The Myth of the Liberal Media

by Rebecca Schmitz

Dragons. Santa Claus. Unicorns. All are things most people no longer believe in. Hell, even the Bhutanese question the existence of the yeti. But there’s a mythical creature out there that the credulous among us insist still exists.

[cue scary, dramatic music]

The liberal media!


Anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention during the run-up to the Iraq War knows there’s no such thing. From that great “liberal” flagship the New York Times down to your local fishwrap, the media simply passed along the fairytales spun by the Bush Administration. And yet, the myth persists.

Two posts elsewhere this past week debunk this curious belief.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Pogie over at Intelligent Discontent has been writing a great series about the political farce better known as the “#dontgo” show, and the role the media has played in perpetuating the myth of our lackluster Representative’s concern about the energy crisis.

The Missoulian loved the story so much that it offered an editorial that was a barely reworded version of the original Rehberg press release [snip] It turns out that Representative Rehberg went to do the “people’s work” for exactly one day. Let’s ignore the fact that news stories about the Republican faux Congress ignored the past recess practices of these members, their trips, and their justifications for leaving. Let’s ignore the fact that the Montana media left out any context about the nature of these show debates.

How could they not notice that Rehberg wasn’t even there the rest of the week?

The creators of any fantasy world, whether it’s Middle Earth, Discworld, or the liberal media, have to add enough detail to make it seem real to his or her audience. And thus we have the oft-told story that the liberal media always, always supports public education. One of Missoula’s favorite booksellers, Shakespeare & Co., pokes a hole in that folktale.

Man–I really object to this story about Montana schools fail No Child marks for yearly progress (Missoulian, Rob Chaney). First of all 71 percent of them passed. Secondly any “failure” is a bunch of transparently self-fulfilling bullshit. The radical right does not believe in public education (or public much of anything) and so they create “standards” that are specifically designed to stigmatize public schools as failing. Then they starve education (at every level) of adequate funding. Then the Missoulian reports it: Montana schools fail.

Job done.

Nice going, Missoulian.

There’s an easy way to disprove any myth: direct observation. Wondering if there’s really a Santa Claus? Stay up long enough, and you’ll see your parents put your gifts under the Christmas tree. Scared of the monsters under your bed? Shine a flashlight underneath it just before bedtime. And convinced there’s a big scary liberal media out there? Just look at the blogroll there to the right. If the mainstream media was really all that liberal, why do the rest of us exist?


  1. Yeah, it’s interesting to watch a company that’s shed nearly 85% of its value in a year continually resort to a recipe that’s failed them. I’ve got friends in the newsrooms and management of a several of Lee’s Montana papers, and they all know some of the problems. It’s just that the management of traditional media in this country have a nearly suicidal reluctance to change or make progressive moves for self preservation.

    I hate to cheer on their further demise, but I also have a hard time finding a reason to subscribe or put 50 cents in a vending machine for their product. Stories like the examples in this entry remind me why I stopped subscribing.

  2. scenario #1 – underpaid reporter is fed a slickly worded PR packet from politician’s press secretary who makes 3 times the salary of said reporter. media specialist was easily recruited years ago from large respected newspaper with larger said salary. reporter uses packet prepared by press secretary to write story- makes deadline and reward is paycheck.downside to reporter = none.

    scenario #2 – underpaid reporter is fed slickly worded PR packet from same press secretary.
    reporter slaves to get behind the scenes and write a real story that delves into details and half truths spewed by media specialist. interviews scores of people by phone and in person. keeps putting city editor off while working on story. misses deadline. news becomes too stale to report. reward = reporter fired for missing deadline. downside to reporter= out of work.

    scenario #3 – same as above #2 except by working through the night reporter miraculously makes deadline and gets story out. politician not happy about story, screams at publisher. publisher calls city editor on carpet who must call reporter in to explain negative “spin” that politician’s media specialist objects to. reporter’s story is read widely and discussed by public. after many hours of overtime and much hard work reporter’s reward, if lucky and survives grilling = regular paycheck (same as #1)
    and the adulation and praise of 2 or 3 people who appreciate good journalism and who take the time to let the reporter know. this and 1.50 gets the reporter exactly one small coffee at Le Petite outre. downside to reporter = angry politician who restricts access to information through intransigent media specialist.

    if we want better news reporting, we need to reward good behavior (hard work) with real money.
    don’t blame the journalists for a very bad system. it has been coopted long ago by very smart politicians and corporate executives.

