Opinion: Media Mangle

Now Who’s Paranoid?

For decades, a standard element of the conservative political arensal has been to complain about an unfair liberal media in the news media. Part of the effectiveness of this technique — used by politicians trolling for votes, conservative activists mustering their troops, and direct-mailer fundraisers plying their trade — was based on its self-evident validity, at least up to a point. The so-called “prestige press” — made up of most major metropolitan newspapers, the television and radio networks, and the major newsmagazines and literary journals — was populated disproportionately by left-leaning journalists. This was readily verified either by surveys or observation. Whether the disproportion resulted in slanted or unfair media coverage of Republicans and conservatives was a more debatable proposition (though not much more).

Occasionally, and unfortunately, some on the Right let a fair criticism of media fairness and professionalism mutate into a paranoid conspiracy theory reminiscient of a John Birch Society or LaRouche pamphlet. Shame on them, and on anyone who was taken in by them.

Now, in the first decade of the 21st century, the situation has changed. For one thing, conservatives and libertarians have taken advantage of innovations in technology and corporate organization to create something of an alternative media universe within which to propagate and debate their own views. Comprising a few right-leaning elements of the prestige press (such as The Wall Street Journal), new broadcast networks in talk radio and cable news, and a proliferating array of magazines, blogs, and web sites of virtually any political flavor one can image, this parallel system of information dissemination is certainly not the equal of the mainstream media market in audience or impact (despite the fantasies of both Democratic and Republican partisans). But it is an important development, and one that has in recent years cooled the anger of conservatives who previously alienated from the process by their perceptions of media unfairness.

Never fear, though — the media-bias argument is too useful to waste, so now it’s the American Left’s turn to indulge in it. After all, far better to blame unfair media coverage for one’s electoral or legislative losses rather than one’s own failings or miscalculations.

A a good example of this critique can be found in this week’s Creative Loafing newspaper, published out of Charlotte. Author John Sugg rehearses all of the standard lines in the new conspiracy theory: that corporate and chain ownership of the media is reducing the spectrum of political views given voice (easily checked, easily rebutted, particularly by the fact that Creative Loafing itself is part-owned by one of the largest media companies in the U.S., Cox); that media bias is preventing anti-war protesters from getting their message out (no, their problem is that their incoherent message is getting out, and most Americans are rejecting it as phony and misinformed); and that past editorial endorsements of Republican politicians such as Richard Nixon disprove the theory of liberal media bias (which betrays a misunderstanding of the relative importance of news coverage and editorials, as well as of the ideology of Nixon).

Whether news organizations are doing a good job of delivering accurate and balanced news coverage and a variety of opinions is best judged on a case-by-base basis, using specific examples and avoiding sweeping generalizations. That’s what Carolina Journal Online tries to do in our “Media Mangle” column. Yes, we may kid around from time to time. But we don’t really believe there is a liberal media conspiracy — it would require a level of organization and secrecy that seems beyond the capabilities of our journalist friends, no offense intended.

Sugg and other frustrated leftists, however, seem intent on finding black helicopters circling over America’s newsrooms. Hey, you’re welcome to keep watching the skies.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.