If there’s any phrase in the political world that’s as tired and clich?d as Hillary Clinton’s vast rightwing conspiracy, it’s that of the “liberal media elites.”
Pundits ranging from Rush Limbaugh to Brent Bozzell to Bernard Goldberg have all asserted that the mainstream media is biased against conservatives.
This viewpoint has been hammered home so many times that few (aside from those partisan liberals whose proclamations are rarely taken seriously) even bother to question its veracity.
Count me among the few.
First, it should be noted that the idea of a liberal media isn’t complete fiction. The Nation, Salon.com, and Mother Jones are all unabashedly liberal.
I am also willing to stipulate that a majority of mass media outlets (such as CBS and The New York Times) have a history of tilting their coverage leftward on certain social issues (namely, abortion, gay rights and issues of race).
Where I draw the line is the notion that all conservatives are the victims of a mass media conspiracy to exclude and defame them.
To bolster their claim, conservative critics point to a study that
showed 89 percent of journalists voted for Bill Clinton in the 1996 election (a percentage significantly higher than that of the American public).
The insinuation that 89 percent of all news coverage is therefore biased allows for no sense of journalistic ethics or responsibility, but I’m willing to set that aside for the moment.
What this study doesn’t reveal is that a majority of publishers and high-level editors are conservatives. Editor and Publisher magazine found that Bob Dole won far more newspaper endorsements than Bill Clinton during that very same 1996 election.
Next, conservative critics tend to ignore the profound influence conservatives have on so-called liberal outlets.
William Saffire, George Will and Charles Krauthammer are all well-known conservative columnists. All write for such “liberal” publications as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Among the networks, ABC features John Stoessel and MSNBC has featured the likes of Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchannan and John McLaughlin.
In other words, even if the coverage tilts slightly to the left, the commentary on that coverage
is unquestioningly rightist.
Conservative critics also seem unwilling to acknowledge that there is such a thing as a conservative media, preferring instead to refer to it as the “independent media.”
The Weekly Standard, the National Review and the opinions page of the Wall Street Journal are all staunchly conservative. Conservative talk show hosts, such as Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, dominate the airwaves.
In addition, conservatives have at least one mainstream network they can call their own: Fox News.
The biases of Fox News have been a point of contention for some time.
While most people affiliated with Fox deny any such bias exists, it is pretty easy to see through their hollow attempts at a cover-up.
I could tell you that a number of Fox personnel are self-proclaimed conservatives (such as Britt Hume) or have worked for Republican presidential campaigns (such as Roger Ailes).
I could tell you that the few token liberals they do feature are actually moderates (such as Alan Colmes) or not respected in the liberal community (Colmes again).
I could tell you that George Bush’s very own cousin was reporting on the 2000 election or that former Fox employees have complained loudly of a force-fed rightwing agenda.
Instead, I’ll share a personal anecdote.
About a month ago, I tuned into CNN to watch Wolf Blitzer question Bob Dole about some remarks he had made that were critical of John Kerry. Dole was given ample time to explain himself and in fact rambled on at great length.
Next, Blitzer featured two Republicans (one supportive of Bush, one critical) in a debate about the wisdom of preemptive war. Both were given equal time to speak and the pro-Bush Republican was allowed to get the last word in.
I then changed the channel to Fox News, where the anchor for “The Big Story” discussed the state of the economy with a White House official.
After tossing him a few easy questions, she then turned her attention to Gene Spurling, an economic advisor for the Kerry and Clinton campaigns.
Spurling was pounded relentlessly with the hardest of questions and then cut off before he could fully answer any of them. He even had to interrupt with, “if you’ll let me finish” on more than one occasion.
It was one of the most disgusting displays of partisan journalism I’d ever witnessed. This is fair and balanced?
Of course, the problem with Fox isn’t really that it is a conservative network. If CBS and ABC tend to lean to the left, why shouldn’t Fox lean to the right?
Instead, the problem is that conservative critics maintain that Fox is the only unbiased network on the air.
Given that even other conservatives (such as blogger Andrew Sullivan) have noted Fox’s markedly rightist tendencies, this assertion amounts to a ridiculous charade (by the same token, it should be noted that Dan Rather has no business blasting Fox for bias while denying his own).
Lastly, much of what conservative critics confuse for a conspiracy is flat-out bad reporting. Many news sources get their information from wire services, such as The Associated Press or Reuters.
If a correspondent at one of these wire services makes a mistake, that mistake is likely to be all over the news. Hence, because such a mistake is so widespread, it is easy to cry “conspiracy.”
The fact of the matter is that newspapers are accountable for what they print and do issue corrections. That these corrections are not page-one headlines seems to draw conservatives’ ire.
You would think that after the relentless hounding Bill Clinton endured at the hands of the media, the liberal media conspiracy would be a dead issue.
Nevertheless, conservative critics continue their campaign, sometimes even contradicting their peers.
William Kristol of the Weekly Standard stipulated that liberal media bias is overblown. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Richard Bond admitted to “working the refs” as far as the media is concerned. Yet Limbaugh and company doggedly persist.
In an ideal world, media would have no bias. Since our world is less than ideal and reporters are only human, the next best thing is to strive for balance.
Balance, however, is precisely what the conservative critics don’t want.
Not content with their own generous market share, conservatives seek to dominate liberal or neutral media outlets as well.
Bernard Goldberg has advocated a form of political affirmative action to inject more conservatives into newsrooms.
Why should CBS go out of its way to hire more conservatives? You don’t see Michael Moore bawling because he can’t write for the National Review.
It has become apparent that these critics don’t merely want to have their cake and it too. Instead, they want the whole damn bakery to themselves.
And, if you don’t give it to them, you just might find yourself labeled a member of the “liberal media elite.”