Media Blog

Stop Whining

Bruce Bartlett has some interesting thoughts on left-wing media criticism:

In my view, the media did have a strong left-wing tilt for many years. But over the last 20 years or so, I think that has mostly disappeared. Major newspapers like the Post and New York Times are now fairly evenhanded in their news coverage. Their editorial pages are still pretty liberal, of course, but the Post in particular is far less liberal in its editorial positions than it was in the 1970s.
If, as I believe, the major media tilted left and have moved toward the center, then this means they moved to the right. It is this movement that the left has picked up on and is complaining about. But the idea that the media now tilt toward conservatives is absurd. […]
The problem for those on the left these days is that during the long period when there was a pronounced liberal bias in the media, they got lazy. They just assumed that the major media would automatically take their side, do hit jobs on conservatives and basically do their job for them. By contrast, conservatives have always had to contend with an adversarial media and thus learned better media skills and techniques in order to compensate.
I would advise my liberal friends to stop whining about media bias. You had a free ride for a long time, and now it’s over. Get used to it, and learn how to use the media. Take a page from the conservative handbook and go around it. Figure out why talk radio works for conservatives and why it has been a dismal failure for liberals. Learn how to marshal facts and make cogent arguments instead of haranguing people and using ad hominem attacks to smear those who disagree. It’s got to work better than what you are doing now.

Left-wing press critics, for the most part, refuse to acknowledge that they are playing a game of tug of war with conservative media critics. They cry bias and ask why oh why won’t the media just report the facts — “the facts” being whatever provides support for their political views. And all the while, journalists’ view of themselves as objective arbiters of the truth makes them particularly vulnerable to this sort of attack.
There are a couple of solutions to this problem. You’re reading one of them. NR and its counterparts in the world of opinion journalism make no secret of their political views and choose to both report facts and to engage in the debate over which facts are accurate and important. Another approach was on display recently at Politico.com, which opened up its editorial process in response to a complaint letter from the left-wing press critics at Media Matters. Most of Media Matters’ criticisms were baseless and silly, but some were justified; in any case, the transparency of the process was to the benefit of readers and helped build Politico’s credibility. I thought it was a successful experiment.
To get back to Bartlett’s take, I think he’s done a pretty good job of identifying the dynamic at work. (I wouldn’t go so far as to call the New York Times “fairly even-handed,” but then again, they don’t let me write a blog for their web site.) The press has moved toward the center on a few issues – free trade and welfare seem like two good examples — simply because in those areas the conservative, free-market approach has undeniably worked. But on other issues — especially those important to social conservatives — the press still favors the left. Nevertheless, the left is freaked that it no longer has total dominance over the media, and Bartlett is correct to attribute the rise of left-wing press criticism to that phenomenon.

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