Thursday, June 27, 2002

Following up on that article, I've gone over the arguments that Nunberg made in order to defend his original comments that charges of Liberal bias are wrong or, if not wrong, at least wildly exaggerated. No matter where you stand on that issue, though, in both of the articles he wrote in the American Prospect on the issue (the one I linked above was a response to critiques of an earlier article about the subject) reveals what would appear to be empirical proof of an intriguing and enlightening trend:

That's fair enough, but in this connection I was struck by the fact that none of the critics took on the single most extraordinary result in the data I looked at -- this one involving, not labeling, but the way the press talks about the bias story itself. In the newspapers I looked at, the word "media" appears within seven words of "liberal bias" 469 times and within seven words of "conservative bias" just 17 times -- a twenty-seven-fold discrepancy. (As it happens, the disproportion is about the same in the database that Boyd looked at -- 72 to 3).

Now there's a difference that truly deserves to be called staggering. But how should we explain it? Certainly critics on the left haven't been silent about what they take to be conservative bias in the media, whether in the pages of political reviews or in dozens of recent books. But the press has given their charges virtually no attention, while giving huge play to complaints from the right about liberal bias. That's hardly what you'd expect from a press that really did have a decided liberal bias, and in fact the discrepancy is far greater than anything you could explain by supposing that reporters were merely bending over backwards to be fair -- in that case, after all, you'd expect them to give at least a polite nod to the other side, as well.

The media may not have invented the "liberal bias" story, but people like Goldberg and Bozell couldn't have put it over without their active help.

Now, of course, this is a common and well-known trend in the media, but it still deserves a little exploration. Whether the media is liberally biased or not, it's inescapable that it seems prepared to bend over backward in order to accomodate conservative points of view. This isn't just in the case of media that purports to be balanced; even liberal publications and sites usually include a conservative or two. How else do you explain Horowitz remaining at Salon?

Again, this isn't necessarily a problem, except for a few other factors that create additional problems. There's no reason for any media outlet to pretend "balance" in Op-Ed material; that's not what they're there fore, and history is replete with crusading newspapers of various political persuasions unapologetically using their opinion spaces to advocate points of view. Conservatives understand this, and that's why although I'm ideologically opposed to sites such as Townhall and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, I don't fault them for having the opinions they do- I simply disagree with them. Perhaps because liberals advocate "fairness", though, they seem willing to accomodate views that they disagree with, even while those who hold those same views don't feel that such accomodation is necessary. Indeed, many would scorn it; the cries of "moral equivalancy" and "moral clarity" are based on the belief that other opinions are not simply wrong, but evil- they should not be accomodated or respected, but attacked at every opportunity. This means that there can be (and often is) a fundamental imbalance. One side feels the need to accomodate the other, and the other does not, preferring to unapologetically and unswervingly support its beliefs.

What's surprising, however, is that I believe the conservatives are right on this. Not in terms of their portrayal of other beliefs as "evil" and their pretensions to indisputable knowledge, of course, but their willingness to defend their beliefs and stick to them. I doubt that any columnist on is going to think twice about defending their belief systems to the best of their abilities as much as possible, as often as possible; whereas liberals (and to a greater extent leftists) seem hobbled by their desire to embrace all opinions. Why does Salon hang on to Horowitz, even as the man insults all that they hold dear and whose continuing presence is a mockery of their beliefs? If the New York Times opinion page is liberal, why retain Safire when it's pretty obvious that he's about as liberal as, well, Horowitz? If in debate, why not defend those beliefs to the fullest extent possible, just as conservatives do? No amount of accomodation will eliminate the charge of liberal bias, as has become incredibly obvious, and on a more "meta" level it is becoming increasingly unnecessary, thanks to the growth of the integrated and seperate conservative media that is both unapologetic about its beliefs and strident in their defense. If the media is liberal, then let it be liberal, and loudly so, because rest assured: no matter what they'll do, they'll get called it anyway.

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