The Myth of The Liberal Media
"Beyond the 2000 Election, this conservative media tilt has become a dominant reality in modern U.S. politics. The imbalance also was not an accident. It resulted from a conscious, expensive and well-conceived plan by conservatives to build what amounts to a rapid-response media machine. This machine closely coordinates with Republican leaders and can strongly influence - if not dictate - what is considered news."
"I admit it -- the liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures."
William Kristol, as reported by the New Yorker, 5/22/95"
In the west, 10 or 20 years, there has been massive research documenting the fact that the media are extraordinarily subordinated to external power. Now, when you have that power, the best technique is to ignore all of that discussion, ignore it totally, and to eliminate it, by the simple device of asserting the opposite. If you assert the opposite, that eliminates mountains of evidence demonstrating that what you are saying is false. That's what power means. And the way we assert the opposite is by just saying that the media are liberal."
Noan Chomsky, in FSTV's documentation The Myth Of The Liberal Media
Based on its recent direct-mail campaign, one of the [Leadership Institute's] primary fund- raising strategies is to convince conservative donors that its graduates can neutralize what it regards as left-leaning news media.
"Liberal media bias is out of control," said the letter, which was mailed over [Rep. J.C.] Watts's signature, but which [the institute's founder and president] Mr. Blackwell said was written at the institute. "It's indecent. It's time you and I did something about it."
When asked for examples of how bias by news organizations was undermining the presidency of George W. Bush, Mr. Blackwell complained about what he described as excessive press attention paid to Mr. Bush's critics, like Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.
An alumna of the institute, who was recommended by Mr. Blackwell, found it difficult to cite cases of "out of control" liberal bias in recent news coverage.
"I have been in local TV newsrooms in Phoenix, Seattle and Pittsburgh, and I don't think there is bias, either liberal or conservative," said the alumna, Tallee Whitehorn, 27, an assistant news director at WTAE- TV, an ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh. "This is not really a place for it, unless I wanted to get a lot of hate mail, which I don't."
The young people in Mr. Montini's class were also hard-pressed to come up with examples of the news- media bias mentioned in Mr. Watts's fund-raising letter.
Mr. Tietz said he had been sensitized to such matters in recent months by reading conservative books, including Whitaker Chambers's "Witness." That book, Mr. Tietz said, "explains the deep-down meanness of the left."
But as for seeing that meanness in coverage of President Bush, Mr. Tietz said, "Honestly, I haven't noticed it one way or another." from a June 11, 2001 New York Times article on the Leadership Institute (a training camp for conservative journalists) titled "In Virginia, Young Conservatives Learn How to Develop and Use Their Political Voices""
Throughout 2000, with less pretense of objectivity than ever, [Tim] Russert dutifully echoed the Republican theme that the Democratic nominee was “dishonest”. Week after week, the topic on Meet The Press was the “repeated lying” of Al Gore. One lowlight of Russert’s descent into shameless propagandist occurred when it was revealed that George W. Bush had been convicted of drunk driving in Maine, thereby proving that the Republican candidate had been deceitful when he was questioned about whether he had ever been arrested.
Russert’s immediate response on national television was, “The question on everybody’s mind is, ‘Did the Gore campaign have something to do with the release of this information?’” That was not the question on everybody’s mind; a poll taken immediately after the revelation showed that most Americans did not believe that Gore was involved.
It was, however, the question being faxed nationally by the Republicans in a memo circulated to their operatives who were responsible for diverting attention from the fact that their candidate was guilty of, for want of a better term, “repeated lying”.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Russert established a link between Meet The Press and the G.O.P. opposition research team that was responsible for digging up dirt/manufacturing dirt on Al Gore. On election night, after conferring with Welch, Russert demanded that Gore quit the race before the legally mandated recount took place in Florida. The next morning, on the Today Show, he repeated the demand. (...)
