2003 October 31 Friday
Brian C. Anderson On The End Of The Liberal Media Monopoly

Writing in the City Journal Brian C. Anderson has written an article for conservatives about the new sources and shapes of media entitled We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore.

The first and most visible of these three seismic events: the advent of cable TV, especially Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel.

Cable TV has so many channels and each channel is in intense competition for viewers. This inevitably leads to channels that cater to niche interests. Comedy shows that are politically incorrect such as South Park and Tough Crowd and talk shows aimed at conservatives are just another way for media providers to try to appeal to some unaddressed segment. The effect on politics is to provide platforms for points of view that went unheard during the era of the monopoly of a few left-liberal TV networks. This benefits all other points of view at the expense of the liberal left.

Then there are the on-line news sites and the blogs:

It’s hard to overstate the impact that news and opinion websites like the Drudge Report, NewsMax, and Dow Jones’s OpinionJournal are having on politics and culture, as are current-event “blogs”—individual or group web diaries—like AndrewSullivan, InstaPundit, and “The Corner” department of NationalReviewOnline (NRO), where the editors and writers argue, joke around, and call attention to articles elsewhere on the web. This whole universe of web-based discussion has been dubbed the “blogosphere.”

While there are several fine left-of-center sites, the blogosphere currently tilts right, albeit idiosyncratically, reflecting the hard-to-pigeonhole politics of some leading bloggers. Like talk radio and Fox News, the right-leaning sites fill a market void.

Why are there more right-wing blogs? I think the biggest reason is that right-wingers have been tokens on TV news and in newspapers. George Will played token conservative panelist on sunday TV news shows while Bill Safire was the token conservative (and not intensely so) columnist for the New York Times. All the people who have been fuming at the TV news shows and newspapers for decades have finally been given a way to have their voices heard.

One factor that Anderson doesn't mention is that the internet breaks media monopolies in another way: one can read more of the already existing sources. Few could possibly afford to subscribe to even 50 newspapers. But one can go to Google News and search thru hundreds of newspapers and magazines to run down a story. The editing decisions of individual editors suddenly matter much less.

Also, the research resources of, say, the New York Times mean far less. One can go to plain old Google and look for economic data, dates of previous events, details of some scientific facts, and countless other things. One can even find experts in various fields, find their web sites, send them email and sometimes get responses. As the amount of information available to anyone who wants to spend time searching goes up the ability of editors and writers for major publications to shape the public discourse by presenting selective subsets of relevant facts goes down. Not only can each individual do fact checking but the fact checkers can easily share their results with each other and with the larger audience of web readers.

The web also creates a record of what many people have said. It is a lot harder for journalists and politicians to contradict themselves by saying different things at different times to different audiences. It is becoming too easy to dig out the contradictions.

Changes in book publishing and book promotion are breaking the monopoly on ideas as well.

“The rise of Amazon and the chain stores has been tremendously liberating for conservatives, because these stores are very much product-oriented businesses,” observes David Horowitz. “The independent bookstores are all controlled by leftists, and they’re totalitarians—they will not display conservative books, or if they do, they’ll hide them in the back.” Says Marji Ross: “We have experienced our books being buried or kept in the back room when a store manager or owner opposed their message.” She’s a big fan of Amazon and the chains.

Amazon’s Reader Reviews feature—where readers can post their opinions on books they’ve read and rate them—has helped diminish the authority of elite cultural guardians, too, by creating a truly democratic marketplace of ideas.

All these changes feed on each other. Conservative talk radio, Drudge, and blogs can all promote books. Reviewers can make comments on Amazon on books. Bloggers can point their readers to other blogs and to great articles in newspapers from around the world. Blogging becomes easier as the mighty Google News indexes ever more newspapers and magazines and as Google has more useful data out in the growing web to index.

Anderson forecasts a further decline in the power of the old line liberal media.

Here’s what’s likely to happen in the years ahead. Think of the mainstream liberal media as one sphere and the conservative media as another. The liberal sphere, which less than a decade ago was still the media, is still much bigger than the non-liberal one. But the non-liberal sphere is expanding, encroaching into the liberal sphere, which is both shrinking and breaking up into much smaller sectarian spheres—one for blacks, one for Hispanics, one for feminists, and so on.

Well, the Right and the Left are both going to splinter. More factional divisions will be possible when there are more ways to get a hearing for unorthodox opinions.

One thing that is probably happening is that the velocity of idea spread is increasing. The delay between when an article is written and when it appears in a magazine delivered to a physical mailbox is on the order of weeks or months. The letters to the editor in response take more weeks and months. But articles written for the internet can get responses and their authors can respond back again thru several cycles in a single day. People can send emails to experts asking them whether some claimed fact is accurate. Reference sources can be checked. Faster information and more fact checking will speed up debates and accelerate changes in opinion. New memes will propagate more rapidly.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 October 31 01:57 PM  Media Critique

M said at November 1, 2003 4:31 AM:

We're not losing any more because the "consevative movement" surrendered about a decade ago,the war is over and they won.NR should change ther motto,"standing athwart history shouting,Us Too."The WSJ recently carried a op-ed demanding the Repubs purge white southern voters from the party.I agree,so I probably won't vote in '04,because I do have someplace to go on election day,it's called "home".

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