Sunday, November 9, 2008

Media Slant, and Why It Matters

Barring any major events I'll be moving away from writing about Obama for a while. I want to give my blood pressure a rest and also focus more in upcoming posts on how to turn the tide to capture the future. But, to launch that effort, there is one remaining topic to cover about the recently completed campaign: media coverage.

Notice that the title does not say "media bias." Bias is a lack of objectivity. Major outlets say this is less extensive or serious than their critics assert. That's a debate for another day. What's beyond dispute is that, at least on the op-ed pages and TV editorial segments, the media has a definite slant. Even they would admit this much. That slant, however they term it, is most often to the left, i.e. toward more government control for the purpose of social engineering and economic 'management'.

If you think that situation is bad now, wait another 20 years. College newspapers backed Obama 63-1. Sure, you could argue, they're just a bunch of college kids. The old saying is "if you're not a liberal at 20 you have no heart; if you're not a conservative at 40 you have no brain." The issue is a little more serious than that. It's also possible, even desirable, to have a brain at 20 and a heart at 40 and, most importantly, never ignore either.

Yes, kids will be kids. And, it's certainly true that a great many college graduates get a rude shock when they get out into 'the real world'. They learn they can no longer say do anything they like with no consequences. They have to make hard choices between their 'ideals' (assuming they had any to start with) and making a living. As a result, many move 'to the middle'. But if the center shifts, that middle goes with it and the center has been shifting for some time.

The media pundits of the left have been gleefully exclaiming the "end of a failed ideology." But their cheers come a bit late. Presidents get elected at the end of a shift in culture, not at the beginning. It's something of a myth that for the past 25 years or more America has been a "center right" country. The only way to make that view plausible is to not know what's been happening to the center over the past 100 years. Consider what America was like 25 years prior to today, and another 25, then another 25, then one last 25.

Compared to 1910, the U.S. of 1935 was already highly socialist. The Federal Reserve was established in 1913, the income tax the same year, then 20-30 years later Hoover and FDR made the country an explicit collectivized economy. Compared to 1935, 1950 was already moving rapidly toward Fascism. Some economic controls had been lifted, WWII rationing for example. But, culturally, there were the beginnings of the anti-hero alongside the beatniks (precursors to the hippies of the New Left). Truman tried to nationalize the steel industry and almost got away with it. (The Supreme Court reversed his order by 6-3.)

By 1970 the revolution was pretty much over and the New Left had won, intellectually. The mainstream defense of capitalism had become not an advocacy of individual freedom and inviolate property rights, but an argument over which system led to cheaper oil. There was a mini-revival by conservatives, but (at least as far as the media and academia are concerned) it has been largely a defensive action against the Leviathan.

It's no accident, either, that the country has been moving leftward (with some slight variations) over the past 40 years. William Ayers, ex-Weathermen founder, is now a professor of education at the University of Chicago. He has a considerable influence on the teaching of future teachers at, ironically, one of the more right-leaning universities in the country. Angela Davis, once on the FBI's Most Wanted list and the VP candidate on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984, is employed at UC Santa Cruz.

These may be two of the more extreme well-known cases, but there are thousands of others who emerged from the late 60s/early 70s New Left revolt and moved into academia and the media later in life. Many of those college radicals, editors, and reporters went on to work on newspapers and at TV stations or at colleges around the country. They took their college views with them.

Consider what may happen 20 years from now as today's college students take the reins at whatever are the dominant media outlets then. The effect is gradual, but over time, they will try to move the culture in a direction still further away from individual freedom and property rights, along with erasing all the other distinctively American values: love of reason and science, a confident entrepreneurial spirit, a commitment to self-reliance, and that "Don't tread on me" attitude that protected the country against foreign enemies inside and out for 250 years.

It's no accident that we've now arrived at a time when their perfect representative has been elected President of the United States. When a man with Sean Penn's views can proudly say that for the first time in his life he can put the word "my" before the word "president," you know something has gone terribly askew.

The fundamental reasons for Obama's election success have little to do with superior campaign organization, a cheerful grin and eloquent speaking skills, or even the horrendous financial debacle and the Bush administration's reactions. The first one is true, but not decisive. The second reason has too many counter-examples to bear the full weight (Nixon, Carter, etc.). On the final element, consider that Obama was comfortably ahead for months, McCain barely so for only a couple of weeks before the meltdown.

Media bias or slant over the past two years can't explain his success, either. The American people knew what they were getting. Ayers wasn't discussed much but he was talked about enough to tell editors that people didn't care. The Wright videos were widely seen. Despite considerable media bias, it's still true that their overriding interest is in attracting an audience. If either story had gotten traction, it would have been everywhere. The majority of American readers and viewers didn't think those alliances were important and no amount of campaign money, personal charm, or superior spin can alter that fact.

No, the American people knew what they were getting and it's what more than half of them wanted. They were ok with it because thousands of teachers and op-ed writers over a 40 year period had moved half the country enough to regard Obama's views as mainstream, as indeed they are.

Forty years ago, he would have been considered a radical. At the turn of the 20th century, he would have been deported. Today, he's just slightly more liberal than the average corporate executive. When every Wikipedia article that touches on environmentalism sides against industry and daily newspapers ran 287-159 in favor of Obama (circulation even wider, 23 million to 9 million), it's ludicrous to assert that his views are not mainstream. What was far left in the 60s has become mainstream, at least in terms of the popular culture that everyone is bathed in daily.