He exaggerates Democratic wrongdoing, going to the extreme of inventing criminal behavior. Conversely, he has been unrelentingly oblivious to all Republican scandals; his infinite fascination with the missing intern in the case of Democrat Gary Condit was accompanied by total disinterest in the dead intern who was found on the office floor of Republican Joe Scarbrough. Russert spent years obsessing about an ill fated land deal called Whitewater that involved a couple of hundred thousand dollars, but he remains indifferent to the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer funded kickbacks that George W. Bush has been ladling out to his campaign contributors. " from a January 9th, 2002 article on GE's leading media whore, Tim Russert
For conservatives of every persuasion, it is a self-evident truth that the mass media are liberally biased. As a proud liberal myself, I wish it was true: where are those liberal TV channels? Could I please sign up for them? All I get on my satelite system are center-right channels such as CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and far-right channels such as the "we distort, you deride", Fox News, owned by equally far-right media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and assorted christian nutball channels such as the Trinity Broadcasting Network or Pat Robertson's The 700 Club, carried by Fox Family.
Believing in freedom of speech, I do not mind that far-right viewpoints are presented on TV on a daily basis. What I strongly object to is that these viewpoints are not balanced by equally far-left viewpoints. Tune to CNN's Capital Gang, and you'll see a centrist TIME columnist (Margaret Carlson) and a socially liberal but economically conservative Wall Street Journal Editor (Al Hunt) debate two rabid right wingers, Kate O'Beirne and Robert Novak. Progressive voices are completely shut out from the program. Or tune to Fox News' Hannity & Colmes which is nothing but a thinly veiled solo show for far-right firebrand Sean Hannity who is so "balanced" by the tame Colmes that he might just as well be opposed by a scarecrow made to look like Colmes. College dropout Hannity does almost all of the talking; he introduces guests from the "Family Research" Council as "our good friend from the FRC", habitually refers to his own views and those of regular guest Jerry Falwell as "christian" without any qualifier (ignoring the fact that religious right views are not representative of mainstream christianity), and treats liberal guests as mere props to get his own point of view across, which usually involves interrupting and screaming. Fair and Balanced?
Hardly. But by Fox standards, Hannity & Colmes is about as fair and unbiased as it gets. Usually, Fox News' idea of fairness and balance involves having a center-right conservative disagree with a far-right conservative, and calling that travesty a debate, or letting a conservative (but never a liberal) have his own show altogether. How come that everytime Bill O'Reilly takes a break from The O'Reilly Factor, his substitute is someone from the far right of the political spectrum, such as former congressman and now syndicated radio host Bob Dornan or hard-right nitwit Michael Reagan (who left the GOP because it was not radical enough)? And why is it that 8 years of unrelenting, non-stop demonization of Clinton and his wife by these people is okay, but suggesting that Bush is illegitimate is "partisan rancor"? The answer is of course that Foxnews is a conservative news outlet, even though its on-air personel asserts the contrary ("fair and balanced") like a mantra.
But the situation is hardly any better on the other (supposedly liberal) cable news channels. Liberals or centrists may not be on unless their viewpoints are 'balanced' by conservative viewpoints (as in CNN's Capital Gang or Crossfire), while hard-right pundits such as Christ Matthews get their own shows. ABC's 20/20 regularly features the views of pro-corporate extremist John Stossel, but does not bother to balance those views by a progressive perspective. Commenting on a 1998 Stossel piece which made the case that greed is good, FAIR demanded "to see an equally outspoken progressive journalist given an hour to explain why greed is a serious problem in American society". Needless to say that that demand went unanswered. Stossel, despite a documented history of using deceptive statistics, one-sided witness testimony, distortions and outright lies to promote an extremist agenda is still on the job at ABC.
To make matters worse, it is not just the conservative punditocracy which is less than fair and impartial. The mass media as a whole are seriously biased - the conservative way. It was the mass media that have co-opted and thus legitimized the Republican code phrase "marriage penalty". There is no tax in the tax code that is called "The Marriage Penalty Tax", yet the media have been using this propagandistic phrase without any qualifiers, making "the marriage penality (tax)" an objective fact of life, just as they routinely report on "partial birth" (instead of "late term") abortion. Similarly, they have been using the right-wing codephrase "death tax" to con a significant fraction of the population into thinking that the inheritance tax concerns ordinary people (as opposed to the super-rich).
