The Media’s Real Problem: Media Critics!

ANew Republic editorial (3/4/09)about the decline of the mainstream media points a finger squarely at media critics:

The master narratives of both the right and the left have come to include the same villain: the hypocritical, biased elite media. And their combined grouching has helped foment the anti-media backlash.

Both sides do it–now there’s a new one. The magazine uses Bernie Goldberg’s skimpy(and error-filled)book Bias as an example of right-wing media criticism, then moves on to the left:

A mirror version of this critique emerged on the left. In this telling, it was the timid, lazy press corps that failed to rigorously challenge the president’s core (mendacious) claims about his tax cuts and rationale for heading to war. Very valid criticisms. But these specific objections morphed into populist broadsides against what the left came to describe as “the mainstream media”–avatars of establishmentarian groupthink who bend to the latest conventional wisdom emerging from D.C. cocktail parties and neurotically fret that they might be just as biased as their conservative critics allege.

It’s hard to know what to say about this, but let’s try to find our way through the thicket. Left critics accuse the media of failing to challenge the Bush White House on the Iraq war and tax cuts. That’s not the problem, even for the New Republic–those were “valid criticisms.”

No, the problem is that this valid criticism has somehow “morphed into populist broadsides”against the media (which somehow the left recently took to calling “the mainstream media,” in quotes because there’s something suspicious about the name). If that’s not bad enough, the pressis routinely criticized forbeing “avatars of establishmentarian groupthink who bend to the latest conventional wisdom emerging from D.C. cocktail parties.”

It’s hard to see how this caricature of left press criticism is any different from the “valid” criticism of the Bush White House–in fact, it’s mostly the same thing. Corporate media rely on Beltway insiders to dispense Beltway conventional wisdom. The sales job on the Iraq War was an example of that, not an exception (though it may have been a rather extreme example).

The New Republic warns that this kind of anti-media rhetoric

creates a poisonous atmosphere. By assaulting the credibility of the press, it destroys its authority in the culture, giving cover to politicians who would rather avoid dealing with reporters in the first place.

If you believe that an overreliance on government spokespersons and official sources is part of the problem, then it’s hard to lose much sleep worrying about politicians who will “avoid dealing” with the press. As for destroying media’s “authority in the culture”– well, one can only hope.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.