On frivolity, dubiety and the truth in medialand

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Dec 12, 2002 12:00 AM
Since last we talked about medialand, developments in that hallowed realm have rollicked along with numerous highlights of frivolity and dubiety - among them these: Columnist Bob Greene pulled a Charles Kuralt of sorts, and was effectively exiled from the reservation. Cute Katie Couric continued to dominate the ratings on the morning network entertainment/news shows. On the evening side, NBC announced its selection of Brian Williams to succeed Tom Brokaw as anchor newsreader - whereupon the debate began as to whether Brian is a sufficiently serious person for the job. In turn, that began what is evidently an effort at the network to season the tender Brian - to weight him up (or down) with "gravitas." He long ago passed the standardized test for swallowing and regurgitating simplistic leftist views, and two years back he dismissed the notion of televised liberal bias as a falsity that "first started when the Earth cooled." Sam Donaldson has departed with his rug, and much debate has been devoted to the importance of Katie's colonoscopy and the pluses and minuses of the facelifts of e.g. newsbabes Greta Van Susteren and Paula Zahn. New York Times editor Howell Raines, who formerly headed the newspaper's editorial operation, killed a column by the paper's Pulitzer sportswriter Dave Anderson for taking a position on the Augusta golf club gender matter contrary to the paper's editorial stance. (Public outcry and media criticism compelled The Times eventually to run the Anderson column.) Anderson was wrong to cite the editorial page - a citation that easily could have been edited out. But Raines' initial killing of the entire column confirmed a consternating ideological conformity for what used to be the nation's foremost daily. From the dubious-quote front, this incoming fire: Bill Moyers during his weekly news program for the taxpayer-supported Public Broadcasting Service - groaning low about the prospect of religious tyranny as a consequence of the Republican rout in the November elections: "If you liked the Supreme Court that put George W. Bush in the White House, you will swoon over what's coming. And if you like God in government, get ready for the rapture." Al Gore (echoing Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, she of "vast right-wing conspiracy" fame, and Bill Clinton, who last week lamented "an increasingly right-wing and bellicose conservative press"): "Fox News network, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh - there's a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultraconservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the rest of the media." And syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne had a piece last week questioning whether "there is any such thing as the big liberal media" anymore because of soaring conservative strength in talk radio (with practically no liberals) and cable TV. "The definition of 'media' commonly used" in rhetoric about today's media, he wrote, "is faulty." The Establishment press (consisting essentially of national newspapers, network television and the big-three newsmagazines) is "under constant pressure to avoid even the pale hint of liberalism." Indeed, he concluded, "it adds up to a media heavily biased toward conservative politics and conservative politicians." Well. It is not news that the Establishment press hangs way out there over the leftward edge, and long has. In 1972 more than 90 percent of top people in the national print and electronic media voted for George McGovern. In April, 1980, only about 2 percent of the editors attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington indicated in a survey they wanted Ronald Reagan to be the next president. And despite the fatuous suggestion of some that the media now are "biased" toward conservatives because of talk radio and cable TV, the public still sees a heavy left-wing bias in the mainline media - at least it did six years ago. Here is Virginia Commonwealth University press expert Ted Smith on a November 1996, survey of public attitudes toward the press by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) - fielded nationwide, with an unusually large statistical sample, by Louis Harris and Associates: "Like earlier studies, the survey found that 74 percent of Americans see either "a great deal" (30 percent) or "a fair amount" (44 percent) of "political bias in news coverage." Fully 63 percent of the public believes the news media "tend to favor one side" in "presenting the news dealing with political and social issues.... Among the whole public, a plurality of 43 percent described the news media as very (18 percent) or somewhat (25 percent) liberal. This compares to only 19 percent who described the media as very (6 percent) or somewhat (12 percent) conservative. More important, the study examined 75 different subgroups of the U.S. population and found that in 73 of them more people see liberal bias than see conservative bias in the news. Even Democrats and self-described liberals came to this conclusion." That's a wrap. Says it all. (BEGIN ITAL) Finis
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