The mass media's coverage of the presidential race 2000 was slanted in favor of Bush from day one. As early as 1999, the media had picked their winner, George W. Bush, and started to tell the public that W's victory was a foregone conclusion. Throughout the campaign and the Florida aftermath, they stayed "on message": that Gore was a lier and exaggerator, while Bush was a "different kind of Republican", a likeable guy, and a real pal. They put every real or alleged inappropriate behavior, inaccuracy or exaggeration from Gore under the magnifying glass, and simultaneously ignored W's big lies and blunders: that he weaseled himself out of jury duty to cover up a DUI arrest, that he refused to admit to being a recreational drug user and that he went AWOL while in the national guard. All of it with impunity of course, thanks to Daddy's connections.
The mass media never found it worth mentioning that this man who in the debates prided himself on being a succesful businessman and Washington outsider had in fact driven several oil companies into bankruptcy, one after an other, and was bailed out every single time thanks to his family connections. As a son of wealth and privilege, Bush had never had to work for anything, and got away with acts that would have gotten anyone else into jail. Bush's dirty tricks, both against McCain and against Gore, were revolting even by Republican campaign standards, but the media never challenged Bush to explain himself. Only when Gore pointed these out, they blasted him for "negative campaigning".
As the campaign drew to a close, it became even more apparent that the mass media would go to any lengths to discredit Gore while giving Bush a free ride. In the presidential debate in Boston, on October 3, 2000, Bush had the audacity to claim that
"[Gore] has outspent me, the special interests are outspending me (..)"
while the truth is that Bush broke all spending records in US history and outspent everyone, including the Republicans who ran before him by a wide margin! It was a flat-out lie, but the "liberal" mass media let him get away with it. This hypocrisy of the mass media has been well documented by a FAIR article titled Serial Exaggerators: Media's double standard on political lying. I also recommend Rolling Stone Magazine's article The Press vs. Al Gore.
Then, on election night, Fox News dropped all pretense of being unbiased and let Bush's cousin John Ellis call Florida for Bush at 2:16 am, prompting the other four networks to do the same within minutes. From that point onward, Gore had to fight an uphill battle against the perception that Bush had won Florida, which we know today he has not. After election day, the pro-Bush campaign of the media only intensified. Chris Matthews, who only days before the election had found the idea of Gore losing the popular vote but winning the electoral one wholly unpalatable, developed selective amnesia and was now arguing for Gore, the winner of the popular vote, to concede! The rest of the punditry joined into this rousing chorus of "concede, concede", ominously warning that simply counting the votes in Florida would create a constitutional crisis. They even rewrote history in the process, popularizing the myth that Nixon conceded gracefully in 1960 without putting up a legal fight (the opposite is true).
Naturally, the transparent hypocrisy of the GOP's position went unnoticed or was downplayed. Hand-counting, which is universally accepted as more accurate than machine-counting (even by Bush himself, and by his lawyers in New Mexico, who demanded a hand-recount at the same time that Baker was succesfully discrediting the method in Florida) now became unreliable. That House Majority Whip Tom DeLay was behind the GOP mob that shut down the Miami-Dade recount: hardly worth reporting. The paid republican rioters with their professionally made "Sore Loserman" signs and t-shirts: reported as grassroots protestors. That minority voters had been intimidated from voting by GOP operatives: not worth any headlines. That Katherine Harris had 12,000 predominantly black voters falsely removed from voter rolls as convicted fellons: reported in the British Newspaper Observer, but ignored by the US media.
The day after the GOP majority on the Supreme Court had installed Emperor Bush on the throne, the mass media started to echo conservative calls for "unity" and "healing". The good of the nation, we were told by the corporate media outlets, required us to support President "elect" Bush. How that healing is supposed to take place when the dagger is still firmly lodged in the wound, they did not say. John Gibson, guest-hosting the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News on 12/15/00, even suggested that the Florida ballots should be locked away for eight years or burned, because the legitimacy of George W. Bush's presidency is a higher good than the truth. Is it even conceivable that a Fox pundit would suggest that Clinton should not have been investigated, to preserve the public's respect for the office of president?
