Liberals wage many battles, but have you heard which one is the major struggle now? Brace yourselves; it’s the campaign “against the established media and it’s bizarre relationship with the right-wing and the truth.” That’s from the Daily Kos, a popular liberal blog. No, it’s not a satire. Just when conservatives thought they were getting somewhere against the entrenched liberalism of the newsroom culture, it turns out that the newsroom has been reactionary all along; the real lonely insurgents fighting for media balance and truth are liberals. The mind reels.
Some on the left-Eric Alterman, for one-acknowledge that journalists tend to be reflexively liberal on social issues, but not on economic matters, where the values of the media’s corporate ownership usually prevail. Maybe so, but that is not what is being said now. In its anger and frustration, the left, led by its Deaniac base, is loudly arguing that the news media reliably reflect the values of Washington Republicans. Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, summed it up: “The left has the MSM (mainstream media) squarely in its sights.”
Two skirmishes are under way, one against the Washington Post and its ombudsman, Deborah Howell, the other against Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball. Howell’s offense was writing that the sleazy Jack Abramoff had given money to Democrats as well as Republicans. That was inaccurate. A tide of angry and exceptionally abusive complaints flooded into the Post. Howell then corrected herself, writing that she should have said that Abramoff “directed” a considerable amount of his clients’ money to Democrats, though he never gave any himself. That was correct, but vicious and amazingly obscene email kept pouring in, so the Post shut down its web site. (Not a good idea, in my opinion. It would have been better, though more expensive, to let readers vent, while editing out obscenities.)
The campaign against Chris Matthews has escalated into talk of a boycott, though the would-be boycotters prefer to call it an “appeal to advertisers.” Matthews is accused of being soft on Republicans in general, and in particular, of comparing Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden. On January 19, Matthews said on Hardball that in his new audio message bin Laden “sounds like an over-the-top Michael Moore.” Matthews was citing bin Laden’s mention of “the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars to the influential people and war merchants in America.” The next night, Matthews suggested that bin Laden was picking up the lingo of the American anti-war left, and asked, “Why would he start to talk like Moore?” Bloggers turned quickly against Matthews, a Democrat, calling him “a broadcasting neo-con,” “stupid Bush lover,” and “man whore for the G.O.P.”
Liberal press criticism goes well beyond Howell and Matthews. Cable personalities are under attack, particularly Wolf Blitzer of CNN. Two or three New York Times reporters are catching flak. Two Times staffers made one left blogger’s 2005 list of the 50 most loathsome people in America. Many critics seem less angry with Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh than they are at mainstream journalists. Salon ran a testy article arguing that “the traditional media, the trusted media, the ‘neutral’ media have become the chief delivery mechanism of potent anti-Democratic and pro-Bush story lines.”
Many on the left are clearly frustrated and baffled that they haven’t been able to stop Samuel Alito, or to make the Republicans pay a political price for the many corporate and lobbying scandals. (That one is a mystery to me too.) The argument is that the press is accepting pro-Republican story lines, for example that John Murtha wants to “cut and run” from Iraq, while Bush is “steadfast.” Since the public doesn’t accept Democratic talking points on many issues, or so the argument goes, it must be the media’s fault for presenting the stories or narrative lines incorrectly.
So left and right may be reaching some sort of consensus at last-many on both sides think the news media are screwing up. Some on the left are now arguing that big-time reporters are overpaid and remote from the lives of ordinary Americans-a familiar criticism on the right. The conventional double-standard argument of the right now seems at home on the left too.
Liberal columnist Joe Conason thinks it’s unfair that photos of Bill Clinton’s coffee meetings were forced into the open, whereas photos of Bush with Abramoff are unreleased so far, while
the media yawn. Some complain that the press took arguments for Clinton’s impeachment seriously but not arguments for Bush’s impeachment today. Look for more of this. The mainstream media, already unpopular, are now catching it from both sides.