A couple of weeks ago, I did a Wall Street Journal Radio interview about our new smartphone app, Progressive Voices. I explained the importance of a progressive media aggregator that puts written, aural and video content in one place online, since the right wing media outlets like Fox News Channel and Talk Radio dominate their platforms. This isn’t a treatise about their fantasy of an overwhelmingly liberal media. I think the concept has been fairly thoroughly debunked everywhere from a simple format analysis of broadcast outlets, to the rigorous academic work presented by Eric Alterman in his 2004 book, “What Liberal Media?” Still, the masters of the Right Wing media machine, led by Fox News Chairman, Roger Ailes, have done, and continue to do, a great propaganda job on the subject. They want our pity. They want us to know that they, the majority, Christian, white, wealthy males who run the media establishment, are victims of terrible media bias. (Victims? Seriously?!) But they have good messaging, consistency, and incredibly good message-discipline, so their complaint isn’t ever far from their lips, and it is always uttered in the same precise way because they understand the human brain. repetition equals credibility.
An early question was, why does the world need another politically ideological media silo? Isn’t it just that kind of divisiveness that sets us against one another? I’ve gotten this question a lot since we started Air America Radio in 2004.
First, as always, I said that I wish it weren’t necessary, but it is. We cannot let lies told so convincingly, and told so often across so many platforms, to so many people, go unchallenged.
Second, in today’s post-mass media world, there are no more hit records we can all sing; no more hit TV shows we all watch; and, no more news broadcasts we all see. For better and worse, public opinion is no longer shaped by a shared media experience. There’s no Walter Cronkite reaching tens of millions of Americans every night. Now there are many outlets on many platforms and the Right has a lock on the two biggest.
There are great journalists working at the broadcast television networks, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the New York Times, The Atlantic, and many more newspapers and magazines. These journalists are truth seekers and are not attached to the outcome of their work. If one reads a few different papers every day, hears credible news radio, and watches a little national broadcast network news (don’t get me started on the culture of chalk outlines and house fires on local TV news), one can get a fair view of the happenings in our world. But, the reality is most people haven’t got the time or inclination to sample a number of sources. They find a comfort zone; a place that reinforces their world view, and that’s all they watch. People tend to cocoon in a comfortable media silo.
As a result, there isn’t much unbiased journalism consumed by average Americans. Certainly, there is more opinion masquerading as fact in the 24/7 cable “news” world than is good for our culture. It’s really profitable (Fox News Channel will throw off north of $800 million this year–that’s a fifth of parent News Corp’s profit), and it drives a political agenda. Money and power are not strangers. They usually appear together, like peanut butter and jelly, or Penn and Teller.
And the folks who work for Fox news, as well as the big radio talkers, have so cowed the mainstream (“lamestream,” thanks, Sarah) media that they have lost a lot of the courage that made them great, once upon a time. “False equivalence” is a term we hear more and more. It refers to the cowardly way many news organizations now reduce their exposure to criticism from Fox and Limbaugh. When reporting on the Holocaust, why is it necessary to give a Holocaust denier equal time and status? It’s a false equivalence and you will not find it in any journalism textbooks. It is pure CYA. Despite objective economic studies to the contrary, polls show Americans think the 2009 stimulus didn’t work, thanks largely to Conservative Talk Radio and Fox News. We might hope that the mainstream media would fill the breach and effectively tell the real story, but because they’re intimidated by the right, they give a U. S. Chamber of Commerce propagandist a chance to obscure the truth with unchallenged lies and suppositions. Ah, mainstreamers, we liked it better when you were all about telling the truth, not providing a platform for prevarication.
Rachel Maddow and Frank Rich (and I) will tell you that we think the Left tries to tell the truth more than it tries to shave, shape and persuade. We try not to game the system or use tricks to fool or persuade. Meanwhile, the Right is conniving. It has slogans intended to re-chalk the field: “Fair and Balanced” is a masterpiece of cynical marketing. It was originated to reposition a nonpartisan journalistic entity, CNN, as left wing, thereby conferring centrist status on Fox. “We report, you decide” is a subtle enlistment of the viewer. It says. “We’re not trying to persuade, we’re just presenting facts and letting you arrive at the truth.” It’s marketing gone mad. You have to tip your hat to that kind of demonic brilliance.
If you have only one news source, you are likely under-informed, misinformed, or uninformed. If it’s Fox News, you’re all three.
Recently, on Neal Boortz’s syndicated radio show I learned that there have been race riots and black on white wilding in Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and Chicago that the mainstream media refuses to cover (the story was on ABC World News Tonight the next evening). After detailing how black flash mobs had accosted only whites in those three cities, Mr. Boortz went on to helpfully explain that it is happening because Barack Obama constantly fans the flames of class warfare. Then, Mr. Boortz went on to explain, (again, so helpful), that the president has purposely killed the economy so he can more effectively redistribute the wealth (what?!?). The only media outlets I could find that support Mr. Boortz’s theory are StormFront, a neo-Nazi site, and TheBlaze, Glenn Beck’s oracle of truth and rational thought.
So, I answer the question by saying that in this climate, even though it runs the risk of further division, there has to be a Progressive Media Universe to balance what Progressive Talk Radio host Stephanie Miller so aptly calls “Right Wing World.” They own the television and the radio. We can’t let them own the emerging Mobile Internet too.