Liberals, for some reason, feel compelled to include the views of the other guy on a regular basis in just the fashion that conservatives abhor. Take a tour from a native: New York magazine, in the heart of liberal country, chose as its sole national correspondent the right-wing talk-show host Tucker Carlson. During the 1990s, The New Yorker - the bible of sophisticated urban liberalism - chose as its Washington correspondents the belligerent right-winger Michael Kelly and the soft, DLC neoconservative Joe Klein. At least half of the "liberal New Republic" is actually a rabidly neoconservative magazine and has been edited in recent years by the very same Michael Kelly, as well as by the conservative liberal-hater Andrew Sullivan. The Nation has often opened its pages to liberal-haters, even among its columnists. The Atlantic Monthly - a mainstay of Boston liberalism - even chose the apoplectic Kelly as its editor, who then proceeded to add a bunch of Weekly Standard writers to its antiliberal stable. What is "liberal" Vanity Fair doing publishing a special hagiographic Annie Leibovitz portfolio of Bush Administration officials that appears, at first glance, to be designed (with the help of a Republican political consultant) to invoke notions of Greek and Roman gods? Why does the liberal New York Observer alternate National Review's Richard Brookhiser with the Joe McCarthy-admiring columnist Nicholas von Hoffman - both of whom appear alongside editorials that occasionally mimic the same positions taken downtown by the editors of the Wall Street Journal? On the web, the tabloid-style liberal website Salon gives free rein to the McCarthyite impulses of both Sullivan and David Horowitz. The neoliberal Slate also regularly publishes both Sullivan and Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard, and has even opened its "pages" to such conservative evildoers as Charles Murray and Elliott Abrams.
Move over to the mainstream publications and broadcasts often labeled "liberal," and you see how ridiculous the notion of liberal dominance becomes. The liberal New York Times Op-Ed page features the work of the unreconstructed Nixonite William Safire, and for years accompanied him with the firebreathing-if-difficult-to-understand neocon A.M. Rosenthal. Current denizen Bill Keller also writes regularly from a DLC neocon perspective. The Washington Post is just swarming with conservatives, from Michael Kelly to George Will to Robert Novak to Charles Krauthammer. If you wish to include CNN on your list of liberal media - I don't, but many conservatives do - then you had better find a way to explain the near-ubiquitous presence of the attack dog Robert Novak, along with that of neocon virtuecrat William Bennett, National Review's Kate O'Beirne, National Review's Jonah Goldberg, The Weekly Standard's David Brooks and Tucker Carlson. This is to say nothing of the fact that among its most frequent guests are Coulter and the anti-American telepreacher Pat Robertson. Care to include ABC News? Again, I don't, but if you wish, how to deal with the fact that the only ideological commentator on its Sunday show is the hard-line conservative George Will? Or how about the fact that its only explicitly ideological reporter is the journalistically challenged conservative crusader John Stossel? How to explain the entire career there and on NPR of Cokie Roberts, who never met a liberal to whom she could not condescend? What about Time and Newsweek? In the former, we have Krauthammer holding forth, and in the latter, Will.
I could go on, but the point is clear: Conservatives are extremely well represented in every facet of the media. The correlative point is that even the genuine liberal media are not so liberal. And they are no match - either in size, ferocity or commitment - for the massive conservative media structure that, more than ever, determines the shape and scope of our political agenda.
In a careful 1999 study published in the academic journal Communications Research, four scholars examined the use of the "liberal media" argument and discovered a fourfold increase in the number of Americans telling pollsters that they discerned a liberal bias in their news. But a review of the media's actual ideological content, collected and coded over a twelve-year period, offered no corroboration whatever for this view. The obvious conclusion: News consumers were responding to "increasing news coverage of liberal bias media claims, which have been increasingly emanating from Republican Party candidates and officials."
The right is working the refs. And it's working. Much of the public believes a useful but unsupportable myth about the so-called liberal media, and the media themselves have been cowed by conservatives into repeating their nonsensical nostrums virtually nonstop. As the economist/pundit Paul Krugman observes of Republican efforts to bully the media into accepting the party's Orwellian arguments about Social Security privatization: "The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media - fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of 'balance' - won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown."
