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WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? by Eric Alterman


The Truth About Bias and the News

by Eric Alterman

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-465-00176-9
Publisher: Basic

Journalist Alterman disproves with vigor the notion of news organizations’ left-wing bias, only to leave the more important question hanging: why ignorance trumps ideology.

The author believes that the media should be watchdogs: aggressive and independent in securing news, questioning of authority, frank about any self-interest involved. Given his definition of liberals as those who believe in “a steeply progressive income tax, to say nothing of making universally available, high-quality health care, education, housing, public parks, beaches, and last but not least, political power,” it doesn't take much to trot out the media opposition. The influential, or at least conspicuous, conservative pundits Alterman identifies range from the alarmist Ann Coulter to the paleoconservative William Safire, with all manner of the frothing Michael Kelly and the egregious Cokie Roberts in between, all of them selling an ideological agenda when not shoveling forth errors and insults, partial or misleading truths. Nor do these pundits own their last words; those are the property of editors, publishers, producers, and advertisers (witness the News Hour/Archer Daniels Midland embarrassment) geared toward a market whose heart isn't in hard news. Conservatives and liberals alike can hurl examples of bias at each other all day long, but it’s understood that “the White House depends on the media to make its case to the public; the media needs the White House to fill their airtime.” Alterman (Sound and Fury, 1992, etc.) hits the nub when he writes, “Most reporters are ignorant about most things”; all too often, journalists don't have an inkling of what they are covering, especially regarding national politics (see Election 2000) and international affairs (from the Balkans to Iraq, few ask the hard questions). Regrettably, the author doesn't pursue this fundamental point.

Nonetheless, a sobering reminder that TV long ago abandoned serious journalism and that watchdogs and skeptics are thin on the ground in all media—bad news for those who believe a vibrant, informative press is one of the bedrocks of democracy.