Mainstreaming the Extreme Rightwing
The strong case that Eric Alterman’s book What Liberal Media? made in 2003 against the propaganda-style claim by rightwingers, that the mass media has a liberal bias, is an expanding understatement. Just read recent issues of The Washington Post and The New York Times to see the most extreme reactionaries getting the kind of coverage their publicists love.
Just last Sunday in the October 10, 2010 New York Times, two very lengthy features appeared on the rancid Ann Coulter and the blogger Pamela Geller—a grotesque anti-Semite against Arabs who flaunts her sweeping bigotry as a badge of pride. Geller even called herself a ‘racist-Islamophobic-anti-Muslim-bigot’. One veteran reporter called the sprawling two page feature, with all of twenty color photos “an advertisement.”
Anyone with such open and flaunted hatred against Jews would either be ignored or slammed paragraph by paragraph with denunciations consigning the sick character into media oblivion.
The latest Coulter feature, one of many in the mainstream media over the years, chronicles her efforts to reinvent her shouts since she is being outflanked “on the right by the Tea Party.”
The Times called her a “conservative,” besmirching conservatives instead of what she really is—a burlesque performer throwing red meat to audiences looking for off-the-wall entertainment. Coulter even denounced the New Jersey 9/11 widows as exploiting their husbands’ deaths for enjoyment.
One of the editors at the New Yorker wondered what is happening to the Times sense of featureworthiness. I replied that no one on the seriously important Left gets this kind of promotional treatment, no matter how flamboyantly personal they may be. If there are counterparts, calling themselves leftists, who compare with Coulter and Geller, no one knows their names because they don’t have the Times, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to promote them via the mass media.
National and local talk radio, using our public airwaves free of charge, is dominated by extreme ranting rightwing soliloquists who often pull the plug on the few callers who get by the screeners. Cable political TV, apart from MSNBC (which fired Phil Donahue in 2003 for presenting both sides of Bush’s fabricated drive to invade Iraq) is a race between the wildly hysterical Beck-types and Bill O’Reilly pantingly trying to out-do Beck, even though O’Reilly knows better.
Take the comparative news and feature coverage of Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington, D.C. on August 28 with the rally at the same place a month later, organized by 400 progressive labor, religious, civil rights, student and environmental groups.
In the Washington Post, it was not even close. For the progressive rally of comparable size, representing tens of millions of Americans, the Post devoted a short article presaging the event and a regular news story that day on page 3, which cited Mr. Beck’s preposterous estimate of 500,000 for his meeting (A CBS-retained consulting firm estimated Beck’s rally drew just under 90,000).
For the Beck rally, the Post went all out. A huge page one story spilled generously onto the inside pages. The FOX network talkers’ assembly got articles proceeding and after the gathering. The Times, while not so gushing, did manage to give Beck a startling ego-inflating headline—“Where Dr. King Once Stood, Tea Party Claims His Mantle.” And Beck is a TV media man promoting political action, a role that formerly was taboo.
The op-ed pages showcase the news media’s rightwing bent even more than the news articles. The op-ed pages of the Post are over-represented with war-mongering columnists and contributors. The media watchdog FAIR reported in their monthly magazine Extra that, in one nine-month period during 2009, the ratio of op-ed’s supporting wars and interventions outnumbered op-ed’s by the anti-interventionists by ten-to-one. This in an overwhelmingly liberal Democratic city, no less.
Professor Andrew Bacevich, a former professional soldier and author of acclaimed books, has had five submissions rejected over the past two years or so by Fred Hiatt—the Post’s editorial page chief. Hiatt doesn’t even bother sending him a rejection, unlike his rejections by the more courteous David Shipley, his counterpart at the Times.
On the day President Obama announced the end of combat activity in Iraq, who appears with a lengthy unrepentant op-ed piece on Iraq in the Times? None other than a major architect of that illegal, criminal war of aggression—Paul Wolfowitz. John Bolton, the falsehood-prone former State Department wildcatter, whom Secretary Colin Powell could not stomach, managed to get an op-ed in the Times and the Post on the same day! Other viewpoints are infrequently solicited by the Times or Post.
The right-moving trend of the mainstream media, absurdly deemed liberal by successfully intimidating corporatists and ideological aggressors, continues year after year. Dissenting groups produce reports and actions that used to make the network television news, but are now shut out. Exposés by civic groups about rampant corporate crime and political corruption are regularly ignored.
Civil rights, women’s rights, environment, labor, consumer issues were once given voice on the Phil Donahue Show and occasionally by the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin Shows. No more. Many of the shows that followed, except for Oprah, showcase crude, violent, aberrant, sadomasochistic personal behaviors.
The media bends over backwards to avoid being called liberal by featuring many corporatist or rightwing think tank views. Media executives should pause to contemplate how their predecessors in the Sixties and Seventies embraced balance and, in so doing, resulted in our country being improved in many ways.
Why not now?