You know who benefits the most from the bias of the liberal media? conservatives.
I have spent much of the past 25 years writing about liberal media bias. Heck, I grew up on the thing. My father, a longtime editor, joked that he “worked behind enemy lines.” He would often tell me about Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent in Moscow who whitewashed Stalin’s crimes and won a Pulitzer in the process, or Herbert Matthews, the journalist whose Cuba coverage inspired the famous cartoon of Fidel. Castro saying, “I got my job thanks to the New York Times.
Dan Rather, a CBS News institution with its own well-documented bias, used to call liberal media bias a “myth.” Suffice it to say, I think he was wrong – and continues to be wrong.
But something has changed. The modern conservative movement began in the mid-twentieth century, and for most of this period “media” referred to three television stations, two newspapers and a few newsmagazines, all within walking distance of each other. others in Manhattan. Rounding out the list were the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and a handful of equally liberal big-city newspapers. At that time, “the media” had incredible power to set the agenda. Disagree if you will, just know that for the Conservatives it was an article of faith.
The irritation with this conventional centre-left wisdom, which dominated not only the media, but also academia, created the pearl of modern conservatism. When he started National Review, William F. Buckley proclaimed that his newspaper (where I worked for 20 years) “would stand against the tide of history crying stop.” The talk radio revolution launched by Rush Limbaugh and the rise of Fox News can only be understood as a rebellion against the hegemony – real or perceived – of the liberal media.
The story of how this hegemony was shattered by cable and internet news is now familiar. But what is interesting is that even as the reigning journalistic gatekeepers have been dethroned, conservative rage against the media has intensified. In 2008, Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate, became a right-wing darling largely because the mainstream media hated her.
In 2012, the early successes of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign stemmed almost entirely from his relentless focus on attacking the “destructive, vicious, and negative nature of much of the news media.”
Whatever you think of his broadsides, it’s worth noting that they aired long after Fox had become a ratings giant and a slew of right-wing news and opinion had been thrown around.
It’s almost impossible to overstate how tied Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency was to right-wing animosity for what Gingrich called “elite media.” Trump’s war on ‘fake news’ – his contribution to right-wing rhetoric – was so all-encompassing that he felt perfectly free to call the press ‘the enemy of the people’, to praise a politician who physically attacked a journalist and speak out against the First Amendment.
Ignore the background of the reviews. As an objective matter, this obsession with the so-called elite media monopoly has intensified alongside the dismantling of that monopoly. Republican politicians no longer need “elite media” to get their messages across. Indeed, often the best thing that can happen to a Republican politician is to earn the scorn of these media.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida understands this better than anyone. He made media hostility central to his brand. “If the national corporate press isn’t attacking me,” he says, “then I’m probably not doing my job.” (Curiously, his definition of “corporate press” doesn’t include Fox News, where he appears so often he should probably have his mail delivered to the Green Room.)
If Republican voters haven’t learned that the monolithic media is no longer the monolith it once was, neither has the media itself. When “60 Minutes” did a shoddy feature on DeSantis, it amounted to an in-kind donation to the governor.
Much of the press is caught in a kind of “Baptists and smugglers” loop, in which opposing forces become symbiotically co-dependent. Thanks in part to the blurring of reporting with partisan pundits, particularly on cable news and social media, not to mention broader tribal polarization trends, left-wing attacks often benefit their right-wing targets (and vice versa). ).
Stranger still, favorable coverage is often not favorable. Right-wing denunciations of “defunding the police” — a fringe position among elected Democrats — have done Democrats far less harm than the coverage the idea has received from sympathetic media.
There are no easy answers to the problem, but one thing that would help would be a tougher, skeptical love for politicians and political causes from the media most inclined to help them. Because help does not help.
Jonah Goldberg is editor of The Dispatch and host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch.