Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Beware the Liberal Media!

A Cautionary Note from Neal Gabler

In Sunday's LA Times Gabler points out that everyone expects right-wing pundits to do or say anything to demonize Democrats. All those GOP noise-makers such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, David Brooks, etc., etc. But the unkindest cuts of all come from unexpected sources: the so-called liberal journalists, especially "onetime Democratic operatives turned journalists". He mentions Chris Mathews, George Stephanopoulos, and Maureen Dowd.

Democrats wading into this year's rough media surf don't really have to fear the right wing because the right has staked out its own beach with its own folks and not many Democratic voters go there .... What the Democrats generally and Obama specifically have to fear is what the liberal media -- pundits, TV commentators and even some reporters at reputedly leftish newspapers -- will wind up doing to them. That's because, far from delivering the kind of spirited to-the-death defense that even the widely unpopular President Bush gets from most right-wing commentators, the liberal media almost always eat their own.

It wasn't always this way .... But as conservatism gained strength during the Nixon administration, it perpetrated a powerful idea that remains an article of its faith and that has served as one of its most effective political weapons: the idea that the media are really a liberal cabal ... How could Nixon possibly get a fair shake when the pointy-headed journalists in New York, Washington and Los Angeles were against him?

Liberals being liberals, it only took this nudge to lead to some soul-searching. As Rick Perlstein describes it in his book "Nixonland," Joseph Kraft, an old, unregenerate liberal close to the Kennedys, was among the first to wonder aloud if Nixon wasn't right .... Maybe journalists had become too insular, snooty and condescending. These kinds of ruminations tended to push the left-wing media toward the center as their way of proving that they were honest, objective and not beholden to anyone ....

But if the fear of seeming to be overly partisan was generated by the right, there was another fear the left itself created: the fear that in an increasingly ironic and youth-oriented society, it would never do to be earnest.
That's how Al Gore came to be hammered as too square, John Kerry stereotyped as too elite. The liberal pundits were driven in the direction of becoming snarks out of

professional fears of marginalization ... the ethos of the media was changing. Thirty-five years ago, journalists perceived themselves as public servants whose mission was to inform their readers and viewers. The best reporters simply got the facts right. The story was the star.

In the mid-1970s ... Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein proved that reporters could be stars. Such writers as Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and Hunter Thompson won fame and riches by slathering their personalities all over their reportage. A general cultural trend toward celebrity bled into journalism. The rise of cable television generated a 24-hour news cycle and personalities to go with it ... most of all, the news media had to compete for the public's attention with other available entertainment. In that competition, the news media quickly saw the advantage of star journalists, and some journalists quickly saw the advantages of being stars rather than nameless fact-collectors.
As a result of the frivolous new bent journalism took, the liberal commentariat collaborated in the Nixonian rebranding of the Democratic Party as a bunch of elitists out of touch with the working middle class voter. Not like George Bush, with whom we've had a eight year beer bust! After which, we are left with a supposedly liberal MSM which is,

is a bunch of wealthy journalistic stars bending themselves into pretzels pretending that they are down-to-earth working stiffs vastly different from the politicians, at least from the highfalutin' liberal ones they cover. This was certainly a large part of the appeal of the late Tim Russert, who frequently mentioned that he was a poor Catholic kid from Buffalo, N.Y., where his father was a sanitation worker. Matthews and Dowd, among others, have also prattled on demagogically about their humble beginnings even as their stars have risen and they have become even less connected to the rest of us.

And it is the liberal politicians who continue to pay the price for the liberal journalists' self-promotion cum self-preservation. Beating up on well-educated, well-spoken liberals is probably the surest means of proving one's Everyman credentials and protecting one's personal brand without also, by the way, losing one's Beltway bona fides.
So, Obamacans best beware of taking fire from both sides in 2008. After all, Gabler points out that even Newsweek has said that this election boils down to arugula vs. beer.