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The Upside of Claiming the Downside

August 27th, 2003

When Bush was running for president, one of his greatest advantages was the claim that he was at a disadvantage. His people stressed that Bush was just an ordinary guy, and not a practiced, high-power speaker like Gore; therefore, so long as he didn’t get completely trounced in the debate, it would be a victory. And indeed, he performed more poorly than Gore, but was declared the winner for, effectively, not drooling.

The same tactic is behind the conservative myth of the liberal media. By claiming that the media is left of center when, in fact, it is to the right of center, they gain the ability to spin perception in their favor. If a story comes out which looks bad for conservatives, they can just say that the liberal media is spinning it to look that way, but it really isn’t as bad. If a story comes out favoring liberals, they can also claim that the liberals aren’t really so good, it’s just the liberal media making it look that way.

The fact of the matter is that while a majority of reporters, about 60%, are liberal, a greater majority of editors, commentators, and media owners, about two-thirds, are conservative. Editors and owners are the ones who decide what gets reported on and how. A liberal reporter cannot get liberal bias by a conservative editor unless s/he approves it.

Besides, straight reporting of the news is less where the bias is; it is in editorializing, in commentary where spin really comes into play–and a great majority of commentary is right-wing. Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Robert Novak, George Will, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Laura Ingraham, “Doctor” Laura Schlessinger, Bill O’Reilly, William Kristol, William Safire, John McLaughlin, Tucker Carlson, Bill Bennett, Matt Drudge, Pat Buchanan, Bay Buchanan, Pat Robertson, William F. Buckley, Sean Hannity, Jonah Goldberg, Brit Hume, and several dozen more. At least a few dozen are very well-known names, and have their own TV and/or radio shows (as opposed to sharing the show with opposing commentators).

Compare this with liberal commentators. How many can you name? Just a few, probably–James Caraville and Jesse Jackson come to mind quickly; Paul Begala, simply because he’s often on Crossfire; Arianna Huffington (a recent switch from right to left); Columnists Molly Ivins and Joe Conason, and George Stephanopolous, mildly liberal as he may be. Outside of these people, it is very hard to name any liberal commentators with the same kind of name recognition that dozens of conservatives enjoy, and you will note that not a single one of the above liberals has their own television or radio talk show at present. (Bill Maher is more Libertarian than liberal or conservative, in case you were thinking of him.)

In short, conservatives who control the news and who comment on it with bias are not only greater in number, but also more radically leaning than their liberal counterparts.

The only reason we hear about the “liberal media” is because conservatives have pushed that particular big lie in a correspondingly big manner, because they benefit from it in a big way.

Think about it: the media branded Gore a liar for errors in detail (such as which fire site he visited) and for statements misquoted or taken out of context (he never said he “invented the Internet,” he rather stated quite correctly that he “took the initiative” in creating it, as one of many people who created it; Gore indeed was the greatest proponent of Internet-friendly legislation while in the Senate, championing legislation that allowed the Internet to boom and bring the economy along with it. He deserves credit for it, not mocking due to a poorly-worded sentence. Nevertheless, he is still misquoted today by smirking, self-righteous right-wing pundits).

On the other hand, we had Bush, who dodged the cocaine question in a manner more Clintonesque than Clinton, who lied many times about draft-dodging into a celebrity unit of the Guard, and about his going AWOL thereafter, who lied about his arrest record and blamed his drunk-driving label on his opponents, and who should have been questioned much more closely about these things and about his many other questionable acts (SEC violations, lying under oath as governor of Texas, etc.).

If there really were a liberal media,they would have virtually ignored Gore’s slips and focused all their attention on Bush’s lawbreaking, draft-dodging and general lying.

Instead, the media labeled Gore a liar and Bush as “plainspoken.” Does that sound like liberal bias, or even a neutral one?

As the church lady said, “you be the judge.” It’s not much of a choice, if you’re honest with yourself.

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