|Madrid's famous left- and right-leaning office towers.|
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?