Blogroll Me! How This Old Brit Sees It ...: The End of the Liberal Media?

02 June 2008

The End of the Liberal Media?


In a sane world, there would no longer be any whiners claiming that the media is hopelessly biased in favor of liberals. If the last eight years taught us nothing else, they should have taught us that the media is anything but liberal. New York Times Paul Krugman was explicitly instructed not to use the word "lie" when describing Bush's economic plan during the run-up to the 2000 election, while his colleague William Safire regularly called Al Gore a liar. Bill Maher was fired from 'Politically Incorrect' when he suggested that suicide attacks are not acts of cowardice, and Phil Donohue was fired for being critical of the Bush administration, even though he had the highest-rated show on MSNBC. And while the Bush administration prepared to take the country to war in Iraq, the lapdog media passed on the 935 lies of the Bush administration, virtually without challenge.

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan reignited the discussion over this dark chapter in the history of America's fourth estate when he placed part of the blame for the Iraq War debacle on the shoulders of the uncritical press. And now Capitol Hill correspondent Jessica Yellin tells us one of the reasons that the press was so hesitant to question the Bush administration:

I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings.

And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives — and I was not at this network at the time — but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.

Later, Yellin made a bit of a clarification, but her point remained the same:

I did not mean to leave the impression that corporate executives were interfering in my daily work; my interaction was with senior producers. What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time. It was clear to me they wanted their coverage to reflect the mood of the country.

Looking back at the coverage of the period in light of the facts we now know to be true (no WMD, no operational ties to al-Qaeda, no hoards of pro-American Iraqis just waiting for a chance to give sweets and flowers to an occupying army), there are only two possible explanations for the general failure of the press:

1) Yellin's experience was not unique, and reporters from most mainstream outlets felt pressure to less critical of Bush than they had been of Clinton.

2) The Washington Press Corps is made up of the most naive and stupid people in America.

Either way, the media can't credibly be accused of having displayed a liberal bias.

Interestingly, the only segment of the media that got the story consistently right during the run-up to the war were the journals of opinion that proudly boast of their liberal perspectives. Magazines like The Progressive, The Nation, In These Times, Zeta, and Mother Jones turned a critical eye toward the administration's claims and found them lacking. Perhaps Stephen Colbert was right when he said that "reality has a well-known liberal bias."

But don't expect the folks who got the story on Iraq wrong from the beginning to give up the notion that the media has a liberal bias. If they haven't already figured out that the giant corporations that own the mainstream media have a pro-corporate bias, then Jessica Yellin isn't going to convince them.

(cross posted at appletree and Liberal Avenger)



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