The sad and morally repugnant story of coup d'etat 2000 continues to this day. The truth - that Bush lost the election and has not one iota of legitimacy to push his far-right agenda - has become a non-fact for the mass media. That Bush jettisoned all pretense of being a "different kind of Republican" with his hard-right cabinet appointments was dismissed as slander from the usual liberal special interest groups and never examined in detail. Ashcroft and Norton got a free pass. They were dutifully referred to as "controversial", but the mass media were silent on exactly how and why these people are controversial. The protests against His Fraudulency's inauguration were downplayed and protestors marginalized as "fringe groups", while commentators were drooling over inauguration trivia.
As President Bush is preparing to ram his tax cut for the wealthy through congress, the mass media are silent on the fact that Governor Bush's tax cuts in Texas have left the state unable to pay its bills, leaving the republican state legislature and governor no choice but to raise taxes again. But try to call in on some of the political shows on the cable news channels and mention the inconvenient fact that the American people elected Al Gore to be their president, and you will be chided by the pundits for being a complete moron - get over it, will you?
On November 12, 2001, the pro-Bush bias of the mass media reached a level that can only be characterized as Orwellian. The media recount study had just shown that by the only legitimate standard (clear intent of the voter), the majority of legal votes in Florida had been cast for Gore, by a margin of tens of thousands of votes. But the headlines said the exact opposite! It was one of those "IBM commercial" moments - for the past 11 months, you had already gotten used to the mass media slanting their coverage in favor of Bush and the Republicans, but you were still clinging to the sentimental notion that they could not outright fabricate the news. And then it hit you - they can, and they do! The degree of deceptiveness varied depending on the outlet. While the Drudge Report - incredibly! - gave a completely objective assessment of the situation ("Gore topped Bush if all under/over votes counted; legal strategy destroyed chances"), the supposedly liberal New York Times and Washington Post both reported Bush as the recount winner in their headlines.
But it fell to supposedly leftist CNN to deliver the most brazen example of pro-Bush reporting. On the evening of Sunday, 11, 2001, CNN ran a report (click on video, then "Study suggests Bush still winner") by CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley that made me want to vomit. She first discusses irrelevant hypothetical scenarios under all of which Bush would have won, then makes an oblique reference that Gore would have won if overvotes had been counted as well, but does not see fit to mention that those overvotes were legal votes because they left no doubt as to the intent of the voter. She then makes the following, incredible appeal to blind, mindless patriotism:
Now, try to remember the kind of September we just had. (pictures of World Trade Center ruins, then George W. Bush with his arm around a firefighter, people shouting "USA,USA") What consumed us last December is a paragraph for history now. A recent poll shows that if the election was held today, George Bush would beat Al Gore by 21 points. But the election cannot be held today, and we cannot, would not hold last year's election again. (video shows Al Gore speaking, "George W. Bush is my commander in chief") Maybe the best thing of all is that the messy feelings of the Florida ballot box have really only proven the strength of democracy.
To link the terrorist attacks to the 2000 election in this manner is not journalism, it is propaganda. The suggestion that the current office holder would beat a former opponent by a wide margin if the election was held just after a national disaster is a no-brainer, and does not prove anything. That CNN would run such transparantly partisan advocacy masquerading as journalism shows one thing - CNN's bias is not a liberal one.
But enough anecdotal evidence. Maybe I'm just suffering from selective perception of reality, seing what I expect to see? Objective data is required to substantiate the claim that the bias of the media is in fact a conservative one, and FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) has been compiling just that kind of data for 15 years now. FAIR has documented that conservative or right-leaning "think" tanks (like Heritage, Cato, RAND or our favourite, the "Family Research" council) received more than 50% of media citations in 1998 and 1999, while left-wing and progressive think tanks overally received less than 13%. FAIR's issue collection reveals, among other things, how the mass media
*have helped create the myth that social security is failing, paving the way for the realization of one of the right's political wet dreams: privatization of social security
*perpetuate conservative myths about wellfare and simultanously turn a blind eye to corporate welfare
*sensationalize street crime and ignore corporate crime
*treat religious right groups such as the Promise Keepers with kid's gloves and thus help legitimize them in the public perception
*generally avoid reporting on the lunatic fringe of the right, such as militias, neo-Nazis and anti-abortion terrorists, and in particular, avoid examining the personal and ideological connections these groups have to the Republican party
*created the perception that there is widespread popular opposition to affirmative action when in fact most people support it
*all but ignore waste, mismanagment and corruption in the military-industrial complex, especially as it relates to the planned missile defense system
*downplayed protests against the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO by portraying protestors as leftist fringe groups, communists and anarchists
*report corporate PR as legitimate scientific research.
