The Art of the Lost Cause

Many people are understandably disappointed, frustrated, or angry when they lose. It’s just not fun to lose, especially in a competitive society. But there are advantages to losing. And losses are as much determined by perspective. Certainly, in more cooperative societies, what may be seen as a loss by outsiders could be taken quite differently by an insider. Western researchers discovered that difference when using games as part of social science studies. Some non-Western people refused win-lose scenarios, at least among members of the community. The individual didn’t lose for everyone gained. I point this out to help shift our thinking.

Recently, the political left in the United States has experienced losses. Bernie Sanders lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton who in turn lost the presidency to Donald Trump. But is this an entirely surprising result and bad outcome? Losses can lead to soul-searching and motivation for change. The Republicans we know now have dominated the political narrative in recent decades, which forced the Democrats to shift far to the right with third way ‘triangulation’. That wasn’t always the case. Republicans went through a period of major losses before being able to reinvent themselves with the southern strategy, Reagan revolution, trickle down voodo economics, the two Santa Claus theory, culture wars, etc.

The Clinton New Democrats were only able to win at all in recent history by sacrificing the political left and, in the process, becoming the new conservative party. So, even when Democrats have been able to win it has been a loss. Consider Obama who turned out to be one of the most neoliberal and neocon presidents in modern history, betraying his every promise: maintaining militarism, refusing to shut down GITMO, passing pro-biz insurance reform, etc. Liberals and leftists would have been better off to have been entirely out of power these past decades, allowing a genuine political left movement to form and so allowing democracy to begin to reassert itself from below. Instead, Democrats have managed to win just enough elections to keep the political left suppressed by co-opting their rhetoric. Democrats have won by forcing the American public to lose.

In the Democratic leadership failing so gloriously, they have been publicly shamed to the point of no redemption. The party is now less popular than the opposition, an amazing feat considering how unpopular is Trump and the GOP at the moment. Yet amidst all of this, Bernie Sanders is more popular than ever, more popular among women than men and more popular among minorities than whites. I never thought Sanders was likely to win and so I wasn’t disappointed. What his campaign did accomplish, as I expected, was to reshape the political narrative and shift the Overton window back toward the political left again. This period of loss will be remembered as a turning point in the future. It was a necessary loss, a reckoning and re-envisioning.

Think about famous lost causes. One that came to mind is that of Jesus and the early Christians. They were a tiny unknown cult in a vast empire filled with hundreds of thousands of similar cults. They were nothing special, of no significance or consequence, such that no one bothered to even take note of them, not even Jewish writers at the time. Then Jesus was killed as a common criminal among other criminals and even that didn’t draw any attention. There is no evidence that the Romans considered Jesus even mildly interesting. After his death, Christianity remained small and splintered into a few communities. It took generations for this cult to grow much at all and finally attract much outside attention.

Early Christians weren’t even important enough to be feared. The persecution stories seem to have been mostly invented by later Christians to make themselves feel more important, as there is no records of any systematic and pervasive persecution. Romans killing a few cultists here and there happened all the time and Christians didn’t stand out as being targeted more than any others. In fact, early Christians were lacking in uniqueness that they were often confused with other groups such as Stoics. By the way, it was the Stoics who were famous at the time for seeking out persecution and so gaining street cred respectability, maybe causing envy among Christians. Even Christian theology was largely borrowed from others, such as natural law also having been taken from the Stoics — related to the idea that a slave can be free in their mind and being, their heart and soul because natural law transcends human law.

Still, this early status of Christians as losers created a powerful narrative that has not only survived but proliferated. Some of that narrative, such as their persecution, was invented. But that is far from unusual — the mythos that develops around lost causes tends to be more invented than not. Still, at the core, the Christians were genuinely pathetic for a couple of centuries. They weren’t a respectable religion in the Roman Empire, until long after Jesus’ death when an emperor decided to use them to shore up his own power. In the waning era of Roman imperialism, I suppose a lost cause theology felt compelling and comforting. It was also a good way to convert other defeated people, as they could be promised victory in heaven. Lost Causes tend to lead to romanticizing of a distant redemption that one day would come. And in the case of Christianity, this would mean that the ultimate sacrificial loser, Jesus himself, would return victorious! Amen! Praise the Lord! Like a Taoist philosopher, Jesus taught that to find oneself was to lose oneself but to lose oneself was to find oneself. This is a loser’s mentality and relates to why some have considered Christianity to be a slaver religion. The lowly are uplifted, at least in words and ideals. But I’d argue there is more to it than seeking comfort by rationalizing suffering, oppression, and defeat.

Winning isn’t always a good thing, at least in the short term. I sometimes wonder if America would be a better place if the American Revolution had been lost. When I compare the United States to Canada, I don’t see any great advantage to American colonists having won. Canada is a much more stable and well-functioning social democracy. And the British Empire ended up enacting sweeping reforms, including abolishing slavery through law long before the US managed to end slavery through bloody conflict. In many ways, Americans were worse off after the revolution than before it. A reactionary backlash took hold as oligarchs co-opted the revolution and turned it into counter-revolution. Through the coup of a Constitutional Convention, the ruling elite seized power of the new government. It was in seeming to win that the average American ended up losing. An overt loss potentially could have been a greater long term victory. In particular for women and blacks, being on the side of the revolutionaries didn’t turn out to be such a great deal. Woman who had gained the vote had it taken away from them again and blacks hoping for freedom were returned to slavery. The emerging radical movement of democratic reform was strangled in the crib.

Later on, the Confederates learned of the power of a lost cause. To such an extent that they have become the poster boys of The Lost Cause, all of American society having been transformed by it. Victory of the United States government, once again, turned out to be far from a clear victory for the oppressed. If Confederates had won or otherwise been allowed to secede, the Confederate government would have been forced to come to terms with the majority black population that existed in the South and they wouldn’t have had the large Northern population to help keep blacks down. It’s possible that some of the worst results could have been avoided: re-enslavement through chain gangs and mass incarceration, Jim Crow laws and Klan terrorism, sundown towns and redlining, etc —  all the ways that racism became further entrenched. After the Civil War, blacks became scattered and would then become a minority. Having lost their position as the Southern majority, they lost most of the leverage they might have had. Instead of weak reforms leading to new forms of oppression, blacks might have been able to have forced a societal transformation within a Confederate government or else to have had a mass exodus in order to secede and create their own separate nation-state. There were many possibilities that became impossible because of Union victory.

Now consider the civil rights movement. The leaders, Martin Luther King in particular, understood the power of a lost cause. They intentionally staged events of getting attacked by police and white mobs, always making sure there were cameras nearby to make it into a national event. It was in losing these confrontations to the greater power of white oppression that they managed to win public support. As a largely Christian movement, the civil rights activists surely had learned from the story of Jesus as a sacrificial loser and his followers as persecuted losers. The real failure of civil rights only came later on when it gained mainstream victories and a corrupt black leadership aligned with white power, such as pushing the racist 1994 Crime Bill which was part of the Democrats becoming the new conservative party. The civil rights movement might have been better able to transform society and change public opinion by having remained a lost cause for a few more generations.

A victory forced can be a victory lost. Gain requires sacrifice, not to be bought cheaply. Success requires risk of failure, putting everything on the line. The greatest losses can come from seeking victory too soon and too easily. Transformative change can only be won by losing what came before. Winning delayed sometimes is progress ensured, slow but steady change. The foundation has to be laid before something can emerge from the ground up. Being brought low is the beginning point, like planting a seed in the soil.

It reminds me of my habit of always looking down as I walk. My father, on the other hand, never looks down and has a habit of stepping on things. It is only by looking down that we can see what is underneath our feet, what we stand on or are stepping toward. Foundation and fundament are always below eye level. Even in my thinking, I’m forever looking down, to what is beneath everyday awareness and oft-repeated words. Just to look down, such a simple and yet radical act.

“Looking down is also a sign of shame or else humility, the distinction maybe being less relevant to those who avoid looking down. To humble means to bring low, to the level of the ground, the soil, humus. To be further down the ladder of respectability, to be low caste or low class, is to have a unique vantage point. One can see more clearly and more widely when one has grown accustomed to looking down, for then one can see the origins of things, the roots of the world, where experience meets the ground of being.”

* * *

Living Differently: On How the Feminist Utopia Is Something You Have to Be Doing Now
by Lynne Segal

Another anthropologist, the anarchist David Graeber, having been involved in protest networks for decades, remains even more certain that participation in moments of direct action and horizontal decision-making bring to life a new and enduring conception of politics, while providing shared hope and meaning in life, even if their critics see in the outcomes of these movements only defeat:

What they don’t understand is that once people’s political horizons have been broadened, the change is permanent. Hundreds of thousands of Americans (and not only Americans, but Greeks, Spaniards and Tunisians) now have direct experience of self-organization, collective action and human solidarity. This makes it almost impossible to go back to one’s previous life and see things the same way. While the world’s financial and political elite skate blindly towards the next 2008-scale crisis, we’re continuing to carry out occupations of buildings, farms, foreclosed homes and workplaces, organizing rent strikes, seminars and debtor’s assemblies, and in doing so laying the groundwork for a genuinely democratic culture … With it has come a revival of the revolutionary imagination that conventional wisdom has long since declared dead.

Discussing what he calls ‘The Democracy Project’, Graeber celebrates forms of political resistance that in his view move well beyond calls for policy reforms, creating instead permanent spaces of opposition to all existing frameworks. For Graeber, one fundamental ground for optimism is that the future is unknowable, and one can live dissident politics in the present, or try to. This is both despite, and also because of, the insistent neo-liberal boast that there can be no alternative to its own historical trajectory: which has become a linear project of endless growth and the amassing of wealth by the few, toil and the struggle for precarious survival for so many.

Furthermore, Graeber points out that historically, although few revolutionaries actually succeeded in taking power themselves, the effects of their actions were often experienced far outside their immediate geographical location. In a similar reflection on unintended consequences, Terry Eagleton suggests that even with the gloomiest of estimates in mind, many aspects of utopic thinking may be not only possible but well- nigh inevitable:

Perhaps it is only when we run out of oil altogether, or when the world system crashes for other reasons, or when ecological catastrophe finally overtakes us, that we will be forced into some kind of co-operative commonwealth of the kind William Morris might have admired.

