Politics & Policy

Alterman V. Bozell: Are The Media Liberal? Round II.

(To read Round I, click here.)


I enjoyed debating Brent on Crossfire last night and I’m happy to “see” him here. But I’m sorry to see that in both cases Brent has not seen fit to engage in the substance of my — in the words of Publishers Weekly — “well-documented, well-argued research in compulsively readable form,” that is “required reading … whether readers agree with Alterman” or not.

I am going to tempt him, these next two days, therefore by culling the two examples in the book that feature Brent himself. Let’s call day one. “Brent and Other Conservatives Do Not Understand Gay People.” Here it is: (Note the section below does not include the words “Andrew Sullivan,” which would have made my point even stronger.)

The “tolerance” question, just like that of ignorance, can cut both ways. The mere fact that three of the top political reporters for the New York Times in recent years have been openly gay men is mistaken as evidence of bias by some in the conservative media establishment-and no doubt by some Americans as well. Not long ago, Brent Bozell III attacked the New York Times for appointing a gay man to a top editorial position, suggesting that this “signals that [Times editors are] promoting their newspaper as an aggressive liberal lobbying tool not only to prevent Republican campaign victories, but to pave a smooth and silky path for cultural relativism as well.” In fact, one of the Times’s openly gay reporters, Frank Bruni, became something of a joke to his colleagues owing to his enormously sympathetic coverage of George W. Bush. A quick perusal of his book on the 2000 campaign, Ambling Through History, provides ample evidence that Bush could not have asked for a more generous Boswell from the Newspaper of Record. (See What Liberal Media? for details.) Bozell apparently, like President Bush, does not know many openly gay individuals, hence he has trouble believing that one might be able to separate sexuality from professional commitment. The president is quoted in Bruni’s book announcing “An openly known homosexual is somebody who probably wouldn’t share my philosophy.” (Andy might like to comment on that one too.) Back to you, Brent. What’s your problem with gay reporters?

— Eric Alterman is author of the new book What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News.

To all the years of evidence of liberal-media bias, Eric Alterman can only offer more noise.

He confesses hopelessness at converting this conservative audience, but then digs his own grave with sneering dismissal: “really smart” conservatives don’t believe this “silly nonsense” about liberal bias.

What he doesn’t offer is evidence from the content of the news. How can Alterman explain this “news” report from Dan Rather (March 16, 1995)? “The new Republican majority in Congress took a big step today on its legislative agenda to demolish or damage government aid programs, many of them designed to help children and the poor.” What Rather reported as the objective truth was the “silly nonsense.” It’s also drop-dead evidence of liberal bias.

Instead of producing data, Alterman turns to Rich Bond, that bastion of conservatism, to state that Republicans were “working the refs” in 1992. As if that a) worked; or b) Bond’s claim proved it was only a ploy on the neutral media. The reality is far different. The MRC found a jaw-dropping difference in network convention coverage in the summer of ‘92: While Democrats were never criticized for their negative tone, network reporters discussed or asked about the GOP’s negative tone on 70 occasions. That was just in prime time.

In fact, the press decimated the Republicans. CNN’s Bernard Shaw said Dan Quayle’s convention address was “very petulant” and “implies Clinton is some kind of guerrilla, or saboteur, what have you…it seems that he’s saying you’re not as American as I am, your blood is not as red as mine.” Over at the Democratic convention, Jesse Jackson was comparing Quayle to baby-killing King Herod, and none of the network types batted an eye, including Shaw. So much for all that ref-working.

James Baker? The ultimate media leaker is the last person who will criticize the press, period. Baker said that “I don’t think we had anything to complain about” in terms of press coverage. Did Baker not remember a thing called Iran-Contra? But never mind Baker. But never mind Baker. What about Alterman? How can anyone dispute the anti-Reagan bias that piled up there? Answer: You simply ask politicians and journalists about their vague recollections about news coverage from years ago. But that’s conjecture, not content analysis. In other words, more noise.

Pat Buchanan suggested to the Los Angeles Times that the media have been fair to him. He must have missed the August 31, 1992 Time magazine summing up his Houston convention speech: “Patrick Buchanan’s darkly apocalyptic speech Monday night all but raised the specter of race war.” More to the point: If Alterman is going to quote Buchanan on the subject, why not use the hundreds of quotes available showing Buchanan denouncing liberal media bias?

Alterman gets it wrong on Bill Kristol, too. He did not deny the existence of a liberal media. He denied its impact. Yet even there I’d disagree with Mr. Kristol and offer as my evidence his own brief career at ABC News. Brought on as the analytical balance to one of Alterman’s best friends, George Stephanopoulos, he was increasingly marginalized as Stephanopoulos became the sole political analyst the network used outside of This Week. Ultimately, once George was somehow designated as Mr. Objective, Kristol was dumped. I’d say that has impact, wouldn’t you?

See what I mean by noise?

— L. Brent Bozell III is president of the Media Research Center.



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