Leonard Quart: Attacking the Mainstream Media

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NEW YORK >> Railing against the "mainstream media" has become one of the prime sound bites of the Republican primary campaign.

The throng of candidates has found another villain besides the "dictatorial" Obama to inveigh and rage against. A villain that the Republican base can view as one more establishment pillar that is seen as always lying to them, and conspiring against their ever discovering the truth.

The enemies include the major broadcast networks, cable stations like CNN and MSNBC, public radio's NPR, and of course The New York Times and Washington Post.

During the third GOP debate, presided over by CNBC, the candidates began to denounce the CNBC moderators.

Senator Cruz stated: "The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media. Everyone home tonight knows that the moderators have no intention of voting in a Republican primary."

Marco Rubio followed later on, defending his Senate voting record by hitting back at the "mainstream media" for singling him out for questioning.

Why has this occurred?

In the past 40 years, media choices have greatly proliferated, and more traditional mainstream sources have been put on the defensive, with their credibility continually questioned.

The consequence of the new competition, especially from web sites, who often flout the old journalistic standards, is that some newspapers have shut down; others are cutting staff, eliminating sections, and closing bureaus, and circulation and ad revenue continue to decline.

For an inveterate reader of newspapers like myself, I find it truly disturbing that they are now in peril. Some newspapers can be vile and sensationalistic like the tabloid New York Post (and not worth saving). But others like the Boston Globe, as depicted in the straightforward realistic film Spotlight, have done the hard-nosed, courageous investigative reporting that the best newspapers are known for — exposing the collusion of Boston's power-wielding Catholic Church in protecting its predatory pedophile priests. Other papers like the New York Times, offer generally superior arts coverage, and sometimes publish columns that are intellectually distinctive, like those written by Roger Cohen, and others which can be witty — like those by Gail Collins — or moving — Charles Blow.

Relatively newer options include political talk radio — dominated by demagogic right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and innumerable others. That includes local talk show powers like Steve Deace in Iowa, whose commentary is filled with nonsensical attacks on Obama: "We have a Marxist in the White House, and our very way of life is at stake,'' and attacks on socially progressive Republicans: "Seriously, if you're for amnesty, for killing babies and for redefining marriage, why are you even a Republican at all?''

I see his rants as absurd, but he clearly has a large following who heed his every word.

It's not only the barrage of talk shows that offer an alternative to mainstream media.

There are also conservative Internet news and opinion sites like The Drudge Report, Breitbart, and The Daily Caller.

This is not to say there aren't also liberal sites like The Daily Kos, and Salon, but it's the right wing ones that are growing in record numbers.

In addition, despite the attacks on liberal media bias by Republicans, the number one rated established network news channel remains Fox.

An "unbalanced" channel that constantly declaims its conservative politics in the loudest, least nuanced manner possible.

From this albeit prejudiced observer's perspective it's difficult to view the "mainstream media" as particularly liberal.

For example, despite general complaints from the right about NPR having a liberal tilt, NPR gets as many complaints from the left claiming that it favors conservatives. Still, local public radio stations like WNYC and WAMC are generally liberal, but NPR itself tries all too self-consciously to be balanced in order to mute criticism from the right and preserve its Congressional funding.

This results in its often coming off as bland rather than critically incisive. Offering a somewhat partisan political analysis is not the same thing as indulging in polemics.

And I can't see that any news source can deal with politics without a touch of partisanship creeping in.

No station or newspaper can achieve objectivity where it stands at some pure Olympian height looking down at unfolding events untouched by bias.

Watching news on CNN, which has also been accused of liberal bias, I'm struck by this self-described centrist network's capacity to capture breaking news like the recent horrific Paris terror attack in visual images.

However, their political discussions are often anodyne —mostly forgettable talk about who is ahead in the Republican primary, and offering the most shallow analysis possible of the candidates and the issues.

CNN's lead anchor is the decent, knowledgeable Wolf Blitzer, who is also one of the more soporific television news figures, rarely saying anything that one can remember.

Finally, the fact is the mainstream media have generally not been liberal for some time.

Ownership of the news media is concentrated in the hands of just six incredibly powerful media corporations: Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., CBS and General Electric.

This level of corporate power means that they control a great deal of what news people receive, and they restrict the range of voices that are heard. So more radical figures — right or left — are rarely heard or seen in the media. It's establishment centrist politics that is dominant.

What this means is that politicians rarely face tough questioning, and seldom are called to task for the nonsense they often spew. The goal is to mute controversy, and make neutrality the governing principle. Clearly (and unfortunately), the Republicans aren't faced with an onslaught from the media. That accusation is just one more piece of political gamesmanship on their part.

Leonard Quart can be reached at cinwrit@aol.com


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