Even catastrophism, one might say, has its potentials. […]

It should come as no surprise that most of the goals we dream of will usually elude us, at least partially. However, to confront rather than accept the evils of the present, some utopian spirit is always necessary to embrace the complexity of working, against all odds, to create better futures. A wilful optimism is needed, despite and because of our inevitable blind-spots and inadequacies, both personal and collective.

For many of us, it means trying to live differently in the here and now, knowing that the future will never be a complete break with the present or the past, but hopefully something that may develop out of our most supportive engagements with others. To think otherwise inhibits resistance and confirms the dominant conceit that there is no alternative to the present. Thus, I want to close this chapter repeating the words of the late Latin American writer, Eduardo Galeano, which seem to have been translated into almost every language on earth, though I cannot track down their source:

Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: to keep moving forward.

Our political dreams can end in disappointment, but are likely, nevertheless, to make us feel more alive, and hence happier, along the way, at least when they help to connect us to and express concern for those around us. Happiness demands nothing less.


“Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”

“Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”
~ bumper sticker

“Since we saw this sticker on a car parked on a busy street in a densely urban area, clearly the intent here was to warn passersby to be on their guard against kids who don’t hunt, fish, and trap, since those are the likely muggers. So, when you’re walking through the city streets, seek children carrying rifles, fishing rods, and steel-toothed spring-loaded traps, and stay close to those children.”
~ The Kids Are to Blame, the stoneslide corrective

It is a humorous bumper sticker, when you give it a bit of thought. But it wasn’t intended to be humorous. It’s entirely unself-conscious in its inane logic.

I saw this bumper sticker the other day. My immediate response was to be dismissive. The argument falls apart. It is not meant to be thought about. It is a declaration of belief.

That is the key point. I suspect that even the owner of the vehicle realized that the statement isn’t true. The person probably isn’t stupid. Likely just an average person. It simply expresses what they wish was true. It isn’t just a statement of belief, but also a narrative. It is fiction and requires suspension of disbelief. It is a comforting lie, an idle fantasy.

I was thinking along these lines because of some research I came across earlier this year. The basic conclusion was that a lot of political polarization is superficial. It is cheerleading, a declaration of one’s group affiliation. But if there is money on the line incentivizing accurate information, it turns out most Americans disagree a lot less. They know what is true while pretending to believe all kinds of crazy shit.

This is human nature. It isn’t even that people are lying about what they know. It’s just that the brain compartmentalizes thinking. People honestly don’t normally notice the discrepancies between what they want to believe is true and what they know is true. It’s not deception and it isn’t stupidity. The human mind has its own priorities. Many of these priorities are social, rather than rational, the former typically trumping the latter, unless some tangible gain is offered to reverse the order of priority.

We all do this. And we all are oblivious to it. Self-awareness is no easy task.

PKD vs the American Mythos

I’ve been listening to audio versions of PKD’s books, mostly his novels but some of his short stories and his Exegesis. The last two books I listened to are Eye in the Sky and Counter-Clock World, both of which I have read previously. I find myself, as usual, amused with the worlds created by PKD’s unique mind.

Those two novels (EITS & CCW) have been part of the background noise, for the past week or so, to the foreground focus of my thinking about culture. A recent blog post of mine was about the linguistic history of liberty, freedom, and fairness. It’s even more fun to think about such ideas with a PKD spin.

What really got my brain juices going is how PKD’s characters grapple with the realities they find themselves in. Some of his characters are more aware and others less so. To speak in the terms of culture is to already be standing part way outside the frame of the culture(s) in question. If a cultural paradigm is truly dominant, it is simply taken as reality itself and so not easily seen for what it is.

The less aware characters in a PKD fictional world don’t question the strange nature of their reality. It is similar in our world. Every world is a fiction of sorts, but of course a world is compelling only to the extent it isn’t seen as a fiction.

Culture is in particular closely related to the storytelling predisposition of humanity. Politics as well and we can’t leave out economics. It’s easy to think about religion as involving stories. What differentiates religion from most other areas of life is how obviously mired it is in the narrative mentality. However, I suspect religion just makes obvious what otherwise can go unnoticed.

Economics is a good example. What makes economics powerful in organizing society is the same thing that makes religion compelling to the believer. The compelling quality is belief itself, especially considering the often theoretical nature of both economic and religious ideologies.

Money or even gold as a symbol of value might be the greatest fiction ever created. This is most evident with gold which has very little practical application. Paper money at least has some very basic uses in that paper is one of the most useful things ever created. Despite all the hording, no one knows what to do with all of the massive piles of gold all over the world. People have sacrificed their lives and taken the lives of others, empires have risen and fallen, all based on gold being pretty and shiny.

Any monetary system is ultimately symbolic… but symbolic of what? The US dollar is backed by two things: the brute force of a global military empire and “In God We Trust”. As such, the US monetary system is backed by power of two (some might say closely related) varieties. It’s not just the physical power that matters. US currency with its invocation of God is a magical talisman. Only God and the banking system can create something out of nothing (whether in terms of the federal reserve printing money or private banks gambling with wealth that doesn’t actually exist in the real world).

The economic systems of other countries aren’t fundamentally different. Money never represents anything tangible or else money wouldn’t be necessary at all. Relationships or rather the perception of relationships is what money is about. All of the wealth and all of the debt in the world is an imaginary agreement. It is all ephemeral. The entire scheme could shift dramatically or disappear in a blink of an eye.

If the global economy collapsed, nothing objectively would have changed. The gold in vaults would continue to sit in piles. The natural resources would remain as they were before. The human capital would still be where it always was.

The reason there is starvation and malnutrition in the world has no objective cause. There is plenty of food to feed the entire world’s population and there is no lack in our ability to transport the food where it is needed. It’s like the Irish potato famine which was an intentionally created catastrophe. Capitalists couldn’t make much if any profit by selling or giving potatoes to poor starving people, and so they sold Ireland’s remaining potatoes to less hungry people elsewhere who had money. The same basic dynamic continues today with global capitalists who are even wealthier and more powerful.

We live in a corrupt system that is rotten to the core, but we collectively can’t imagine it being any other way. This is what some people call capitalist realism. Those who point out the problems get called commies or worse.

But it goes beyond mere economics. It’s our reality tunnel.

If our world was part of a story, a reader looking in on us would think he was reading dystopian science fiction. The fictions that we live and breathe on a daily basic don’t seem ludicrous because we have no equivalent comparison and so no larger perspective. A reader from the future would find the historical accounts of our period very perplexing. They would wonder why we couldn’t see the obvious immorality that our society is built upon and why we didn’t revolt, the same kinds of things we wonder about those who lived in early America with its slavery (or revolutionary era England with its socioeconomic caste system or any other number of examples). Slavery like capitalism is just another fiction that gains its power from those who believe in it or accept it or submit to it or become fatalistically resigned to it (not to say that some of the oppressed didn’t try to resist or revolt at times).

Like many PKD protagonists, I feel confused by the world I’m in. Things are a certain way and that is just the way it is. I don’t have any more rational understanding of why time flows forward than do the characters in Counter-Clock World understand why time flows backwards. We could quickly solve all of humanity’s problems if we wanted to, but it’s beyond me why we don’t want to or, to put it another way, why there isn’t a collective will to do so.

To be cynical, one could argue that the story of human misery apparently satisfies something in human nature. It’s all about compelling stories. The story of human misery is compelling because it is part of a mythos of compelling stories: the American Dream, meritocracy, free markets, entrepreneurial progress, cultural superiority, white man’s burden, manifest destiny, spreading democracy, etc.

Human misery is just the flipside of the Devil’s Bargain that the US was founded upon. There has to be losers for there to be winners, so the story goes. It’s a Manichaean battle between the makers and the takers, between the job-creators and the welfare mothers, between the hard-working meritocracy and the lazy slaves/workers. The worse off the losers must mean that we are experiencing some serious progress.

That is the thing with stories. You can say they aren’t real, yet they certainly have real consequences. The stories we live are real to the degree we force them onto reality and hence force them onto others. For those of the less powerful persuasion, we can participate in the story of power by submitting to some role within it that might allow us to have greater power than someone, just as long as we aren’t on the very bottom… and even the bottom has its narrative-justified comforts and contentments as there is always something further below us (animals, nature, etc).

Storytellers like PKD attempt to recast our collective narratives and offer a new symbolic context. Just being able to imagine something different is a power not offered by the status quo storyline.

Real Americans: Political Narrative & Public Opinion

I keep noticing a particular schizophrenic divide in the minds of Americans. It’s hard to grasp what most people actually believe. I try to stay informed with various data from polls and other research, but the overall pattern isn’t always clear. In this post, I’m going to point out a pattern I’ve seen before and have written about before. I’m going to do this by connecting it to the recent issue of immigration. My sense is that this pattern extends beyond any single issue.

Let me lay out the data first.

More Americans identify as conservative than identify as liberal.
But more Americans support or lean toward many of the major liberal positions.

According to some polls, most Americans were against the “socialist” Obamacare.
But it supposedly was based on a proposal made by Republicans in the 1990s.
And, when asked about specific items in the health insurance bill, most Americans supported them.
In particular, most Americans supported public option.

Most Americans support the Arizona immigration law in requiring immigrants (and those who look like immigrants) to carry identification.
But most Americans are against Americans carrying national identification cards and against racial profiling.
And most Americans support civil rights.

Let me dissect the immigration issue. Basically, many Americans are fine with treating latinos differently than other Americans. Of course, majority white Americans don’t like latinos because latinos are threatening their majority position, but I’ve seen videos of blacks who claimed latinos were a threat as well. It’s easy to argue for this kind of law when the person doesn’t think it will apply to them or people like them. Most whites and blacks who support the Arizona law assume that if they visited Arizona they wouldn’t be jailed if they didn’t have their papers on them.

