08 September 2008

The news gets around

One of the slow-dying casualties in my political awakening is the idea that journalists ought to strive to be balanced and non-partisan.  The failure of the American news networks to convey virtually any meaningful information to citizens is a testimony to the weakness of this idealism.  Forced to tolerate the right's insatiable cries of "liberal bias" by its dogmatic committment to balance, the news media has been rendered little more than an outlet for competing spin, which the right has then abused by becoming more and more outlandish.  

Glennzilla documents the latest case of a news-net folding in the face of righty complaints. 

Yesterday, Gillespie got exactly the "response" that he demanded from a super-compliant MSBNC. There is no question whatsoever that the Bush administration, the McCain campaign, and the Right generally have recently made it a top priority to force MSNBC to remove Olbermann (and Chris Matthews) from playing a prominent role in its election coverage, and MSNBC has now complied with the Right's demands. Does it need to be explained why it is disturbing in the extreme that the White House and the McCain campaign can so transparently dictate MSNBC's programming choices?

Conservatives love to claim that MSNBC is now the liberal version of Fox News because they give one hour to a guy who doesn't like Bush, and, as of today, one hour to an actual liberal who is, by my count, the first unabashed liberal to host a cable news show since Phil Donohue was fired for not toeing the line on Iraq.  You can see what the righty idea of "balance" is.  Of course, the argument has always been disingenuous.  Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine because he knew what it would produce; a docile, corporate-owned press that's shifted hard rightward.  

Now, I don't support re-instituting the fairness doctrine, either.  I think we would be better off with a European newspaper model, where journalists are expected to be fair-minded but with an understood ideological partisanship.  This is heresy to most American journalists, who will undoubtedly bawl about hyper-factionalization of the pubilc, but it's hard to argue that Americans aren't tragically underinformed about global reality compared to the rest of the first world.  Rupert Murdoch has already brought the model here with his products, but Serious American journalists are squeamish about anyone who would dare challenge him.  

One of the immediately positive benefits of this system would be not having a political party able to say that it won't allow its vice-presidential candidate to be interviewed by journalists unless they are properly deferrential.  Of course, she would still make the rounds at Fox News, but the rest of the press could tell her to kindly piss off, and then she would look cowardly for not facing down a hostile interview.  Conservatives would still cry liberal bias because that's just a Pavlovian reflex for them, but no one would take it too seriously. Now that's, of course, not going to happen in the country we inhabit.  And we've also seen what happens when those European journalists think they can bring their act to America.  

Beyond that, network and cable shows routinely convene panels filled with right-wing views and devoid of anything remotely approaching liberalism, and that creates no controversy. Just this past weekend, I subjected myself while traveling to ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and the panel discussing Sarah Palin was composed of right-wing ideologue George Will, establishment-spokesperson Cokie Roberts, and reporter Sam Donaldson. That is typical for television panels: right-wing partisans such as Will are "balanced" not by any liberals but by allegedly "neutral journalists" such as Roberts or Donaldson. That's because the Right has created a reality where anyone who isn't explicitly Rush Limbaugh is deemed to be a "liberal" (hence, Donaldson likely qualifies) and no actual liberal ever needs to be included.

I suspect the corporate media has gone to the right much more happily than they would let on in public.  "We must appease the conservatives!" is just a cover for the rightward shift that has come with being more corporate-controlled and profit-oriented.  You can see it in these unbalanced panels, where in-house journalists are expected to be the counter to conservative pundits.  They'll willingly accept the righty accusation that their reporters represent "liberals" and don't need to be accentuated with someone of actual left-liberal persuasion because that also happens to be management's view.