October 21, 2007

News Journal writer falls prey to Media Matters

In his "Community View" column today, Phillip Bannowsky laments the dearth of "left" reporting in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, Phil falls for a Media Matters.org study which claims that conservative commentators far outnumber liberals in America's newspaper op-ed pages. If (and it's a big "if") the report is accurate, I'd say "So?" Having more conservative op-ed articles in newspaper "opinion" sections only serves to offset the overall editorial stance of a substantial majority of the country's newspapers, not to mention how these papers choose to cover supposedly "objective" news stories. The Los Angeles Times agrees with me on this, too:

An abundance of conservative op-ed columnists doesn’t mean (except at The Wall Street Journal) that the editorial policy of the newspaper leans right. Indeed, some newspapers use syndicated op-ed columns as counter-programming for their own opinions.

That would certainly be the case with our own Wilmington News Journal, now wouldn't it? Nevertheless, I, and many others at other sites, have written about the numerous studies (this is just one, mind you) and opinion polls which demonstrably prove that the US media as a whole leans left.

Regarding the specifics of the Media Matters study, Bill Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes (my emphasis):

Paul Waldman, the author of the study, said Media Matters tried to make as few subjective judgments as possible. He admitted the study wasn't as definitive or nuanced as he would have liked. The major columnists were put in one of three boxes based on the conventional wisdom (Maureen Dowd is a progressive, etc.) or by how they were labeled either by themselves or their syndicates.

Not surprisingly, the "centrist" category brought a few complaints, Waldman said. "We got e-mails today from people who said, 'How can you say that David Broder is a centrist when he's really a conservative?' Then someone else wrote in and said, 'How can you say that he's a centrist when he's really a liberal?'"

Ultimately, Media Matters failed in its quest to prove there is a conservative bias on the nation's op-ed pages. Its relative conservative/progressive rankings are fatally skewed, mainly because from its perch on the far-left end of the political spectrum, the group sees -- and classified -- East Coast liberals like Friedman, Broder and Cokie Roberts as "centrists," not progressives.

Meanwhile, Media Matters lumped all varieties of conservatives together -- as if there's no difference between New York Times house neocon David Brooks, paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan and free-marketeer Thomas Sowell. Plus, Walter Williams, Steve Chapman and John Stossel aren't conservatives at all; they are libertarians.

Media Matters' conclusion is further undermined by its emphasis on the number of papers a columnist appears in, not a paper's quality or clout. How many small-town papers does it take to equal one New York Times column that will be read by the East Coast political and media elites?

And, by the way, eight of the Top 10 columnists by average circulation are progressives like Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne.

As if by example, a local South Dakota paper cited in the study had a major hassle with how Media Matters rated its national op-ed coverage.

For me, the big predicament that Bannowsky has is that he fails to distinguish between radical and mere left. That's his complaint, mind you -- that there are too few radical voices available in the MSM. He asks,

Where are Manning Marable, Bill Fletcher, Naomi Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Scheer, Dahr Jamail, or Robert Fisk? Where's Noam Chomsky, the most famous American intellectual in the world? Where are they even heard of, except in the dismissals of the liberals and the curses of the right?

(I'll leave aside the needed comment on Noam Chomsky as the "most famous American intellectual in the world.") Ironically, that right-leaning South Dakota paper noted above carries Robert Scheer, but tellingly notes that its readership frequently questions "the man's sanity." This is what you'd expect from a[n] [American] public that is largely centrist reading a column by far-left radical. But you'd expect the same from someone reading a column from a far-right reactionary. And that's just it -- Americans disdain extremes on both sides. That's why these "voices" are relatively "hard to find," so to speak, in the MSM. But even as Bannowsky criticizes the lack of radical voices in the media, he at the same time points out that these same voices are indeed readily accessible:

Maybe the mainstream media just doesn't know about the real lefties, but their fellow citizens deserve to hear them.

Then:

The left is accessible on-line. Democracynow.org features Amy Goodman's War and Peace Report. Common dreams.org, Alternet.org, and Blackcommentator.com provide reporters and analysts from liberal reformers to radical socialists.

Hmm.

At any rate, radical voices like those that Bannowsky mentions (The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel and Amy Goodman) not to mention others like Eric Alterman and Paul Krugman are quite often featured on "mainstream" talking-head pundit shows.

Admittedly, if I were a radical like Bannowsky, I might feel the same as he. But in this Internet Age, I think it's a tad incongruous to deplore the quantity of radical [political] voices since now anyone with a modem (and that's one big majority of Americans -- over 75% have access to the WWW and 40% have broadband) can find 'em. His protest would have more merit if it was made a mere 7-10 years ago when the Internet was still proliferating (and dial-up modems were still the norm!). Again, and ironically, it's a similar argument that was made by rightists, but the same riposte applies.

Posted by Hube at October 21, 2007 10:59 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Alas Chomsky might be the most famous American intellectual. In the circles he runs in anti-Americanism is chic. And he's the chic-est of the chic.

Posted by: soccer dad at October 22, 2007 11:39 AM

>> How many small-town papers does it take to equal one New York Times column that will be read by the East Coast political and media elites?

Woukld you believe....one?

Is there anything here that indicates the number is other than one?

And then how did they decide what papers to select? Did they perhaps add and subtract papers to help get the answer more in the direction they wanted?

Posted by: Sammy Finkelman at October 25, 2007 02:55 PM