The Powerful Powerlessness Of The Liberal Media

Mark Halperin is a political analyst for Time Magazine and runs The Page,” a political website, for Prior to that he was the political director for ABC News for ten years. It’s important to know this about him when considering what he said at a conference on the recently concluded election this past week at USC. He was expressing his opinion on the performance of the media during the campaign:

“It’s the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war. It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.”

You can’t get more mainstream than Mark Halperin. Yet this exemplar of institutional media is taking his colleagues to task for failing to adhere to standards of objectivity that presumably he employs. So you have to wonder why Halperin didn’t bother to sound the bias alarm until two and a half weeks after election day. If he noticed what he now calls a “disgusting failure” in campaign coverage, why didn’t he bring it up when something could have been done about it? For that matter, why didn’t he bring up the failures with regard to Iraq before this? Seeing as he had a prominent platform in both publishing and broadcasting, but was absent with regard to these issues, what does it say about his credibility?

You also have to wonder how Halperin ranks failures with respect to their disgustingness. Does he really think that a candidate bias is equivalent to the utter professional neglect that the media exhibited while cheerleading for the war in Iraq? Even if there were a slanting of political preference, does that compare to inventing mortal enemies and printing lies about their imminent threat? Does he rate the consequences equally now that 4,000 plus Americans have been killed and perhaps more than a million Iraqis; now that we know the truth about WMDs and our leaders dishonesty; and now that our nation is approaching bankruptcy having spent $2 billion a month in Iraq for five years?

It strains the imagination to explain how he could place those two events in the same sentence. But what makes it even worse is that he doesn’t bother to offer proof of his contention that the media was pro-Obama. He seems to be jumping on the right-wing, Republican bandwagon that is flailing around to manufacture excuses for why they lost. It certainly couldn’t be because the people preferred the Democrat. Much of the noise about an alleged bias for Obama actually amounts to a realistic appraisal of events. Every report of McCain’s more frequent use of negative ads, a fact documented by independent studies, is regarded by conservatives as anti-McCain. Likewise, every report of Obama leading in the polls, which was the case for most of the last six weeks of the campaign, is regarded by the same right-wingers as pro-Obama. Under these circumstances, the only way to be considered neutral would be to distort the truth.

There is a rather duplicitous argument circulating that there is no way voters would have been stupid enough to have chosen Barack Obama were they not mislead by the media. However, that argument still implies that voters were stupid for having been mislead. So no matter how you look at it, the right believes that the voters are stupid.

The stupidity is compounded by the assertion that the people have fallen under the sway of an omnipotent press that is dominated by liberals. Everyone from Rush Limbaugh to William Krystal complain that Obama was given a free ride. They must think that there was never any negative coverage of him. They must have never heard of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or the “fact” that Obama was a Muslim, or how he “refused” to wear an American flag lapel pin, or that he was a Socialist, or an elitist, or that he palled around with terrorists. There must not have been any reports of how women would not support him, or Latinos, or Jews, or hard-working whites, or people who cling to guns and religion. The press must have buried news that Obama was the most liberal senator with a long record of far-left extremism, but was also inexperienced with no record of public service.

What it really comes down to, from the rightists perspective, is that the so-called liberal media has manipulated the people, who are so subjugated to its authority. This view requires acceptance as fact that the media has an unfettered ability to control the thoughts of its audience. Actually, I believe there is some degree of truth to that. The problem is that, in a feat of championship self-contradiction, the people making the complaint don’t believe it. In fact, they argue that the media has lost its influence due to its lack of balance. There is some degree of truth to that as well, but not what is proposed by conservatives. A study by the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School shows that 62% of those surveyed are distrustful of campaign media coverage. That will certainly have an impact on the media’s influence and business status. Conservatives say that the presence of liberal bias is the principle reason that business is slumping and that people have stopped watching and reading. Rupert Murdoch calls it “a culture of ‘complacency and condescension.'”

“The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly–and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted. The condescension that many show their readers is an even bigger problem. It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product.”

In other words, give the people what they want, not what represents reality. And in Murdoch’s world, the people want non-stop bashing of liberals and promotion of free-market, evangelical conservatism (along with Page 3 soft-porn and Page 6 gossip). Unfortunately for him, his theory falls apart when you note that his company, a condescending monopoly if there ever was one, has lost 67% of it value in the past year. It would be difficult to blame that on the liberal bias of Fox News and the New York Post.

Bottom line: According to conservatives, the all-powerful liberal media is directing the votes of a pliable electorate. And they are doing this despite the fact that voters don’t trust the media and are tuning them out. So somehow the media is able to sway public opinion even when the public has stopped listening to the media. That’s a neat trick. It’s also a failure of logic on the part of rightists who are desperately searching for an explanation for their loss that doesn’t include the phrase, “We suck!”