It was once incontrovertible: The mainstream press leans left-liberal. It’s been a proven fact that Republican presidents receive 20-30% less positive economic coverage from the nation’s newspapers.
But times seem to have changed a bit. Now a new mainstream has emerged that leans right-conservative. It takes the form of Fox News, mainly, but there are many other sources in television, radio, and mainstream press.
Is this diversity? Are we now getting choices so that we can find out what’s true? Brian C. Anderson’s South Park* Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias gives us a clue.
And he shows that the answer is no. The left and right media agree on more than they will admit. Neither side has the incentive to think independently.
Consider just one example: Obama’s ongoing wars abroad. The liberal media don’t like to mention them.
You thought lefties were peace-loving? Not when their guy is in office. Taxing the rich and empowering unions are way more important. War is suddenly righteous when a lefty is in office.
Meanwhile, the conservative media complain that Obama is not going far enough. They too love the fiction that Obama is a peacenik — a helpful myth, because it allows the network to rant about the need for more warmongering.
How to make sense of this? This is the beauty of Anderson’s book. It provides a clear history of the rise of the Fox News industrial complex that some commentators say lost the 2012 election for Mitt Romney.
As Anderson clearly explains, there is big money being a rabid right-winger of a certain type. He pulls back the veil to reveal:
- How the conservative book-publishing revolution became a cash cow. This is what running for office is all about. You don’t have to get elected for fame and fortune. Forget changing society through policy. No, get on the presidential ticket as a potential VP and you don’t ever have to run again
- How selling books has become the prequel to becoming a talking-head analyst on Fox and getting your own reality show, and one for your daughter too! Run to head the Republican ticket and you might get a book deal and your own TV show
- How what Murray Rothbard wrote turns out to be prophecy: What starts as a movement then becomes a job and finally becomes a racket
- How “We report, you decide,” is Fox’s motto, but it shows that the networks are counting on its viewers to have already made up their minds. That neocon Republicans have all the answers
- How this racket got started began with something called the Fairness Doctrine. It required that if a network advocated one political approach, it had to give equal time to the opposing view. This doctrine led to an opinion cartel that only pretended to be nonpartisan.
Anderson shows that all began to change because of one libertarian. His name was Mark Fowler, and he was the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the Reagan administration. He told his regulators to stop enforcing the Fairness Doctrine, believing the law was “chilling to free speech.”
At the same time, the number of channels exploded. Reagan’s second FCC chair, Dennis Patrick, officially canned the doctrine. Those on the left were not pleased. Neither was Phyllis Schlafly on the right. Congress voted to make the doctrine federal law. Reagan vetoed it, AM radio was saved, and a man named Rush would pave the way to political influence and riches.
The left tried to retaliate with Air America, but they just couldn’t put together the same kind of programing sizzle. In the age of the Internet, cable TV, podcasts, live streaming, and who knows what entertainment platforms, right-wing AM radio is still rockin’. Not only racking up dollars, but also setting the Republican agenda…
An agenda that was hammered on election night 2012.
Look at any election map and its Republican red for miles and miles in the center of the U.S. That’s a huge market to exploit. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and dozens of conservative lesser lights are making hay while this sun shines. Beyond radio and TV, O’Reilly is a best-selling author of history books, with two of Amazon’s top 20 sellers for all of 2012.
What Rush started on radio, Rupert Murdoch continued on the tube.
Anderson spends plenty of time on the “Fox effect,” but forgets what the network has done for news aesthetics. Sex sells, and a Fox telecast is a beauty pageant. All the other news channels have had to follow suit.
There is little difference, from a libertarian’s point of view, between the two parties and their policies — as the Bush-Obama era illustrates. But to political partisans, it is blood sport. Even in the conservative Southern college town I live in, something as simple as a Ron Paul bumper sticker on my wife’s Porsche nearly caused a parking lot altercation one afternoon.
Anderson’s book is an entertaining and informative chronicle of how the media racket now spans the entire spectrum from left to right. You think you’re getting it all, but you are not. Instead, the spectrum gives two flavors of the same poison.
Enjoy politics for what it is. As H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” Media, political or otherwise, is entertainment.
Anderson’s book will give you a leg up on enjoying the show. You can get your copy of South Park* Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias from Laissez Faire Books.