Saturday, August 27, 2005

More on the media debate

The interesting back-and-forth continues in the new/conservative/mainstream media debate. Tim Rutten has a column in the LATimes today in which he takes apart the politics-is-everything modus operandi of Hewitt's and many others on the right:

[Talk radio] may be politically preoccupied and loyally Republican, but it isn't conservative in the traditional sense. Historically, the West's conservatives have believed in the persistence and profound influence in human affairs of all sorts of nonpolitical institutions — religion, family, tradition, social convention and property, for example. It's a conception that respects privacy, proportion and restraint, and resists the urge to reduce all human activity to the product of a single source or impulse — whether economic (communism) or historical (fascism).

While the political talk-show hosts and right-wing bloggers claim to have a quarrel with mainstream media's alleged bias, their real gripe is that the news media's traditional values stand between them and what they'd like to accomplish, which is the total politicization of all reporting and analysis. Combine this with the messianic confidence that new media — mainly talk radio and the Internet — inevitably will undermine and destroy the economic health of mainstream media — especially newspapers — and you've pretty much got what Yeats had in mind when he wrote:

If Folly link with Elegance
No man knows which is which

Political talk-show hosts see everything through the prism of their partisan politics and insist, as an article of faith, that everyone else is always doing the same. In this sense, their approach to current affairs is less a conservative one and more a creature of that most powerful of American vices: narcissism.The controlling assumption is: I look at the world in this fashion and, therefore, everyone else does too.

Hewitt (who graciously, though critically, links to me again) says Rutten is wrong: He believes Nick Lemann is genuinely fair and balanced. The problem is that the Nick Lemanns out there are few and far between, and disappearing:

Unlike what Tim Rutten would have you believe I believe about old media --wherein every reporter of every MSM outlet is a deeply dishonest lefty conspiring to subvert Bush and his allies in every paragraph-- old media has many fine reporters doing much good work life this piece by Lemann, but their numbers are dwindling as successive generations of new hires move the newsrooms farther and farther to the left, and as agenda journalism goes uncorrected because it is undetected, so complete is the shared values and ideologies of the rank and file of the newsroom staffs.

Is this really true, though? Most journalists I know are bourgeois liberal good government types who have a vested interest in the economic status quo - not political leftists. They might not agree with Bush's tax cuts or the Iraq war, and those attitudes can influence coverage - but they're not trying to build socialism in America. And newspapers and TV are, to varying degrees, starting to pay attention to the liberal bias and transparency problems - thanks in part to the drumbeat on the right.