Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The media, of course

When in the blogosphere, do as the bloggers do. Which is to say, talk about the media. Which is not to say that I'm trying to circumvent what is generally known these days as the Mainstream Media (MSM). I'm all for the MSM. I read the Times, the Post, the other Times (L.A.), and I see nothing wrong with getting my news from the major networks or the major cable news networks -- the unfair and highly unbalanced Fox notwithstanding. And, unlike other bloggers, I do not see myself as a replacement for the MSM -- a circumvention of the MSM, that is. Bloggers may make news, but not intentionally. They may report the news, but really they're only reporting what the MSM has already reported. They may expose something that the MSM has failed to expose, admittedly, but such "scoops" are extremely rare and pale in comparison to what bloggers do: at best, comment on the news, usually from a preconceived (and dangerously narrow-minded) perspective; at worst, spread vicious gossip and innuendo. That's the "new" media for you.

For more on this, I recommend two websites, which I peruse regularly:

Poynter-Romenesko: an excellent daily round-up of media news from a detached, non-partisan perspective; basically, media on media, with high regard for the profession of journalism)

Media Matters:"liberal" examination of the lies -- let's call them what they are -- spread with reckless abandon by the "conservative" media (Fox, talk radio, etc.) and exposing its darlings (O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.) for the frauds they really are)

Excellent stuff.

For now, here are some preliminary thoughts:

Whither media bias?

What we're currently witnessing is the continuing ascension (or is it now plateauing?) of right-biased media, even within the MSM. There's been a lot of talk recently about bias in the media, with both sides, in America's bipolar world, accusing the other. But how do you properly assess media bias? To me, there isn't much -- let's fact it, much of the MSM, especially the non-print variety, is run by massive corporate conglomerates more concerned with the bottom line (and share prices) than with ideology. But there has been a noticeable shift to the right, even as the right continues to use "liberal media bias" as a myth to arouse its base. Whatever the causes of this shift -- perhaps something we'll get back to at a later time -- the shift is evident mostly in how political discourse is framed. Listen to the language. That's where the bias is:

If you're from Massachusetts, or New England generally, you're a stark-raving-mad liberal, an opponent of all things American, a traitor. If you're from Texas, or the South generally, you're, well, all-American and good to go. Wasn't that Bush's unchallenged message during last year's campaign? Well, both Bushes have used it. Bush I against Dukakis, Bush II against Kerry. Furthermore, if you're Michael Moore or MoveOn.org, you're insane. If you're Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity, you're a media darling. Michael Moore -- and I will acknowledge here that I think Fahrenheit 9/11 is a brilliant film, whatever its overhyped flaws -- is ridiculed for his admittedly ridiculous portrayal of pre-war Iraq or for suggesting that there's more to the story of 9/11 and Iraq than is generally known, but Hannity, who wrote a book equating liberalism (America's founding philosophy: thank you, John Locke) with terrorism, and Coulter, who wrote a book calling liberals (America's founders: thank you Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton) traitors, continue to grace our TV screens with their obnoxious (and noxious) presence on a daily basis.

What I'm saying is that the pendulum has shifted so far to the right that a "pro-family" bigot like James Dobson is regularly invited to appear on TV to peddle his fear- and hate-mongering (tolerance/diversity = gay agenda) and Jerry Falwell is brought in to guest-host Crossfire. Look, I would object if conservatives were similarly excluded from the debate or equally held in contempt, as they once were. The U.S. is neither as liberal is it was perceived to be back in the '60s, nor as conservative as it is perceived to be today. What's wrong now is that the right sets the debate and has shifted perception to the right. It's established, if you will, a false north pole, with the compass pointing well to the right of the true middle of American life. And they do it, in part, by presenting themselves as revolutionaries fighting for ordinary "folk" (to use O'Reilly's stupid term) against the "liberal" media elite.

Which is what, exactly? Fox, which is so fair and balanced that Brit Hume's regular panel guests are Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Mort Kondracke? CNN, which basically apologizes when it features a "liberal" guest? MSNBC, which is moving to the right faster than Sideshow Bob can steal an election (who gave Joe Scarborough a TV show? and why is Pat Buchanan allowed to guest-host?) CBS, a once-proud network that has been castrated on account of an error in judgement? NBC, with Nascar-Dad Brian Williams in the anchor chair? ABC, with... well, with what? Peter Jennings searching the skies for UFOs? I mean, enough already. It's time for the pendulum to swing back.

Not back to the left. Just back to the sensible middle, where journalists go about their business of reporting the news without partisan bias.

Is that possible? Maybe, maybe not. But the truth -- the dissemination of truth -- depends on it.

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