For argument’s sake, let’s turn this situation around. What if all the states along the northern border passed similar laws which said all Canadian immigrants had to carry identification at all times? What if this hypothetical law said that it was legal to ask any person who looked Canadian (i.e., white) to show their identification? Would Sarah Palin support whites being treated in the same way latinos would be treated under the Arizona law? In terms of blacks, the charge is often made that blacks are pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black). What if it became legally required for police officers to pull over all black people because they might be illegal immigrants from Africa?

I see several aspects to this confused thinking of the American people. There is the us vs them mentality. That isn’t specifically what interests me at the moment, but it relates. Seeing latinos as different is a failure to generalize, a failure to see all humans as being considered equal under the US Constitution. Also, it’s a failure to see certain specifics. The person who supports the Arizona law apparently lacks the imagination to see how it could apply to people like themselves. People often forget that, when one person or group has their rights undermined, it undermines the foundation of the rights for all (“when they came for the…”). So, in that sense, the failure is in not generalizing enough. But getting lost in generalizations can also be dangerous… which brings me to another point.

Generalizations make for useful talking points and useful political narratives. I’ve noted in the past that conservatives have been very effective in controlling the narrative. Take my first example of how most Americans identify as conservative despite the liberalism on specific issues. Even the mainstream media often repeats the conservative narrative that America is a center-right country; this is interesting in light of the other conservative narrative about the mainstream media being liberal… which the mainstream media often repeats as well.

I kept hearing the mainstream media (not just Fox News) repeat over and over again that most Americans support the Arizona immigration law. However, they rarely go beyond this talking point. Where are the polls that break down the specific issues of the Arizona law, of immigration reform and of immigration in general? Why isn’t the media looking at the broader context of issues? Why isn’t the media looking at other aspects? Why continually bash the American public over the head with the same limited set of info?

Yes, the GOP probably has won the narrative war as they often do. Most Americans may support the Arizona law. But how many Americans actually understand the Arizona law? How many Americans understand the history of immigration? How many Americans understand the history of US relations with Mexico? How many Americans know that undocumented immigrants cause less crime than the average American? How many Americans have seen the data showing that the War on Drugs is failing an is causing Mexicans to try to escape the violence in their own coutnry that the US government is helping to cause? How many Americans understand that undocumented workers come to the US because business owners hire them and because US and state governments don’t stop nor penalize business owners from hiring them?

I’m willing to bet if you informed the American public and asked them about specific issues related to immigration, a very different public opinion would become evident.

So, what does it mean to be a conservative or liberal in the US? Why, in a country built on immigration, is being anti-immigrant (or having anti-immigrant sentiments/suspicions) a conservative position? What does ‘conservative’ mean if the majority of Americans both identify as conservative and support liberal positions? What does ‘liberal’ mean when, according to Pew data, those who identify as liberals show the strongest support for fiscal conservatism?

In the broad view, Americans are mostly conservatives who are against socialism and for nationalism.
In the more detailed view, Americans are mostly liberals who love their socialist services and are increasingly embracing multiculturalism.

Which represents the real American?

Ye slaves, find yer own ways

Below is a video of Noam Chomsky. I’m simultaneously intersted and irritated by his message. There is a strength in this attitude, but also a weakness.

“Can you give me advice about what I should do? I can’t stand what’s going on. I’d like to do something about it. What should I do?”

“It’s not the way it works. You’ve got to find out for yourself what to do. And nobody can give you advice.”

It’s interesting because the view expressed is so representative of the liberal attitude. A conservative pundit would feel no wariness about telling people how to live their lives. Limbaugh fans proudly call themselves Dittoheads because they see Limbaugh as a hero to be parroted and Limbaugh encourages this Dittohead attitude of his followers, but Chomsky says he doesn’t even tell his kids what they should do.

This is such a simple distinction in how people think and behave. Still, it’s profound in its implications on the societal level. It’s why the apparent hypocrisy of some right-wingers can confuse liberals. To the far right mindset, consistency isn’t necessarily inherent to the system of thought but to the authority or tradition that is the foundation of the system of thought. As such, strange as it seems to liberals, patriotic fervor and secessionist paranoia aren’t mutually exclusive in the minds of many conservatives.

Furthermore, if a right-winger considers a source of data as not valid according to some principle or dogma (which comes from a source they trust), then it’s dismissed even if it’s accepted by many respectable people in society. For example, climatology research is dismissed because scientists are “liberal elites”. It’s not that the right-winger has alternative data of equal weight and merit, but what they do have is a collective mindset that sees the perceived liberal elite as the enemy.

Social conservatives would criticize Chomsky’s attitude as moral relativism. Chomsky is essentially saying that there is more than one way to be in the world, more than one way to understand the world. To the liberal, this means offering someone else respect in the hope of gaining at least mutual tolerance. Chomsky is saying that there are no easy answers, nothing is black and white. Like Michael Moore, Chomsky motivated by a moral sense that makes him resistant to judge others even if he thinks they’re wrong or misinformed. Moore said he would never say he hated Bush and similarly Chomsky chastised his fellow liberals for being critical of Tea Party protesters.

My criticism is that this liberal reticence (and the conservative lack thereof) has often led conservatives to dominate the political and cultural dialogue. On the positive side, liberals prefer more subtle means of communication such as art and entertainment. In the long term, I do think the liberal method is can be effective, but it demands great patience. And patience is a privilege of the comfortable. There is a reason that liberals like Chomsky are economically well off. Only the economically well off can afford this laissez-faire philosophy of life.

Here is the fundamental problem. It’s a cheap answer. Such attitude can come across as false humility and an abnegation of moral responsibility. Suffering is real. And for those of us in a position to make a difference, we should be willing to act on behalf of those are less privileged than us. And no one can doubt the immense privilege someone like Chomsky holds. Don’t give me bullshit about slaves finding their own way. If I was a slave and Chomsky told me that, I’d punch him in the face.

We are desperately in need of leadership. Imagine if Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr had responded in the way Chomsky responds in that video. If they had, they would not be great leaders who inspired other to greatness toward great ideals and aspirations for society. This is the ultimate failure of liberalism. Every success of social progress has come from ignoring Chomsky’s advice.

Besides, Chomsky doesn’t even believe in what he says. That is to say he doesn’t follow his own advice. In recent elections, every time the DNC forces us into yet another lesser evil lose-lose scenario (what I call greater evilism because each time the choices become increasingly evil), Chomsky tells voters to fall in line and submit to the bipartisan stranglehold of corporatocracy. He has become a sheepdog for the Democratic elite, similar to his having worked so closely with the Pentagon. That is not anarchism. That isn’t finding one’s own way. Chomsky has made a mockery of himself.

That is the inherent hypocrisy of liberalism. This disconnect in the mind should be studied by the social sciences that Chomsky denies being of any value. Chomsky has embraced a reactionary strain of liberalism and can’t escape it’s own convoluted logic. He has fallen victim to the propaganda model of media, the rhetoric that holds sway of the mainstream mind. If the slaves want to find their own way, they certainly will have to ignore Chomsky at this point and find someone with better advice.

* * *

Transcript of Noam Chomsky:

I spent many hours and night answering letters. And a fair number of them are from very sincere, very concerned, mostly young people who are asking that question: “Can you give me advice about what I should do? I can’t stand what’s going on. I’d like to do something about it. What should I do?”

And it’s a very frustrating… it’s a funny question which reveals a pathology in the society the idea — that you have you should ask somebody who is up on high for some reason to tell you what to do. It’s not the way it works. You’ve got to find out for yourself what to do. And nobody can give you advice. Not me. Not Bertrand Russell that lives up there. Not anybody.

It’s a it’s a highly personal matter. You know as much as anyone else does. Maybe not on the details about how the economic system works. But you know what matters.

You have choices. We have, people like us, have by comparative and historical standards an unbelievable amount of freedom and privilege. This means plenty of opportunities which makes it harder because you know of narrow choices.

And you just have to find your own way. I mean I never gave advice to my own children and if I had they wouldn’t have paid any attention to it rightly. They just found their own ways, very interesting ways.

There’ll be a lot of false starts, inevitably. You can learn from the failures and you try other things and sooner or later you find something that works for you. It’s not the right… there’s no right answer for everyone. It’s very different right answers. Lots of things that can be done. So you have to find it for yourself.

Controlling the Narrative: Part 2

I just posted about a discussion I’m involved with. In the post, I shared some of my comments from the discussion and explained some introductory thoughts about controlling the narrative.

Controlling the Narrative: Part 1

I had no clear intentions when I first posted in that discussion, but once I was engaged I wanted to follow it to the end. I don’t easily give up on a discussion or a topic when something catches my curiosity, when something gets caught in my craw.

The discussion thread is interesting for a number of reasons. It’s a textbook example of how to deal with different kinds of commenters. I’ve been in online discussions for years now and I know how to play any game anyone wants to play. I know how to handle the trolls, the ideologues, the apologists, the ranters, the nitpickers, the name-callers or what ever else. I’m not above anything. If I deem it necessary (or if I’m just irritated), I’ll call names and be rude, I’ll ridicule and cajole. But I’ll also provide data and make extensive arguments, be objective or share personal anecdotes. It’s important to always be ready to shift gears and meet any person on their terms or else force them to meet you on your terms.

  • One of my strengths is that I have stamina. Few people can outlast me in a discussion, few will do more research than I will. That isn’t a boast. It’s a fact.
  • Another important ability is to be clever (if only to keep the discussion lively and entertaining). I almost always can turn around any personal attack or intellectual argument. No mercy! Take nothing personal.
  • Last but not least, try to gain control of the rules of the game, try to enforce your own narrative. Don’t necessarily hijack a thread, but don’t be afraid of hijacking a thread if it serves some purpose.

The rules are very much different if you have regular discussions with the same people (assuming you want to remain friends), but dealing with random strangers on the internet demands guerilla warfare. I’m not in that discussion to make friends. I fully realized the people in that discussion were a mix. Some more smart, some less so. Some willing to play fair, some not. I was mostly just attacked and called names. My arguments were mostly just dismissed. But I did finally force a couple of people to take my view seriously once they realized I couldn’t be scared away or ridiculed into silence.