In the real world of the right-wing media, the pundits are the conservatives' shock troops. Even the ones who constantly complain about alleged liberal control of the media cannot ignore the vast advantage their side enjoys when it comes to airing their views on television, in the opinion pages, on the radio and the Internet.
Take a look at the Sunday talk shows, the cable chat fests, the op-ed pages and opinion magazines, and the radio talk shows. It can be painful, I know, but try it. Across virtually the entire television punditocracy, unabashed conservatives dominate, leaving lone liberals to be beaten up by gangs of marauding right-wingers, most of whom voice views much further toward their end of the spectrum than any regularly televised liberals do toward the left. Grover Norquist, the right's brilliant political organizer, explains his team's advantage by virtue of the mindset of modern conservatism. "The conservative press is self-consciously conservative and self-consciously part of the team," he notes. "The liberal press is much larger, but at the same time it sees itself as the establishment press. So it's conflicted. Sometimes it thinks it needs to be critical of both sides." Think about it. Who among the liberals can be counted upon to be as ideological, as relentless and as nakedly partisan as George Will, Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan, Bay Buchanan, William Bennett, William Kristol, Fred Barnes, John McLaughlin, Charles Krauthammer, Paul Gigot, Oliver North, Kate O'Beirne, Tony Blankley, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Tony Snow, Laura Ingraham, Jonah Goldberg, William F. Buckley Jr., Bill O'Reilly, Alan Keyes, Tucker Carlson, Brit Hume, the self-described "wild men" of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, etc., etc.? In fact, it's hard to come up with a single journalist/pundit appearing on television who is even remotely as far to the left of the mainstream spectrum as most of these conservatives are to the right.
Whether they're called liberal or conservative, the major media are large corporations, owned by and interlinked with even larger corporations, they sell a product to a market. The market is advertisers, that is, other businesses. The product is the audiences. For the elite media that set the basic agenda to which others adapt, the product is, furthermore, relatively privileged audiences. So we have major corporations selling fairly wealthy and privileged audiences. Not surprisingly, the picture of the world represented reflects the narrow and biased interests and values of the sellers, the buyers, and the product.
The media are only one part of a larger doctrinal system: other parts are journals of opinion, the schools and universities, academic scholarship and so on. We are much more aware of the media, especially the prestige media, because those who critically analyze ideology have focused on them.
The doctrinal system, which produces what we call propaganda when discussing enemies, has two distinct targets. One target is what is sometimes called the political class, the roughly 20% of the population that is relatively educated more or less articulate, playing some roll in the decision making. Their acceptance of doctrine is crucial because they are in a position to design and implement policy.
Then there are the 80% or so of the population. These are Lippman's "spectators of action", whom he referred to as the "bewildered herd". They are supposed to follow orders and keep out of the way of the important people. They are the targets of the "real" mass media: the tabloids, the sitcoms, super bowl, and so on. These sectors of the doctrinal system serve to divert the unwashed masses and reinforce the basic social values: passivity, submissiveness to authority, the overriding virtue of greed and personal gain, lack of concern for others, fear of real or imagined enemies, etc. the goal is keep the bewildered herd bewildered. It is unnecessary for them to trouble themselves with what's happening in the world. In fact, it is undesirable ---if they see too much of reality they may set themselves in charge."
Noam Chomsky The Chomsky Reader
Sanders: "Congress Cannot Ignore Corporate Control of the Media"
(Op-ed column from The Hill newspaper on Friday, 06/14/02) (960)
(This byliner by Bernie Sanders, U.S. Representative from Vermont in
the House of Representatives, first appeared in The Hill June 14 and
is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)
Congress Can No Longer Ignore Corporate Control of the Media
One of our best-kept secrets is the degree to which a handful of huge
corporations control the flow of information in the United States.
