Sunday, 2 October 2011

Let's Talk About That "Liberal Media" Again


A few days ago, I noted that despite what someone might hear on talk radio or Fox News, actual liberal bias in the news media is quite rare in my experience. Most corporate news outlets have a predictable corporate bias, but outside of first Fox News on the right, and then MSNBC on the left, little overt political agenda. I crowed that I had finally found an example of the legendary "liberal media" in the form of an article by Salt Lake Tribune  writer Robert Gehrke that was unfairly biased against lobbyists.

I suppose I should have seen this coming - sort of an editorial version of washing my car only to see the rain clouds roll in. Find one example of liberal bias in a local newspaper and sure enough a national narrative will emerge - or fail to emerge - that undermines the idea that rightists are a persecuted lot never treated fairly by the mainstream press.



#OccupyWallStreet started at Adbusters, a Situationist publication responsible for much of the best and most insightful culture jamming of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. (Culture jamming, AKA guerrilla semiotics or night discourse, is the fine art of "transforming mass media to produce ironic or satirical commentary about itself" to "disrupt or subvert mainstream cultural institutions" -- thanks, Wikipedia!)

Once the idea was launched, a broad spectrum of organizations hitched their wagons to the Occupy Wall Street star. One of the first high-profile groups to do so was hacker anarcho-collective Anonymous, that band of merry pranksters, which increased the protests' public visibility. Twitter attempted to quash the #OccupyWallStreet hash-tag, to little avail.

Now, the Occupy Wall Street protests are ideologically very inclusive, but I don't think it would be one bit out of line to call this a protest of and by the left, compared to the Tea Party rallies that were almost entirely of and for the right. Here we have a pretty good way to look for liberal bias: unlike, say, a comparison of Presidents Clinton and Obama, #OccupyWallStreet and the Tea Party are both figurative apples, and so a comparison of the media coverage received by both should be illuminating.



Right off the bat, NPR proved that they have, indeed, lurched enormously to the right by publicly and blithely announcing that they would not cover the protests, because NPR only covers hard-hitting protests of serious people regarding serious topics, such as the Tea Party's loose lunatic's coalition of birthers, conspiracy theorists, anti-Communists (really? in America, in 2011?!) and Medicare recipients. NPR's justification for initially* refusing to cover the protests:

We asked the newsroom to explain their editorial decision. Executive editor for news Dick Meyer came back: "The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective."

Ken Layne at Wonkette had this to say regarding NPR's decision:

Haha, right. Because the f***ing Tea Party protests with their "more media than protesters" and the great disruption of several Hoverounds crowding the snack cart and the "especially clear objective" of birthers and Paultards and racists and gun nuts and apocalyptic Jesus freaks and Glenn Beck fanatics was really compelling and newsworthy, right? 
Never never never listen to NPR. If you want more honest news, go to Bloomberg or Pacifica or something.

It pains me to say it, but henceforth, that's exactly what I'll do. Now that PRI &c. have their own podcasts, I can't think of a reason to turn on NPR ever again.

Matt Taibbi, no friend of the hippie, posted this initial thought, which I think is accurate and insightful:

[In response to a question on media coverage] I was about to give a pithy answer about how the press doesn't cover marches unless someone sets a car on fire or someone throws a rock through the window of a Starbucks, when I realized that I myself hadn't written anything about it...There are times when one wonders how effective marches are -- one of the lessons that the other side learned from the Vietnam era is you can often ignore even really big protests without consequences -- but in this case demonstrations could be very important just in terms of educating people about the fact that there is, in fact, a well-defined conflict out there with two sides to it.

If the Tea Party had represented a legitimate threat to the Republican Party's established order, you can bet that Washington creatures like the Koch brothers and Dick Armey (not to mention the entirety of the shadow government of conservative talk radio, TV punditry and think tanks) would not have lined up for camera time with them. Both establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans have a vested interest in controlling the media narrative regarding opposition and protests: the Republicans, currently out of power, by pretending that they are the valiant opposition in exile, and the Democrats by pretending that no internal opposition exists. This is why we have seen so few liberal politicians even posing with #OccupyWallStreet protesters, let aloe offering real support.

Until their hand was forced, the response from the so-called liberal media should tell you something.

* - It's worth noting that enough people were extremely angry about how NPR, among other news outlets, decided to cover the protests that since then, we've seen a partial mea culpa from NPR, and a steady trickle of news stories, including foreign press coverage. You *can* make a difference!

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