stories about how horrible the Obamacare rollout has been is covered from the standpoint that the law is a good thing to have in principle.

As far as Obama generally, I don't think I'm imagining that screw-up after screw-up they're always apologizing for him and making it seem as if he's not really what he clearly is to those of us with our eyes open, which is one of the worst and most incompetent presidents of our lifetime, possibly ever.

Finally, even you can't deny the Bengazi story went away awfully quick. Once they got his explanation, it was as if, Okay, that's it, now we know what happened there let's move on. Ditto IRS. Be honest about it for once.

whistle said...

Steve, not sure how to answer your question. I do think the media is generally in favor of the state increasing its power and in favor of more laws. I rarely see mainstream media outlets come out in favor of less political structure.

I think the prop 19 coverage in California (as one of the links I gave discusses, and I happened to live in CA (LA) during this time, so it kinda resonates with me) is a perfect example. Shouldn't liberals be in favor of at least decriminalization of marijuana? But the media is not in favor of this. Why? Because decriminalization/legalization leads to less power/control of the citizenry. I can't see any other reason for the 'liberal media' in a liberal state to come out uniformly against prop 19*.

No, I don't know if I can issue a 'blanket statement', but I do see the supposed liberal bias as being a cover for statist bias. And I think most don't want to see the statist bias because for some reason people still believe that conservatives stand for less government.

*Yes, prop 19 was horribly written. If newspapers have come out against it b/c it was horribly written I would not have had a problem with that.

Steve Salerno said...

Whistle, thanks for the embellishment. I do see where you're coming from, but I don't know that I agree. I don't get that same sense that you do that the media oppose decriminalization of pot; maybe in some confined settings, but nationally?

Roger, through the years I have been a steadfast critic of media tilt, regardless of which way the media were tilting. I continue to do that today, as evidence my exchange with Chris Cuomo some time back over his obvious badgering of conservatives at the time of the gov't shutdown. I also think you do have a point about the media's spin on gay marriage: The only opposing viewpoints ever shown are the obvious nut-jobs like the folks from the Westboro Baptist Church, who are played for laughs or as examples of bigotry and extremism. I agree that such treatment unfairly stigmatizes the opposition to gay marriage.

But in the overall, when I listen to arguments like those you pose in your comment, I can't help feeling that you won't be happy until all of the media act like FOX or right-wing radio, where it's basically "all Bengazi, all IRS scandal, all Obamacare all the time." That's not proper journalism, either, and it certainly isn't "fair and balanced."

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps I missed something, but IMO, any time there is a genuine effort to eliminate discrimination against a group of people *should* be cause for celebration.

I'd suggest, Roger, that the refusal to share your own chosen biases doesn't necessarily constitute bias. Do you honestly believe that the Republican-led committee that investigated Benghazi had a liberal agenda? In case you missed it, they determined that there was no malfeasance or intentional deception on the part of the administration.

You think that the ACA is a horrible law. We get that. There have been problems with the initial implementation, just as there have been problems with every major initiative throughout our history, including Social Security, Medicare, and even the efforts that managed to prevent a severe recession from descending into Great Depression II. Yet all these initiatives served to make life better for millions of people. The ACA is already benefiting many people, and even the "horror stories" being paraded about by the right have been shown to be grossly inaccurate, even intentionally contrived and misleading. But you won't hear about that in the supposedly "conservative" media.

And Steve, I think that outrage was the appropriate response to the attempts to shut down the government, especially the refusal to pay the bills for things that had previous congressional approval.