MEDIA BIAS

Jonah Goldberg’s piece, critiquing Eric Alterman’s argument that there is no liberal media, will generate a lot of buzz today. Some snippets:

Why did conservatives feel a need to set up parallel media channels, with all the effort that entailed? Because the existing structures–elite newsrooms, plus the academic, publishing and entertainment industries that intertwine with the news business–are so hostile to conservative views that the only way to compete in the public debate was to set up shop across the street.

Yep.

If Mr. Alterman and fellow liberals were to make the argument that the U.S. media aren’t as left-wing as it was a decade or two ago, or that it isn’t as left-wing as some conservatives claim, or as left-wing as Mr. Alterman would like it to be, it would be a lot easier to take his argument seriously. It’s certainly true that America has moved to the right over the last 25 years, and it’s not shocking to think that the media have become (a little) less dismissive of conservative ideas, especially now that it’s become clear that there’s a market for conservative wares.

But because Mr. Alterman and friends can’t conceive of a media they would ever consider too liberal, they lament any rightward drift at all, and declare it dangerous and unwarranted. Moreover, they are highly selective in their gaze. Mr. Alterman looks to the handful of conservative media outlets and ignores the horde of liberal ones. He fulminates about the influence of the “wild men” at The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for instance, but barely mentions New York Times editorialists. Indeed, at times it seems Mr. Alterman has never even heard that the Times exists, let alone that it is both extremely liberal and more influential than any other news organ.

This is obviously less true than it once was. Still, I agree with the larger point.

One annoying habit is Mr. Alterman’s insistence on counting pundits as proof of conservative bias. He cites the fact that CNN hired Bill Bennett and me as commentators, but has trouble fathoming that this might be because even the network execs recognized they needed to add some balance. The unfortunate truth is, conservatives usually get invited onto the main networks merely to be “conservatives.” I get asked, “What do people on the right think?” while someone like Jeff Greenfield–a former aide to Bobby Kennedy, and certainly a liberal–is bequeathed the authority of independent vision and nonpartisan insight by the network programmers.

This mistake is common and easy to make. The fact that George Will, always identified as a conservative commentator, is on This Week does not balance the fact that it was hosted by Sam Donaldson or George Stephanoupolis. The fact that NYT lets Bill Safire write a column doesn’t negate the liberal bias of its op-ed pages.

Still, as the late David Brinkley suggested, the country has voted for a lot of Republican presidents and congressmen over the last three decades. While it’s true that the elite universities and elite media outlets are disproportionately liberal, their influence is obviously limited. And, in the age of 500 television channels, talk radio, the Web, and the blogosphere, people are more in control of their ability to get information than ever before.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steven says:

    Indeed, on the “counting commentators” metric, my favorite (and this has gotten better in recent years) is the actual ratio of libs:cons on a panel. Even now on “This Week” it is Stephy (Lib), Will (Con), Zakaria (mod-to-lib) and Martin(lib). Or, even better, when it was Sam (lib), Cokie(lib), Will (con) and Stephy (lib)–now there’s balance.

    Or the old Capital Gang when it was Al Hunt, Margaret Carlson, Mark Shields and Bob Novak (and Hunt was allegedly the “moderate”!–and even if he was, it was a mod, 2 libs, and Novak).

  2. pete says:

    What a joke. The liberal media crap is just that. Actually, a brilliant move by righties. The only bias is hugely right winged. sure, some news people are liberals, but I still NEVER see the lefty shows that balance the non-ending righty shows on TV, radio, and newspapers who go on and on about about what scum democrats are. The only shows and medias I see are rightwinged. MSNBC just fired Donohue, hired Joe Scarborough, and digusting Mike Savage. Didn’t hear any one commenting on that.