Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media" Chapter 1: As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I recently received a review copy of Alterman's new book and began reading it. I got through about 2 1/2 chapters when I realized that I should be reading with a pencil in hand. Every few sentences, Alterman would make some claim that I would find unfounded or outrageous, and I realized that if I was going to "review" his book, I was going to have to make some notes.
So, I started over again, with pencil in hand. Over how ever long it takes, I'll be posting my observations of Alterman's work. I think my catchphrase for this project will be: "I read it so you don't have to."
Chapter 1: Introduction -- Bias, Slander and BS (Part 1)
Alterman isn't wishy-washy when comes to what his thesis is: The press isn't biased to the liberal side -- it's not even neutral -- it's decidedly conservative.
As evidence of the conservative tilt of the media Alterman quotes our previous "whiner in chief" Bill Clinton that he didn't get "one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press."
Is anyone really surprised that Clinton is claiming to be a victim? This is supposed to prove Alterman's point?
Of course, intelligent people agree with Alterman -- stupid ones don't.
But while some conservatives actually believe their own grumbles, the smart ones don't. [emphasis added]
There's an excellent argument: You agree with me, or you're stupid.
Alterman quotes former GOP chairman Rich Bond during the 1992 election cycle as evidence that conservatives know the media isn't liberal, but they make that complaint to win favorable treatment from a chastened media establishment.
"There is some strategy to it [bashing the 'liberal' media].... If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one."
Alterman refers to the idea of "working the refs" later in the book, but he seems to ignore the fact that a desire to "work the ref" doesn't preclude the possibility that the ref is treating your side unfairly.
The two main targets of Alterman's ire in the first chapter are former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg's book "Bias" and Ann Coulter's "Slander."
I must confess, I haven't read Coulter's work -- she doesn't really impress me and I've felt no desire to buy her book. Since I've not read "Slander," I won't attempt to defend it, but I will note that Alterman attacks it on two grounds: First, her footnotes don't support her claims; Second, she engages in mean-spirited and excessive name-calling.
I'll skip Coulter's sourcing issues -- frankly, I don't care. But I found it curious that Alterman would chide her for name-calling -- since Alterman practices it early and often. I won't point out every one of Alterman's zingers, but I will try to make note of some of the more colorful and original ones.
The first couple are on Page 2. First, Alterman refuses to refer to George W. Bush as president of the United States. To Alterman he is simply: "The presidency's current occupant." Second, is a cheap shot at Pat Buchanan (a pundit/politician I harbor no sympathy for) referring to him as the "American ayatollah."
Alterman then gets downright silly in attacking Goldberg and Coulter, writing "it's amazing neither one thought to accuse 'liberals' of using the blood of conservative children for extra flavor in their soy-milk decaf lattes."
And Alterman wants his book to be held up as a model of journalistic scholarship?
In attacking Coulter, Alterman notes the media attention and the bookings that she manages to get. (I think I detect a note of jealousy.)
Coulter joked about how wonderful it would it would have been if Timothy McVeigh had blown up the New York Times building and murdered all of its inhabitants... For such comments she is celebrated and rewarded."
If this is evidence that the media is conservative, then what does Michael Moore's success, praise and adulation mean? Remember, Moore is the one who complained that the 9/11 terrorists hadn't killed enough Bush voters.
When Alterman moves into attack Goldberg is where he starts to lose it. Alterman highlights Goldberg's comment: "Everybody to the right of Lenin is a 'right-winger' as far as media elites are concerned." Alterman derides this characterization, but then seems to justify this statement repeatedly by evicting people from the "liberal" tent if they don't agree 100 percent with the Nation editorial board.
As I was reading Alterman's criticisms of Goldberg, a couple of things came to mind: First, Alterman doesn't recognize hyperbole when he sees it; Second, Alterman bent over backwards to avoid addressing the report that spurred Goldberg to write his book. Alterman chides Goldberg for referring to "unnamed liberals" in the news media, but the fact is that Goldberg does name names. In the same vein, Alterman claims Goldberg "concerned himself only with the evening news broadcasts, and not even with politics, but with social issues." Yet again, Alterman ignores the defining event for Goldberg, CBS newsman Eric Engberg's treatment of Steve Forbes' flat-tax plan.
More to come...