Carol Platt Liebau: Too Much Static

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Too Much Static

Perhaps the wish is father to the thought. In a piece running today, the LA Times' Tim Rutten speculates hopefully that conservative talk radio's time is up.

This, despite interviewing ever-more-popular radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt (described condescendingly by Rutten as someone who, "unlike most radio hosts, . . . actually talks rather than shouts and is witty and civil"). Hugh offers an excellent reason for the fact that talk radio's audience has decreased over the past year: We're no longer in the midst of a (very polarized) presidential election campaign.

But Rutten isn't convinced. As with all liberals, it all comes back to Iraq (which itself always comes back to Vietnam for them).

And what seems to offend Rutten most deeply is the idea that talk radio's stratospheric rise in popularity was enabled by biased reporting on the part of the mainstream media:

While the political talk-show hosts and right-wing bloggers claim to have a quarrel with mainstream media's alleged bias, their real gripe is that the news media's traditional values stand between them and what they'd like to accomplish, which is the total politicization of all reporting and analysis.

Actually, not so. Perhaps Rutten should do his homework. It's not just "political talk-show hosts and right-wing bloggers" who believe that the press is biased. According to a 2003 Pew Poll, so do 53% of Americans; fully 51% describe the bias as "liberal" -- including 41% of Democrats!

In fact, almost everyone would prefer straight, non-politicized, completely objective reporting. But judging from the fact that -- just to take one example -- two of the most influential Sunday news shows are hosted by a former Cuomo aide and a former Clinton aide, coupled with countless other examples that the Media Research Center exists to document (and which Bernie Goldberg's Bias sets forth in unnerving detail), it doesn't look like that's an achievable goal. So perhaps the best we can hope for is a media world where honesty about everyone's biases replaces the increasingly discredited insistence that the (liberal) voice of the MSM is merely the voice of neutral professional journalism.

Understandably, Rutten objects to any erosion in the "media's traditional values" -- because those "values" included an implicit acceptance of a status quo in which an unchallenged, liberal MSM could tell everyone "the way it was." But he doesn't probe deeply enough to come to terms with the fact that both at the Republic's founding and 100 or so years ago in the era of the penny press (the New York World, the San Franciso Examiner spring to mind), many papers made their ideological biases explicit (see here for a history of newspapers); the largely homogenous left-wing ideological bent of the elite press is a relatively new phenomenon; and that conservative talk radio arose in reaction (replacing the "populist model" that Rutten extols) almost as soon as the repeal of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" made it a viable enterprise.

Hugh Hewitt is going to play the recording of his interview with Rutten on his show Monday. It will be interesting (and possibly revealing) to have the chance to compare the excerpts in Rutten's piece with the whole.


Blogger Ilya said...

"100 or so years ago, many papers made their ideological biases explicit"

I double dare you to prove this statement, i.e., cite your source or given an example, no, give many examples since you assert that this practice was commonplace.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Isn't Amazon wonderful!

If the above link doesn't work, just check:

"Discoverying the News: A Social History of American Newspapers by
Michael Schudson, page 15.

I particularly like, "The political papers gave greater emphasis to news of national politics. They were financed by political parties, factions of parties, or candidates for office who dictated editorial policy and sometimes wrote the editorials personally. There was nothing deceptive about this - it was standard practice and common knowledge."

10:50 PM  
Blogger Draino said...

Carol, ever watch more than 15 seconds of Fox News? Probably not much different from you own radio and TV spots (although I haven't had the pleasure!!). Funny, I thought only communist countries had State-controlled media. Just because brain-washed conservadroids think Fox is "fair and balanced" doesn't mean the rest of us don't see it for what it really is: regurgitated Republican "spin" and rehashed GOP talking points. I'm so glad they took the "bias" out of media! Here's FOX News' latest headline "2+2=5...Details at 11!!"

5:57 AM  
Blogger Draino said...

Oh and by the way, while your rewriting history, You may want to take your eraser back a little farther and destroy all mention of Ben Franklin - widely regarded as the father of modern jounalism. You see, he actually went one step further than your biased liberal media. He actually wrote his own letters to the editor under pseudonyms such as "Silence Dogood" and "Busy Body". No explicit mention of "bias" there! I would suggest that Franklin was not just "left-wing" he was, and is, perhaps the worlds most famous radical. So, Perhaps YOU should dig a little deeper.

6:13 AM  
Blogger lbrosky said...

As a nearly 20 year veteran of MSM newspapers, including a large, Pulitzer-winning metropolitan daily, I know for a fact the MSM is left leaning. Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it's overt. Fox News's commentators are, in many cases, overtly conservative. (Don't tell that to Juan Williams, Maura Liason, Allen Combs, Eleanor Clift, Susan Estrich....) However, Fox's news coverage is indeed "fair and balanced." As a veteran journalist, I watch for both sides and I consider choice of words and angles. I challenge the assertion that the news coverage is anything but balanced.

As for the future of conservative talk radio... let's see ...I start my day with Bill Bennett, then tune into Laura Ingraham, over to Rush Limbaugh or Dennis Prager, onto Michael Medved, and finally, Hugh Hewitt. Oh don't worry left-leaning readers, I get plenty of the views from the opposite perspective. I watch/read MSM, check in on left-wing blogs and I work at college. (Yes, faculty are overtly left leaning too. Truly.)

9:26 AM  
Blogger Ilya said...

