Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Eric Alterman, Chapter 1 (Part two): Alterman's take on Bernie Goldberg is to nickel-and-dime the former CBS newsman to death. Anyone who's read Goldberg's book knows it's not a scholarly work. It is a series of recollections on a subject. Goldberg is loose with his language, which is not surprising. Alterman punishes him for it, which is also not surprising.
However, Alterman also uses data compiled by the liberal Daily Howler Web site that doesn't necessarily completely support Alterman's point.
Alterman refers to this Daily Howler report to take issue with Goldberg's claim that Sen. Ted Kennedy is "never" identified as a liberal.
For instance, Ted Kennedy does not appear on the [meaning television] news with much frequency, but during the first six months of 2001, when he did, it was almost always accompanied by the word "liberal."
Unfortunately, the Daily Howler is not quite as definite on its Web site. The Daily Howler did a Lexis search and presented a several cases that refute Goldberg's assertion. However, the Daily Howler never says that the examples it presents were every reference to Kennedy on the evening news broadcasts. The Daily Howler was looking for cases where Goldberg was wrong in his "never" assessment -- and found them. Alterman takes those few cases and turns them into "almost always."
From the Daily Howler:
Clearly, Goldberg was totally wrong in his statement to Grossman. He implied that network newscasts never call Ted a lib, and that is plainly false. Do they identify Kennedy more or less often than they do with conservative solons? That question we simply can’t answer. We don’t plan to do all Bernie’s research for him?but that is a question he should have studied before he published his laughable book, and before he went all over the country making pleasing but flagrant misstatements.
Listening to both sides: Alterman's complains that while the "liberal" media -- The Nation, Mother Jones, etc., often have a token conservative columnist, the "conservative" media do not do the same.
At least two of the media outlets Alterman complains about, however, shouldn't be in his list. Fox News has Mara Liasson and Juan WIlliams, both liberals (but maybe not liberal enough for Alterman). The Wall Street Journal has Al Hunt.
It may seem obvious to everyone but Dan Rather that The New York Times editorial page is liberal, but according to Alterman it's not -- because William Safire is a columnist. Safire, a moderate Republican isn't the only non-left guy, according to Alterman. "Current denizen Bill Keller also writes regularly form a soft, DLC neoconservative perspective."
It's not just the Times columnists either, "Why is this alleged bastion of liberalism, on the very morning I wrote these words, offering words of praise and encouragement to George W. Bush and John Ashcroft for invoking the hated Taft-Hartley legislation on behalf of shipping companies, following a lockout of their West Coast workers."
You see, if you agree with anything the Bush administration does, you're no longer a liberal.
Name-calling alert: Pat Robertson is an "anti-American telepreacher."
Finally, Alterman turns to Times columnist Paul Krugman, the man who never found anything good to say about the Bush administration, to analyze the media:
As the economist/pundit Paul Krugman observes of Republican efforts to bully the media into accepting the party's Orwellian arguments about Social Security privatization: "The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media -- fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of 'balance' -- won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown."
Were that the real world was so easy to discern as the difference between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Just because Krugman (and Alterman) are sure of their analysis of an issue, doesn't make them right. When it comes to just about any issue, there are at least two sides. To say that one side is right and another is downright wrong in an area of government or economic policy, as a journalist, is a dangerous venture into the area of advocacy and bias. Why? Because often the truth is not apparent for years, or even decades.
ON A RELATED NOTE: Left-wing blogger Scoobie Davis recently visited the site, and cited my critique of the first half of the first chapter of Alterman's book as a sign of the "decline of American journalism." Why? Because I chose not to defend Ann Coulter from Alterman's criticisms.
Hoy states on his web page that he was trained as a journalist and he works for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Yet he doesn’t care about Slander’s sourcing issues, only Alterman’s less important critiques of it. What’s wrong with that picture? First, Coulter’s sourcing issues were the main point of Alterman’s critique?that Coulter’s mendacity and bile refute the very premise of her book: that the decline in political discourse is ?all liberals’ fault.? Also, Alterman go [sic] beyond writing that ?her footnotes don't support her claims.? Alterman illustrated that Coulter is a lying sack of **** [expletive deleted] (though he put it much more delicately). Yet in Hoy’s world, since he doesn’t care about the point, it is irrelevant and should be ignored. Shouldn’t that be a journalist’s primary concern?
Apparently, I should care about Coulter's work. Sorry, I don't. I didn't read her book. I don't care to read her book. I don't think the issue is irrelevant. I'm just not going to spend my time on it. That doesn't mean it should be ignored. In fact, as Davis takes pains to point out -- it isn't ignored.
*ON ANOTHER RELATED NOTE* The Hill newspaper has a review of Alterman's book, and it's decidedly not positive. The reviewer makes a very similar point to the one I"ve attempted to make, which is that Alterman's definition of what is a "liberal" is so narrow that the media must be conservative in his eyes.
Somewhat more troubling is that Alterman brings to the debate ideological baggage of his own. Bias is of course a relative question, dictated largely by an observer’s own place on the political spectrum.
About this Alterman leaves little doubt. Look at how he identifies some of the people he writes about: The Democratic Leadership Council is “neoconservative,” New York Gov. George Pataki (R) is “conservative,” radio shock jock Howard Stern is lumped in with “movement conservatives.” Michel Martin, the liberal foil for George Will on ABC’s “This Week,” is “nonpartisan,” while The Wall Street Journal’s token liberal Al Hunt is a “token moderate.”
*ANOTHER UPDATE* Glenn Reynolds, better known as Mr. Instapundit, makes a similar point.