Yesterday's Tomorrows

A cartoon history of two decades of media criticism

So, happy 20th birthday to FAIR. Time really flies when you’re trying to counter an inexhaustible onslaught of lies and distortions, doesn’t it?

Because that’s essentially what FAIR does: They try to set the record straight. Which sounds really simple in theory, but how do you even begin to have the most basic conversation about corporate media bias when a substantial number of Americans believe the media are controlled by a far-left conspiracy funded by George Soros, whose only objective is to destroy our very way of life? Why do you all hate America so much? And could somebody let Soros know I haven’t gotten my money for this month yet? Because my degenerate liberal lifestyle doesn’t fund itself, you know.

My affiliation with FAIR began a mere 15 years ago, during the reign of King George the First. It’s actually depressing how well this one (cartoon above) holds up, 15 years later. I think I could’ve run it, with a few minor tweaks, during the run up to the second Gulf War.

Jumping ahead to the Clinton years, during which we went through some fairly dramatic shifts in the media and political landscape, and FAIR was there. When the Clinton healthcare plan was being demonized by right-wingers as socialized medicine, FAIR was there to try to set the record straight and point out that the plan had actually been co-authored by the five largest insurance companies. There’s this other small, overlooked story, which went by so quick you might’ve missed it if you spent the second half of the Clinton administration in a coma (cartoon left).

As it turns out, people actually do pay a lot more attention when something involves sex. That cartoon got me denounced on the floor of the Oklahoma state legislature, and literally very nearly prosecuted for obscenity, which would’ve been an interesting trial. Someone with a cooler head explained the 1st Amendment to the district attorney and it didn’t happen.

Now, when you look back, we sort of didn’t know how good we had it. It took me a while to figure out which cartoon would adequately summarize the post-September 11 intersection of our increasingly subservient media and our increasingly delusional leaders, because I’ve done a lot of work on that topic for the past five years. But this is what I finally settled on.

One other development over the past couple of years that I want to briefly note is the rise of the blogs, to which the media have responded like they respond to most things, by ignoring the left or the liberal left until it’s just impossible to do so, until something like Daily Kos becomes so big that you can’t ignore it anymore, while simultaneously embracing and amplifying the craziest extremes of the right, giving airtime to right-wing bloggers. Who quite literally believe that they, the journalists, should be in prison for sedition.

And this is the difference between right-wing and left-wing media criticism: FAIR wants the media to do a better job. The right-wingers want to do them physical harm. The media’s apparent inability to perceive this simple fact inspired this last (cartoon bottom) cartoon.

Thank you, congratulations to FAIR, and I’ll see you all in another 20 years, either here or in

This piece is adapted from a slideshow given by Tom Tomorrow at FAIR’s 20th anniversary celebration at Cooper Union (10/12/06).