What happens when the left-leaning media is confronted with a left-wing attack on a media outlet?
The full-scale attack on Fox News by faux-populist Democrat Presidential Candidate John Edwards and the Nevada Democratic Party is going to be presenting some serious issues for the mainstream media, even if they don’t understand that yet.
John Edward and the Nevada Democratic Party have dumped Fox News as a sponsor for intra-party debates. Fox News, they argue, is an element of the Vast Right Wing conspiracy tm, and as such should be denounced as a propagandist and not a legitimate journalistic enterprise.
Now it's not shocking that the far left would be shopping this spin, but mainstream liberals are joining the chorus—and there has been a remarkable silence among the "mainstream media" defending Fox as a legitimate journalistic enterprise. In fact, many of them probably believe that the accusations are largely correct.
The failure to defend Fox News by other news outlets is part of a dangerous and disturbing trend.
Imagine, for instance, a situation where President Bush ejected hostile reporters from the White House Press Room. The firestorm would be immense, accusing Bush of trying to turn the news media into his mouthpiece. Helen Thomas comes to mind; nobody could possibly question her open hostility to the Bush Administration, yet her ejection from the Press Corps would be greeted with howls of indignation.
Not so the attacks on Fox News.
In today's world, many in the news media don't see their role as writing the first draft of history. They aren’t witnesses, but participants themselves in the ideological battles of their day. And until Fox News came along, pretty much everyone sang off the same song sheet, telling a coherently liberal picture of the news of the day.
Fox News’ failure to conform to liberal unanimity is a problem for them, and they have wanted to strike back for years.
But there is a huge problem with that desire. The latest polls show that 83% of Americans think the media is biased; admittedly that includes a few liberals who think that it isn't liberal enough. Still, 63% of Americans, including a good chunk of liberals, think that the media is biased leftward.
The success of the Nevada Democrats in banning Fox from its debates could turn out to be a real problem for the liberal media. The success of the attack is encouraging liberals in the media to pile on, and directly attack Fox as well.
Ron Brownstein, the L.A. Time's national affairs columnist, took a direct shot at Fox in a recent column, endorsing the Democrat attack. "For all the howling on the right, it's difficult to argue that mainstream news organizations operate with anything approaching Fox' partisan and ideological agenda," Brownstein argued.
However satisfying it may be for liberals in the media to go down this path, it could turn out to be a mistake. The mainstream news media has retained its hold a particularly powerful place in our national politics by insisting on its objectivity, despite massive evidence to the contrary.
Everybody already knows that the overwhelming majority of reporters vote Democrat, but media mavens have kept claiming that their political views don’t skew their news coverage. But a recent academic study which actually scored the political tilt of news stories makes it clear that the actual coverage of politics leans left as well. The vaunted "objectivity" that liberal reporters claim is pure bunk. In fact, according to this study Fox News is one of the least biased news outlets, just slightly to the right of ABC’s World News Tonight. (You can find the study at http://www.polisci.ucla.edu/faculty/groseclose/pdfs/MediaBias.pdf)
All this points to a serious problem that honest liberals and serious moderates are going to be facing soon: the recent political victories of Democrats has emboldened the crazy left wing of the Party, and has encouraged some of the more partisan liberals in the media. As they spin ever more bizarre theories, make wilder and wilder claims (the New Republic is publishing an article claiming to prove Vice President Dick Cheney is clinically insane, for instance), serious people will be repulsed.
Conservatives have known for years that they haven't exactly gotten a fair shake in the media, although until recently none of us expected mainstream news sources to invent stories (as CBS did in their 60 Minutes attack on Bush’s military record) or distort the truth beyond recognition (as the New York Times has done with the Valerie Plame/Scooter Libby story).
But the rules are changing, and the liberal hatred of and attacks on Fox News could prove to be the undoing of the liberal media. The attack on Fox News and the increasingly shrill attacks on the Bush Administration come perilously close to open partisan warfare, which in the long run could be much more damaging to the liberal media than to the conservatives they hate so much. By legitimizing the attack on media outlets as simple partisan outlets, they open themselves up to the scrutiny they so richly deserve, and cannot survive.