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The 'Liberal Media' Controversy - Missing the Point

Thursday, 05 June 2003 12:00 AM

In fact, complaining of a “conservative media bias,” Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Terry McAuliffe, and others have tried to peddle the notion that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Gordon Liddy, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and other talk show hosts are drowning out the Democrat Party’s message.

This, of course, ignores the fact that for decades, the public has been fed a steady diet of conventional liberal wisdoms by the major TV networks.

For nearly 40 years, this has been buttressed by public radio and television. PBS and NPR are subsidized by government dollars and tax deductible contributions.

It should not come as a surprise that much of their programming is favorable to big government and the “solutions” to problems - real and imagined - that are offered by the party of big government, the Democrat Party.

Citing George Will, Bill Safire, Bob Novak, Oliver North and other media conservatives as “proof” that the media is not liberal, of course, misses the point. Those columnists, after all, are commentators, openly recognized as such. There are plenty of liberal pundits, as well. So that tends to balance out.

The issue is: Does the mainstream media, which purports to give us the straight news, have a liberal tilt? Over the years, reasoned and thoroughly documented studies have indicated the answer is yes.

Scholars such as Robert Lichter have written books outlining the point in detail, often accompanied by surveys such as those showing lopsided media preferences for George McGovern or for Bill Clinton that were way out of sinc with the voting patterns of the general public.

First of all, let us acknowledge a central fact of life: Anyone who spends his professional life covering history-making and often bitter and controversial political issues, and claims that he has no opinions and no world view is either a liar or a moron.

In reality, there is no such thing as a journalist who goes to the computer, the camera, or the microphone as a eunuch or blank slate. That would virtually defy the laws of human nature.

The issue with much of the mainstream media was best pinpointed by Frank Shakespeare who was a communications specialist in the Nixon White House.

Speaking in 1969 to a Detroit convention of the Radio-TV News Directors Association, Shakespeare said, “You really try to be fair,” but when so many newsrooms in the major media are populated with so many of the same mindset, it is only natural that certain opinions come to be accepted as “conventional wisdoms,” even though the public, mainly in Heartland America, is on an entirely different wavelength.

Many of the mainstream media journalists come from the same ivy league schools and have adopted much of the outlook that typifies the leftward tilt of academia. Most of those who come to the newsroom from other environments eventually accept the same “conventional wisdoms.”

Those “conventional wisdoms” influence the news in many subtle ways. (The blatant in-your-face liberalism of a Bryant Gumbel is the exception, not the rule.) It goes to such issues as what is “news” and what is not; what to cover, what to leave in, and what to leave out.

Somewhere in the bowels of the mainstream media, there may be someone who consciously says to him or herself, “Now, let’s see, how can I spin the news so to advance the liberal cause today?” If such people exist, I never met them in all the years I was in the mainstream media. Everyone I worked with was honest and conscientious and, as Shakespeare put it, tried to be fair.

The issue again is: When so many in a given newsroom accept the same outlook - however controversial - is anyone surprised that a particular tilt shows up in the news product fed to the public?

Pundits and outlets such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bob Novak, the Washington Times, the New York Post, and FoxNews Channel (which in fact is “fair and balanced,” allegations to the contrary notwithstanding) are simply an outgrowth of a market demand on the part of a public that was starved for another point of view. In no way do they represent a conspiratorial conservative takeover of the airwaves or print media. As Rush has put it, “I AM equal time.”

Politicians such as Daschle, Clinton, and McAuliffe are unhappy because the liberal “gatekeepers” of public debate no longer enjoy a near monopoly, and quite naturally, they don’t like it even a little bit.

But metaphorically, it really gets down to the fact that if you build a dam on a river, the water still has to go somewhere. The end result - or the “water” in this case - is the emergence of conservative alternatives, which by the way, still do not dominate the national debate.

Shakespeare’s comments back in 1969 prompted Walter Cronkite to seek and obtain a luncheon appointment with him to discuss the matter. The two emerged from that one-on-one with what amounted to an agreement to disagree.

Speaking of “Uncle Walter,” the Washington Post reported the onetime “most trusted man in America” will soon start writing a weekly column for King Features Syndicate.

“My first column,” said the longtime CBS anchor, “would be setting the record straight and pointing out what is a liberal and explaining why I think most reporters are liberals.”

I can’t wait for this one.

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In fact, complaining of a "conservative media bias," Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Terry McAuliffe, and others have tried to peddle the notion that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Gordon Liddy, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and other talk show hosts are drowning...
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Thursday, 05 June 2003 12:00 AM
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