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Monday, July 19, 2010

The One-Party Media
Maimon Schwarzschild

The usual disillusioned phrase is "mainstream media" or MSM.  The problem, of course, is not mainstream-hood.  Angrily talking about the "state-run media" is even more misguided: the media were anything but state-run, or state-sympathetic, when Bush was president; and Republican or conservative officials or judges can expect relentless hostility now as much as ever.

What we have is One-Party Media: newspapers, broadcast networks, newsmagazines which represent the views and preoccupations of the Democratic Party and the political left, and consistently denigrate or ignore the views and preoccupations of the political right or centre-right; and which very often systematically ignore any news or information which might reflect badly on the one party, or reflect well on the policies, proposals, or values of the other.  (Fox is the exception - and how it is reviled for it! - although in its actual news stories, Fox often, although not always, follows the "narrative" of the other media.)  (The Wall Street Journal is the other partial exception, but with the same proviso for many of its actual news stories, and at any rate the Journal is still largely a specialised business paper with a specialised readership.  There are essentially no other major exceptions in either print or broadcast news.)

It is extraordinary, and I think unprecedented, that a free press has voluntarily transformed itself into something not very different from the controlled press in an undemocratic country.  But that is what has happened.  There are, to be sure, alternative sources of information and commentary in the US for anyone who seeks them out.  (There are often such sources in undemocratic countries as well: foreign broadcasts, "underground" or samizdat circulation, and so on.)  But the mainline, and still collectively very powerful, media are overwhelmingly a One-Party media.  It needs to be said plainly.

Scott Johnson on the Powerline blog wrote yesterday about the Justice Department's treatment of the New Black Panther Party case:

I think this should be a big story, and I know it would be viewed as a scandal of epic proportions to which we would be treated on a daily basis if a similar story arose in a Republican administration. It is the sickening double standard of the mainstream media that adds the frisson of disgust to what is otherwise an interesting story in itself.

But this was merely yesterday's example.  There are innumerable examples, every day.

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Maimon Schwarzschild
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Comments

I think The Economist counts as balanced.

Posted by: Jimbino | Jul 19, 2010 8:03:11 AM

I would not call The Economist balanced on US subjects. World wide, I have little ability to judge but they seem more balanced.

Posted by: Michael Kennedy | Jul 19, 2010 9:48:53 AM

The Economist is so anti-Israel that it's really hard not to view it as anti-semitic. In more general terms, the Economist is quite dependably European social democratic.

Anyway, I took this post to be about the US media.

Posted by: Marty | Jul 19, 2010 12:11:28 PM

You have got to be joking, the Economist is anti-Israel? It's so horrendously blandly conformist on Israel it fits right into the old Israeli Mapai mold.

Israel, I might add, is the perfect example of how your theory about a supposedly Democratic-party-worshipping media is dead wrong. There are issues on which the media is totally right-wing, and issues where it is totally left-wing. On Israel, the US media is fascist, racist, right-wing Likudnik (as it sounds all of you are). On slaughtering Arabs and Muslims around the world, the media is as right-wing fascist, racist as they come. Anything and everything justifies murdering a Muslim, all done in the name of America's grand colonial civilizing mission for our ingrateful dirty little brown brothers with attitudes lifted straight from the Spanish American war's atrocities in the Philippines. That's one side. Then you have issues on the other side where the media is for example totally pro-abortion and is incapable of considering the notion that another human life is at stake beyond that of the mother. Or you have the way the media was obviously utterly enthralled by Obama to the point of refusing to ask him the tough questions in the campaign or on health care or the financial bill.

And then you have Fox, a bunch of right-wing blowhard nutjobs that Rupert Murdoch figured could make a bundle by tapping into the least common denominator with. Sad to say he succeeded. I am always amazed when I go to the many places in the US where people actually think Fox News is news. It's just as mind boggling to me as people in the UK who think reading the Sun is reading a real newspaper. And of course, Fox News has dumbed down all of American mainstream media. They got the ratings by feeding people meaningless dribble and a constant stream of white resentment and pseudo-patriotism, and the rest of the media went dumb as a result to try and chase their ratings.

What almost all of the main media lacks - be it CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NY Times, Washington Times - is actual intelligent discussion of the issues. Blowhards in and watching the media outlets are so busy screaming "Left-wing bias!" or "Right-wing bias!" that they completely miss the fact (as you have) that the biases vary by issue and by outlet, but that all of the outlets deliberately dumb everything down. They assume you and I are idiots incapable of examining the facts.