As things stand, the situation is poised to get worse, not better. A few of the major media outlets have admitted to open bias, or suppressing information about Obama. That's actually small potatoes. Enough information came out during the campaign that, in a rational world, an all-but admitted "non-ideological" communist would not have won. But he did. Handily. Media bias can't explain that. Media (and academic) slant — over the past 40 years — can.

So, here's where we are. The question on the minds of many who are unhappy with the outcome is what to do about it. They're focusing on who to put forth in four years, what type of candidate can shift the numbers back, what kind of Republican Party has the better odds over the coming years.

Myself, I couldn't care less about that. The Republican Party has never been very interesting and it has shown few signs of improving much over the past 20 years. Even if it did, winning elections is a secondary issue. Obama got elected because of the type of country America has more than half-become. After all, ask yourself why was the race between a far left Democrat and a moderate Democrat who happens to be in the Republican Party?

No, the way to get a non-wannabe dictator elected and, far more importantly, to have the right kind of country, is not to worry too much about party platforms and candidates. It's to reverse and then some the harmful changes in the culture of the past 100 years, particularly the past 40.

A big agenda, to be sure. More on how to do that in upcoming posts.


Ted said...

We've had a socialist in the White House for 8 years now, and a left-leaning GOP that, instead of rejecting the lies of FDR and LBJ, has openly embraced them and destroyed the work of Ronald Reagan.
It's not about Right vs. left, it's about Der Schtaat vs. YOU!

Ideaman said...

The conservative/libertarians MUST start reaching the young voters with our own online websites with humor and knowledge of what our values will mean for their lives. The left has Democracy Now, Letterman, MTV, Jon Stewart, etc. We need to launch a series of video websites, experimenting with format and content, which teach, in a humorous way, how to detect media to watch for slant to news and print pieces....I can't believe there are not thousands of sharp conservative professors across all disciplines seething with frustration as our young peoples mind's are being polluted with so much socialistic nonsense! Why not tap these frontline professors for suggestions on content, techniques, arguments, etc. that WORK in reaching these young people? I can't imagine the College Republicans wouldn't be thrilled with their own "Democracy Now"like conservative site...Funding? Ask the people funding the conservative think tanks to divert just a small amount of that money to a video online site that truly hits the kids daily with truth. Policy papers by think tanks are NOT being read by college students. And honestly, we conservative bloggers are preaching to the choir, aren't we? We need to push alot of this energy onto the video battlefield of Youtube like media. The attention span of this generation is shortening at warp speed. Their critical thinking skills are being blunted by professors intent on dumbing them down. We are LOSING the culture by not even being on the right battlefield.

Thanks for all your observations and efforts.


Jeff Perren said...


I'm neither a conservative nor a libertarian, but I largely agree with your basic point. I'm not sure humor is the best way to achieve that goal, but it can't hurt.

Also, I don't think it's a good idea to talk down to an audience, by stuffing websites with video, sound bites, etc. Writing/showing in a way that's easily understood is good. But, as Einstein once said about a physical theory, "it should be as simple as possible, but not simpler."

The more fundamental problem needs to be addressed and that is: why can't too many people think at anything but the most primitive level. That's the result of Progressive education and it definitely needs to be fixed in every way possible.

I think you may fear we're in crisis mode (understandable) and there's no time for anything but quick fixes. If that's the case, I think we're sunk. But I don't think that's the case.

Certainly, showing people how to be objective -- how to detect bias, etc -- is good. That's a tough proposition in a culture that has taught for generations now that objectivity is impossible.

By all means, if you think starting websites with humor, video, etc. is a good idea go right ahead. If you can persuade others to help, excellent. But there is such a thing in marketing as ruining your brand. If pro-freedom individuals want to be taken seriously, they need to think and write seriously. Mocking foolish ideas and evil people is good. But if good ideas become just a punchline, we're headed in the wrong direction.
Thanks for your comments. Worth thinking about.

Jeff Perren said...


Ronald Reagan had his good points -- some of them very, very good. But he was not, as the younger crowd sometimes says, "all that." He was a pragmatist who leaned toward individual freedom. But his policies were a very mixed bag. I was there. I lived through it as an adult who had already studied history, philosophy, and economics.

Still, I'd rather have him now than anyone else from the 20th century except possibly Calvin Coolidge.

I think it's an exaggeration to call Bush a socialist. He's more like a faux liberal Democrat than a Ronald Reagan conservative, to be sure. But he too is a pragmatist and his policies are so all over the map it would be hard to label him as anything in particular.

I agree with your point about right and left, the State vs. me, however. But more fundamentally, it's a battle of ideas. Bad ones are on the ascendency and good ones are being ignored or largely unknown by the electorate who, after all, determine the kind of government we get.

The responsibility lies with the American people and half of them are becoming, unaware or otherwise, the enemies of the other half. Fix that, and the government will follow accordingly.

Consider, for example, what happened when gas hit $4 per gallon a few months ago. The uproar was so great that politicians started to take notice. If the populace could get that worked up over something a little more basic -- like the right of voluntary exchange between all the participants in the chain of oil production, gasoline refining, marketing, sales -- the problem would go away entirely. Expand that example to all aspects of the economy and you'd have re-created a free country.