There has been a lot of head-scratching over what Tom Daschle, Al Gore, Paul Krugman and others have been trying to achieve with their attacks on “right-wing media bias” as exemplified by Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the Washington Times. I actually don’t think it’s too mysterious. For years, Republicans have attacked the obvious liberal bias of the mainstream media, with great success. Organizations like the Media Research Center track and expose the left-wing orientation of the network news shows and other news outlets; writers like Bernard Goldberg have achieved best-seller status with books like Bias; and, most important, lively alternative media have developed to fill the vacuum left by the mainstream newspapers, magazines and television networks, all of which are liberal. First, conservative magazines like National Review and others sprang up. While far smaller in circulation than Time, Newsweek, and so on, they are much sharper in their analysis and have had an impact far beyond their circulation numbers. Next, talk radio developed. Once the medium was liberated by the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, conservatives came to dominate talk radio, which became an essential source of strength for Republican and conservative candidates. This was memorialized in 1994 when the newly-elected Republican House majority gave Rush Limbaugh a present–I think it was a gavel–that said, “Majority Maker.” More recently, the internet became another source of conservative strength. With zero barriers to entry, liberal websites and blogs are welcome, but are gratifyingly few in number and popularity. Finally, Fox News came along to challenge the hegemony of the liberal networks; see my post below on Fox’s increasing domination of the cable news market.
How does this relate to the attacks by Daschle et al. on “right-wing bias?” Are they trying to intimidate or influence all of these conservative news sources? Of course not. The Democrats understand that their monopoly on the news is gone and isn’t coming back. What frustrates them is that “our” news sources are aggressive and openly partisan, while “their” news sources–the mainstream media–are shackled by their pretense of objectivity. It frustrates the Democrats that they don’t get full value from their control over networks like CBS, magazines like Time, and newspapers like the Washington Post, because those sources are not as aggressively liberal as Fox News, the Washington Times and Rush Limbaugh are conservative. (There are, of course, aggressively left-wing journals like Nation, but no one reads them.) So I think the Democrats’ real purpose here is to encourage “their” media to take the gloves off and become more openly liberal, following the model of the New York Times. If that happens, the Democrats believe their dominant media position will be restored. That’s my theory, anyway.
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