Left behind: the democratization of the media

Posted: Oct 16, 2002 12:00 AM
The Internet and talk radio have brought with their rise a new kind of media democracy, where privilege and education do not make kings. For the past decade, a growing number of citizens have tuned in to Rush Limbaugh or logged on to the Drudge Report for their news. And the left doesn't like it one bit. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the information superhighway can help shape global values. That is why China now bars minors from Internet cafes and forces cafes to close by midnight, as well as prohibiting their location within 124 feet of schools. China's leaders are afraid that young people will find new ideas on the Internet about democracy and human rights and begin agitating for change. The American left can't restrict Internet usage or ban talk radio, so it de-legitimizes these news sources. Ripping alternative news sources as illegitimate is the left's only remaining option -- it cannot compete with the right wing in the new media. Not that the left hasn't tried. Mario Cuomo attempted to parlay his political fame into a talk-radio gig; he was so badly received that his show was pulled off the air. Jerry Brown met with the same fate, as did Alan Dershowitz. Jim Hightower, a self-described progressive populist, passed through the talk-radio world without notice. On the 'Net, liberal failure has been just as complete. While Matt Drudge's Web site receives nearly 5 million hits per day, liberal news sites are virtually non-existent. Salon.com is going the way of the dinosaurs, and Slate.com is a mere facade. The only liberal Web sites that get any hits are established television channels like BBC, CNN and ABC News. There are no major leftist commentary sites to compete with conservative monsters like Freerepublic.com and lucianne.com, where normal news followers can post their opinions on the story du jour. The left has been left behind on the Web. It's the inability to compete that has the liberals so angry. They don't understand why people won't listen to elite intelligentsia dither about politics but gladly tune in to hosts like Sean Hannity, a former construction worker with no college degree. They rant and rave over the newest phenomenon -- weblogs, or bloggers, where ordinary folks comment on the news in real time, allowing true Rousseau-ian democracy to flourish. Why, they ask, do more people visit libertarian/conservative bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds than the soon-to-be-extinct American Prospect blogger, TAPPED? Here's the answer: The left cannot survive criticism. It is easy for liberals to air their views when the audience cannot challenge them. Network news is a perfect example -- when Peter Jennings sympathizes with Palestinian suicide bombers, viewers can kick their televisions and scream at Jennings, but Jennings cannot hear them. If Jennings had a talk show, though, he'd have to deal with the views of his audience. Print media is similar. Maureen Dowd can write nasty things about President Bush but would be hard pressed to respond to a reader's challenge. Since it can't compete, the left turns to degrading the opposition. NBC's Lisa Meyers attributes the success of conservative talk-radio hosts to their portrayal of the world as "black and white -- and revolving around them." The left demonizes Rush Limbaugh, calling him an extremist and hoping that his popularity will diminish. His audience numbers continue to climb. They call Matt Drudge a muckraker and a yellow journalist. His hit count continues to rise. At universities, professors and faculty are scared to death of the Internet, since it provides a challenge to their monopoly over student minds. Take, for example, the intellectuals' opposition to Daniel Pipes' campus-watch.org, a site where anti-Israel professorial bias is revealed and examined. University of Chicago historian Rashid Khalidi derides the Web site as "slimy" and "McCarthyite." "(T)hey're simply trying to intimidate people by creating a witch-hunt atmosphere," accuses Professor Joel Beinin of Stanford. "These are guys on the lunatic fringe." Apparently, it's all right for professors to brainwash students in the privacy of their classrooms, but when their bias is revealed, it's a witch hunt. The left will continue in its attempt to tear down the alternative media that the right has championed. If it can't control or compete, it wishes to destroy. But the tide has turned toward true democratization of the media. The growth of the Internet and talk radio has the left scared and on the run. And short of China-like restrictions, the trend will continue unabated.