One of the strongest proofs of the media's liberal bias is that liberal journalists deny its existence. This denial appears most prominently in newspapers crammed with liberal opinion. "The Media Bias Myth," read a near-banner headline in the Opinion Section of the Los Angeles Times on December 22.
Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, writes that liberal media bias is a myth, then proceeds to uncork one of his own: that the media are "downright conservative," and that the conglomerates which "own most of the news media are promoting their own interests, and those interests tend to be conservative."
A media that is not 100% liberal clearly tilts too far to the right for leftists. What Gabler and others are doing is clear enough: to maintain total control over the media, they must exaggerate the conservative representation in it, and hope that by doing so they provoke a backlash that will silence those few conservative voices.
Of course, it is too indecorous to state this intention nakedly. So the counterattack on conservatives is couched in the language of "objectivity." Conservatives aren't "journalists," because they don't adhere to the craft's "rules and standards." Never mind that there are no rules and standards, save one -- tell the truth -- which liberal journalists, trained at establishment journalism schools, have dishonored for decades.
"Objectivity" just means reporting from a liberal perspective. An increase of conservatives in the media, even a mild increase, is therefore seen by liberals as a diminution of the media's "objectivity."
The Los Angeles Times doesn't have a single conservative columnist. But it still views the presence of conservative outlets, which you can count on one hand, as a threat to the media's balance. Gabler fears for the very soul of journalism: "During the Progressive era, middle-class reformers aimed to bring rationality and high purpose to American life. One of their central tenets was the idea of professionalization, and the press was no exception…From now on, reporters were to present the news, not plead a case."
This august tradition -- which amounts to liberals pleading a case by pretending to present the news -- is at stake, according to Gabler, because of conservative "advocacy" which baits impartial journalists into defending themselves through advocacy of their own. "It is hard to beat zealots when they are fighting with swords and you are fighting with ploughshares," he says. He sees the New York Times's tendentious news coverage as a form of self-defense: "Already, the New York Times seems to be indulging in more open partisanship with its crusade against the exclusion of women members at Augusta National Golf Club. And recent news reports on U.S. war plans against Iraq seem designed to discourage action there. While no one should be writing an epitaph for the ideal of objectivity, developments like these suggest that it is beleaguered."
What's so frightful about conservative advocacy, according to Gabler, is that "conservative advocates aren't interested in coexistence." And they are dangerously popular: "conservatism is much more lively than liberalism and that much more entertaining. Also, conservatives are more ideologically unified than liberals and thus enjoy listening to their ideas being reinforced." This juggernaut could topple the pillars of disinterested journalism, as advocacy "has all the advantages and objectivity little defense against it, especially since nothing would satisfy the right-wing advocates short of abject surrender."
Though Gabler appears as a panelist on "Fox News Watch," Fox's motto, "Fair and Balanced," is "just as disingenuous as it sounds," he says. Brit Hume "can barely conceal his agony when he has to report a criticism of President Bush." "For these guys, Bill Clinton and Tom Daschle, not Osama bin Laden and his ilk, are the real threats to America."
An outrageous statement like that renders Gabler's credibility as an exponent of "objectivity" nil. But his tune is one the establishment media desperately need to hear. Their liberal grip on news dissemination and analysis is slipping fast. In order to recover it, they must distort and propagandize, in short display all the traits they find so troubling in conservative advocates.
What Gabler calls "Advocacy vs. Objectivity" is simply advocacy vs. advocacy. He worries about a return to the bad old days of William Randolph Hearst, preferring instead the bad old days of Walter Cronkite. The press is losing its objectivity under conservative pressure? No, it is just losing some of its sanctimonious dishonesty.