Tuesday, February 11, 2003

"Working the refs." Seriously under the weather today, but I did want to call your attention to a longish excerpt from Eric Alterman's new book, What Liberal Media?, which appears in this week's issue of the Nation. It's been online for a few days, but I waited to read it until my copy arrived in the mailbox.

This is very smart, very good stuff. According to Alterman, the right bellows about "liberal media bias" as a tactic, as a way to get the mainstream media to bend over backwards in the interest of fairness -- thus his "working the refs" analogy.

Essentially Alterman argues (as I and others have) that though the establishment mainstream media may very well have some liberal leanings, they are suffused with strong conservative voices -- stronger, in many ways, than those of the liberals. At the same time, the conservative press -- the Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh's radio show, and the like -- is influential far beyond its small numbers because it is openly, nakedly partisan on behalf of Republican and conservative causes. And there is nothing similar on the left.

I could quibble with some of Alterman's labels. Joe Klein is a neolib, not a neocon, and Michael Kelly is more of a neocon than a right-winger, although he is surely "belligerent," as Alterman notes. But Alterman also gives Kelly a well-deserved poke for tarting up the Atlantic Monthly -- "a mainstay of Boston liberalism" -- with conservative commentators (the talented but overexposed Christopher Caldwell and David Brooks leap instantly to mind). And Alterman is right on the money in labeling the loathsome Pat Robertson as "anti-American."

What Liberal Media? is an important book coming out at an ideal moment: when liberals finally, slowly, are starting to fight back against the phony charge that the media are marred by liberal bias. You can learn more by visiting Alterman's website.

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