Friday, December 01, 2006

Speculations on The Liberal Media

truth,justice, yada, yadaRight-wing journalism. At the Fox Network, it's a business plan. Rupert Murdoch will, I believe, sell what he thinks makes money for his company. This is also the same network that gave us the Simpsons and the X-Files (where, back in the 1990s, the cell phone wielding, blue state dwelling, well manicured looking Mulder and Scully never, ever seemed to venture into the American Heartland without meeting a redneck with no teeth and a demon possession problem.)
But, while Fox charted a course, the rest of the media seems to have followed more or less blindly, more out of instinct and a pathetic need to be popular (this, even while the Right Wing STILL continues to squeeze mileage out of that old canard about the "liberal media").

Yesterday, Neil Jensen at What's the Point linked to an article that describes the phenomenon in almost laughable detail.

In 1994, skillful pseudo-conservative think-tanks generated talking-points which made "midnight basketball" sound like a troubling sop to the blacks. Then, scripted serfs on pseudo-con radio pimped these points to the skies. And here's where the key transaction occurred: members of Edsall's "establishment media" soon began to pimp these points too! At the time, they didn't say that Dems had proposed modest funding in pursuit of a "laudable goal." Instead, they rolled over, put their feet in the air and recited words from Rush Limbaugh's mouth. " Soon, ' midnight basketball' became a liability." Twelve years later, Edsall recalls how "laudable" the idea really was.

What's interesting here is Edsall's reaction to this familiar process. Does he suggest that we stop the "establishment media" from reciting talk radio's points? No! His solution is vastly different! He suggests that Democrats should drop their pursuit of such laudable goals! That way, Rush won't have to come up with his points-and Edsall's colleagues won't have to repeat them! Things will be simpler all around if they'll just give up their proposals!

The point that Mr. Jensen helps to raise is fairly simple: Rather than castigate the Democratic Party for championing "laudable" ( and liberal) goals, why the hell doesn't the mainstream stop babbling RushMush and start telling the story straight?

At the The New Republic, I found an possible answer. In an article entitled Southern Discomfort, Rick Perlstein writes about the book Whistling Past Dixie. This notion about whether to abandon or embrace the South is a fascinating debate in it's own right, but what caught my attention was a paragraph in the article about the Press and the Ugly Epiphany of 1968:

It happened in a moment of trauma. After the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, all the top news executives sent a wire to Mayor Richard J. Daley protesting the way their employees "were repeatedly singled out by policemen and deliberately beaten." Such was their presumption of cultural authority they couldn't imagine how anyone could disagree. Then Mayor Daley went on Walter Cronkite's show and shocked the media establishment by refusing to apologize to the beaten reporters: "Many of them are hippies themselves. They're part of this movement." Polls revealed 60 percent of Americans agreed with Daley. [emphasis mine]For the press, it triggered a dark night of the soul. In an enormously influential column, the pundit Joseph Kraft, shaken, wrote, "Mayor Daley and his supporters have a point. Most of us in what is called the communication field are not rooted in the great mass of ordinary Americans--in Middle America."

That air of alienation--that helpless feeling that we have no idea what's going on out there--has structured elite discourse about the rest of the country ever since. A set of constructs about what "the great mass of ordinary Americans" supposedly believes--much more conservative things than any media elitist would believe, basically--became reified. Pundits like Kraft--a social class that spends much of their time among people like themselves, inside the Beltway--learned to bend over backward to be fair, lest they advertise their own alienation from everyone else. On subjects that chafed them--say, the relevance of certain ugly folkways of the South in electoral politics--they just had to bend harder. Or ignore the matter altogether.

It can produce in today's TV talking head a twisted kind of neurosis: an instinctual distrust of the political appeal of anything that can be categorized as liberal, even in defiance of the actual data.

That is as plausible an explanation as any I've heard.

In an interesting footnote, by the way, the "Can We Abandon The South" debate seems to be creating a very interesting set of allies.

Centrist Democrat, New Donkey, writes:

In the end, I'm with Howard Dean: In this closely divided national electorate in which red states still outnumber blue states, Democrats should pursue a 50-state strategy with a common progressive message, tolerating some regional differences, and let individual candidates, especially those running for president, target their resources and appeals as opportunities dictate.

Now, to think that I would see the day (even if it only lasts a second) when Ed Kilgore AND the good folks over at Green Mountain Daily would agree on ANYTHING, let alone "fiddy state" Dean ... well...that's just interesting!


Anonymous said...

You are a very smart man--the only blogger not to be distracted by the rest of the piece to get to the main point: that the media afears certain debates.

Rick Perlstein

Alex said...

Thank you very much. As you can see, I very much
enjoyed your article, and if you have a moment, I'd be
grateful if you would suggest few sources for further
reading on the topic - and especially the genesis you
describe in '68.

Thanks a lot for visiting.


Anonymous said...

My book on Nixon comingout next year!

But in the meantime, two by Godfrey Hodgson, America in Our Time (my favorite history of the years 1945-1975, from which the entire Joseph Kraft story is drawn), and his book on the 1968 election, American Melodrama.

Alex said...

I'll definately keep an eye open for "Nixonland" - and in the meantime, I'll look for the Hodgson books.