Monday, June 2, 2008

Where Are The Liberal Media When You Need Them? Thoughts On Scott McClellan's Spiel

By Manifesto Joe

In the time I have worked in American news media -- 30 years -- we've had to deal with right-wingers' allegations of "liberal bias." It goes on to this day, despite many years of Fox News obviously functioning as the right-wing Republican answer to Soviet state TV. Even if you go back 20 years or more, to a time when some faint whiff of liberal influence on American media might have been evident, it pales in comparison to the partisan bashing one sees on Fox, every hour on the hour.

In his new, much-discussed book, Scott McClellan touches -- just slightly -- on the problem. That being that the right wing had a strategy, and that despite any rational opposition, they made it work.

Scotty only brings it up in the context of the Iraq war, and American news media's absolute failure to hold the Bush administration's propaganda up to proper scrutiny.

I suggest that this reverse bias strategy has been going on a pretty long time, and still is. The strategy was to cry "liberal bias" so often that the great lie would become accepted as truth, a la Joseph Goebbels. As a result, the right seems to have at least their U.S. hard-core 30% in tow, no matter what happens on the world stage.

It's common sense that a profession like journalism will attract more liberals than conservatives. There are some righties who go into the field (with backing from trust funds and inheritances, usually) because they think their influence is needed among these hordes of liberal reprobates in the profession. I have known some like that. But mostly, liberal types are drawn to these jobs. The jobs don't usually pay well as "college required" professions go, so that means you have to have a bigger moral and emotional stake in it than if you were going into, say, banking. One goes into journalism actually hoping to do meaningful work and make the world a slightly better place.

The right's strategy has been to cry "bias" so many times, and to assemble dubious inductive arguments with isolated instances of sloppy journalism, that eventually many people would buy the line. Over decades, they succeeded to a frustrating degree.

But, with Scotty coming forward like this about media cheerleading on the Iraq war, the ruse is beginning to fall apart. I remember the period of 5-6 years ago, and wondering where the hell our Murrows were while Colin Powell was lying to the U.N. Even Bob Woodward seemed to be shilling for the administration during that time. There was a total collapse of the scrutiny, the skepticism, the suspicion that comes with media at its watchdog best. You know, the traits that "liberals" usually bring to it.

The Free Press Action Fund has kept abreast of the reactions to Scotty's book, and there's more there than has been headlined in general:

... he takes it one step further, implicating the mainstream media for its role in "enabling" this propaganda: "The national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House" in spreading the president's case for the war, McClellan writes. The mainstream media didn't live up to its watchdog reputation. "If it had, the country would have been better served.

There's more:

The media's complicity in promoting this war was confirmed Wednesday night by CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin who said that network executives had pushed her not to do hard-hitting pieces on the Bush administration as the nation readied for war.

"The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation," Yellin told CNN's Anderson Cooper. Here's the video:

This is all very familiar turf for me. I've heard it, from bootlicking editors, in many ways. "These people in your story, they're not OUR people." "We need to stick to the facts of the story." (I thought that's what I had been doing.) "We have advertisers, and we need to think about them." (Hey, that was when they were trying to be half-assed honest.)

Perhaps this has driven one more nail into the coffin of the myth of liberal media bias. If not -- give me a bag of nails, a coffin and a good shovel, and I will gladly finish the job. I can vouch from experience that it is among the most toxic of all political myths.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Anonymous said...

The media in this country has always enjoyed a nice little war from time to time.
There's nothing like a war to boost ratings. And, of course, higher ratings means more ad revenues.
CNN is particularly fond of war. After all, the first Gulf War put CNN on the map as a major national news source.

Marc McDonald said...

Speaking of "liberal media bias," I believe it was in the 2004 election that "The Dallas Morning News" made endorsements in around 30 state, local and national races.
Out of those 30, only one, Martin Frost, was a Democrat (and he was a conservative Democrat).
For the next few weeks, "The Dallas Morning News" was inundated with dozens of letters to the editor, from right-wing readers screaming that the paper was "liberal" because it had endorsed a Democrat.
I myself argued with one local Republican and I pointed out that 29 out of 30 endorsements by the paper were for GOP candidates. But he still screamed and hollered that "The Dallas Morning News" was an "extreme, far-left socialist propaganda" newspaper.
And he's only one of dozens I've talked to over the years with this view.