Fred, thank you very much for that source. If you read past page 15 (to page 21 and beyond), you will find that the quite small, party-funded political papers that you mentioned were the precursors to the large, "penny papers" that we now so inelegantly call the "MSM."

The MSM, says the author, came about in the 1830s. These papers, and I quote, "claimed political independence, something that earlier papers rarely pretended to." Some papers went further, announcing their divorce form politics. A paper called the "Transcript" announced explicitly that "so far as politics goes, 'we have none.'" The "Boston Daily Times" claimed to be "neutral in politics." You can add the New York Herald and the Baltimore Sun to this list as well (see pages 21-22).

Are those enough counter examples to prove Liebau's origianl argument fallacious?

11:58 AM  
Blogger Draino said...

Pardon me if I give little credence to a "veteran journalist's" take on the bias of media. Farmers don't usually get a status report on the safety of their hens from the Fox. (no pun intended). You can say the sky is green all day long (Bush does!) it won't change my belief that the sky is blue and the Fox is biased. In addition no one has mentioned that, since FCC telecom deregulation in the mid 1990's, the media, for the first time ever, is almost completely owned by a handful of huge corporations that heavily influence their editorial slant. As a "veteran journalist" you should also be aware of the many recent incidents where Time, Newsweek and many other news outlets have caved to corporate pressure in their reporting. If their is a liberal bias in the media, it is on its last legs thanks to new laws that have removed any "chinese wall" that existed between board-rooms and newsrooms. It used to be that actual journalists were in charge of editorial content now it is CEO's. How fair and balanced is that?

12:19 PM  
Blogger lbrosky said...

Liberal bias is not going away. Journalists today go into it because they want to "change" the world, not document it. That means news media are attracting more and more left-leaning reporters and editors.

The fact remains that CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times.... and well this list could go for days.... are very much left leaning in their news content. (We won't even touch on the editorial/commentary side). I find it interesting that the left loves to attact Fox News as conservative while pretending that other news sources have no bias at all. The New York Times screams their views all the time with their story and angle choices. Heck, even if they have to make it up, they will just to trash folks on the right. Fox, at least, acknowledges its tilt to the right. I have no problem if the NYT wants to skew things to the left -- it just needs to acknowledge that it is doing so and quit pretending not to be biased. At least Fox counters conservatives with liberals or right-wing points of view, with left-wing points of view.

There is no such thing as an unbiased reporter. I don't care what the subject is - politics or tomatoes, you have an opinion. I'd much prefer to know the biases upfront than to have someone pretend to be "neutral."

Even if you don't pay close attention to story choices and placement... pay attention to the choice of language. For example, you'll see things like "Democratic-led legislature" and "Republican- controlled legislature." OR "Democrats won back leadership of the House." and "Republicans took over the House."

Recently, the Today Show reported on the "US occupation of Iraq." Tell me that's not a biased comment.

Choice of language is not corporate-speak. It's the writer/reporter.

6:20 AM  
Blogger Ilya said...

When someone writes of the "occupation of Iraq" we don't say, "My God, that person is biased! Give me a real journalist." No. We say, "Yes, that sounds right. Major combat operations ended well over a year ago, there are hundreds of thousands of American troops on the ground, Iraq is in no substantive sense sovereign. The U.S. is an occupying power. How are we going to get out of Iraq in the future?"

Yes, there are deep moral principles involved in this claim. This is as it must be. If we don't get the facts right, then our analysis and ethics will be wrong, too.

Likewise, if someone calls the 9/11 hijackers "freedom fighters" or "martyrs" we don't say, "well, that's your biased point of view." No, we say, "You're wrong, they are terrorists." We say this because this description carries our moral evaluation of the actions.

"Terrorism" or "horror" are not neutral descriptions of what happened on September 11. Both liberals and conservatives employ such a description so as to be able to condemn the actions and seek justice. And one doesn't call the Wall Street Journal or NYT "biased" because they don't describe 9/11 with neutrality. Rather, we call the papers neutral in the sense that in describing 9/11 as they do, they are not adjusting the facts to fit a pregiven ideology. There is a tremendous difference between having a point of view or an opinion, and being "biased". The two should not be confused or conflated. Those who go around accusing jouranalists or anybody for that matter of having their own opinions and point of view should ask themselves whose opinion or what point of view did they expect to hear if not the speaker's or writer's?

8:52 AM  
Blogger Ilya said...

By the way, none of these comments change the fact that since the 1830s, the major newspapers have explicitly distanced themselves from the political parties, and continue to claim to be neutral politically. Of course, the op-ed pages are not neutral because they are not supposed to be.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Draino said...

This conversation is getting way too orwellian for me. Instead of Occupation of Iraq should we say, "Fiesta"? "temporary visit"? Afternoon Tea? "layover"???? what would you have it called? and by they way, who cares? You don't like the slant of the NY Times - don't read it. I don't like what Rush Limbaugh and Fox say but I defend their right to say it. It is so easy to cite a bunch of examples of bias. Show me numbers, statistics, proof? Plus, what the hell does Liberal mean anyway. You throw around a bunch of subjective terms and isolated anecdotes. It is meaningless. If you want your news conservative go to the conservative news sources and stop complaining. "Oh, MSM is biased." You already control the whitehouse, the congress and the supreme court, now you want mind control right? Get out of our bedrooms, get out of our newsrooms and leave us alone. Last I checked this was a free country. I'm a grown-up and can decide what's biased and what isn't all by myself. I don't need the help of the "intellectual giants" running this country into the ground.

11:15 AM  

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