The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, February 06, 2003  

What Friggin’ Liberal Media, You Clown?

I feel like blaming someone, but I’m not sure whom, possibly myself I suppose, but I pre-ordered Eric Alterman’s latest book What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News and it still hasn’t arrived.

I don’t know how much longer I can last.

Fortunately, The Nation has published a fairly lengthy piece based on Alterman’s new book. It makes for fascinating reading and will only whet your appetite for the full plate that I have no doubt is making its way to your house -- and mine -- as you read this.*

Just a few excerpts:

Given the success of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, the Washington Times, the New York Post, [t]he American Spectator, [t]he Weekly Standard, the New York Sun, National Review, Commentary, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Matt] Drudge, etc., no sensible person can dispute the existence of a “conservative media.” . . .

Unlike most of the publications named above, liberals, for some reason, feel compelled to include the views of the other guy on a regular basis in just the fashion that conservatives abhor. Take a tour from a native: New York magazine, in the heart of liberal country, chose as its sole national correspondent the right-wing talk-show host Tucker Carlson. During the 1990s, [t]he New Yorker -- the bible of sophisticated urban liberalism -- chose as its Washington correspondents the belligerent right-winger Michael Kelly and the soft, DLC [Democratic Leadership Conference] neoconservative Joe Klein. At least half of the “liberal New Republic” is actually a rabidly neoconservative magazine and has been edited in recent years by the very same Michael Kelly, as well as by the conservative liberal-hater Andrew Sullivan. The Nation has often opened its pages to liberal-haters, even among its columnists. The Atlantic Monthly -- a mainstay of Boston liberalism -- even chose the apoplectic Kelly as its editor, who then proceeded to add a bunch of Weekly Standard writers to its anti[-]liberal stable. . . . On the web, the tabloid-style liberal website Salon gives free rein to the McCarthyite impulses of both Sullivan and David Horowitz. The neoliberal Slate also regularly publishes both Sullivan and Christopher Caldwell of [t]he Weekly Standard, and has even opened its “pages” to such conservative evildoers as Charles Murray and Elliott Abrams.

Move over to the mainstream publications and broadcasts often labeled “liberal,” and you see how ridiculous the notion of liberal dominance becomes. The liberal New York Times op-ed page features the work of the unreconstructed Nixonite William Safire, and for years accompanied him with the firebreathing-if-difficult-to-understand neocon A.M. Rosenthal. . . . The Washington Post is just swarming with conservatives, from Michael Kelly to George Will to Robert Novak to Charles Krauthammer. If you wish to include CNN on your list of liberal media -- I don’t, but many conservatives do -- then you had better find a way to explain the near-ubiquitous presence of the attack dog Robert Novak, along with that of neocon virtuecrat William Bennett, National Review’s Kate O’Beirne, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, [t]he Weekly Standard’s David Brooks and Tucker Carlson. This is to say nothing of the fact that among its most frequent guests are Coulter and the anti-American telepreacher Pat Robertson. Care to include ABC News? Again, I don’t, but if you wish, how to deal with the fact that the only ideological commentator on its Sunday show is the hard-line conservative George Will? Or how about the fact that its only explicitly ideological reporter is the journalistically challenged conservative crusader John Stossel? How to explain the entire career there and on NPR of Cokie Roberts, who never met a liberal to whom she could not condescend? What about Time and Newsweek? In the former, we have Krauthammer holding forth, and in the latter, Will.

I could go on, but the point is clear: Conservatives are extremely well represented in every facet of the media. The correlative point is that even the genuine liberal media are not so liberal. And they are no match -- either in size, ferocity or commitment -- for the massive conservative media structure that, more than ever, determines the shape and scope of our political agenda. . . .

The right is working the refs. And it’s working. Much of the public believes a useful but unsupportable myth about the so-called liberal media, and the media themselves have been cowed by conservatives into repeating their nonsensical nostrums virtually nonstop. . . .

In the real world of the right-wing media, the pundits are the conservatives’ shock troops. Even the ones who constantly complain about alleged liberal control of the media cannot ignore the vast advantage their side enjoys when it comes to airing their views on television, in the opinion pages, on the radio and the Internet. . . .

Liberals are not as rare in the print punditocracy as in television, but their modest numbers nevertheless give the lie to any accusations of liberal domination. Of the most prominent liberals writing in the nation’s newspapers and opinion magazines -- Garry Wills, E.J. Dionne, Richard Cohen, Robert Kuttner, Robert Scheer, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Mary McGrory, Hendrik Hertzberg, Nicholas Kristof, Molly Ivins -- not one enjoys or has ever enjoyed a prominent perch on television. . . .

Tough-minded reporting, as the legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee explains, “is not for everybody.” It is not “for those who feel that all’s right with the world, not for those whose cows are sacred, and surely not for those who fear the violent contradictions of our time.” But it is surely necessary for those of us who wish to answer to the historically honorable title of “democrat,” “republican” or even that wonderfully old-fashioned title, “citizen.”

There’s much more to the article, of course, including a well deserved spanking for the Bush administration’s favorite purse dog, Howard Kurtz. I highly recommend it.

If you haven’t yet purchased your copy of What Liberal Media? you should do so now.

To purchase What Liberal Media? from Barnes & Noble, click here.

To purchase What Liberal Media? from, click here.

To purchase What Liberal Media? from Alibris, click here.

To purchase What Liberal Media? from Powell’s, click here.

To purchase What Liberal Media? from Wal-Mart, click here.

To purchase What Liberal Media? from click here.

If you can’t wait to get started -- and who could blame you -- visit the book’s web site,, where you may read the introduction and the appendices on line in Acrobat’s PDF format.

* [Post-publication addendum: Within an hour after I posted this, my doorman informed me I had three packages waiting at the front desk. Upon retrieving them, I found that two of these packages contained copies of What Liberal Media?, the copy I pre-ordered and the copy sent by Alterman’s publisher, Basic Books. I wish I could say I will dive into the book immediately, but I have a non-blog deadline tomorrow and the feast will have to be delayed until the weekend.]

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