Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Gore's righteous take on the conservative media. Al Gore's interview with the New York Observer is the sensation of the media world today. People are so eager to read it that the Observer's Web server has been overloaded, and it took me several tries to get in. By now, you may have already heard that Gore states the obvious: that conservative media outlets such as the Fox News Channel, the Washington Times, and Rush Limbaugh's radio show amount to a permanent cheering section that gives the Republicans an enormous advantage in framing public debate -- and, of course, in winning elections. What's unusual is that Gore, a once and possible future presidential candidate, would be willing to speak such truth. Gore tells the Observer's Josh Benson:

Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, the Washington Times and the others. And then they'll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they'll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they've pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these RNC talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist.

Gore's best line is when he describes Fox's slogan "We Report, You Decide" as "the current version of their ritual denial."

The great shibboleth is that the media in this country are biased toward liberals. This shibboleth was given its widest airing in a clumsy, poorly argued, yet bestselling book by television journalist Bernard Goldberg called Bias, which I reviewed for the Boston Phoenix earlier this year. Broadly speaking, the media do have a liberal bias, at least on cultural issues. But Goldberg seemed more interested in imagining Dan Rather as a cross-dresser than in offering a serious argument.

Yes, mainstream media such as the New York Times, the network newscasts, and National Public Radio are liberal on cultural issues such as gay rights and reproductive choice. But what Goldberg and his ilk miss is that they are also cautious middle-of-the-roaders on the really big issues, such as the economy and foreign policy. Moreover, the mainstream is liberal, but it is not a tool of the Democratic Party. Witness the hell that it put Bill Clinton through, from Whitewater at the beginning of his presidency to Monica Lewinsky at the end -- or witness the disingenous attacks it launched on Gore during the 2000 campaign. Read this Bob Somerby analysis of how the media treated Gore. Admittedly, Somerby is a Gore partisan, but there is a lot of truth in his contention that the media had it in for Gore, and that George W. Bush was never subjected to the same scrutiny or, for that matter, to the same sort of dripping disdain. The media may not have respected Bush, but they hated Gore.

In contrast to the conflicted liberal mainstream, the conservative media are openly and nakedly pro-Republican. There is simply nothing like it on the Democratic side. Even now, Gore admits that he's smarting from a nasty piece by liberal Times columnist Frank Rich, snarkily headlined "Do We Have To Call You Al?"

Perhaps the difference is that, because most reporters are liberals, they are hypersensitive to being accused of liberal bias, and thus gleefully pounce on the weaknesses of liberal politicians. Perhaps it's because, as Nicholas Confessore argues in a profile of Times columnist Paul Krugman in the Washington Monthly, liberals in the media overwhelmingly come from the reporting ranks, whereas conservatives tend to come from the world of partisan politics.

Whatever the reason, in terms of ferocity and influence, the conservative media have it all over the so-called liberal mainstream.

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