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What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias…

What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News

by Eric Alterman

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468533,430 (3.64)9

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***UPDATE 3/3/13: This book loses more of my esteem after reading Noam Chomsky's [b:Necessary Illusions|848628|Necessary Illusions Thought Control in Democratic Societies|Noam Chomsky|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348036055s/848628.jpg|865795], which makes Alterman's whole Liberal/Conservative dichotomy seem downright trivial, criticizing the constraints by which the entire liberal-conservative paradigm (and thus Alterman's book) exists. It's really a rather glorious proposition, and much more professionally and convincingly argued, albeit quite a bit drier. It honestly makes me wonder how Alterman could have written this book without even addressing the game-changing argument that Chomsky made almost 15 years prior. Basically, Chomsky makes Alterman's entire book seem facile. Please go there for a real book on media criticism.***

The valuable content saves the irritating writing from two-star status. Alterman makes a convincing argument, a necessary one as well (perhaps not as timely 10 years after the fact, but the general premise holds and is absolutely relevant today since the same "liberal media" charges continue to be constantly tossed around). The chapters on Gore were particularly illuminating for me since I was just coming into my political awareness at the time and was still not paying very close attention to the facts of the 2000 election. Additionally, his general theme of "working the refs," how the conservative establishment has shifted the center of American politics drastically to the right, is extremely important and well-taken. Reminds me of Coach K at Duke (there I go revealing my alma mater).

That said, there are some problems with the writing, most of them minor issues that just added up to sort of a sour taste over the course of the book, the chief offense being that it was occasionally clunky. I hesitate to call it "bad" just because that implies a level of expertise that I certainly don't have. However the word "bad" did keep occurring to me, so I'll just use "clunky" as a surrogate. A good example from the end of the book:With an advisory board featuring Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, and Chester Finn, the organization presents itself as a champion of "intellectual renewal" and "academic standards" in the face of their perceived decline at the hands of leftist academics and fashionable post-modern theories that blur the verities of our time behind a facade of impenetrable professional vernacular. 251Um, excuse me? I'm sure that sentence means something, but I'm equally sure that I'm not going to spend the time to figure out what. And it's not just me being dumb, I swear. [a:Hannah Arendt|12806|Hannah Arendt|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1222711954p2/12806.jpg] is one of my favorite writers ever. Go and check out [b:The Human Condition|127227|The Human Condition|Hannah Arendt|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328874274s/127227.jpg|462889]. Long sentences, really confusing. And totally awesome. This guy, not so much.

The book was strangely in need of some editing as well, which may have just been an issue in the 1st edition hardback that I had. Here's a prime example of the combination of these two problems of bad editing and too much info in one sentence:For instance, his assertion that that [sic] the hope for welfare payments was the main source of illegitimacy among black teenagers posited no evidence for this claim and failed to explain why the rate of illegitimacy rose for everyone -- and not just welfare recipients -- after 1972, while the constant-dollar value of those welfare benefits declined by 20 percent. 90So there was this tendency to try and cram too much information into a sentence, which is sort of a microcosm of Alterman's tendency to try and cram too much information into the book. The depth and breadth of his research definitely came across, but it seemed like overkill at times. He made very salient points and then kept making them over and over again, with many more examples than I needed or wanted. I think "pedantic" is the word for this particular offense. The most glaring example is how he spends 4 pages on Rush Limbaugh, whose douchebaggery should already have been exceedingly familiar to any reader.

Perhaps, as with my first quote above, I'm just being dense. However I can't help but opine that with a title like What Liberal Media?, this is not meant to be a strictly academic work, requiring seven citations when two or three will do. Indeed, his informal tone through most of the book gives the same impression (speaking of which, I'm still trying to come up with any conceivable need for his mentioning on p.244 that Charles Krauthammer is partially paralyzed).

The last issue is more major, unfortunately: the book is overwhelmingly anecdotal. For an author who spends pages in an early chapter blasting [a:Charles Murray|44279|Charles Murray|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1314507470p2/44279.jpg] for his misuse (and lack) of statistics in [b:Losing Ground|170512|Losing Ground American Social Policy, 1950-1980|Charles Murray|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347712025s/170512.jpg|164652] and [b:The Bell Curve|223556|The Bell Curve Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life |Richard J. Herrnstein|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348155395s/223556.jpg|216508], it seems hypocritical for Alterman himself to largely eschew the use of statistics throughout the book.

This became more apparent as the book went on and I started thinking, Well, I can see all these examples of conservatives in the media but surely there must have been liberal viewpoints as well. Why isn't he telling me about those at all, or even mentioning them? The lack of mention made me suspicious, like he was trying to hide them to bolster his point. Of course all my suspicions would have been moot if he had just backed up his claims with a NEXIS search or some other statistical analysis (which, coincidentally, could have helped him trim his citations as well).

The cherry on top of this sundae of unprofessionalism occurs in the Clinton chapter when he armchair psychologizes journalists to explain how they incessantly attacked Clinton out of envy, "with the vengeance of a lover scorned." This could, of course, very well be the case, but Alterman makes a laughably weak case in the one jarring paragraph he dedicates to the outlandish claim.

