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Was I or some mysterious force on my behalf “working the ref,” as Alterman quotes a GOP operative of admitting he does, the idea being to “cow” the liberal media into not being so liberal? Of course not, but note how the premise of this notion accepts a dominantly liberal media.
The story line was not hard to discern. I was the influential editorialist from Southern California’s most notoriously conservative county. If I expressed opposition to the Republican president — importantly, I wrote a fortnight before the national convention — then the president was in trouble, as indeed he was. He needed California, which meant he depended on the electoral heft of Orange County. The next day Al Gore swept into town, announcing he wanted to visit the place where that marvelous editorial was published, never mind that the editorial heaped special scorn on the Clinton/Gore ticket.
So, sure, conservatives have enjoyed success by clobbering the media, or by using the media as they used them, but Alterman doesn’t begin to grasp why. They’ve enjoyed success as ju-jitsu masters: by using the dominant media culture’s left-of-center weight against itself. Hilariously, Alterman, media critic for the loony left magazine, The Nation, spends much of the rest of his text arguing that the media aren’t truly liberal because they don’t buy into his own extreme form of liberalism.
JUST WHO IS ERIC Alterman, anyway? Apart from his gig at The Nation, he is the author of an insignificant biography of Bruce Springsteen as well as a tirade against the punditocracy, in which he tries out his thesis that the conservative cast of the nation’s op-ed pages disproves the notion the mainstream media tilt left. He is, or was, a friend of George Stephanopoulos, whose coattails didn’t seem to lift him to more prominence. He’s shown up as a talking head occasionally, but his tic of smacking his lips while interrupting seems to have won him few return invitations.
Oh well, at least he’s smarter than Michael Moore.
He once contributed a column to Worth magazine, but now rails against business journalists in general. He associates business journalists with the political right, which careful observers know to be preposterous. They gave too much of a pass to Enron, he complains (not without some merit), and they slept as the Internet “bubble” grew huge in front of their faces (again, not entirely wrong). But he himself gets two things whoppingly wrong.
First, the problem of moral hazard, a product of regulation, eludes him. Enron, he believes, along with, say, the reportorial staff of the Los Angeles Times, gave us the California energy crisis. His mind, along with, say, the reportorial staff of the Los Angeles Times, is so uncomplicated that the connection between California’s merely partial deregulation and a consequent distortion of incentives can’t be seen. “Deregulation” did it to us, he and, say, the reportorial staff of the Los Angeles Times believe.
But Alterman’s syllogism would, one presumes, place the reportorial staff of the Los Angeles Times within the dominant media. Therefore, said reportorial staff, were it not tilting to the left, would regularly and accurately blame a legislative “deregulatory” half-measure, rather than “deregulation,” for the state’s energy woes. In fact, the opposite is true.
Secondly, though he’s right that the Internet “bubble” did burst, he uses that as a synecdoche for what he believes was the evaporation of the “new economy.” Too many business journalists did kneel before this Internet-supported monster, which traded in information. But, sorry, Eric, the “new economy” — though there ought to be a better name for it — keeps on chooglin’; the burst bubble didn’t obliterate it. The hyped companies, those without real value, were shaken out, leaving the best ones to keep building. That likely will remain beyond Alterman’s ken even as his own punditocratic efforts grow even more integrated with the information economy. It’s no accident he now writes an online “blog” for MSNBC.com.
Alterman never really worked on a newspaper, if you trust his dust-jacket bio. It shows. Of course, he lectures reporters on proper journalistic procedure, even though he commits mistake after factual mistake. (We’ll pass over the multiple spelling and grammatical errors; how far Basic Books has fallen!) He seems to think, for example, that Irving Kristol and William Simon created the American Enterprise Institute in the 1980s in order to turn the media conservative. He seems to think, verging on conspiracy theory, that they succeeded.
He also betrays an ignorance of newspaper organizational structure, keeping alive the leftist notion that a concentration of corporate ownership denies diversity of thought and keeps the major newspapers rightwing. I wonder if he’s set foot in a newsroom. In most of America’s newsrooms, “diversity” and “civic journalism” — the idea that reporters and editors set the agenda for community life — reign supreme. Like college presidents who abdicate to their faculty senates, publishers have long since abdicated to their editors, most of whom are drearily left of center.
As I write, Editor & Publisher magazine, the “bible” of the industry, reports its survey that two-thirds of the nation’s newspapers oppose President Bush on Iraq. Now, there’s an inconvenient fact for Alterman’s thesis.
Weirdly, Alterman actually refutes his own thesis. On page 107, he writes: “From my own perspective as an urban, East Coast liberal who is surrounded by others who hold views not unlike my own, I am certainly prepared to believe that members of the elite media transmit liberal views in the guise of objective reporting on occasion.” He goes on to explain that these attitudes are shaped, not by a political agenda, but by the social class in which journalists find themselves — a class that, you guessed it, happens to be liberal.
This is a new argument, made again recently by the New York Times’s newest op-ed writer, Nicholas Kristoff, who (a) discounted charges of liberal media bias while (b) explaining away the sneering attitude journalists take toward evangelical Christians, an attitude he rues, as a trope of the more educated class of which journalists are a part. In other words, “We’re not biased … but our biases are shaped by our class.”
Did anyone ever explain to these guys that social determinism tends to be an idea of the Left?
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?