One topic that keeps coming up in partisan discourse
is the role of The Media in our collective political life
as Americans. As a result result of banging my head against the brick
wall of semi-public opinion one too many times, I have to conclude that,
depending on the choir to which you happen to preach, one can convincingly
argue about the bias of the news. It just so happens that this reviewer
falls into the liberal camp, and in the interest of gaining deeper knowledge
on this topic, I recently finished reading What
Liberal Media? by Eric Alterman. It is well done, and well worth
reading. I was reasonably convinced of a rightward bias in media coverage,
even before reading this book, and this book served to reinforce that
notion. I wanted that reinforcement, so mission accomplished there.
While the subject matter is topical, current, and certainly
worthy of in-depth discussion, something is bothersome about this particular
approach, however. It might be accurately portrayed as sneering
partisanship, which is the phrase that resonates with me even today.
For the most part, I am right (so to speak) with Alterman on his central
argument, which is that the American media are, by and large, conservative.
Even more troublesome, certain segments of these media are conservative
activists; in one particularly Orwellian turn of phrase (attributable
to spooky neo-conservative flack William Kristol), they are on a mission
of advocacy journalism for a spooky neo-conservative
Beyond the question of any relevant bias, whether it is conservative or liberal, is one of what the American public deems to be an acceptable standard of journalistic discourse.
This turn of events is four-square in opposition to a functioning democracy. It is as disturbing as it is obvious. Yet, something keeps churning in my stomach like a hunk of half-digested chorizo. Beyond the question of any relevant bias, whether it is conservative or liberal, is one of what the American public deems to be an acceptable standard of journalistic discourse. It is not about the bias of reporters or their corporate masters; rather, it is about the paucity of critical content in the news.
As one observation, news content has increasingly
become supplanted by infotainment. There is a disturbing and
widening trend for news to be presented without any context. To make matters
worse, every media outlet leads with the same top stories, and often you
will be subjected to identical coverage, the same newsreel footage, and
the same doorstep to doorstep narrative. Even worse, some of the biggest
non-issues become the focus of follow-the-sun make-news
coverage on every single outlet. One case in point: The comings and goings
in the Laci Peterson case are, in sum, non-news news. However, it is difficult
to assign a firm partisan motivation behind the non-stop blather around
this case. Rather than having a blantant right or left slant, this sort
of thing is about sensationalism and market share in the 24x7 news cycle.
As the word news implies new
or new-ness, it is sickening to see so many non-worthy,
stale, and irrelevant stories touted as something original, fresh, and
hot off the press. We, the consuming public, have in many ways come to
embrace this trend, or at the very least, to tolerate it.
If public interest issues (whatever they happen to be) manage to sneak into the mix, they are given about as much depth and dimension as one might expect in a fifth-grade civics lesson. When analysis is introduced, it would appear that there are no shades of grey to consider, and only two choices.
Now, what does this bring to mind? For me, binary thinking, uncritical analysis, news devoid of relevance and presented without context? That is the glove to the hand of neo-conservative politics. That is the The Matrix which functions to obscure the machinations of the GOP groove. Neo-conservative politics and corporate news media are soul-mates; albeit more ontological than ideological. This symbiosis is at the forefront of a large-scale effort to re-define the political landscape.
That effort, sadly enough, has been fantastically successful.
Much is made in the book about the election of 2000, and the consequences of overwhelmingly conservative media. It is arguable that the media favored, coddled, and kid-gloved George W. Bush into the presidency. However, it was asserted as a given that Bush's opposition was the alternative to the GOP vision of compassionate conservatism. Yet, is it true that to be a Democrat means to be a liberal? Does the debate of liberal versus conservative turn on party affiliation?
This needs to be more fully explicated; that is, how we can have a discussion about politics and not delve into what party affiliation means in and of itself in America. The implication is that Republicans are the standards-bearers for conservative policies, and Alterman repeatedly makes this case. Yet, the converse is seldom discussed in the book. Is it accurate to portray Democrats or Democratic policies as uniformly liberal?
If liberalism is defined as the policies
of Democratic administrations, then discussing liberal bias
in media is moot. Leaving aside the question of bias in media coverage,
it is an affront to characterize many policies touted by the Democratic
establishment as liberal. The sundry attacks on the liberalism in the
Clinton administration rises rose to the level of prima facie absurdity,
for example. What was really going on was that conservatives were dog-piling
on Clinton for his conservative policies not being conservative enough,
yet calling those policies liberal. If for no
other reason, the charge of liberal stuck because
Clinton was a Democrat, not because his policies did not find favor with
wing-nuts. In short, conservatives were attacking conservative policies
during the Clinton years. Now, THAT is a script even Orwell could not