I had my ducks in a row and not even those arguing against me could deny that. I usually begin a discussion with by listening respectfully and gaging the atmosphere. I then present my view fairly and hopefully I get a fair response. If that fails…

I pull out the big guns and I bludgeon my opponent. I will offer fact after fact, source after source, argument after argument. As long as I’m dealing with someone above the level of idiot, I will persist. And if they start treating me fairly…

I’m more than happy respond in kind. Depending on my mood, I might even apologize. If I read negative intentions that weren’t there or that they claim weren’t there, then I’ll let it go and try to seek civil discussion. I’d always rather look for common ground just as long as the other person is willing to cooperate in this endeavor.

The problem with the discussion in question is that apparently no one wanted to seek common ground with me. I entered the disucssion in the middle of it. Another commenter had linked my blog and so I went to check it out, but already my views were being attacked. So, I immediately felt on the defensive. It didn’t seem that anyone actually wanted to have a rational debate of ideas and facts. Instead, it was an ideological attack-fest with most of the people on the opposite side of my own view.

Since I couldn’t force anyone to take my view seriously, the main thing I decided to do was to seek control of the narrative and so shift the power imbalance.  I pointed out this issue of narrative in my post about the movie Avatar (Avatar: Imagination & Culture). Conservatives have in the past been very good at controlling the narrative. Even now, Fox News has dominated political discourse by various means (Fox News Channel controversies). They don’t just report the news but actively create it. They promoted the Tea Party movement by (besides Beck’s 9/12) having Fox employees cheer on crowds as they filmed or even by using footage from entirely different events to make the crowd look larger. They’ve also been so devious as to alter pictures of Democrats and liberals by, for example, yellowing teeth or broadening the nose (to make the person look like a minority).

Fox News best strategy is latching onto a story and repeating it relentlessly until the rest of the media picks it up. For example, ACORN was given the Fox News treatment and by doing so they destroyed ACORN. Later on, it was investigated and it turned out to have been a fake scandal made up out of thin air, but ACORN was still destroyed and so mission accomplished. Even now, if you ask many people, they still think the ACORN scandal was real because innocence doesn’t make for as exciting of news as does scandal.

It’s all about controlling the story. I personally prefer truth, but I respect the power of story. Truth is great and story is powerful. Combined, they can lead to new visions of society.

This is where liberals come in. Conservatives are starting to lose control of the narrative. The culture wars have lost clarity and momentum. The faux patriotism from the Bush years has soured. This is why there has been a mass exodus from the Republican party. This past year Republicans have become the party of No and nothing else. Obama’s relentless preaching of bipartisanship (even if fruitless on the practical level) led to his controlling the narrative.

Liberals have an opening here. There are many narratives that can be chosen. In the discussion I’m involved with, I was using the narrative of shifting demographics and of generational cycles. Strauss and Howe are the guys who first told this story which they’ve titled The Fourth Turning and it has gained a fair amount of traction in the media and culture. Another narrative I like to use is that of Spiral Dynamics which presents an evolutionary view of human culture and it’s a very potent vision of what society can become (Bill Clinton was familiar with it).  George Lakoff has spent a lot of time putting forth his ideas about framing and politics which are insightful, but I don’t know that they’re ultimately compelling. Michael Moore has been one of the greatest proponents of the story about working class progressivism which has struck a major blow to the self-identity of the conservative movement.

Another area of liberal narrative is the New Age (which has incorporated many narratives into its own meta-narrative). I was raised in New Thought Christianity (which was a precursor of the New Age) and I’ve been delighted to see how New Thought theology has slipped into both evangelical Christianity and even into the mainstream culture in general by way of the New Age. Oprah has been a great proponent of the New Age vision (and I suppose she can be seen as a manifestation of the feminist narrative). A bit earlier than Oprah, Joseph Campbell helped introduce a new vision of religion and culture (his Hero’s Journey having inspired Star Wars).

Avatar is, of course, a great narrative and goes along with liberal narrative of many other movies (Star Wars, The Matrix, etc). In this time of burgeoning technology (3-d, internet, etc), movies are becoming more powerful and more widespread. Some other liberal narratives come from the comic book tradition (which was oppressed by the rightwing comic books code for decades). Some notable examples are X-Men and Watchmen. The greatest narrative of any entertainment might very well be Star Trek: The Next Generation which portrayed a future liberal utopian society.

Liberals have an opening here. The conservative narrative has been slowly waning and the liberal narrative has been slowly waxing. With Obama’s message of hope and change and his vision of bipartisanship (which the Millennials resonate with), liberals finally have the upper hand. The story that gets heard now will be the story that dominates for the next few decades (as the culture war narrative dominate the last few decades). I base that prediction on the narrative of The Fourth Turning. In a 1997 interview (Strauss’ Prophetic Words), Strauss forecast that:

“What could happen right at the start of the Fourth Turning is whichever dominant cultural view is in power when the emergency strikes that group could be out of power for a whole generation.”

Controlling the Narrative: Part 1

Below are some comments from a discussion thread I’m involved in at the moment. I thought it interesting because my purpose in participating has two parts.

On the surface, I’m just having a debate. I’m not all that concerned about winning the debate per se, but I am trying to make a good argument and clear up misinformation. My original purpose was merely to defend the research I had done since someone linked to my blog in the discussion (which is what made me notice the discussion).

However, once fully invested, my central motive switched to gaining control of the narrative. The whole discussion is an experiment of sorts. Those involved don’t quite grasp my real agenda and so they don’t know how to counter it. The reason I chose to seek control of the narrative is because, at first, no one wanted to fully engage the facts of my argument.

In more recent comments, one commenter in particular is trying to persuade me to play the opinion game. That is a fair game to play, but it isn’t the game I want to play. The reason I don’t want to play it is because it generally is a fruitless game which sometimes is the point. This commenter isn’t presenting any compelling narrative and so his best strategy is to distract me from my narrative… not that I think he is consciously strategizing. 

The opinion game is not too dissimilar from how Republicans have been playing the obstructionist game. This past year, Republicans were obsessing over and complaining about every little nitpicking detail. It’s the game one plays when one is out of power, when one isn’t in control of the narrative.

If you’re simply interested to read more about my views on controlling the narrative and how it relates to public/political discourse, here is the link:

Controlling the Narrative: Part 2

And below are my comments from the discussion:

cjrian wrote:
Media Matters as an unbiased reference?
Air America (now defunct)??
Media Matters recieves its funding indirectly from George Soros via the Tides Foundation, the Arca Foundation, the Peninsula Community Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation. MM is a total tool of the Left, willing to push-poll, lie, and consults OganizingforAmerica (Obamas info site) for so-called “truth”.
NPR has a VERY Left leaning bent and always has. Garrison Keillor, “All Things Considered”, Daniel Schorr.
Air America was ONLY formed to counter Rightwing talk radio. It was so far Left, it was falling off the edge of the Earth.
These are not unbiased sources!!

Still with the liberal bias? I showed you the study about NPR. You just deny the study based on no counter evidence. Show me a study that shows NPR has a strong liberal bias. NPR may once have been liberal because it used to do real investigative reporting, but ever since it began to get large corporate funding it hasn’t been liberal beyond a few minor exceptions of moderate liberals.

Air America was a response to rightwing media. That was part of my argument. Rightwing media is very powerful. Air America and other liberal radio have shown high ratings in certain markets, but radio stations are mostly now owned by large conservative corporations rather than by local people and community groups. I’m surprised you didn’t notice this explanation as it was in the blog post I linked earler.…

Part of the problem is definition of terms. What conservatives call “liberal” would be considered moderate, centrist or even slightly conservative in European countries. I’m willing to concede that, according to your conservative definition of liberal, most of the media migth be liberal, but that doesn’t really mean much of anything. It’s similar when conservatives call Obama a progressive, a socialist and/or a communist. Sure, according to the conservative worldview, almost everything is to the left. However, real progressives, socialists and communists are probably more critical of Obama than most conservatives.

Some of the media has a liberal bias and some of the media has a conservative bias. According to mainstream US political ideologies, I don’t think mainstream media overall is biased in any particular direction. But, relative to Europe, US media probably has a conservative bias. More importantly, I’d look at the biases in different markets. I don’t know about tv and cable, but Fox News has been very successful in controlling the narrative. Radio of course is dominated by conservatives and one study shows op-ed columns are dominated by conservatives.

The only place where liberals have a clear and strong dominance is on the internet. Liberals use the internet for news more than any other demographic and so you find liberal news sources online. A favorite “liberal” news source of mine is The Young Turks which is hosted by Cenk Uygur who is a former Republican who voted for Obama and yet is constantly critical of Obama for not being progressive enough. Cenk started his independent news company online and has remained online. His show is one of the most popular on the web. He doesn’t accept advertising money and relies entirely on subscribers.

It’s true that reporters and journalists lean left, but not radically left. On the other hand, editors, management and owners of news organizations lean right. The reporters and journalists are employees who are hired and fired by those who lean right. Pew shows the most strong Republican demographic has the highest rates of business ownership and highest rates of those who trade stocks and bonds.

cjrian wrote:
Now, if Conservatives dominate newspapers how was their reporting so sympatheric towards Obama/Biden and negative towards McCain/Palin?

Why did the media focus on Obama? Many reasons. He was young, photogenic, energetic, charismatic, inspiring, great speaker, first black candiate, etc. Most importantly, the American public liked him more which was demonstrated by his winning the popular vote. I was just looking at poll data that shows that at the time even Libertarians liked Obama.

