Thursday, February 10, 2005

Media Bashing

Here's a lovely little news brief from U.S. News and World Report:

While Fox News Channel remains the favorite network of Republican lawmakers, NBC's new anchor, Brian Williams, is the one turning GOP heads. Message guru and former MSNBC contributor Frank Luntz says in a confidential memo to Hill leaders that Williams has emerged as the “go-to network anchor” because of his brains and “lack of detectable ideological bias.” Luntz credits NBC Executive Producer Steve Capus for “a flawless transition to a new generation of news anchor.” Still, Fox and CNN lead the nets when it comes to GOP loyalty.

In Republican-ese, “lack of detectable ideological bias” means “hard right-winger.” As noted by Salon, Williams has recently publicly expressed his admiration of Rush Limbuagh, and slanted coverage of Social Security to be favorable to Bush.

Meanwhile, also at Salon, we have this charming item about pseudojournalist Jeff Gannon:

When President Bush bypassed dozens of eager reporters from nationally and internationally recognized news outlets and selected Jeff Gannon to pose a question at his Jan. 26 news conference, Bush's recognition bestowed instant credibility on the apparently novice reporter, as well as the little-known conservative organization he worked for at the time, called Talon News. That attention only intensified when Gannon used his nationally televised press conference time to ask Bush a loaded, partisan question -- featuring a manufactured quote that mocked Democrats for being “divorced from reality.”

Gannon's star turn quickly piqued the interest of many online commentators, who wondered how an obvious Republican operative had been granted access to daily White House press briefings normally reserved for accredited journalists. Two weeks later, a swarming investigation inside the blogosphere into Gannon and Talon News had produced all sorts of damning revelations about how Talon is connected at the hip to a right-wing activist organization called GOPUSA, how its “news” staff consists largely of volunteer Republican activists with no journalism experience, how Gannon often simply rewrote GOP press releases when filing his Talon dispatches. It also uncovered embarrassing information about Gannon's past as well as his fake identity. When Gannon himself this week confirmed to the Washington Post that his name was a pseudonym, it only added to the sense of a bizarre hoax waiting to be exposed.

And this comes on the heels of the revelations that the Bush administration was paying columnists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher to shill for them in their writing.

Yet, despite this, you can find the cable chat shows debating, almost every night, whether there's a liberal bias in the media. The fact that such political biases as exist in the media are overwhelmingly right-wing is neither here nor there.

Cable news is plainly rihgt-wing. The prime-time line-up at Fox News is: O'Reilly at eight (right-wing), Hannity and Colmes at nine (which should really be called the Sean Hannity show, since Colmes is an ineffective jellyfish), and Greta Van Susteren (who mostly deals with legal issues).

On MSNBC we have Chris Matthews at seven (right-wing, but not as bad as O'Reilly), Keith Olberman at eight (the only anchor who could plausibly be called left-leaning), Pat Buchanan at nine (right wing), and Joe Scarborough at ten (right wing),

On CNN we have Paula Zahn at eight (right wing, though mostly she just parrots whatever the day's script is), Larry King at nine (non-political, though he does give an inordinate amout of time to religious fundamentalists and phony psychics), and Aaron Brown (who's far too boring and arrogant to actually watch). CNN is also home to Lou Dobbs, who's right-wing bias is legendary.

Now we find out that NBC news is in the hands of somebody the Republicans perceive as friendly (for good reason). And we see that the Bush administration feels no shame in using plants during press conferences, or paying off columnists to do their bidding. Meanwhile, Peter Jennings on ABC is no one's idea of a liberal. And you can be sure that CBS will be leaning rightward for the forseeable future, after having been bitten by the “Rathergate” scandal.

To continue to prop up their patently ludicrous charge of left-wing bias, conservatives reflexively point to The New York Times. Considering that it was the Times who kept alive the Whitewater scandal for eight years, that their coverage of the build-up to the war was cartoonishly slanted in Bush's favor, and considering that they are perfectly happy to give over a big chunk of their op-ed page to a lot of pro-ID lies, that charge rings rather hollow.

The same goes for The Washington Post, incidentally. For every article you can point to in these papers that can be described as left-leaning, you can point to plenty of others that are right-leaning.

Occasionally conservatives point to television personalities like Tim Russert or George Stephanopoulos, both of whom have had ties to the Democratic party in the past. But as anyone who actually watches these shows will tell you, both (especially Russert) are far harder on their Democratic guests than their Republican guests. And Stephanopoulos is blanced by the odious George Will.

NPR? Please. Most of their line-up is non-political.

Even pundits who are nominally left-wing are routinely unfair or dishonest in their coverage of the Democrats. For example, Time's Joe Klein often plays the liberal on television. As reported by Columbia Journalism Review, here's an excerpt from a recent essay of his, reporting on the State of the Union:

Finally, there was the boorish and possibly unprecedented hooting of the President by Democrats during the [State of the Union] speech.

"No! No! No!" they shouted, inaccurately, when Bush asserted that the Social Security trust fund would, in a decade or so, start paying out more money than it takes in. If nothing is done, it surely will.

CJR goes on to point out:

Beyond the fact that such “hooting” was far from unprecedented, Klein's short-term memory must be playing tricks on him. Democrats did not start crying out “No! No! No!” when the president asserted that the trust fund would soon start paying out more money than it takes in. Rather, the Democrats accurately started calling out “No! No! No!” when the president inaccurately asserted that “By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt.” You can hear for yourself on the White House video of the address (Real Media or Windows Media) -- the moment in question is about 15 minutes into the speech.

See the original post for the links.

Another example is CNN pundit Margaret Carlson. She's supposedly a liberal, but have a look at her last three columns for the Los Angeles Times:

Today's column is a silly puff-piece comparing Washington to Hollywood. Last week came this silly puff-piece about Hillary Clinton's political skills. It's a column filled with backhanded compliments. Two weeks ago she got off to a good start by praising Barbara Boxer for her tough questioning of Condoleeza Rice, but then goes on to describe the entirely conventional point that aggressive women are treated differently from aggressive men.

Right-wing columnists find some left wing bogey to hammer, even if they have to concoct it out of whole cloth. Left-wing columnists sit on the sidelines and look bemused.

So there's no question that the mainstream media is overwhelmingly right-wing. The reason it is that way, to borrow a line from James Carville that I have quoted before, is that people now use the media “the way a drunk uses a lamppost. For support, not illumination.” The simple and sad fact is that too many people just don't care about learning the truth about anything.


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