The Protocols of the Elders of Sheldon

The Protocols of the Elders of Sheldon

The Protocols of the Elders of Sheldon

In light of a Pew Research Center survey on public engagement with the presidential campaign, Reed looks at how biased the media has become.


My new “Think Again” column is called “Charles Murray and the Power of Mainstream Media Amnesia” and it’s here.

My new Nation column is called “Sheldon Adelson and the End of American Anti-Semitism” and it’s here.

And I did a Daily Beast column called “The Election Ain’t Over Till It’s Over” here. 

Now here’s Reed:

Water Wet, Sky Blue, Far Right Sees Media Bias Everywhere
by Reed Richardson

On Tuesday, the folks over at the Pew Research Center put out another in a series of surveys examining how the public engages with the ongoing presidential campaign through the media. Its findings were, shall we say, not terribly surprising. Among the more unremarkable conclusions—cable news is increasingly popular and is now the top campaign news source and a growing number of Americans now say they detect a “great deal” of bias in political news coverage. 

Dig down into the details of the survey, however, and you’ll find that fueling both of these trends is one specific segment of the political spectrum—Tea Party Republicans. As the study noted, Tea Party Republicans and Tea Party-sympathizing Independents are especially likely to rely on cable news for information. And of this segment, 53% say they get most of their news about the election from Fox News, compared with just 26% of other Republicans and Republican leaners.

When it comes to identifying supposed news bias, the same unmistakable trend appears. According to the study, nearly three out of four Tea Party Republicans—74%—claim to see a “great deal” of bias in the news, a figure that, once again, is roughly double that of other Republicans (33%). Even more striking, Independents (35%) as well as conservative Democrats (30%) and liberals (36%) all seem to share the non-Tea Party Republicans’ sentiments about the prevalence of media bias to roughly the same degree.

Now, my one rather large glaring problem with this Pew study is its failure to, in any way, define what form this “bias” takes in the press. No doubt the Tea Partiers watching Fox News would define this slant along partisan lines. However, for years I have argued that the establishment media suffers from a kind of systemic, institutional bias, one that prizes access over accuracy and displays an overweening deference to power and authority rather than any subconscious fealty to a specific ideology.

As a perfect example of this, consider this Politico op-ed from Tuesday that rails against the Obama administration’s recent decision to mandate federal contraception coverage in most employer health plans. Written by one David Addington, the Heritage Foundation’s “vice president of Domestic and Economic Policy,” the column throws out a lot of overheated hyperbole about how the HHS’s decision runs afoul of the Constitution on First Amendment, Freedom of Religion grounds. (Those vocal opponents within the Catholic Church who are supposedly bemoaning their loss of “religious liberty” pretty much give the game away here, however.)

Now, sharp-eyed readers might recognize Addington’s name as one of the most controversial players in the Dramatis Personae from the previous White House. Taking over as the Vice President’s chief of staff after “Scooter” Libby found himself indicted for Plamegate—and known colloquially as “Cheney’s Cheney,” a shudder-worthy term if ever there was one—Addington spent most of his Bush administration tenure focused on national security issues. That’s actually putting it very lightly, as Addington was perhaps the foremost legal architect behind the Bush administration’s rampant abuse of presidential power, thanks to his abhorrent intellectual justifications of everything from torture to indefinite detention to abrogating due process to executive signing statements.

Indeed, as Jane Mayer spelled out in a devastating New Yorker profile of him five years ago, Addington is someone who, even according to high-ranking Bush administration colleagues, didn’t believe in co-equal branches of government and whose opinions were often “unconstitutional as a strategy.” That such a man is ceded valuable editorial space by a supposedly prominent political news publication to expound on what is or isn’t constitutional is a travesty. It’s on par with asking Genghis Khan to pen a foreign policy essay on the proper methods of leveraging soft power. (Although, to be fair, a fair-minded liberal could make a twisted argument in Addington’s defense that he, of all people, would recognize executive overreach when he sees it.)

This mainstreaming of extremist, intellectually dishonest thinking, whether it’s the viewpoints offered up, the person doing the offering or, in Addington’s case, both, is nothing new under the sun, unfortunately. But by legitimizing falsehoods and lending credence to conspiracy theories as well as ignoring factual history and dismissing scientific documentation, the establishment press simply plays into the hands of Fox News and conservative talk radio. These unabashedly biased media platforms, in turn, fashion ever more outrageous claims and slanted reporting to create a damning indictment of the rest of the establishment media when it fails to keep up or follow suit. This creates an endless feedback loop that merely serves to reinforce a paranoid mindset, one where audiences like the Tea Party end up viewing the accuracy of the information in the news as inversely proportional to its acceptance outside their cloistered world.

What’s left is sad irony about this increasingly disconnected segment of the populace, which the Pew study sort of stumbles upon: "Among news audiences, those who cite the Fox News Channel or the radio as their main source of campaign news are the most likely to say there is a great deal of bias in news coverage."

In this one instance, at least, the Tea Party-types happen to be absolutely right. Of course, just not in the way that they think they are. But pretending that their heavily blinkered outlook toward the media and the truth is in no way different than the rest of the public’s does a disservice to them, the press, and, in the end, our democracy.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. 

The mail

So very cool re Bruce.  And you deserve those accolades for your great work, but to have it come from Springsteen. Takes ones breath away. Speaking of oxygen, I’m reminded that the Beethoven/Shakespeare oxygen has once again burned up your little lungs, and you return to Mozart/Shaw.  However, someone far more eloquent than I has set you straight.

Frank Moraes
Santa Rosa

I can’t believe you are backtracking on Mozart just because Ben Willis of Queens blinded you with an obscure intellectual-sounding argument that said nothing. Music isn’t about argument, it is about pleasure. And in the end, arguments are just intellectual exercises to justify what one feels. My regard for Mozart grows every year. Although I admire Beethoven, I cannot say the same for him. When I read your parenthetical aside, I was gleeful. You are *not* a philistine. Ben is a prat!
Eric replies:
Thanks Frank. I’m not sure I “backtracked.” I just admitted that my preference need not carry much weight in the world of classical music. I still prefer Mozart, but I never argued he was in any way “better.” Someone could prefer, say, Peter Frampton to Bruce Springsteen, and I would think that’s ok. Taste is taste. But if they argued that he was “better”—as I heard so frequently in the years 1976 and 1977, well, them’s were fightin’ words.

Editor’s Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

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