So, the media focuses on what happens to be popular. During Bush’s administration, when patriotism and war-mongering was popular, the media focused on that. Initially, the media didn’t strongly questione or criticize the reasons for the war in Iraq or the constitutionality of the Patriot Act. Any liberal who stepped out of line, such as Bill Maher, was attacked and vilified. This is just the way mainstream media operates.

raysmom wrote:
Crier, that was a good one about the “Madoff numbers”, hehehe. But I think when you take the number of registered voters, the Dem & Republican numbers, and weigh them with certain variables it comes out pretty even in undergraduate education, the Dems having more advanced degrees.
But frankly, I don’t even think that formal education means more politically knowledgable. Take my neighbors (please, lol). A nice cross section of educated people. The liberal Christian psychologist, the liberal “spiritualist” MBA, the moderate IV specialist nurse, the liberal ex-Catholic pharmacist married to an ex-Army doc who now works for Kaiser, the uneducated King Soopers lifer. They all have strong opinions about Obama and ObamaCare, two for and three against. But NONE of them read the local paper in it’s entirety, let alone the WSJ or any diversity of publications, and none of them know the first thing about the bill or about any political issues, really, just stuff they pick up along the way, mostly from their peers who are equally ignorant! This is for both sides of the issue, remember. I think most people vote the way they do more from basic ideology, party politics, and personal experience/situation than from knowledge of the issues, no matter how educated they are.
The whole “I’m smarter than you are” thing is way overblown in estimating who the “better” party is. And there is no real way to prove it. Just as there is no real way to prove that someone’s intentions are bad becuase of ideology. A useless and divisive endeavor, in my mind.

There are several reasons why I think it matters. Conservatives have attacked climatology scientists because 97% of them support anthropogenic global warming. It’s rather meaningless considering only 6% of scientists are Republican. Since Republicans lack higher education and professional experience in the scienes, then who cares what most Republicans think about science.

Most professors and most with graduate degrees are liberal. So, liberals and Democrats are generally more well-educated. That is important. Some counter with, “But they don’t have real world experience.” Pew shows Liberals as having the second highest rate (after Enterprisers who are approximately equivalent to Neocons) of business ownership and second highest rate of trading stocks and bonds. Liberals are well educated and they’re well informed in that they follow the news closely.

Even though Democrats include the poorest and least well educated, they still on average have higher IQs than Republicans. That is important considering that during the Reagan years Republicans had the highest average IQ, but that was the only period that Republicans have ever shown a higher average IQ. It was the high point of the GOP. No wonder conservatives like to reminisce about the glory of the Reagan era. So, why did a majority of the most intelligent and well educated people stop joining the GOP and instead became Democrats?

If I were a Republican or independent conservative, I’d be a bit concerned. This isn’t just an abstract idea. Polls show that Fox News viewers are the least well informed about health reform. Maybe there is a connection here. Also, the Millennials are the most liberal, most well educated and largest generation in US history. When you look at the Millennials, you’re looking at the future.

cjrian wrote:
<quoted text>
Undoubtedly, some of that is true, but that doesn’t explain the chills up their leg(s). One of the PRIMARY tenets to good reporting to to remain objective. The Press behaved in more of a rah-rah squad fashion. This also does not explain the uproarious cheering when Obama was nominated and when he won the election. The Press was highly Partisan.

There was a brief period earlier last century when the Fairness Doctrine forced the news business to be fair and ethical. Over the decades, newsrooms lost independent control of their reporting. Upper management and ownership began meddling in the news business. Advertisers started to have great influence and news became more about entertainment and telling people what they want to hear. Straight news reporting never made much money and so the financing of it was cut which led to reporters doing less investigative journalism.

Obama was popular. At the time, everyone loved Obama, loved to hear him speak, loved the very idea of him. News corporations are primarily concerned about making money and reporting on what is popular is how money is made.

Everyone was swayed, the whole nation, including reporters. It’s no different than how the whole nation was swayed including reporters after 9/11. Humans are social animals. We’re like a school of fish who sway together in the same direction. Those working for news media (reporters, journalists, op-ed columnists, editors, management, owners, etc) are all just human like the rest of us.

Besides, the media is like an echo chamber. The story that becomes popular gets reported more and becomes more popular. News people listen to other news people. It goes across the ideological divide. It’s humorous to watch the back and forth between Fox News and those on the left (or what is considered the left in the US mainstream). Climategate, ACORN, Swiftboat… all of those started with a single report somewhere and then all the media jumped on the bandwagon. It turns out, for example, that the entire ACORN scandal was made up out of thin air.

This is why I don’t watch mainstream news to any great degree. I occasionally catch a video of mainstream news on Youtube or some other random site. But, like a good Liberal, I prefer sources outside the mainstream such as The Young Turnks. The young generation doesn’t watch mainstream news hardly at all. I suppose it’s older Democrats who watch the mainstream left-leaning media.

Becky wrote:
Also I would not talk so much about the younger generation. I am a part of it and even I admit there is a lot of ignorance in the liberally brainwashed people of our younger generation.
Difference is I have lived on my own since I was 18, put myself through school, and don’t just blindly take whatever the news or some narcissistic presidential candidate said without looking beyond the smoke screens and crap.

I’m less interested in these ups and downs. Instead, what I try to understand are the larger trends. If you were familiar with the writings of Strauss and Howe (The Fourth Turning, Millennials Rising) or Spiral Dynamics as explained by the likes of Wilber, you’d understand what I’m talking about. It’s the broader context that matters the most when speaking about where the country (and society in general) is heading. This is why it’s a fairly safe bet to claim that Obama’s health reform and Millennials liberalism aren’t just flukes that will disappear.

During the last cycle of progressivism, there were paranoid pundits like Beck (Father Coughlin), communist fear-mongering, race-baiting, promotion of “white culture”, anti-immigrant sentiment (“Hyphenated Americans” which always makes me think of Palin’s opposite notion of “Real Americans”), patriotic fervor, Christian fundamentalism, preaching of family values, etc. It’s proof, when the rightwingers become loud, that a new progressive era has begun.

This is where my interest in health reform comes in. It is an important issue on its own terms, but it’s hard to understand it’s relevance in isolation. Only in the beginnings of a progressive era could a president spend a year fighting (using the 3d chess of bipartisandship) for health reform and get a bill passed. Obama may be fairly mild on the scale of progressivism, but he does understand the progressive vision and he knows how to preach it. In doing so, he has creating the ideological vision of an entire generation. All Obama has to do is pass a bill, any bill and there is no turning back. The first steps will be akward, but resistance will fade away.

During the Fourth Turning, the new institutions are implemented and established for the rest of the following cycle. This is why the New Deal programs are mostly still with us after all this time. Even Republicans won’t try to take away farm subsidies or medicare. You can later on bust the unions, but the victories of the unions remain (child labor laws, 40 hr week, minimum wage, overtime, safe working conditions, unemployment, disability, etc). Once put into place, all of society embraces the progressive policies and they then become the new status quo (which conservatives will defend in the next cycle).

So, the specifics of the health bill do matter, but not as much as the act of passing reform. One thing is clear is that if McCain had been elected no reform would’ve happened or even have been considered. By Obama being elected, the coming progressive era gets an early push.

First, the Republicans played hard ball by trying to obstruct all progress.

Second, when progress was becoming inevitable, Republicans started scrambling with their own hobbled together “proposals”.

Third, Republicans try to save face by pretending to still fight even when it’s clear that Obama will pass a bill.

Fourth, Republicans become resigned their loss and try to get some of what they want into the bill.

Fifth, Republicans accept Obama’s health reform and turn their attention elsewhere.

Black and White and Re(a)d All Over

The following is more evidence (and analysis) of what seems obvious to me from my having closely followed the media in recent years.

Conservatives claim the media is dominated by liberals and some conservatives go so far as to allege a liberal conspiracy, but this has never fit my own observations. Most of what is considered liberal always seemed to be centrist or moderately liberal at most. All you have to do is compare the media’s treatment of Bush as compared to Obama. Bush didn’t try to be bipartisan at all and pushed agendas so ideological that it made real liberals cringe, but the media allowed itself to be embedded and mostly reported the press releases straight from the White House.

I wish the media had been dominated by a real liberal agenda. In the mainstream media, Fox News almost entirely controls the narrative that all the other news sources follow. The only liberal narrative that is able to strongly counter this mostly comes from comedians such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Conservatives have been very successful in controlling the political narrative in the media.

Proof Through Repetition and the “Liberal Bias” of the U.S. Media:
A Review of Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media?

By Neil H. Buchanan

Even Conservatives Admit Liberal Media Bias Is A Myth, Yet They Perpetuate It

Alterman includes in his book quotes from both James Baker and William Kristol happily admitting that there is no meaningful liberal bias in the media. Instead, they and other archconservatives concede, they are simply “working the refs,” in order to force the media to bend over backward to compensate for a bias that even they admit is, at the very least, grossly exaggerated.

One might think this kind of concession by the mythmakers would kill the myth. But it turns out that the myth is far too useful, and it continues to be purveyed to television viewers unlikely ever to open Alterman’s work and read these concessions of its falsity.

For instance, consider Kristol’s comments in late May of this year, when he appeared on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart started by commenting on how well things are going for conservatives in the U.S., and he asked: “Is there anything else conservatives want?” Kristol, without missing a beat, replied: “Well, the liberals still dominate the media.” To his credit, Stewart was incredulous; but Kristol was unfazed.

Even Liberals Themselves Play a Part In Perpetuating the Liberal Bias Myth

Meanwhile, the liberal “refs” have certainly been “worked” into submission. Take Stewart himself. His show traffics in sharp political satire, much of it highly critical of the Administration. Yet Stewart takes every opportunity to deny being liberal, consistently asserting that he is simply cynical. He regularly treats conservative guests with kid gloves, while turning into a tough interrogator of liberal guests. In the latter category, Arianna Huffington’s appearance was a sorry spectacle, with Stewart constantly interrupting and saying things like, “What’s the point? We can’t do anything about this stuff, anyway!”

Similarly, the Times’s Nicholas Kristof identifies himself as a liberal, but it often seems that he chooses to do so simply to be able to chide other liberals for being too liberal. For instance, is it truly a concern that the New York-based Times employs no evangelical Christians, as Kristof recently noted? Have any actually applied and been rejected on religious grounds?