And on this point, despite admittedly being left of center, I actually rather like most of the Wall Street Journal. Not the op-ed page which is full of all the crazies and stupidity mentioned above. But the news and articles they cover, even with a conservative bent, delve into facts. I can see the validity of conservative fiscal arguments when I am shown the problems that occur in excessive rule-making and regulation as actually experienced by a business. When a new law/bill is explained to me in detail in a paper like the WSJ, I can judge for myself whether it is a beast that deserves to be slain or sensible, and the WSJ can make its views clear while still leaving the facts open for me to read. Across the pond with a more leftish bent but of almost identical value (I'd say slightly better, but its a close competition and they obviously have different geographical focus) to the WSJ is the FT. Both of these sources, one slightly right, one slightly left, engage me in intelligent discussion and presentation of the facts. I can respect that and see the value in opinions on both sides. I might say the same of Al-Jazeera and its professionalism (Arabic and English versions, though the Arabic is better and more professional in my view, though the focus more regional and not quite as international), but of course the racist reaction to anything remotely connected to Arabs in the US has more or less got it practically banned here to date while the rest of the world actually learns something. Or the BBC (with its mixture of liberal and conservative biases) for that matter. Heck, on websites, I can even have some respect for CNN Arabic which - while no AlJazeera - manages to be reasonably sane and intelligent compared to the inane brainless drudgery of the main US site.

If you're looking for a one-sided bias as the main source of evil in most US media, you're barking up the wrong tree. The problem is that they all dumb things down and they all have decided that media is about partisan warfare (of which you are showing you enjoy being an integral part) and tabloid journalism and not about informing their consumers. I credit just a few US sources with bucking this trend (WSJ from the right as mentioned, McClatchy from a more grassroots level, LA Times from left), but their market share is small and none of them are in the TV business it seems. They should learn from Al-Jazeera who have proven that one can educate their viewers, have top-notch professionalism, and have a viewpoint without letting that viewpoint get in the way of their viewers forming their own opinions (which again, I'd credit the WSJ with doing in the US...sans the bizarre op-ed page, but the rest of the paper outshines it).

Posted by: Non-Arab Arab | Jul 19, 2010 2:25:45 PM

"It is extraordinary, and I think unprecedented, that a free press has voluntarily transformed itself into something not very different from the controlled press in an undemocratic country. But that is what has happened."

Question: Why have they done this? How could it be in their best self-interest to fail to serve roughly half of the market?

Posted by: Bob Buchanan | Jul 19, 2010 7:53:03 PM

Bob, the reason it is in their best interest to fail to serve the other half is that they are activists, pretending to be journalists.

Posted by: Chris | Jul 19, 2010 9:49:16 PM

You are so far off base it is almost comical. You can't be seriously talking about the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, New York Post and FOX. You can't seriously be talking about Disney-owned ABC or GE-owned NBC. And you truly cannot be referring to those thousands of small town newspapers and radio stations all across America that print or air nothing but Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck, Savage and Limbaugh every single day or week of the year, including our church-owned Bonneville stations like KIRO in Seattle. There is simply no liberal equivalent to this right-wing blather. Period.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 20, 2010 5:45:05 AM

I work in China, and this article really resonates with what I see---that the US media voluntarily allies themselves with a political power (and thus must suppress truth)while here the journalists have no choice in the matter. The political system dictates that their #1 job is making the Communist Party look good. The MSM (or now OPM) is to the Democratic Party as Xinhua (China's news agency) is to the Chinese Communist Party.

Posted by: JKP | Jul 20, 2010 7:57:35 AM

"What we have is One-Party Media: newspapers, broadcast networks, newsmagazines which represent the views and preoccupations of the Democratic Party and the political left, and consistently denigrate or ignore the views and preoccupations of the political right or centre-right; and which very often systematically ignore any news or information which might reflect badly on the one party, or reflect well on the policies, proposals, or values of the other."

This is an excellent statement of the facts. As a conservative, I have preoccupations. Here's one. I am very concerned about the devastating treatment of children and fathers in American divorce courts. I have followed and lived this issue for 20 years. It's huge in my world. But my world-view gets no respect from the Dem Party newspapers. Their preoccupation is "men bad, women good" and they stick with it. Injustice toward males when women are in the picture is a non-issue to them. The issue to them is women, period.

Schwarzchild is right when he complains that the One-Party Media just will not drop or set aside its preoccupations. As a result, when I look at papers like the Boston Globe and the NY Times, which I used to admire greatly, I just shake my head in disappointment. The reporters and editors who constitute those papers are living in a glass bubble, talking to each other (I picture something like a glass-walled elevator going up and down the side of a building) and when they look out at me, I don't seem that real to them.

There is no institution so noble that it cannot be corrupted, and today's example is: the once-noble American newspaper.

Posted by: Lowellguy | Jul 20, 2010 8:01:14 AM

"You can't be seriously talking about the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, New York Post and FOX. You can't seriously be talking about Disney-owned ABC or GE-owned NBC."

Because, you see, large corporations = right-wing. Corporations never ever collude with progressive politics or governments. Certainly, a large organization like GE would never ever ever see things the way another large organization like the US Government would see things. For that reason, we are positive that corporations did not go along with the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations, and we are double-plus positive that they received no benefit from them.

GE loves the Tea Partiers, and all conservatives. Totally.

Posted by: Marriedrambler | Jul 20, 2010 8:09:24 AM