Whether it is television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books or the
Internet, a few giant conglomerates are determining what we see, hear
and read. And the situation is likely to become much worse as a result
of radical deregulation efforts by the Bush administration and some
horrendous court decisions.
Television is the means by which most Americans get their "news."
Without exception, every major network is owned by a huge conglomerate
that has enormous conflicts of interest. Fox News Channel is owned by
Rupert Murdoch, a right-wing Australian who already owns a significant
portion of the world's media. His network has close ties to the
Republican Party, and among his "fair and balanced" commentators is
NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the largest corporations in
the world -- and one with a long history of anti-union activity. GE, a
major contributor to the Republican Party, has substantial financial
interests in weapons manufacturing, finance, nuclear power and many
other industries. Former CEO Jack Welch was one of the leaders in
shutting down American plants and moving them to low-wage countries
like China and Mexico.
ABC is owned by the Disney Corp., which produces toys and products in
developing countries where they provide their workers atrocious wages
and working conditions.
CBS is owned by Viacom, another huge media conglomerate that owns,
among other entities, MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon, VH1, TNN, CMT, 39
broadcast television stations, 184 radio stations, Paramount Pictures
and Blockbuster Inc.
The essential problem with television is not just a right-wing bias in
news and programming, or the transformation of politics and government
into entertainment and sensationalism. Nor is it just the constant
bombardment of advertising, much of it directed at children. It's that
the most important issues facing the middle-class and working people
of our country are rarely discussed. The average American does not see
his or her reality reflected on the television screen.
The United States is the only industrialized nation on earth that does
not have a national healthcare program. Yet, despite 41 million people
with no health insurance and millions more underinsured, we spend far
more per capita on healthcare than any other nation. Maybe the reason
is that we are seeing no good programs on television, in between the
prescription drug advertisements, discussing how we can provide
quality healthcare for all at far lower per capita costs than we
Despite the great "economic boom" of the 1990s, the average American
worker is now working longer hours for lower wages than 30 years ago,
and we have lost millions of decent-paying manufacturing jobs. Where
are the TV programs addressing our $360 billion trade deficit, or what
our disastrous trade policy has done to depress wages in this country?
And while we're on economics, workers who are in unions earn 30
percent more than non-union people doing the same work. There are a
lot of programs on television about how to get rich by investing in
the stock market. But have you seen any "specials" on how to go about
forming a union?
The United States has the most unfair distribution of wealth and
income in the industrialized world, and the highest rate of childhood
poverty. There's a lot of television promoting greed and
self-interest, but how many programs speak to the "justice" of the
richest 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 95 percent? Or of
the CEOs of major corporations earning 500 times what their employees
If television largely ignores the reality of life for the majority of
Americans, corporate radio is just plain overt in its right-wing bias.
In a nation that cast a few million more votes for Al Gore and Ralph
Nader than for George Bush and Pat Buchanan, there are dozens of
right-wing talk show programs. Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Bob
Grant, Sean Hannity, Alan Keyes, Armstrong Williams, Howie Carr,
Oliver North, Michael Savage, Michael Reagan, Pat Robertson, Laura
Schlessinger -- these are only a few of the voices that day after day
pound a right-wing drumbeat into the heartland of this country.
And from a left perspective there is -- well, no one. The Republican
Party, corporate owners and advertisers have their point of view well
represented on radio. Unfortunately, the rest of America has almost
nothing As bad as the current media situation is, it is likely to be
made much worse by a recent decision in the District of Columbia Court
of Appeals that responded to a suit by Fox, AOL Time Warner, NBC and
Viacom. That decision struck down a federal regulation limiting
companies from owning television stations and cable franchises in the
same local markets. The court also ordered that the Federal
Communications Commission either justify or rewrite the federal rule
that limits any one company from owning television stations that reach
more than 35 percent of American households.
The bottom line is that fewer and fewer huge conglomerates are
controlling virtually everything that the ordinary American sees,
hears and reads. This is an issue that Congress can no longer ignore.
(Rep. Bernie Sanders is an Independent from Vermont.)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
that show that 75% of all media types are registered Democrats and consider themselves more left than right.