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on July 1, 2003
This is a surprisingly candid appraisal of the media's move to the right (following the country's rightward movement). While it is partly a polemic, it is hardly a direct response to Bernard Goldberg's overstated book, "Bias." An iconoclast, Alterman hardly hews the party line for the liberals. It is a good read for both conservatives and liberals as long as one retains a good skeptical ear. I liked it very much.
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VINE VOICEon 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.
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No myth in American political life has a more successful and less founded life than what Eric Alterman calls the myth of the So-Call Liberal Media (SCLM). That myth is the subject of this exceptionally researched, well-documented, and articulately written book. Unfortunately--though I hope I am wrong--the myth is so well entrenched at this point that I fear that this book will not get nearly the attention that such wretchedly written screes as Ann Coulter's SLANDER (the most ironically titled book in publishing history, given its rampant disregard of facts) and Goldberg's BIAS (with his bizarre obsession with Dan Rather and scant concrete documentation).
Alterman examines charges of liberal bias in the media in two ways. First, he looks at charges of liberal bias in specific media. For instance, he examines television, print journalists, radio and the Internet, and contemporary intellectual life. In all these, with varying degrees, he finds instead of a liberal bias, a very strong conservative bias, especially in newspapers, radio, and television. He then goes on to examine charges of liberal bias in covering a variety of topics. He discusses charges of social and economic bias, before going go to analyze the media's coverage of the Clinton administration, the 2000 election, the Florida recount, and George W. Bush.
One of the more surprising things that Alterman shows is the fact that a large number of conservative members of the media understand that the myth of the liberal media is utterly false. He also shows many of the reasons the Right has been so successful in promulgating this myth. One reason is clearly the conservative tilt of many of the media moguls. The hyper conservative Rupert Murdoch, for instance, owns Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the New York Post, three bastions for an ultra right wing reporting of the news. Given the fact that reporting the news is big business, and big business is almost uniformly conservative, it is not surprising that almost all the broadcast media is not only not willing to report any story from a liberal perspective but also hesitant to run any story the least bit critical of the Right. This was the most depressing part of the book for me, because it engendered in me a fear that his is not a temporary, but a permanent situation. With the reporting of the news more and more in the hands of only a few news moguls, all of them conservative if not reactionary, will we ever see a time where a balanced perspective on current events is the norm?
My lone complaint with the book is his failure to provide an historical analysis of the claim of liberal bias. While I completely agree that any claim that the media today is biased towards the left laughably absurd, I would have liked some analysis of whether that was ever a credible charge. The stereotype is that the New York Times and Washington Post are heavily skewed towards a liberal perspective. With supposed liberals like the hawkish Thomas Friedman beating the war drums against Iraq, and the New York Times editorial pages filled with conservatives (the only person I see consistently writing from a liberal perspective there is Paul Krugman, although Maureen Dowd frequently writes from a liberal position), I am not sure how any reasonable person could continue to hold that position. But was it true in 1968? Was it ever true? I would have liked a bit more discussion of this aspect. Apart from that small cavil, this is an absolutely first rate book. Hopefully it will occasion some public outcry about the lack of balance in the media today.
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on February 7, 2003
This book is reasonable, well-presented and filled with detailed, footnoted facts that, together, demolish the myth of the liberal media. Alterman's takes on on the likes of Coulter, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Goldberg and the rest of the right-wing victim class are on target and devastating. Of course, since -- as laid out neatly by Alterman -- the media is deeply in the pockets of multi-national coporations to whom liberalism is anathema, expect this book to be attacked mercilessly. No matter -- the truth wins out. Required reading.
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VINE VOICEon May 12, 2003
This book is a MUST READ. It is a complete and very well documented refutation of one of the Big Lies the Conservatives repeat endlessly, namely that of the "Liberal Media." Granted, there exist a few liberal magazines, such as Mother Jones, The Nation, The Proressive, and Z, and a handful of liberal websites, such as and But against these, there are six TV networks and four radio networks, none of which dare to be left of center, and hundreds of newspapers, only a very small percentage of which ever stray left of center.

Alterman explains and documents the forces which prevent any significant degree of progressivism from appearing in the overwhelming majority of newspapers, magazines, and radio and television broadcasts. He finds only two liberal radio talk show hosts, both on one small station in California late at night and thru the wee hours of the morning. I remember three liberal talk show hosts in New York City, Fred Gale, Alex Bennett, and the gretest talk show host of all, Malachy McCourt, all of whom were forced off the air by a steady barrage of conservative complaints and threats to boycott advertisers. (Read more in Malachy's book Singing My Him Song)

Many conservative reviewers fault Alterman for using anecdotal evidence; they (perhaps intentionally) miss the point. Yes, he provides a leaven of anecdotal evidence, which he uses to illustrate points he has made and to make for easier reading; nothing but facts and analysis thereof can be terminally boring, and Alterman does not bore, nor should he!

I have just one small carp: the footnotes are all in a separate section at the end of the book, instead of at the bottom of each page where they belong. This imposes on the reader the infernal nuisance of keeping two places and continually flipping back and forth.

