Explaining Media Liberal Bias

Aquarian Weekly 3/16/05 REALITY CHECK

LIBERAL BIAS IN THE MEDIA Explaining The Obvious To The Uninitiated

Dan RatherThe exit of embattled CBS news anchor Dan Rather this past week has renewed age-old discussions on liberal bias in the media. This always brings a smile to my face, for I, as consequence of experience, have always known that the accusation rings hollow in the sense that if by painting the press with one bold ideological brush stroke will somehow force it en masse to either back off its alleged job as public watch dog or make it more rancorous against the purveyors of liberalism. This has never been the case, nor will it ever be, no matter how many Dan Rathers are thrown under the bus, anymore than the moral lunacy of the right will be curtailed by revelations that Bill Bennett is a terminal gambling freak.

I have no love for Dan Rather. I met him once about 20 years ago, maybe more. I don’t remember. It was long before he was stomped by thugs on Park Avenue for failure to acknowledge “Kenneth’s frequency”, but long after he started a mosh pit on the floor of the ’68 Democratic Convention. He was perfectly cordial. I never saw him as an elitist or even that passionate about anything, really, least of all frequencies or punk music. He was a newsman. You can identify their species from a mile away. No sense of humor or fashion, myopic dinks with a tinge of nervous energy you might misconstrue for pretension. I don’t think he wanted anything more from life. None of these people do. They live for news; disaster, murder, political suicide, celebrity implosion. Personally, I never forgave Rather for that farcical report on the 20th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in which he presided over a theater of the absurd proving “without a shadow of a doubt” that Oswald acted alone. Honestly, its fictitious zest made the Bush National Guard Papers seem tame by comparison. But that’s my problem.

Sure Rather is a liberal. So were Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, Jacob Riis and Walter Winchell, Margaret Fuller and Ernie Pile. Most reporters, journalists, newspersons are liberal. Unless you’ve studied or practiced this craft, it is apparently hard to grasp. This is true of yammering asses like William McGowan or Bernard Goldberg, neither of whom know the first thing about reporting the news, but answered a curious calling to write books featuring “in-depth analysis” of American journalism. Some might call this stupid. I concur. These poor saps are busy discussing party politics in the cauldron of human nature, a folly if there ever was one.

In order to get up for a life of reporting, one must believe one can/will change the world, make government work diligently for the people, expose the bad guys, celebrate the common man, while repeatedly taking shots at the rich and powerful for the general good. It is a tough calling in a country where the rich and powerful run things, make laws and do whatever the fuck rich and powerful wants. This is an acceptable reason for the remainder of journalists not already raging alcoholics or recovering from some kind of addiction to barely cling to a last remaining shred of sanity.

Shitty hours, crappy pay, lunatic editors and horrific travel routes will leave even the most centered among us with a flimsy excuse for optimism. Believe me, when you’re dealing with the sickness of the human psyche on meager wages and no sleep, you are bound to steer your allegiance to things like civil rights, government programs, underdog causes, conspiracy theories, counterculture pursuits, etc. Big Business, Real Estate Moguls, Religious Fervor, Military Industrial Complexes, Imperial Foreign Policies, and the odd nasty political malfeasance tend to rile these creatures up.

Shitty hours, crappy pay, lunatic editors and horrific travel routes will leave even the most centered among us with a flimsy excuse for optimism.

This is why most of the modern American newspaper chains were launched by Socialists back when Socialism meant power to the people and the rejection of money and progress running roughshod over natural resources, human dignity, and the truth. There was always a sense among the originals that the press would not only keep the tyranny suffered under King George at bay, ala the searing pamphlet by the first subversive patriot Thomas Paine, but it must also force the issue of change and progress like the printed abolitionist movement from brave souls like Horace Greeley, who started the Herald Tribune as a daily anti-slavery rant or Mary Livermore who published the Woman’s Journal as the genesis of suffrage.

Journalists are also skeptics. They need proof for stuff. Lovely and warming concepts like God, country, and apple pie don’t swing a good reporter. It’s the facts, ma’m. The beauty of skepticism leads to edification through research and training in diverse thought (another key reason people keep missing for why most American universities or higher learning institutes breed liberal idealism). Not accepting tenets on face value, to question everything from traditions to subtle to overt forms of bigotry is the foundation of journalism and, for that matter, a free society for which journalism is supposed to serve.

It always struck me as odd that people do not bat an eye when conservative thought enters free enterprise or fiscal responsibility (sans military build-up and corporate stock and tax fraud) but yet find it necessary to debate the leanings of journalists.

But saying that liberal optimists who have convinced themselves that what they do is important for the survival of the republic and not for greed or fame or notoriety is not necessarily true either. Every news jockey in this country would trade some part of himself or herself professionally to get ahead, find a bigger audience and translate that into cash. This is especially true in American journalism.

I personally know heavy leftists who lied to FOX News, the National Review or the Washington Times to get a gig in a more conservative news organization, and vice versa to get gigs at the Village Voice, the New York Times, or Newsweek, more liberal publications.

So, in the end, the publicity monsters like Pulitzer and Hearst still beat in the chests of our journalists, who begin their journey of reporting with all the wide-eyed cheer of the most naïve college sap and end up voracious capitalistic fundamentalists. It’s a crude journey, even for someone like Dan Rather, whose only crime was laziness and the false sense that being rich and powerful makes you resistant to accountability.

That kind of armor is reserved for the presidency.

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