2005 January 16 Sunday
Desertion By Right Wing Driving Big Media Leftward?

Stanley Kurtz says we are caught up in a cycle where as conservatives and other non-left-liberals abandon the major media organizations those organizations are driven their remaining viewers to be more biased in favor of the preferences of those viewers.

When the Rather affair broke, I suggested in “From Biased to Partisan” that the controlling business dynamic of the media would make network news more liberal, not less. Media bias has become self-reinforcing. As the public turns to alternative and more conservative outlets, the mainstream media’s audience grows more liberal. That puts on pressure for more bias, not less. Now Peggy Noonan has also predicted more, and more open, media bias, not less.

I think greater openness of bias is refreshing. I hate to see journalists and commentators pretend that they are not motivated by partisan concerns when they so clear are. On the other hand, we may be entering a period where there is simply less effort by reporters to try to be objective. Though on the bright side the power of search engines and the massive internet make it easier for the rest of us to check the facts behind media reports.

Stanley's refers above to a previous article of his reflecting on the RatherGate affair and what he sees as a trend in the media toward greater bias. The RatherGate affair you might ask? Oh you know, it was seen as an important story before the 2004 Presidential election by some media types and bloggers and involved hardcore liberal staffers on the CBS 60 Minutes show so eager to help John Kerry get elected that they were suckered in by bogus a document unlikely to have been written on a rare IBM Selectric typewriter with proportionate font support. Excuse me if I'm so automatically bored by that sort of story to recall any details that don't involve computer tech. I think it was relating to the something involving George W. Bush in the National Guard. Yawn. Swift Boats and National Guard: Who cares? The candidates were both nauseating choices for President. The South Park episode involving the school mascot election between the Turd Sandwich and Giant Douche sums up my view of Bush and Kerry quite succinctly.

Anyway, the election and that media scandal might have been worth it because they caused Stanley to think through what he sees as a trend in the MainStream Media (or MSM if you want to go read conservative sites that do a lot of criticism of liberal media and are confused about why they are talking about Methyl Sufonyl Methane - well they aren't being that practical). I think Stanley is correct and

What's more, the cycle of division is self-reinforcing. First came the of the movements of the 60s. Then the media was captured by the Left. Then the conservatives started to exit, building up alternative outlets as they went. As the fundamental cultural and political issues dividing the country sharpened, more and more people started flooding to the alternative media. This self-selection process began to turn the mainstream audience into a self-consciously liberal audience. So even as complaints about liberal media bias escalated, the mainstream media was bound to become more liberal, not less liberal — because that's what was happening to its audience. What all this means is that, given its audience, CBS News is no longer concerned about preserving it reputation for fairness. On the contrary, CBS now wants and needs to preserve its reputation for liberalism.

One way to see this trend is that America is becoming more like Britain with newspapers that are aimed clearly and openly at political and class factions. But I see this trend as part of a bigger trend where people segment themselves into communities (both real and virtiual) of kindred spirits. People within America are migrating to be near people more like them. White Flight is just one part of a larger shuffling of people to be near people with whom they have more affinity. The utopian notion that we are all going to come together due to advances in communications technology does not strike me as correct. I see greater divisions in all sorts of ways. Media is increasingly narrowcasted at smaller groups of people because there are more channels. The internet makes the number of channels enormous. Look at you ParaPundit readers. I'm narrowcasting to you small number of the few, the proud, the brave. Oh wait. those are the Marines. Not sure what you guys are. But you are rare and self-selecting.

How about election campaigns that do computer-driven phone bank calling aimed at very small segments of populations to push their buttons on issues hot for them while not letting the rest of the populace know this is happening? Does that bring people together? Homey doesn't think so. Or how about cable TV's rarely mentioned effect on racial relations? Well, I remember that ancient historical period of like 15 or so years ago when Bill Cosby had a hit TV show among both blacks and whites. Now with so many more channels and more shows the shows can be tailored to all sorts of different demographic profiles. The races are now thoroughly divided on what their favorite shows are. The top ten shows among blacks and among whites had no overlap a year or two ago when I saw some charts on this. It was not always thus. As a result blacks and whites have far fewer common experiences with the media than they used to. No doubt this is happening with other was of slicing up the population as well.

Stanley says at this point the effect of media criticism over charges of bias is to drive viewers and readers more rapidly toward outlets that reflect their biases. The criticism tells the conservatives and moderates that they do not share the same values and goals as the people who are producing liberal newspapers.

The purpose of media-bias stories is now different than it once was. The goal is no longer to reform the mainstream media, but to expose it for the partisan political player it is, so as to pull as many doubters as possible into alternative outlets. Is this good for the country? I doubt it. It would be far better to have a fair and trusted mainstream media to present the news, flanked by thoughtful journals of opinion on both sides of the political spectrum. But sadly, that is not where we are.

So if you point out lies and misleading coverage in The Grey Lady (which one blog I encountered has the NY Times in its links list as Liberal Death Star) you are being divisive and driving people apart. Yes, criticism of the liberal mainstream media publications undermines a sense of shared community and common interests. Taken to an extreme this could eventually lead to civil war. Think about that the next time you carp and complain about CBS News and the New York Times.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 January 16 01:49 AM  Media Critique

LPG said at January 16, 2005 10:35 AM:

I would say from experience that The Sopranos is universaly loved by both the left and right. Great art can transcend politics and can actually elevate leftist morons. Although, they probably don't get the subtle nuances of the sublime writing and acting; or the morality and overt religious symbolism as well as a basic positive view of America which the show presents. Fundmentalists of all ilk probably say they hate the graphic sex but tune in to catch those bods swinging on the fire poles at the Ba Da Bing. Feminists are all in love with Tony and would give their hard won climb up the corporate fire pole short shrift to change places with Carmella. I was also surprised that even the most homophobic men who loved Sopranos also liked the grand gay buffet, Six Feet Under. Maybe the problem with mainstream media news is the writing. If they are going to make things up anyway why not hire William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgeral or Ayn Rand as Hollywood did in its golden era to punch up the scripts. I realize that they are all dead but with the possibilities of the new biology we might be able to inject Peter Jennings with Ayn Rand objectivism.

crush41 said at January 16, 2005 8:48 PM:

LPG, 11 million people watch the Sopranos at its best. That's a small segment of the population--Michael Savage, the raging nationalist radio talkshow host reguarly draws 10 million listeners (extremely divisive); Rush Limbaugh gets nearly 20 million (a slightly larger but still very narrow segment).

I recall a Business Week feature over the summer concerning the major fragmentation of marketing. Even the highest rated TV shows don't reach a large enough audience to merit an advertisement for most companies--the only commercials left on the tube are for pharmaceuticals, phones, cars, or movies (the few industries that remain true "staples" of the American consumer). Niche marketing has become the rule (my marketing professor beat that into my head for sure!). It is the symptom of a larger phenomenon: No one experiences the same cultural experience anymore. Twenty years ago, everyone read Time or Life magazine. But my residence now receives Advertising Age, Game Informer, Natural Horse Magazine, Brio, P-O-P, just to name a few.

Information overload is a real concern (I'm flummoxed daily), but the truth is now available for those who will look for it. How many times did a "Rathergate" go unnoticed thirty, twenty, even five years ago?

Luke Lea said at January 17, 2005 5:58 PM:

I know I bailed from the NYT a couple of years back, and whenever I give in and pick up an issue, it always strikes me as even worse than it was. At this point it seems like they couldn't separate their news coverage from their editorial positions if their life depended on it. What a waste!

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