Sunday, November 23, 2008

Our unbiased media

Mark Halperin's ruminations on this year's blatant pro-Obama bias, and the attempt by some in the media to defend their grossly unfair coverage of the campaign, prompts Ace to say:
They have no defense. To ladle additional lies upon a breathtaking record of dishonesty adds insult to injury.

To Ace, and everyone else enraged by media bias, let me offer what I conceive as the underlying rationale of this bias, which comes in two parts:

  • THE FOX EFFECT -- The rise of Fox News as the No. 1 cable news outlet has resulted in ideological counterprograming. The success of a conservative news network has had an effect that might be best understood by reference to Newton's third law of motion. At first, there was the "equal effect" -- chastened by Fox's success, most networks sought to rein in their traditional liberal bias. But then, after the 2004 election, the "opposite effect" kicked in. Network executives figured, "Hey, Fox already has a monopoly on conservative viewers. Let's let our freak flags fly and give liberals what they really want." I really noticed this phenomenon during the 2006 campaign, when the media (a) pretended that the contributions Jack Abramoff's clients made to Democrats were meaningless, and (b) presented Mark Foley as the GOP poster boy. The existence of Fox News provides a ready-made excuse for liberals in the media to think of their bias as "balancing" Fox.
  • "IT'S THEIR TURN" -- What is the most elementary definition of "fairness"? Taking turns. So, Clinton had his 8 years in the White House, then Bush had his 8 years, and now -- by the taking-turns definition of "fairness" -- it's time for another Democratic president. The careful observer will note that liberal bias was somewhat ameliorated in 2000, when Al Gore sought the "third Clinton term." Eric Alterman seized on negative coverage of Gore (two words: "earth tones") to suggest that in fact the media has a conservative bias, but it was really more of a case of Clinton fatigue in the Washington press corps. Plus the fact that Gore is such a notorious phony.

This is how the media rationalizes blatant unfairness as being true fairness. Remember: They went into this business to "make a difference" (see note at end) and keeping Republicans from holding the White House for an unfairly long time is the kind of difference they most wish to make.

The fact that the next Democratic president is black made the media double down on the taking-turns rationale: Hey, let's let the minorities have a shot! To reply "no" to that proposition was, to the liberal mind, irrefutable proof of racism.

Well, then, what does this mean for media coverage of politics going forward? First of all, the Media Research Center and others need to recognize how the Fox Effect is helping drive hyperliberalism in the non-Fox media, and call this to public attention, because the appeal of ideological counterprogramming is so strong. Look:

  • ABC World News -- 7.9 million viewers
  • NBC Nightly News -- 7.9 million viewers
  • CBS Evening News -- 5.9 million viewers
  • Fox: O'Reilly Factor -- 4.0 million views

Which is to say, the major network evening news programs have an audience have a combined viewership of 21.7 million -- more than FIVE TIMES LARGER than the audience of the highest-rated Fox News show. Conservatives cannot afford to ignore this kind of basic math and allow their viewpoints to be walled off in the Fox News "ghetto." The existence of Fox -- which reaches less than one-sixth of the TV news audience -- ought not give the other media a license to conform their reporting to DNC talking points.

Second, the "make a difference" media types ought to be reminded of another cliche, namely, "speaking truth to power." With the Democrats now running the whole show in Washington, the media need to maintain their adversarial watchdog stance if they want to maintain any shred of credibility. They cannot be complicit in any cover-up of wrongdoing by the Obama administration or the Democrats in Congress.

Third, conservative spokesmen and Republican leaders in Washington need to find a safe line of attack against the new regime. If I were John Boehner, I'd call a huddle and give 'em a simple three-word message: "It won't work." Whatever the Democrats propose, the Republican response is, "It won't work." Whether it's the next round of bailouts, a proposed health-care program, or some neo-Keynesian make-work boondoggle, Republicans should reply to every Democratic idea by predicting that it won't solve the problem it's aimed at, and will likely make matters worse.

The beauty of this is that it's true. Nothing proposed by Obama, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi can possibly make a dime's worth of difference in solving the current economic crisis. These aren't "new ideas" at all, they're just gussied-up versions of obsolete liberal tax-and-spend policies from the era of Hubert Humphrey, ideas that weren't even really new when J.K. Galbraith and Michael Harrington proposed them half a century ago. These ideas have always failed before, and they'll fail again.

If conservatives will elaborate and reiterate that message -- the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and Americans For Prosperity can supply the statistics and specifics -- then they will look like prophets when, as predicted, Obama's economic policies fail. And the credibility gained from this accurate prediction ought to give them leverage to attract better media coverage.

Oh, one final point: Some Republican staffers on Capitol Hill ought to make an effort to locate the favorite watering holes of the Washington press corps and never miss an opportunity to buy the next round. You might be surprised how much goodwill can be purchased with a $200 bar tab. I'm convinced that a GOP "whiskey offensive" could have a significant positive impact on the quality and quantity of the Republican Party's news coverage.

NOTE: Despite 22 years in the news business, I never bought into the "make a difference" mentality. I became a journalist because, as Hunter S. Thompson said of his own career, "sportswriting was the only thing I could do that anybody was willing to pay for." (And, yes, I was a sportswriter for five years.) Super-serious save-the-world crusaders bore me to tears, and there is no trend that's hurt journalism more than the cliched five-part Pulitzer-bait series examining some Important Social Issue Of Our Time: The pathetic plight of left-handed Latino lesbians, etc. A major reason the newspaper industry is circling the drain is because of its preference for pretentious "in-depth" features to the detriment of basic meat-and-potatoes reporting -- which usually does more to "make a difference" than that other stuff.

UPDATE: Linked by Ed Driscoll -- thanks!


  1. Well, it depends. I'm seeing a big move towards an attempt at health care "reform" in '09, and the fear is that it will work in the short term as a middle class subsidy, even as it explodes the deficit, bleeds our defenses, and basically turns us into Europeans with less fashion sense.

  2. Yes, Robert, buying the next round at the bar will help the GOPers out immensely. So would telling Rush Limbaugh: "Look, we won't trash the principles if you won't trash our people." This RINO/MonderateSquish stuff has to stop.