  3. Well said Problem Bear.

  4. I believe journalists DO tend to be liberal. However, the publishers do not.

  5. When was it a good system? I mean, ever read copies of newspapers from the 1890s? It’s all about the “Yellow Peril” and how we should take Cuba and the Philippines from those dastardly swarthy Spaniards.

    The media is simply a reflection of our popular culture; it’s neither conservative (okay, ignore the cult-owned Washington Times and cult-watched Fox News for a moment here) or liberal.

  6. Jim Lang

    Rebecca, your post ignores the reality of media consolidation. Human nature being what it is, ‘the media’ contains roughly the same mix of employees as way back when, but the same diversity of publicly expressed opinion no longer exists.

  7. I wouldn’t say I “ignored” media consolidation; it was beyond the scope of what I wanted to write about, which was a basically a tip of the hat to two other blogs out there.

    Anyway, I certainly think a handful of companies owning numerous media outlets has certainly had an effect on the “politics” of journalism. But has corporate ownership made the media more liberal, as conservative critics suggest? No.

  8. Mayor of mayhem

    Deregulation has resulted in very few people owning many many newspapers in several markets. This gives any super rich person with an agenda the means to sway public opinion. I think it was Hitler’s PR guy who said “tell any lie long and loud enough and it becomes truth”(I’m not clear on the exact quote). The result is websites like this one where we collectively come to accept what others say as truth or not.
    My granddad used to tell me “there are two reasons to do something a good reason and the real reason”
    In my experience the media is as diversified as the rest of the country. The Liberal media tag is often used by people ho want to ignore the truth. You will hear Rush Limbaugh saying ” well what do you expect that’s the liberal media at work”, as if to say whatever is being reported is not true simply because of the source.
    Journalists and Politicians often have an agenda they care not to reveal, probably because most of us would be sickened if we knew the truth. It’s best to approach newspaper owners and politicians with a good pair of rubber boots, and make them the real high ones for when it really gets deep.

  9. Pronghorn

    One thing to note about the post above, the one that lays out various scenarios (problembear), is that there was no underpaid reporter at work on a news story here (the Rehberg/energy crisis stunt)–this was the Missoulian’s own editorial opinion, and OKed, one assumes, by the editorial board.

    Lately, the Missoulian has made a couple of significant missteps when it did try to come up with substantive editorials (rather than outsourcing the coveted top-left spot to guest columnists), and they’ve come off sounding naive, maybe ignorant. I’m referring to the one discussed here and the one about Judge Molloy and the wolf decision, the latter which has been corrected now several times by other contributors. One wishes the editors were a bit…savvier. Maybe it’s just as well that they stick to occasional powderpuff editorials like downtown parking problems.

  10. my scenarios mostly apply to the new york post vis a vis Bush.

  11. Klemz

    Journalists are people–super-, super-underpaid people. We know what we’re getting into. It’s an ideological choice.

    Anyone who’s remotely good at journalism realizes pretty quick that they would also be good at business, law or politics, where they can get more money for equal stress. So, the non-ideologues shed off by 30. The ideologues get fed up with the corporate content management structure and either form small indy rags/websites or establish non-profits. Those that remain get disillusioned and lazy. The people who aren’t good enough to rise above the rest fall into soft beats and settle into routine, which often involves regurgitating press releases.

    Old-school, experienced journalists who do not suck are rarer than gold. In Montana, I can count them on one hand.

    So, I agree with ProblemBear, the issue is mostly money, but I really don’t see an easy fix in this marketplace. My theory is every investigative journalist has a BS threshold–a very specific number of BS comments you can see about work you’ve done before you say, “screw it, I’m fixin’ to get mine.” The next day, an LSAT appointment is made.

  12. Jim Lang

    The Missoulian is a joke. With product like that, no wonder newspapers are going the way of the dinosaur.

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