Liberal? Media?

by John Chuckman

One the silliest expressions used in America is “liberal media.” The word “liberal” itself has been so abused and twisted in the last few decades, you’d think the Ministry of Truth had decreed its meaning must be changed. “Liberal” has become a contemptuous epithet for opposition to economic liberty, Constitutional principles, and even religious expression.

This is a parody of the word. “Liberal” has to do with open-mindedness, dedication to principles of intellectual liberty, and a strong regard for human rights. Over the last two and a half centuries, expanding the franchise, achieving religious liberty, defending human rights, and concern for the environment were all liberal causes. Not a bad record, that.

How was this fine word reduced to shabbiness? The answer is through endless repetition of the parody in magazines, newspapers, and on television. That’s not exactly prima facie evidence for liberal bias in the media.

Nothing has changed to erode the truth of that wonderful remark about freedom of the press existing for those who own one. In fact, with massively increased concentration in the ownership of American corporations, including the news business, the remark is more pertinent than ever.

Just reeling off the names of some major owners of America’s press and broadcasting tells a story. Rupert Murdoch (Australian billionaire newspaper magnate), Disney Corporation, Dow-Jones, Tribune Corporation, Knight-Ridder, Hearst Corporation, and General Electric. In what possible sense are any of these liberal?

Even the New York Times, often regarded as the liberal paper in America, a paper whose very name causes sagebrush politicians to curl their lips in contempt, is actually a very cautious one, as befits the flagship publication of a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

The Times always defends the establishment. It becomes positively hot and bothered about supporting often-abusive institutions like the FBI over the rights of individuals, as in its hideous, long-term attack on Wen Ho Lee.

Where’s the liberal bias? In pompous editorials that read like press releases for the American Imperium? In a slick magazine whose mostly-vapid stories float in a thick ooze of advertising for expensive clothes, perfumes, and furniture? In a letters column whose writers often use two lines to give their titles? Try finding a tough op-ed piece in the New York Times. They’re as common as farts in a church service.

Ah, there’s public broadcasting, isn’t there? But America’s public broadcasting is the most sanitized, politically correct that I’m aware of. Public television is hopelessly fluffy, featuring gorilla pictures narrated by authorities like Martin Sheen and puff-piece investigative reports.

Its evening news specializes in pseudo-debate, invariably with dependents of the two parties exchanging slogans. The program focuses on Beltway babble rather than investigation. Holders of think-tank sinecures are regular seat-fillers. American public radio, which does a better job than television, still lacks breadth of view, lacks bite, and, for the most part, contains precious little not found in mainstream media.

America’s public-broadcast officials collapsed in a heap when Newt Gingrich and his band of Texas Visagoths attacked them about running a sandbox for yuppies, and they haven’t recovered yet. Public broadcasting has lost much of its government financing over the years, and it lives under constant threat of losing more. After all, the party in power doesn’t even pay its UN dues. What’s support for public broadcasting compared to international-treaty obligations?

“Is Dan Rather a Republican? Peter Jennings? Tom Brokaw?” ask readers who think they have a definitive point, but the point they make is quite different to the one they think they’re making.

Who cares what these gentlemen are as long as they do their jobs? What is it about the right-wing (“conservative” is really too gentle a word) that insists on knowing the details of one’s political ties and bedroom habits? Isn’t this a little like what you would expect in the old Soviet Union? And who has more influence on the overall character of a news organization, a paid news reader or the guys paying the bills? Anyone with a very good job doesn’t have to be told not to seriously irritate the boss.

Reflect on events over some decades and ask yourself about the American press’s “liberal” role in them. Did the press ever tell us what happened in the Gulf War? Has it given us much more than Pentagon press releases on Afghanistan? Does the gloss on the Middle East ever go beyond what you’d expect from the State Department?

Did the press ever reveal to the American people what a manipulative monster J. Edgar Hoover was? Did the press tell people, while he was destroying people’s lives, that Joe McCarthy was a desperate drunk trying to revive a failing political career? Such questions are endless, and the answer to virtually all of them is “no.”

John Chuckman lives in Ontario on the shores of Lake Erie. He is a columnist for YellowTimes. Chuckman encourages your comments: jchuckman@YellowTimes.ORG.

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