By the way, I’m not saying there is no liberal bias anywhere in the media. There is all kinds of bias because every person is biased, but I would point out two important issues.

First, there is no equivalent to Fox News on the left. For example: Fox News management sends out memos about which issues to report and which talking points to use (I haven’t heard of any other mainstream news outlet doing this). Fox News donated a lot of money to Republicans (compare that to the ‘far left’ MSNBC which donated equally to both Republicans and Democrats). Fox News has promoted the Tea Party even to the extent of having their employees speak at protests and rile up the crowd for the cameras (as far as I know, this level of promotion of a protest movement hasn’t before been seen in the modern mainstream media).

Second, in order to ascertain bias one has to look at the entire industry. Most journalists, like most academics and scientists, identify as liberals. Yes, liberals are attracted to intellectual professions which probably relates to the fact that liberals on average have higher IQs and have higher levels of education (why this is the case is a whole other issue; for example, the research by Satoshi Kanazawa). Part of the issue here involves the definition and public opinion about labels (which I discuss more at the end). There are cultural reasons for why people choose to self-identify with particular labels. Most self-identified liberals are like most other Americans in that they are moderate in their views (relative to the far left which is rarely seen in mainstream media and politics).

Looking at the entire news industry, one must realize that journalists, reporters, and pundits represent a small percentage of the people involved. Even if the talking heads on tv self-identify as ‘liberal’, that doesn’t automatically lead to the conclusion the media has a liberal bias. The talking heads generally don’t make the decisions about what gets reported and how. The talking heads don’t own the corporate media. The talking heads aren’t the management of the news rooms.

Going by this, some argue that the mainstream media news outlets serve the interests of the corporations that own them rather than any particular ideological bias. However, this misses the point. Conservatism in the US has become aligned with a pro-capitalist, pro-corporation worldview. And liberalism in the US has become aligned with a worldview that is more critically suspect of capitalism and corporations. Liberals, not conservatives, are the defenders of workers unions.

Corporate Interests: How the News Media Portray the Economy
Christopher J. Kollmeyer

The data reveal that, despite growth patterns that overwhelmingly favored economic elites, thenegative news about the economy disproportionately depicted events and problems affecting corporations andinvestors instead of the general workforce. When theTimesdid discuss problems affecting workers, the articleswere relatively short, most often placed in the back sections of the newspaper, and rarely discussed policy alternativesto the status quo. Moreover, unlike the viewpoints of business leaders and government officials, the viewpointsof workers or their spokespersons were rarely used as sources of information. These findings providequalified support for existing scholarship purporting that the news media, when reporting on the economy, privilegethe interests of corporations and investors over the interests of the general workforce.

Dirty Truths
By Michael Parenti



Why do so many people have a negative view of workers a labor unions? In part, it is because of what is fed to them by the corporate-owned news media. A 1990 City University of New York study found that programs devoted to “elite” personages consumed “nearly ten times more PBS prime-time programming hours than programs devoted to workers?’ Less than half of one percent of the programming dealt with workers-and it was mostly with British rather than American ones. A Los Angeles Times survey found that newspaper editors favored business over labor by 54 to 7 percent. My reading of this nation’s newspapers leaves me to wonder who the 7 percent might be.

The media’s pro-business bias is pronounced enough for anyone to see. The major newspapers and weeklies have no labor section to go along with their business section. They have whole staffs reporting on business news but not more than one labor reporter, if that. And usually “labor” reporters, judging from the ones I have met, show no special grasp of labor’s struggles or sensitivity toward workers’ issues. If they did, they would not last at that assignment and would be judged as “getting too close” to their subject.

The media’s devotion to corporate America is manifested in the many TV and radio commentary shows that are glutted with conservatives. Public affairs programming is crowded with offerings like “Wall Street Week’ “American Enterprise’ “Adam Smith’s Money World,” “Nightly Business Report,” and “Marketplace?’

The network evening news regularly reports the Dow Jones average but offers no weekly tabulations on lay-offs, industrial accidents, and long-term occupational illness. When the stock market has a good day, for some reason this is treated as good news for all of us. The press seldom refers to the politico-economic power of corporations. The economy itself is presented as something government and business attend to, while organized labor tags along at best as a very junior and often troublesome partner.


The media’s anti-labor biases should come as no surprise. Media owners themselves are among the most exploitative, antiunion employers and strikebreakers. Over the years, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the New York Daily News, CBS, NBC and numerous other news organizations have been locked in bitter strikes that ended with unions being seriously weakened or totally crushed. As Washington Post owner Katharine Graham is reportedly fond of saying: “Unions interfere with freedom of the press.”

Conservative Exclusion Is a Right-Wing Delusion
By Jim Naureckas

National Review senior editor Jay Nordlinger (Corner, 3/24/10), responding to CNN pairing disgraced Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer with a not-conservative-enough-for-National-Review Kathleen Parker, muses:

I’m reminded why conservatives had to build their own media outlets. It’s sort of like Jews and country clubs. Jews built their own, not because they wanted to, necessarily, but because the other clubs wouldn’t let them in. They weren’t being “clannish.” They wanted to play golf, on first-class courses….

Well, we conservatives built our own media outlets–because the other clubs wouldn’t let us in. I guess it’s working out OK.

[ . . . ] In the bad old days, when no one would let conservatives work in the media, who was the country’s most prominent columnist? Walter Winchell, defender of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. Similar politics didn’t stop Paul Harvey from getting a daily slot for commentary on the ABC Radio Network.

The fact is that many of the people who owned newspapers, magazines and radio stations–as you might expect of millionaire businessmen–were quite conservative: people like Robert McCormick, Harry Chandler and Frank Gannett. These are the bosses who would have been barring conservatives from working in the media industry.  Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?

Black and White and Re(a)d All Over:

The Conservative Advantage in Syndicated Op-Ed Columns
Media Matters

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Conservative Syndicated Columnists Dominate Daily Newspapers — Sixty percent of the nation’s newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists every week than progressive syndicated columnists. Only 20 percent run more progressives than conservatives, while the remaining 20 percent are evenly balanced.
  • Conservative Syndicated Columnists Reach Millions More Than Progressives — In a given week, nationally syndicated conservative columnists are published in more than 153 million newspapers. Progressive columnists, on the other hand, are published in 125 million newspapers.
  • Top Syndicated Columnists Are Mostly Conservative — The top-10 list of columnists, sorted by the number of papers in which they are carried or by the total circulation of the papers in which they are published, includes five conservatives, two centrists, and only three progressives.
  • In Region After Region, Conservative Syndicated Columnists Enjoy Advantage — In eight of the nine regions into which the U.S. Census divides the country, conservative syndicated columnists reach more readers than progressive syndicated columnists in any given week. Only in the Middle Atlantic region (which includes New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) do progressive columnists reach more readers each week.

“Together these results prove what many have suspected for years — that our opinion pages are consistently skewed to the right, allowing conservatives a disproportionate advantage in shaping public opinion,” said David Brock, President and CEO of Media Matters. “The integrity of our nation’s newspapers is at stake when the debate of today’s pressing issues is dominated entirely by one side of the argument,” Brock said.

Conservatives are often heard to complain about the “liberal media,” a nefarious cabal of journalists and media owners supposedly endeavoring to twist the news to serve their ideological agenda. Media Matters for America has shown in a variety of ways that the “liberal media” is a myth. Our two reports on the Sunday talk shows showed how those programs are dominated by conservative guests. Our analysis of the coverage of religion showed how that coverage favors conservatives. Analyses performed by other organizations have shown how conservatives dominate talk radio. And this study demonstrates that in yet another key portion of the news media, conservatives enjoy a structural advantage that gives them a leg up in influencing public opinion.

That structural advantage enables them to transmit an overarching narrative across the country, one that serves to convey the impression that conservative ideas that in many cases enjoy tiny support are actually the “reasonable center” in key debates. To take just one example, prominent conservative columnists who wrote about the topic were nearly unanimous in support of President Bush’s decision to commute Scooter Libby’s sentence, while some advocated pardoning him outright, despite the fact that polls indicated the decision had the support of only around one in five Americans.

In terms of the number of people reached by their ideas and opinions, of the authority they are granted, and of their prestige, there are few in the American news media who equal the lofty position held by the top syndicated columnists. Read by millions, even tens of millions, their opinions form the basis on which our democratic debate often proceeds. Because they have a national reach, they also have the power to advance ideas and narratives that local columnists simply do not have.

As this study has demonstrated, the landscape of syndicated columnists is dominated by conservatives. They reach considerably more readers than progressives. By a 3-to-1 margin, most American newspapers run more conservative syndicated columnists than progressives. In nearly every region of the country, the conservative voice on op-ed pages is louder than the progressive voice. And for every one state that has a greater progressive voice, there are three in which conservatives have more influence.

In short, while the right wing spends a great deal of time complaining about alleged bias in the media, when it comes to the nation’s op-ed pages, it is the progressives who are getting the short end of the stick.

How Public Is Public Radio?

A study of NPR’s guest list
By Steve Rendall and Daniel Butterworth

Liberal bias?

That NPR harbors a liberal bias is an article of faith among many conservatives. Spanning from the early ’70s, when President Richard Nixon demanded that “all funds for public broadcasting be cut” (9/23/71), through House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s similar threats in the mid-’90s, the notion that NPR leans left still endures.

News of the April launch of Air America , a new liberal talk radio network, revived the old complaint, with several conservative pundits declaring that such a thing already existed. “I have three letters for you, NPR . . . . I mean, there is liberal radio,” remarked conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan on NBC ’s Chris Matthews Show (4/4/04.) A few days earlier (4/1/04), conservative columnist Cal Thomas told Nightline , “The liberals have many outlets,” naming NPR prominently among them.

Nor is this belief confined to the right: CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer (3/31/04) seemed to repeat it as a given while questioning a liberal guest: “What about this notion that the conservatives make a fair point that there already is a liberal radio network out there, namely National Public Radio ?”

