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It depends on what is "liberal"
on September 19, 2003
Instead of taking on the conservative critics directly, Alterman's book instead asks us to reconsider who and what we consider liberal. He does a fine job making his own case, but he seems to approach the material from a different set of premises than those who decry the bias. Alterman lists the areas of the media like talk radio that are dominated by conservatives. He then names all the famous conservative pundits on political shows. He also examines the number of conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation.
He doesn't refute or even examine the conservative point that talk radio thrives simply because conservative ideas weren't getting play anywhere else. Alterman is also troubled that more TV pundits are conservative, and though I can name more conservative pundits too, Alterman goes further. He also lists Democratic pundits like Morton Kondracke and Christopher Mathews as conservatives. Cokie Roberts, the daughter of a Democratic House member, is a conservative. He even suggests that David Broder is a conservative.
He quotes Broder quite thoroughly praising Reagan's approach while criticizing Clinton's. What he doesn't address is Broder's almost religious faith in the Federal Government and politicians to solve people's problems. I remember reading Broder's criticism of term limits. Broder couldn't imagine how anything would get done in Washington without a permanent political class to run things.
But Broder criticized Clinton for his methods and that makes Broder conservative. He doesn't imagine that liberals like Broder were frustrated that an engaging President missed an opportunity to promote liberalism, because of his own character flaws. It's the same reason Broder might like Reagan's style, wishing a liberal could turn up with such good political instincts. Never once does Alterman quote Broder's praise of Reagan's tax cut or military buildup. He only shows Broder praising the politician.
When it comes to economics, Alterman uses NAFTA as an example of how big media is economically conservative, but to attack NAFTA would have put the media to the left of Bill Clinton. What Alterman doesn't mention is that the media constantly derides supply side economics. The fact that every major news anchor and player in the media speaks of tax cuts in terms of what they cost is a great example of liberal bias. Ignoring that tax cuts spur growth and create a larger amount of revenue never gets any play either among the big fish. Not once after Reagan's tax cut in the 1980s did the government take in less tax revenue than the year prior. How often is that reported? The idea that taxes are actually the citizen's money is never explored on the big three networks either.
The argument that these big corporations are controlling the mouths of the media is mentioned, but no where demonstrated in the book. Brent Bozell's Cyber Alert newsletter is packed everyday with 4-6 examples of Major Media hosts taking the liberal line and Alterman doesn't once address Jennings, Rather and Brokaw, Couric, or Gumbel. To him, the media is George Will's 15 minutes at the end of the George Stephonopolis show.
He explores the Heritage Foundation and Talk Radio, but it would seem obvious to me that these entities exist and thrive because they are a counter to the everyday media as we know it. Would there be any reason to listen to Sean Hannity if Peter Jennings were saying the same things? Would we need a Heritage Foundation if the New York Times were espousing personal liberty over equality? Would we need George Will if George Stephanopolis hadn't spent his career working for Democrats? Regardless of the number of well-known conservative pundits, it must be apparent that they are labeled conservative because their presence is to counter the opinions coming from the "mainstream" person.
Is the New York Time liberal to Alterman? No. The NATION magazine alone is liberal in America, Alterman concludes. That's like saying the John Birch magazine, THE NEW AMERICAN is the only conservative voice in America.
His justification is that the whole continent of Europe is to the left of America and plenty of liberal magazines like the NATION thrive there. I would say that neither the NATION nor most of Europe is liberal. They are socialists, just like the NEW AMERICAN people are isolationists. Both magazines are fringe elements that are ignored and not influential among policy makers. If you spent a day reading both magazines, you wouldn't be surprised at how much they are opposed diametrically, but it might surprise you to find them in total agreement on trade issues and the like. They complete the circle, if you will, by being on the fringe.
How many Democratic Party positions can you name that aren't supported by the mainstream press? I have trouble naming any. Alterman makes a good case that the media isn't totally socialist, but his refusal to engage the specific criticisms that come from conservatives must mean that he has yielded those points. If you believe the Democratic Party is conservative, then Alterman's thesis is correct.
Alterman has laid out a good foundation that the media isn't liberal enough and I never tired of his examples and excellent writing, but until he spends some time answering Brent Bozell and conservative critics directly, he hasn't made the strongest case for his side.