Given these facts, the claim of the liberal media bias is shaky enough as it relates to major newspapers and television networks. But when one admits radio stations into the picture, the claim becomes wholly preposterous. Conservative hate radio has been carpet bombing the nation with hard-right ideology, unbridled hatred towards liberals and Clinton, distortions, lies and bogus science for years. Hate radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan and Oliver North are heard by millions of people every day, and they have no progressive counterparts of any significance. Not exactly surprising, considering that corporate sponsors have a vested interest in supporting pro-business voices, and suppressing progressive ones.
And yet, the conservative agenda is and remains singularly unpopular with the population at large, as evidenced by the fact that the GOP can only win elections by hiding its true objectives and playing moderate, running scorched-earth campaigns of personal destruction, smear and slander, intimidation of minority voters and other means of depressing voter turnout - and even then only barely. As Rush Limbaugh gets never tired of telling his white, male and angry audience - it must be someone else's fault. Unable to face the fact that a majority of the population simply does not want theocracy, social darwinism and corporate supremacy, they had to find a scapegoat - or invent one if needed. Thus The Liberal Media myth was born.
The Liberal Media myth is a propaganda tool employed by conservative radio hosts, columnists and pundits as a convenient excuse why after 20 years their ideology has failed to convince the public at large, and as a memetic inocculation of the public against the evidence that the media bias is in fact a conservative one.
Not only does the liberal media claim have no basis in fact, it also does not make sense considering the issues of media ownership and influence of advertisers. Most media outlets are owned by a handful of conservative corporations and individuals, and funded by usually economically conservative advertisers who have no need for an educated, alert, independent and critical citizenry. What they need is a dumb, bored, cynical and apathetic public that has abandoned all critical faculties and is easily distracted by celebrity gossip and mindless sports games. A public that will believe anything it is told, or nothing at all, which amounts to the same end result. This pro-corporate conservative bias of the media is well-documented and shows itself in consistent under-reporting or ignoring of any information that would lead people to question the fundamental status quo. Further Reading:
Shades of Purple - the Myth of the Red and the Blue America
In a now-infamous opinion piece titled "America at War", Andrew Sullivan wrote on 09/16/01:
The terrorists have done the rest. The middle part of the country - the great red zone that voted for Bush - is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount a fifth column.
The "great red zone"? "Enclaves on the coasts"? Such homeopathic dilutions of facts in a solvent of virtually pure bullshit could safely be ignored as not even worthy of refutation. That is, if the myth of the "great red heartland" had not become a fact among the dittoheads of the loony right, a "fact" that is being used to legitimize the illegitimate presidency of George W. Bush.
It is therefore necessary to replace that artificial red-blue map that was obtained by rounding 49% down to zero and 50% to one hundred by a more accurate map that reflects how the voters actually voted. I have created such a map by simply mixing red, blue and green for each state, with the ratios equal to the percentage that Bush, Gore and Nader received in the 2000 election.
To fully live up to the 'actual vote' standard, one would have to take into account that poor (and therefore democratic-leaning) counties usually use more error-prone voting methods that lead to a higher rate of invalidated ballots. But since the difference of one or two percent is nearly invisible to the eye when represented by color, I worked with the official results taken from CNN.
The results speak for themselves. Sullivan's "great red zone" is nowhere to be seen and turns out to be a figment of an absurd rounding procedure. Most of the blue and the red are actually shades of purple, with the exception of only a handful of states that went decisively one way or another.