This book should be required reading, not only for all prospective journalists but for all citizens who need to know what is going on in the world so that they can vote intelligently.
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on February 11, 2003
This is a first-rate piece of work, clear, tough, self-aware and often brutally funny. It's also remarkably fair, praising journalists as well as criticizing them--even praising the rare non-liberal journalist, such as Michael Kinsley, who is able to think for himself. I cannot recommend it too highly. My only criticism is that the book is not good for one's blood pressure, and you will finish it hoping never to encounter certain public figures at parties or on the street for fear of what you might say or do to them.
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on June 23, 2003
Eric Alterman has written a well-researched and thought- provoking book about the current state of corporate owned media and its affect on contemporary political thinking. The basic idea of a liberal media is rather silly given that the news media are owned and operated by large corporations who are interested in ad revenue, not the viewers or readers of news. Ratings and ad share determine what is newsworthy and in this climate, that benefits right wing thinking. If Bernie Goldberg thinks there is a great bias toward a left leaning media, he should do the honor of actually having foot-notes back up his claim. If Ann Coulter is interested in proving this also, she should not lie in her foot-notes (the website has a great treatise of all her lies--do go there.) The right has become Mcarthy-like in its constant hammering on anything mildy left wing--that means ad reveune for Fox News, The NEw york Post, The American Spectator, etc. The right had done a great job convincing Americans that liberals are bad while taking all the middle classes' money. The more all the other networks and newpapers (what is left of them) need to move to the right ideologically, the more the progressive left gets demolished. The is not the way it is supposed to work. There used to be a notion that the ideas of the left and right would balance out in the mind of the reader, viewer and voter. When the media does the job of politico, democracy is in trouble. Alterman does a very good job exposing how the right has managed this impressive move (especially when he discusses the 2000 campaign and election. Also, he compares the amount of press Clinton got over whitewater with how little press Bush got with Harken oil)and he backs it all up with solid souces. I highly reccomend this book to all.
John Shields
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on May 29, 2003
Eric Alterman's well-researched and carefully nuanced work is a needed antidote to the emotional, factually-challenged books that carry names like Hannity, Coulter and Limbaugh.
Conservatives won't like the message -- that there is no pervasive "liberal bias" in the media -- but Alterman backs up every single claim he makes with facts and research, all meticulously documented in a lengthy section of end notes.
The facts won't matter to the right-wing faithful, and people who believe Ann Coulter clearly don't have terribly high standards of proof. But for anyone interested in a sober look at the press today, Alterman's book is a good place to start.
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on May 27, 2003
One of the silliest myths endlessly promulgated by the right wing is that the "mainstream media" (nowadays that means mostly TV and radio) has a liberal bias. This book blows that myth out of the water better than any other.
The ONLY clearly liberal program I find in the mainstream media is Bill Moyer's NOW once a week on PBS. Talk radio is clearly dominated by right wing extremists. TV news seems mostly interested in maintaining ratings and so broadcasts what they think will bring in the most viewers (e.g. programs on missing children).
Mainstream media in the U.S. is now, unfortunately, dominated by a few large corporations, and the situation is getting worse by the day. The people who run these corporations are not liberals. Indeed, some of them have a clearly right-wing agenda (e.g. Rupert Murdoch). The people who write stories for these corporations are not eager to offend their bosses.
The blame lies clearly with the public, as the book points out: "Because most members of the public know and care relatively little about government, they neither seek nor understand high-quality political reporting and analysis. With limited demand for first-rate journalism, most news organizations cannot afford to supply it, and because they do not supply it, most Americans have no practical source of the information necessary to become politically sophisticated. Yet it would take an informed and interested citizenry to create enough demand to support top-flight journalism...."
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on June 29, 2003
Talented political journalist Eric Alterman has undertaken a correction operation that has been badly needed for some time. He substitutes factual analysis for the shrill hyperbole and uncontrollable screed unleashed by Coulter. It should be noted that it was George W. Bush's cousin, John Ellis, who launched the wave of network projections toward his relative in the early morning following election day in November 2000. This gave Bush the presumed look of a winner, undermining any election challenge on the part of Vice-President Gore. This important fact, sadly, has been reported all too infrequently. Coulter laments that it has been mentioned at all, adding this to her foolish list of left wing media preferential treatment.
Alterman has plenty of ammunition, and it is appropriately aimed at Coulter along with Fox Television, which absurdly promotes the claim of objectivity. In addition to being owned by strongly rightward leaning Rupert Murdoch, Fox's news director is former Republican campaign point man for Nixon, Reagan and Bush I, Roger Ailes. Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly run an adjunct of the Bush Communications room which is every bit as partisan as that run by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. O'Reilly rules as sole arbiter of the truth. Confront him with a fact he cannot answer and you are promptly booted off the air, as evidenced by the treatment accorded articulate liberals such as Bob Fertik and Bill Hartung. Interestingly, both Fertik and Hartung have challenged O'Reilly to debate anywhere but his own program. There has been no response from O'Reilly, who, like Rush Limbaugh, pulls a fast plug when the going gets tough.
On the subject of Limbaugh, how much air time has he been provided to launch a never ending procession of half truths? His distortions have been productively exposed by Al Franken and others. Meanwhile he marches on and on, with nobody of a liberal stripe receiving that kind of air time to launch little more than vitriolic attacks. Is this an example of left wing media domination?
Alterman's point was amply proven in the recent Iraqi War, in which, on both CNN and Fox, the emphasis was shown on restoring order while failing to focus the deadly tragedies occurring amid much uncertainty regarding the future. The subject of civilian deaths and casualties was not addressed in the American media in the way that it was in Britain with the brilliant reportage on BBC, which informed Americans tuned to in order to find out what was really happening.
As Alterman concludes, the Coulter-Goldberg-O'Reilly-Hannity axis is no more than a phony ruse to con Americans into believing an absurdity while, at the same time, an effort to intimidate the media out of providing the kind of reporting that is sorely lacking, and which media forces fear will prompt a backlash of accusations claiming liberal media bias.
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