Despite the commonness of such claims, little evidence has ever been presented for a left bias at NPR , and FAIR’s latest study gives it no support. Looking at partisan sources—including government officials, party officials, campaign workers and consultants—Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 3 to 2 (61 percent to 38 percent). A majority of Republican sources when the GOP controls the White House and Congress may not be surprising, but Republicans held a similar though slightly smaller edge (57 percent to 42 percent) in 1993, when Clinton was president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. And a lively race for the Democratic presidential nomination was beginning to heat up at the time of the 2003 study.

Partisans from outside the two major parties were almost nowhere to be seen, with the exception of four Libertarian Party representatives who appeared in a single story (Morning Edition , 6/26/03).

Republicans not only had a substantial partisan edge, individual Republicans were NPR ’s most popular sources overall, taking the top seven spots in frequency of appearance. George Bush led all sources for the month with 36 appearances, followed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (8) and Sen. Pat Roberts (6). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Secretary of State Colin Powell, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer all tied with five appearances each.

Senators Edward Kennedy, Jay Rockefeller and Max Baucus were the most frequently heard Democrats, each appearing four times. No nongovernmental source appeared more than three times. With the exception of Secretary of State Powell, all of the top 10 most frequently appearing sources were white male government officials.

Air America: Challenges of Liberal Media

The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio
By John Halpin, James Heidbreder, Mark Lloyd, Paul Woodhull, Ben Scott, Josh Silver, S. Derek Turner

Despite the dramatic expansion of viewing and listening options for consumers today, traditional radio remains one of the most widely used media formats in America. Arbitron, the national radio ratings company, reports that more than 90 percent of Americans ages 12 or older listen to radio each week, “a higher penetration than television, magazines, newspapers, or the Internet.” Although listening hours have declined slightly in recent years, Americans listened on average to 19 hours of radio per week in 2006.

Among radio formats, the combined news/talk format (which includes news/talk/information and talk/personality) leads all others in terms of the total number of stations per format and trails only country music in terms of national audience share. Through more than 1,700 stations across the nation, the combined news/talk format is estimated to reach more than 50 million listeners each week.

As this report will document in detail, conservative talk radio undeniably dominates the format:

  • Our analysis in the spring of 2007 of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners reveals that 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.
  • Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk—10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.
  • A separate analysis of all of the news/talk stations in the top 10 radio markets reveals that 76 percent of the programming in these markets is conservative and 24 percent is progressive, although programming is more balanced in markets such as New York and Chicago.

Those aren’t small numbers. The demographics and the technological landscape is changing, but for now conservative talk radio is still kicking ass and taking numbers.

There are many potential explanations for why this gap exists. The two most frequently cited reasons are the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and simple consumer demand. As this report will detail, neither of these reasons adequately explains why conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves.

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management.

Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data. Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows.

In contrast, stations controlled by group owners—those with stations in multiple markets or more than three stations in a single market—were statistically more likely to air conservative talk. Furthermore, markets that aired both conservative and progressive programming were statistically less concentrated than the markets that aired only one type of programming and were more likely to be the markets that had female- and minority-owned stations.

Basically, what this means is that deregulation contributed to big business dominating the public airwaves with their conservative ideology. It’s actually more of an issue of diversity, but without regulation there is nothing to ensure diversity.  America is demographically diverse and would choose diverse radio talk shows if they were offered, but it isn’t in the interest of big business to offer diverse programming.

I came across this issue before and wrote about it in an earlier post:

Ralph Brauer: Revolutions & Liberal America

The Strange Death of Liberal America
By Ralph Brauer
pp 32-36

A second decision that became equally important for the Counterrevolution was the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  First enacted in 1949, the FCC ruling looked into the future and decided that because they operated in the public interest, the mass media should present all sides of controversial questions.  The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in the 1969 Red Lion case, still generally considered as one of the Court’s landmark decisions.

Red Lion not only involves the Religous Right but also foretells exactly what would happen with repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  The case began when the Reverend Billy James Hargis, the Jerry Falwell of his day, accused the author of a book on Barry Goldwater of being a communist.  The author sued under the Fairness Doctrine and the Court found in his favor.  In its decision the Court said the Fairness Doctrine serves to “enhance rather than abridge the freedoms of speechand press protected by the First Amendment.”  It also noted that “when a personal attack has been made on a figure involved in a public issue” the doctrine requires that “the individual attacked himself be offered an opportunity to respond.”

In 1987, an FCC packed with commissioners appointed by Ronald Reagan voted to repeal the Fairness Doctrine.  When Congress tried to overrule the decision by passing a law extending the doctrine, Reagan vetoed it.  Just as the Buckley decision opened the door to single-issue PACS, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door wide for ideologues like Robertson.

I don’t know what this means for the future, but it does explain how conservative ideology has became so dominant in recent decades. I hope it changes as the demographics keep shifting towards the liberal. Conservatives have a tight grip, though, and they’re not going to give up their position of power without a fight. The corporations that fund the conservative media have deep pockets and the Republican party has proven itself savvy in astro-turfing social movements. Conservatives have been able to challenge abortion and public option even though the majority of Americans support them. How can liberals successfully fight such media control. If conservative corporations ever find a way to control the internet, the liberal movement is a lost cause.

In context of all this data and analysis, there is a related problem. To determine if there is a liberal bias, one would have to determine what is ‘liberal’.

First, the American public isn’t polarized despite the fact that the political representatives of the American public are polarized and despite the fact that the mainstream media portrays the American public as polarized. Most Americans are ‘moderates’.

Second, although ‘moderate’, most Americans (along with most media and politicians) have a very biased view of ‘liberalism’. Most Americans actually hold many liberal views even while holding a negative view of ‘liberalism’ as a label.

Let me give a couple of examples:

  • Most Americans aren’t ‘pro-choice’ about abortion in terms of it being entirely unregulated, but this is a ‘moderate’ position. Most pro-choice activists aren’t for complete deregulation just like most gun rights advocates aren’t for complete deregulation. Still, most Americans are for the right of women to choose for themselves and they don’t want Roe vs Wade to be repealed. This moderate to liberal position has remained consistent for quite a while.
  • Most Americans are for the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana use. This is a flagship issue for among progressive liberals. Conservatives claim Obama is far to the left and yet Obama laughed off the idea of legalization/decriminalization as if it were a radical notion unworthy of being taken seriously. So, the average American is more liberal than Obama on this particular issue. This isn’t surprising considering Democrats on average are centrist (not the same thing as moderate; the center of Washington politics isn’t the center of public opinion).

For ‘Liberal’ NYT, Taxing the Rich Is a Fringe Idea
By Jim Naureckas

The New York Times is one of the most effective tools for limiting discussion in the U.S. political system. Falsely perceived as a left-leaning outlet, it has the power to make the most reasonable proposals seem ultra-radical by placing them beyond the pale.

[…] In other words, proposals like progressive taxation should be avoided because people might call you a liberal.  This from the daily news outlet that was named by journalists most often when asked to name one that was “especially liberal.”

For the record, taxing the rich is not an idea that has “a chance of winning broad public support”–it already has broad public support.

This is a very important insight.

Extremely conservative opinions get voiced in the mainstream such as with Fox News, but what is perceived as extremely liberal doesn’t.  The particularly significant aspect is the perception of what is liberal or conservative, what is mainstream or radical.  Some pundits who act like populists may not actually espouse populist opinions.  And some opinions that get denied or ignored in mainstream media might actually be popular opinion.

Because of this bias, smaller protests on the right such as the Tea Party get positive media attention and lots of it, but larger protests on the left such as the anti-war movement get negative media attention or else little attention at all.

The following criticisms of a study demonstrates the problems this can lead to. If the labels used themselves are biased, one will come to biased conclusions about bias.

Former fellows at conservative think tanks issued flawed UCLA-led study on media’s “liberal bias”

Definition of bias categorized ACLU as conservative

Any quantitative study of this sort must take a complex idea — in this case, “bias” — and operationalize it into something that can be measured. But given its rather odd operationalization of “bias,” it is perhaps unsurprising that the study’s scheme leads to some categorizations no observer — on the right or the left — could take seriously, including the following:

  • National Rifle Association of America (NRA) scored a 45.9, making it “conservative” — but just barely.
  • RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization (motto: “OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS. EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS.”) with strong ties to the Defense Department, scored a 60.4, making it a “liberal” group.
  • Council on Foreign Relations, whose tagline is “A Nonpartisan Resource for Information and Analysis” (its current president is a former Bush administration official; its board includes prominent Democrats and Republicans from the foreign policy establishment) scored a 60.2, making it a “liberal” group.
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), bête noire of the right, scored a 49.8, putting it just on the “conservative” side of the ledger.
  • Center for Responsive Politics, a group whose primary purpose is the maintenance of databases on political contributions, scored a 66.9, making it highly “liberal.”
  • Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank whose board of directors is currently chaired by former Representative Dave McCurdy (D-OK), scored a 33.9, making it more “conservative” than AEI and than the National Taxpayers Union.

We leave to the reader the judgment on whether anyone could take seriously a coding scheme in which RAND is considered substantially more “liberal” than the ACLU. But this is not the only problem with Groseclose and Milyo’s study; they lump together advocacy groups and think tanks that perform dramatically different functions. For instance, according to their data, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the third most-quoted group on the list. But stories about race relations that include a quote from an NAACP representative are unlikely to be “balanced” with quotes from another group on their list. Their quotes will often be balanced by quotes from an individual, depending on the nature of the story; however, because there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a “liberal bias.” On the other hand, a quote from an NRA spokesperson can and often will be balanced with one from another organization on Groseclose and Milyo’s list,

The problems with the Groseclose/Milyo study of media bias

…The authors also display a remarkable ignorance of previous work on the subject of media bias. In their section titled “Some Previous Studies of Media Bias,” they name only three studies that address the issue at more than a theoretical level. All three studies are, to put it kindly, questionable…

Although the authors seem completely unaware of it, in reality there have been dozens of rigorous quantitative studies on media bias and hundreds of studies that address the issue in some way. One place the authors might have looked had they chosen to conduct an actual literature review would have been a 2000 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Communication (the flagship journal of the International Communication Association, the premier association of media scholars). The abstract of the study, titled “Media bias in presidential elections: a meta-analysis,” reads as follows:

A meta-analysis considered 59 quantitative studies containing data concerned with partisan media bias in presidential election campaigns since 1948. Types of bias considered were gatekeeping bias, which is the preference for selecting stories from one party or the other; coverage bias, which considers the relative amounts of coverage each party receives; and statement bias, which focuses on the favorability of coverage toward one party or the other. On the whole, no significant biases were found for the newspaper industry. Biases in newsmagazines were virtually zero as well. However, meta-analysis of studies of television network news showed small, measurable, but probably insubstantial coverage and statement biases.

