What Liberal Media:The Truth About Bias and the Media (Basic Books)

 by Eric Alterman 

The existence of a staunchly liberal American media is something most people in this country accept as undeniable truth. And this sentiment was never more systematically and successfully brought to the public than with the publication of Bernard Goldberg's now-infamous best-selling book, Bias. Somewhat in response to Goldberg's sweeping charges, Eric Alterman brings us What Liberal Media? Hoping to sway readers in another direction, he argues that the "so-called liberal media," or "SCLM," does not exist. In fact, he pushes even further, essentially calling the majority of mass-market media in the U.S. conservative. Strong words, one must admit. After reading the book, though, one must also admit that Alterman presents strong arguments to boot, and while Bias suffers from a lack of substantial evidence to back its claims (other than the preexisting stigma of media liberalism), What Liberal Media? is copiously noted, proving that Alterman has done his homework.

The basic framework of the book is built around the idea that, in today's media, a network, newspaper, magazine, or digital publication is only allowed to be as liberal as the corporation that owns it. Consequently, many of the interests of these corporations lie in the realm of the conservative. Alterman thus argues that most corporate, mass-market media are controlled by conservative elements. He gives the excellent example of television networks controlled by AOL/TimeWarner: their full ownership of HBO, Cinemax, and the WB, as well as partial ownership of Comedy Central, BET, Court TV, HSN, TBS, CNN (and all of its affiliates), TNT, WTBS, and the Cartoon Network. To think that these stations all, in essence, have the same agenda and can cover (read: distort or highlight) any issue they choose is staggering at the least. Alterman then accuses these same major media sources of overcompensating for a bias that doesn't exist, many independent or liberal-minded programs and publications even consciously attempting to muffle their own tendencies to sate America's fear of the SCLM.

While most of Alterman's accusations more than hold water when compared to his conservative counterpart, he also makes some of the same mistakes. For instance, the most glaring flaw in the book is Alterman's own liberal bias, which, while fully admitted by the author, accounts for many low-blow anticonservative statements. While discussing George W. Bush's desire to emulate Ronald Reagan, he writes, "The rose-colored nostalgia for a president who could not recognize his own son at his high school graduation set a bar for Bush that would have been difficult for him to miss if he had been genuinely retarded." This statement, independent of a reader's opinions of Reagan or Bush, is both too reductive and too personal to be effective. In another instance, referencing a large federal budget misquote by Fox's Sean Hannity, he quips, "But what's a 1,000 percent error between conservatives?" Obviously, it's not Alterman's mission to rise above.

Regardless of political position, What Liberal Media? offers a forceful argument, especially in these unfortunate times. But be wary of Alterman's own bias, which is evident throughout his book. Not only does it substantially weaken his otherwise strong evidence, it also might aid the proliferation of that same theory he seeks to debunk.

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