Friday, April 20, 2012

Media Bubble Boys

In 2001--over a decade ago--Bernie Goldberg published Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, a book that generated a great deal of discussion, much of it quite heated. Goldberg's central thesis was that the great majority of media professionals allowed their biases to color their reporting and coverage of the news and that this same great majority was predominantly liberal, progressive, or left-wing, however one wants to say it.

Many people, not having read the book in full, failed to understand exactly what Goldberg was saying. They wrongly assumed Goldberg was arguing that the bias was intentional, that media figures knew they were biased for the left but didn't care. That's not it, at all. Goldberg's analysis suggested that the elites of the media world wrongly assumed that the great majority of reasonable, sensible people thought the same way that they did.

And this was--according to Goldberg--a product of environment, as much as anything else. The media elites live in a bubble, for all intents and purposes. The socialize among themselves and like-minded elites from academia, entertainment, and elsewhere, thus creating a false sense of knowledge with regard to what and how people think, when it comes to politics, economics, and social issues. In fact, Goldberg argues that the bias just happens to be for the left; it could easily be for the right in different circumstances.


On this last point, I think Goldberg is utterly wrong (and I told him so, in person, many years ago).  The bubble is oriented towards the left for very predictable and identifiable reasons:
  1. The entertainment industry, by it's very nature, is a breeding ground for counter-culturalism and liberalism. 
  2. Journalism--as a field of study--breeds the same because of methodology; investigating and criticizing the powers-that-be is what is taught, and that cannot help but lead--mostly--to an anti-conservative viewpoint.
The second point is the most significant. Because even when government leaders are of a progressive or liberal sort, they still engage in criticizing government; they look for failures in government, in terms of their own ideas of fairness and the way things should be. Thus, journalism that criticizes government policies on these terms is hailed as "good" journalism. And this is what teachers teach and students learn.

Setting aside my disagreement on this aspect of Goldberg's claims, the central point remains: a real and identifiable bias in the media for the left exists and has existed for a long time. The radicalism of the sixties, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Free Speech Movement increased the bias and led--eventually--to a reaction in the form of FoxNews, whose leadership rightly identified a void and filled it. And make no mistake, FoxNews has a decidedly right-wing slant in its coverage of the news and in its commentary. It's obvious because FoxNews has to work at it, has to make a point of not following the sheep.

Thus--sometimes--it can go too far, can cross the line for the Right in ways far more egregious than most other news outlets do for the Left, precisely because of the intent on the part of FoxNews. But I would argue this is--unfortunately--a necessary thing to counteract the omnipresent, though largely unintentional, bias for the Left in the media at large. In short, FoxNews keeps the rest of the media on their toes, so to speak, keeps things...well, fair and balanced.

Because despite the recognition of the bias for the Left, professionals in the media continue on, unabated, as if the truth had not been revealed. Consider this piece by Eugene Robinson. Entitled "The Right Wing Bully Machine," it is about recent remarks by Ted Nugent and Congressman Allen West. Robinson attacks West's comments in particular, calling them "nonsense" and "bald-faced lies." West said that "there is a very thin line between communism, progressivism, Marxism, socialism," in order to justify his claim that there are many Democrats--78 to 81-- in Congress who are communists.

No doubt, the claim is a bit much. I doubt that any Democrats in Congress are self-professed communists, much less that 80 of them are. And in this regard, I understand Robinson's argument--it is an editorial after all--though I also take West's point about the "thin line" (because there is one). But from there, Robinson proceeds to say this:
There is no symmetry here. The far left may hurl insults at the right, but doesn't scream "fascism" whenever a Republican proposes privatizing Medicare.
Robinson is attempting to dismiss the obvious rebuttal to his argument: people on the left go too far with criticisms, too. And in doing so, in stating that this is not the case, Robinson reveals the ingrained bias of his bubble world in full. Because it is the case. Like most media people, Robinson conveniently forgets the eight years of the George W. Bush Presidency, along with the eight years of the Reagan Presidency to make his point.

Throughout those years, claims from the left of fascism and even Nazism were quite frequent and common. And yes, those claims sometimes came from sitting Congressmen.

There was Democrat Major Owens, who said Bush was leading America into "a snake pit of facism," leading America "in the same direction as Nazi Germany."

There was Democrat Keith Ellison, who compared 9-11 to the Reichstag Fire, suggesting it was a set up to allow Bush to grab more power.

Left-wing darling Naomi Wolf (whose writing I am a fan of, to be fair) wrote an entire book--The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot--about the idea of Bush creating a fascist state with his administration's policies and actions.

In July of 2004, Newsweek ran a story suggesting that a plan was in place to suspend the Presidential Elections for that year, in response to a looming terrorist attack. The story was jumped on and quickly became fodder for the Left and conspiracy buffs in general.

During the Reagan years? Well, it was the same kind if stuff then, by and large. But it was an internet-free world, so perhaps it was less apparent to the current crop of media pundits.

The thing is, Robinson--like so much of the media--is truly oblivious to his errors and faulty assumptions. He and his peers congratulate each other on this type of commentary, relish pointing out what they see as outrageous statements by politicians and others when they oppose the politics of the people making those statements, but suffer total memory failures when the same sort of things come from those on the their side.

The question: is there any way to pop this bubble? The answer: probably not.

Cheers, all.