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March 30, 2003
What Liberal Media? (Alterman) (Not really a review)

What Liberal Media? (Not really a review)

I consider myself to be about half as well-informed as I should be about current events and politics, in spite of several months worth of intense reading and thinking on the subjects. This is partly the result of several years' worth of the hell with all of them indifference (creating a backlog of topics I needed to get caught up on) and the state of the country today.

If we weren't currently living under a dishonest Administration obsessively concerned with waging an unprovoked, aggressive war while working to dismantle tolerance and social equality at home and attempting to shroud most of their deliberations in a paranoia-inducing secrecy, I would have been caught up three months ago.

I also wouldn't be getting up an hour or more earlier every day in order to check the morning headlines and write about them, getting all bitter before I even start my real job, to the detriment of my actual employer.

I'd guess that most of us amateurs who blog frequently during the day are also holding down full-time day jobs, meaning that this "hobby" (for lack of a better word) is costing untold thousands in lost productivity every day.

It's the Bush/Cheney Administration's fault. If they weren't working tirelessly on so many fronts to dismantle the country, we'd most of us amateurs be working more at our real jobs every day, so don't let anyone convince you that the seemingly permanently stalled economy is not the direct result of the Administration's policies.

That wasn't what I logged on today to discuss, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

I finally finished Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media but at last count I'd stuck 35 Post-it note reminders on various pages so now I have to decide between writing the 3,000-word "review" these notes demand, or just saying, "You gotta' read this one, but don't let Alterman get away with all of those conflicting claims."

He seems to be simultaneously claiming that conservative views dominate the media while many honest, dedicated journalists and owners decry the absence of public interest in "serious" news topics while detailing the many, conflicting, and confusing lies endorsed by the media while blaming readers/viewers for not paying enough attention to what the media is telling them while saying that outright lies are openly published by the most respected print media while bemoaning the drop in circulation because people don't any longer care to read these publications.

Or, you know, something like that.

The problem is that I read too fast for books like this. If I were the kind of person who spends a week getting through each chapter, I probably wouldn't have noticed these absurdities. As it was, I was getting whiplash during the five evenings I actually spent reading the book from cover-to-cover.

Anyhow. Alterman made his actual point, which is that the national media is, overall, anything but liberal. So, read the book.

Even though I found myself unsatisfied on some points, it sparked a multitude of thoughts.

He adequately covers the conservative bias in the news, even detailing some of the ways the "center" has moved rightwards over the years while never discussing where all of the liberals went or why they don't demand to hear their own voices in the news or what this "conservative"message has that appeals to people so much that they don't seem to object to what he sees as a lack of balancing liberal coverage or even why "the public" doesn't seem to object to this rightward bias.

I don't, or at least I shouldn't, blame Alterman because neither he nor anyone else I've read so far has written about the subject I'd most like to see discussed, which is the relationship of the public in this society to our so-called "free press" and how the media has fundamentally changed the way people relate to their government over the last twenty or thirty years.

Alterman came close to the topic a few times, discussing the editorial bias of a few news organs but, like so many "print" guys, he all-but ignored the significant impact of the big three television news networks. People turn to CNN when there's a major event, but millions of them watch ABC, CBS, or NBC every, single evening.

Another minor objection - Alterman also, understandably, wrote of "bias" mostly in connection with columnists. (People read and enjoy columnists, but they read the front page first.) Not entirely - he does cover "news" bias in places, but there was much-less discussion of front-page bias then I anticipated. Still, if he spends an inordinate amount of time covering the overwhelming number of conservative columnists, I understand why a columnist finds this of overwhelming interest.

Nor do I think the subject lacks importance since people do go to the Op-Ed page for interpretation and context, but I might have chosen to contrast/compare front-page bias in terms of the stories chosen for coverage and the language chosen to portray them, then moved to coverage of the Op-Ed pages. (Don't get me wrong. Alterman does this, but not in any kind of systematic function. Of course, his approach is probably far more readable.)

He also gives extensive coverage of both the Clinton Years and the Gore Campaign. I consider his coverage of the CY biased but his coverage of the GC is a scathing indictment of all things wrong with contemporary journalism.

Yes, Gore ran an unfocused campaign, but in spite of all the media could (and did) do, more people still voted for him than for Bush. None of the coverage of the 2000 campaign seems to understand how significant that is. In spite of the lies and distortions of the media and the gushing coverage that Bush received, there were still enough people paying enough attention to the issues to give Al Gore more votes than George Bush got. Lacking the media's highly partisan, not to say dishonest coverage of Gore, there would have been no room for Supreme Court shenanigans.

So, we're to believe that serious professionals, serious journalists, almost universally decided upon trashing Gore because he didn't feed them as well as the Bush campaign? Because Bush gave some of them childish nicknames and Gore wanted to be all boring about issues? That they silently agreed that Bush wasn't a sharp enough pencil for the job but that he was gosh! a swell guy! so why not give him a boost?

What the hell is up with that?

Makes me glad I'm an amateur nobody. If I were a "journalist," I'd find myself compelled to quit in embarrassment and protest.

Anyhow. Buy the book. You need to read what it says.

Who knows, I may do an actual review of the contents at some point.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:49 PM