Standard scholarly practice dictates the assembly of a literature review as part of any published study, and meta-analyses, as they gather together the findings of multiple studies, are particularly critical to literature reviews. That Groseclose and Milyo overlooked not only the Journal of Communication meta-analysis, but also the 59 studies it surveyed, raises questions about the seriousness with which they conducted this study.

Indeed, they seem to be unaware that an academic discipline of media studies even exists. Their bibliography includes works by right-wing media critics such as Media Research Center founder and president L. Brent Bozell III and Accuracy in Media founder Reed Irvine (now deceased), as well as an article from the right-wing website WorldNetDaily. But Groseclose and Milyo failed to cite a single entry from any of the dozens of respected scholarly journals of communication and media studies in which media bias is a relatively frequent topic of inquiry — nothing from Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Political Communication, or any other media studies journal.

If you’re interested in a summary of the research done on media bias, I think the following is a fair and useful summary:

Media bias in the United States

Studies done by FAIR show the majority of media citations come from conservative and centrist sources.

A 2000 meta-analysis of research in 59 quantitative studies of media bias in American presidential campaigns from 1948 through 1996 found that media bias tends to cancel out, leaving little or no net bias. The authors conclude “It is clear that the major source of bias charges is the individual perceptions of media consumers and, in particular, media consumers of a particularly ideological bent.”[78]

Self-described as “the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly,[79] a study by political scientists Tim Groseclose of UCLA and Jeff Milyo of the University of Missouri at Columbia, both of whom have written for conservative think tanks (American Enterprise Institute), advocacy groups (Federalist Society), and periodicals (The American Spectator),[80]was published in December 2005 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. The study’s stated purpose was to document the range of bias among news outlets.[81] The research concluded that of the major 20 news outlets studied “18 scored left of the average U.S. voter, with CBS Evening NewsThe New York Times andThe Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal, while only the Fox News “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.” The study also identified the Drudge Report as “left of center”. In this study, “left” and “liberal” are treated as synonyms, and are identified with think tanks cited by Congressional members of the Democratic Party, while “right” is identified with think tanks cited by Congressional members of the Republican Party. The report also states, however, that the news media show a remarkable degree of centrism, since all but one of the outlets studied are, from an ideological point of view, between the average Democrat and average Republican in Congress.

The study met with criticism from many outlets, including the Wall Street Journal,[82] and Media Matters.[83] Criticisms included:

  • Different lengths of time studied per media (CBS News was studied for 12 years while the Wall Street Journal was studied for four months).
  • Lack of context in quoting sources (sources quoted were automatically assumed to be supporting the article)
  • Lack of balance in sources (Liberal sources such as the NAACP didn’t have conservative or counter sources that could add balance)
  • Flawed political positions of sources (Sources such as the NRA and RAND corporation were considered “liberal” while sources such as the American Civil Liberties Union were “conservative”.)

Mark Liberman, a professor of Computer Science and the Director of Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, has pointed out a number of statistical flaws in this study.[84][85] According to Professor Liberman, the model chosen leads to “very implausible psychological claims, for which no evidence is presented.” He concludes by saying that “many if not most of the complaints directed against G&M (Groseclose and Milyo) are motivated in part by ideological disagreement — just as much of the praise for their work is motivated by ideological agreement. It would be nice if there were a less politically fraught body of data on which such modeling exercises could be explored.”[84]

A 1998 study from FAIR found that journalists are “mostly centrist in their political orientation”;[86] 30% considered themselves to the left on social issues compared to 9% on the right, while 11% considered themselves to the left on economic issues compared to 19% on the right. The report explained that since journalists considered themselves to be centrists, “perhaps this is why an earlier survey found that they tended to vote for Bill Clinton in large numbers.” FAIR uses this study to support the claim that media bias is propagated down from the management, and that individual journalists are relatively neutral in their work.

Examining the “Liberal Media” Claim
Journalists’ Views on Politics, Economic Policy and Media Coverage

The findings include:

  • On select issues from corporate power and trade to Social Security and Medicare to health care and taxes, journalists are actually more conservative than the general public.
  • Journalists are mostly centrist in their political orientation.
  • The minority of journalists who do not identify with the “center” are more likely to identify with the “right” when it comes to economic issues and to identify with the “left” when it comes to social issues.
  • Journalists report that “business-oriented news outlets” and “major daily newspapers” provide the highest quality coverage of economic policy issues, while “broadcast network TV news” and “cable news services” provide the worst.

First, it is sources, not journalists, who are allowed to express their views in the conventional model of “objective” journalism. Therefore, we learn much more about the political orientation of news content by looking at sourcing patterns rather than journalists’ personal views. As this survey shows, it is government officials and business representatives to whom journalists “nearly always” turn when covering economic policy. Labor representatives and consumer advocates were at the bottom of the list. This is consistent with earlier research on sources. For example, analysts from the centrist Brookings Institution and right-wing think thanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are those most quoted in mainstream news accounts; left-wing think tanks are often invisible. When it comes to sources, “liberal bias” is nowhere to be found.

Second, we must not forget that journalists do not work in a vacuum. It is crucial to remember the important role of institutional context in setting the broad parameters for the news process. Businesses are not in the habit of producing products that contradict their fundamental economic interests. The large corporations that are the major commercial media in this country—not surprisingly—tend to favor style and substance which is consonant with their corporate interests; as do their corporate advertisers.

It is here, at the structural level, that the fundamental ground rules of news production are set. Of course, working journalists sometimes succeed in temporarily challenging some of those rules and boundaries. But ultimately, if they are to succeed and advance in the profession for any length of time, they must adapt to the ground rules set by others—regardless of their own personal views.

If you’d like to hear a detailed debate about media bias, the following video includes the views of Tucker Carlson and Eric Alterman:

I’m going to end by bringing this back to the issues from the first video at the top of this post. That video is a preview of a documentary put out by an organization that offers some other documentaries I find relevant to the issues I’ve been discussing. In particular, I’d point out the documentary ‘Mean World Syndrome’. I posted about it a while back and here is some of my commentary:

My only criticism of this documentary was that it demonstrated the effect of violence in media, but it didn’t fully explore why the media focuses so much on violence. There is more to it than just the public likes violence and those producing media are simply seeking profit. I don’t think it’s accidental a world of fear is created by media of violence. Those in power (media owners and politicians) want a world where people live in fear and want a public that is divided because that maintains and increases their power. The mainstream media, as Chomsky and others have pointed out, follows a propaganda model.

I would add that those in power want a political narrative of ideological divisiveness, of polarization and perceived bias. Portraying violence is one way to accomplish this, but any kind of social conflict (real or perceived) will serve the same purpose.

This discussion of bias isn’t just abstract theorizing or partisan rhetoric. There is massive influence on the public depending on what media is viewed and how the media presents the news. Here is from another post I wrote where I was asking about the correlation between the conservative worldview and violence:

So, when the rightwingers are hot and bothered about some new xenophobic fear, it’s hard for the liberal minority to counter it. This is particularly problematic considering social stress/uncertainty, fearmongering, and violent imagery can even make liberals more open to conservative views and more willing to accept authoritarian policies.

Liberals who gleaned most of their news from television in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks increased their support for expanded police powers, bringing them closer in line with the opinions of conservatives, a study by a UW-Madison researcher shows.

In contrast, heavy newspaper reading by liberals was related to lower levels of support for expanded police powers and for limits on privacy and freedom of information, basically reinforcing the differences between liberals and conservatives, says Dietram Scheufele, a journalism professor who conducted the study.

“TV pushed the two groups together in their thinking about post-9/11 policies, such as the Patriot Act. It made liberals more conservative. It took them away from what they initially believed and pushed them more toward a more conservative law-and-order stance,” Scheufele says.

The study, soon to be published in the journal Mass Communications & Society, is based on a survey of nearly 800 residents of Tompkins County, N.Y., in the fall of 2001, shortly after the attacks. Its results have been validated by two subsequent national surveys.

The survey showed that among liberals who watched little television, about 20 percent favored more government police powers. But about 41 percent of liberals who were heavy viewers of TV news supported such measures – much closer to the 50 to 60 percent of conservatives who supported greater police powers, regardless of how much TV news they watched.

The gap between conservatives and liberals widened, however, among heavy newspaper readers.

About 39 percent of light-reading liberals backed restricting freedom of speech in the days after the attacks, versus 31 percent who were heavy newspaper readers. Among conservatives, about 66 percent favored the limits, and nearly 70 percent of heavy readers backed the restrictions.

“Newspaper reading tended to reinforce partisan leanings, partly because it is more selective, readers have more options and seek out their own viewpoints,” Scheufele says. “By contrast, TV coverage is very linear, doesn’t offer any choice and was more image driven. You saw the plane hitting the building time and time again.”

I can’t prove an intentional agenda by those who own and manage the mainstream media, but it’s obvious that it’s in their interest to influence the public in certain ways. Consider this in the context of two facts. First, the mainstream media is owned by a handful of parent companies. And, second, a central engine of the US economy is the defense industry. With the military-industrial complex, there are many connections between the public and private sectors. Many parent companies that own the media also own defense industry companies. Many major investors in media companies are also major investors in defense industry companies. There is often a revolving door between Washington politics, corporate lobbyists, and the mainstream media.

Basically, my point is that whatever bias might exist in the mainstream media it certainly isn’t of a progressively liberal slant.