Monday, June 21, 2004

What Liberal Bias?

My last post, on liberal bias in the elite media, got a rise out of John Gallagher and John Perry. Here is some of what Gallagher wrote, together with a few responses from me.

Eric Alterman contests the conservative myth of liberal media bias in his book: What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News.

Do conservatives who complain of media bias have a legitimate complaint or are they just "working the refs"?

In the introduction to his book, Alterman notes:

... while some conservatives actually believe their own grumbles, the smart ones don't. They know mau-mauing the other side is just a good way to get their ideas across -- or perhaps to prevent the other side from getting a fair hearing for theirs. On occasion, honest conservatives admit this. Rich Bond, then the chair of the Republican Party, complained during the 1992 election, "I think we know who the media want to win this election-and I don't think it's George Bush." (p. 8) The very same Rich Bond also noted during the very same election, however, "There is some strategy to it [bashing the 'liberal' media] .... If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one." (p. 9)

BV RESPONDS: Alterman is claiming that (1) Smart conservatives do not believe their bias charge, and (2) Conservatives who are both smart and honest admit that their bias charge is just a tactic to get more attention for the conservative point of view and to prevent the liberal point of view from being heard. Both of these assertions are obviously false. There are plenty of counterexamples to each of them. I am smart and I am a conservative and I believe that the elite outlets tilt to the Left. Note that I am not an 'interested party': I am not trying to sell a book on media bias, nor do I work for a right-wing publication, or anything like that. Note also the difference between 'just a tactic and 'a tactic.' Some conservatives may well use the bias charge as tactic to help them win elections. But that's not to say that it is just a tactic for winning.

But even if we assume that both (1) and (2) are true, how are these propositions about the psychological states of some conservatives relevant to the question whether the elite media outlets display liberal bias? That is not a question about anyone's psychological state, but a question about the content of certain uttered and printed statements. What Alterman is doing in the above passage is psychologizing. Equivalently, he is committing the genetic fallacy: instead of assessing the claim of liberal bias and the evidence for it, he is focusing on the origin (genesis) of this claim in the supposed interests of certain conservatives. He is arguing like this: the bias charge is false because smart conservatives don't believe it. But surely the premise is logically irrelevant to the conclusion. There either is or is not a leftward tilt in the elite outlets regardless of whether or not smart conservatives believe there is.

So, once again, I find evidence for my contention that libs and lefties are logical slopheads. Of course, there is the possibility that Alterman is not a logically incompetent individual but a pure ideologue who is interested in only one thing, winning, and will use any means to attain his goal, a goal the gloriousness of which retroactively justifies any and all means.

Alterman has some interesting things to say about Goldberg's book Bias too:

During the course of over 220 pages of complaining, Goldberg never bothers to systematically prove the existence of liberal bias in the news, or even define what he means by the term. About as close as we get is: "I said out loud what millions of TV news viewers all over America know and have been complaining about for years: that too often, Dan and Peter and Tom and a lot of their foot soldiers don't deliver the news straight, that they have a liberal bias, and that no matter how often the network stars deny it, it is true." (p. 35)

Goldberg did not set out to prove a liberal bias across the entire media, nor even across all television news. He concerned himself only with the evening news broadcasts, and not even with politics, but with social issues. Moreover, he appears to have done little research beyond recounting his own experiences and parroting the complaints of a conservative newsletter published by Brent Bozell's Media Research Center. (p. 39)

BV: I have read Goldberg's Bias and some of Alterman's book (and not just the portions quoted by Gallagher) and I cannot see that Alterman has successfully rebutted any of Goldberg's allegations. I think the problem is that liberals are just incapable of seeing their own bias, and that no fact that a conservative presents as evidence of bias will be allowed into court. Liberals tend to confuse the world with their view of the world. They just cannot fathom how anyone could disagree with them, and still be a person that could be taken seriously. Part of the problem is that they hang out with their own kind and reinforce each other in their views. But there are several other factors involved.