Thursday, September 06, 2007

From My "Rejected" Files

I found some old rejected articles tonight, written over a year ago. Poor little babies. Nobody loved them. At least I can post them here.

On Media Bias

The conservatives are right to worry about liberal media bias. I worry about it every day, because there just isn't enough of it. Political talk radio airs mostly right-wing anger and hatred, political debates on television match several fire-breathing Republican dragons against one centrist Democrat who had milquetoast for breakfast, and Fox News has taught us all that "Fair and Balanced" is just a trademark. A recent study by Media Matters for America confirmed my suspicion that "liberal" or "lefty" has a new meaning: centrist or neutral journalists are selected on panels to keep company with right-wingers just a tad to the left of Attila the Hun and this is viewed as balance. If you doubt this, tell me when someone from, say, the American Prospect last took part in these debates.

How did we get into this mess in the first place? It may have started when Ronald Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine in electronic media. This paved the way for the Limbaugh revolution in talk radio and for the Fox News in television as fairness and balance were no longer important.. At the same time, the conservatives launched their successful campaign of painting the media liberal.

And what a curious campaign it has been. Illogical, even. For consider one of the lodestars of conservative thought: that unencumbered markets bring good things to life and that there should be minimal interference with market forces. After all, this is how Ronald Reagan justified the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine: its controversy-chilling effect would be gone and all voices would harmonize in the new vibrant market-based debates. But somehow this didn't rid us of the liberal bias in the media. Conservative ownership of most media couldn't do that, either.

The explanation for this is even curiouser: Conservatives blame the foot soldiers of the media for the bias they so deplore. More journalists define themselves as liberals than as conservatives, and this supposedly explains why markets have been unable to balance themselves. Never mind that most media outlets are owned by conservatives, never mind that journalists are trained professionals who might even be able to distance their own political views from the topic they are working on, and never mind that in no other firm do conservatives regard the floor-level labor force as responsible for the design and marketing of the firm's products. None of this matters as much as the party attachment of journalists.

This diagnosis is sometimes followed by an even less conservative recommendation for treatment: affirmative action based on the journalist's political views. The New York Times should make an effort to recruit religious conservatives from the red states, for example.

The horror of it all! Liberal media bias is such a problem for conservatives that they are willing to give up all their conservative free market and anti-affirmative-action principles if that is what is needed to get fair treatment of right-wing policies and views. Or what they regard as fair treatment.

And what is it that they demand, exactly? Well, according to the websites which criticize the left-wing slant of the media what is needed are more positive appraisals of George Bush's job-performance, more coverage of success in Iraq and more positive coverage on religious fundamentalists (though only of the Christian sort). On one randomly picked February day these sites also criticized newsreaders for not using the term "partial birth abortion" without the qualification that it is a conservative term, berated certain television presenters for not exhibiting the "correct" emotions when reporting on a story and even speculated on the possible hidden motives these presenters might harbor.

It's tough to weed out liberal media bias of such depth! The very facts themselves might be liberal and the innermost thoughts of journalists are fair game for spotting bias. The media can bend over backwards to appease these right-wing critics. It can even adopt the ultimate "neutral" stance of impartial commenting on the most inane assertions ("Some argue the moon is made of green cheese. Others disagree."). But this will not satisfy those who can see the wild liberal glint in the eye of the newsreader or those who can discern the real leftist thoughts of an apparently objective journalist or those who equate criticism of the government with treason.

No, the only solution to our current problems with media bias is to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine. This will protect the conservatives against the dreaded liberal bias in the media and it will protect the liberals from the right-wing hate radio. Fair and balanced?


Well, I also wrote it as this version, also rejected:

Three fire-breathing Republican dragons on one side of the conference table; one insipid centrist who had milquetoast for breakfast on the other side. This is not a plot for a bad science-fiction movie but a common occurrence on political talk shows such as Meet the Press, according to a new study by Media Matters for America. It is the new face of the liberal media bias.

Liberal media bias does worry me, a lot. For one thing, there isn't enough of it. For another, no amount of bias in the other direction will silence the conservative complaints. Rush Limbaugh and his clones rule in the world of political hate radio. Doesn't this point to a right-wing bias? Well, no, because what goes on in the world of radio is just the market forces working as they should. What goes on in the world of television is bias, unless we mean the Fox News and its "fairandbalanced" take on the world events. That, too, is market forces doing their job. But the mean print journalists are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans (we knew it!) and it is these foot soldiers of the media who decide what is published and disseminated, not the conservative owners of the highly centralized media industry. Strange, isn't it, how the markets only work in one direction?

Ronald Reagan probably predicted just such an outcome when he killed the Fairness Doctrine in electronic media, opening the doors and laying out the red carpet for the right-wing radio talk shows, Fox News and these novel political debate shows where we all watch the conservative boas being fed their daily neutral rabbit dinners.

We liberals and lefties are not even rabbits; we are rabid extremists, and also boring and predictable. Nobody wants to hear what we have to say. That is why we cannot sit on the talk show panels but must be represented by the muddy middle. But don't think for one moment that we are harmless! Far from it: We are rabbits full of unfocused anger and the danger of liberal media bias is ever present in our fangs.

I found this out from conservative media watchdogs and bloggers, people who spend their waking hours looking for the dreaded liberalism in the media. And boy do they find it. Any criticism of George Bush's job-performance is bias, paucity of good news from Iraq is bias and the media's inability to give more praise to the good fundamentalists (Christians) as opposed to the bad ones (Islamists) is bias, too. So is the media's refusal to unquestioningly accept right-wing framing, such as the term "partial birth abortion". Even the emotions newsreaders show or don't show matters. I never realized that there are correct and incorrect emotions, which only shows how blinded I have become by this liberal media of ours. Most worryingly, the invisible thoughts of television presenters are fair game for these media critics. After all, it's always possible that a seemingly neutral presenter is harboring deeply liberal, nay, treasonous thoughts about our administration.

Combating all this bias is a Herculean task. How can you cleanse the media from evil influences if even facts have liberal bias? How can you adequately monitor the brain waves of the people on the television? One interesting proposal for achieving this advocates affirmative action. Yes, affirmative action, but this time to benefit Republicans. For example, the New York Times should endeavor to hire journalists who just happen to be religious right-wingers from predominantly red states. I must admit that my jaw dropped when I read that. How fragile is the conservative ur-value of free markets if it can be dispensed with to promote the airing of this very value in the media! Bizarre.

There is only one real solution that offers a modicum of real balance in the media, and it is not to adopt the ridiculous stance of "neutral" journalism where the most inane comments are reported uncritically: " Some say the moon is made of green cheese. Others disagree." No, what we must do is to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. It will save our right-wing brothers and sisters from the need to microscopically scrutinize all media and it will save the rest of us from Rush Limbaugh and his ilk.

But don't expect this to silence the shrill voices blaming the media for liberal bias. That is politics and will continue until the day when all other voices have been shushed into permanent silence.

I'm sure the originals had links, too. The versions with the links are hiding from me, though.

This might turn into a series!