All in all, I'm glad I read the book. I am now better equipped to counter the false claims of liberal media bias. I'm not sure I can really recommend it to others due to the writing problems outlined above. What I would recommend, however, is to find a liberal who has read it and can tell you about the main arguments, so that you'll be equipped as well, and without having wasted many hours on what would be a very slow and somewhat tedious read. ( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
Eric Alterman uses a variety of sources and viewpoints to disprove the "media is liberal" meme. ( )
  06nwingert | May 22, 2009 |
Don’t believe the conservative talking points!

Even though it was published in 2004, Eric Alterman’s WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA?: THE TRUTH ABOUT BIAS AND THE NEWS is just as relevant and insightful today, as the 2008 election cycle begins to heat up. From the mainstream media’s misogynist slurs against Hillary Clinton to their love affair with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain (note to Chris Matthews: the media isn’t supposed to be ANY candidate’s “base”), the total lack of a liberal bias, even among ostensibly moderate-to-lefty journalists, is painfully evident.

Alterman debunks the myth of the liberal media from a number of angles. From the rise of right-wing pundits and well-funded conservative “think tanks” (an oxymoron if ever there was one), to the political leanings of and corporate pressures faced by individual journalists, Alterman illustrates how the Republican Party seized control of the mainstream media, all the while decrying its supposed bias in favor of liberal causes.

Especially timely is his discussion of how the media has treated George W. Bush with kid gloves, previously having eviscerated (sometimes, rightfully so) Bill Clinton for lesser evils. Yes, Bill Clinton deserves scorn for taking advantage of an awe-struck intern (power disparity, anyone?); but a BJ pales in comparison to an unjust war. (Mind bogglingly, the media’s slant has only veered further to the right in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.) Shortly after the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq passed 4,000, Dick Cheney declared “It places a special burden obviously on the families, and we recognize, I think — it's a reminder of the extent to which we are blessed with families who've sacrificed as they have. The president carries the biggest burden, obviously.” Bush himself said – with no hint of irony, compassion, or remorse - that he’s found his presidency “joyful” and he sleeps “a lot better than people would assume.” And the MSM didn’t even blink.

*head desk*

Seriously, WHAT liberal media!?

As the primaries drag on, it’s a whole lotta history repeating.

While WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? probably won’t sway any hardcore conservatives, it is a useful tool for liberals who wish to quash the myth of the liberal media, and might help to educate misinformed moderates and independents. Generally speaking, it’s a good read and a persuasive argument, but I wish Alterman had included more hard statistics and fewer anecdotes. Then again, there seems to be a dearth of research in this area; perhaps WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? can serve as a starting point for some enterprising young journalism or social science students looking to study the issue further. An update for 2008 would be a welcome addition as well; Alterman has four more years of dubya’s shenanigans to document, not to mention the farcical 2008 primaries.

To the content of the book, I bequeath four stars. To the format, which was for me an audiobook, one lonely star. I’m normally a huge fan of audiobooks, since they allow me to “read” 2-3 times as many books as I might otherwise. Yet Alterman narrated WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? himself, and the result is almost un-listenable. It’s truly awful. (His Bill O’Reilly impression is spot on, though. Hey, credit where credit’s due.) And this comes from someone who has a high tolerance for non-professional narration; I usually prefer that authors record the audio versions of their own books, since it lends an added authenticity to the reading. I loved listening to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s INFIDEL and Christopher Hitchens’ GOD IS NOT GREAT, both of which were read by the respective authors, thick accents and all. But Alterman’s publisher really should have shelled out the extra money for a pro.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2008/04/03/what-liberal-media-by-eric-alterman/ ( )
  smiteme | Mar 25, 2008 |
Five stars may be a tad heavy, but this book is extremely important in countering the absurdities coming out of the Right about an alledged left-wing bias. ( )
  Kendall41 | Dec 1, 2006 |
One of the most important books in my political development.
1 vote DavidSwindle | Nov 29, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0465001777, Paperback)

The incredulity begins with the title What Liberal Media?, journalist Eric Alterman's refutation of widely flung charges of left-wing bias, and never lets up. The book is unlikely to make many friends among conservative media talking heads. Alterman picks apart charges made by Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Sean Hannity, and others (even the subtitle refers to a popular book by former CBS producer Bernard Goldberg that argues a lefty slant in news coverage). But the perspectives of less-incendiary figures, including David Broder and Howard Kurtz, are also dissected in Alterman's quest to prove that not only do the media lack a liberal slant but that quite the opposite is true. Much of Alterman's argument comes down to this: the conservatives in the newspapers, television, talk radio, and the Republican party are lying about liberal bias and repeating the same lies long enough that they've taken on a patina of truth. Further, the perception of such a bias has cowed many media outlets into presenting more conservative opinions to counterbalance a bias, which does not, in fact, exist, says Alterman. In methodically shooting down conservative charges, Alterman employs extensive endnotes, all of which are referenced with superscript numbers throughout the body of the book. Those little numbers seem to say, "Look, I've done my homework." What Liberal Media? is a book very much of 2003 and will likely lose some relevance as political powers and media arrangements evolve. But it's likely to be a tonic for anyone who has suspected that in a media environment overflowing with conservatives, the charges of bias are hard to swallow. For liberals hoping someone will take off the gloves and mix it up with the verbal brawlers of the right, Eric Alterman is a champion. --John Moe

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:14 -0400)

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Refuting the claim that mainstream media has a liberal slant, the author exposes the fallacy of a left-wing conspiracy, arguing that it is corporate news structure that determines what the public sees and hears in broadcast or print media.

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