Sunday, July 17, 2011

Newsbusters & Me, Part 3

The Media Research Center describes its mission as being to "prove" a "strident liberal bias" exists within the national news media--one that "undermines traditional American values"--and to "neutralize" the impact of this bias on American politics. In brief,

"The mission of the Media Research Center is to bring balance and responsibility to the news media."

At some point in the recent past, this was somewhat altered. The ranting about "strident liberal bias" and the rest was left in place but the current version of that "in brief" sentence reads:

"As 'America's Media Watchdog,' the MRC seeks to bring balance to the news media."

A wave of the flag, while all talk of "responsibility" is dropped, and it would be impossible not to note the obvious symbolism. It isn't that the MRC has changed from a more to a less noble mission--they never had any sort of noble mission in the first place. It's that, by dropping the pretense of "responsibility" while waving the flag, they're being a little more honest. But just a little.

The way the MRC gang goes about trying to bring "balance" to the news media is to complain about the fact that any views with which they disagree are given any time at all in the news media. The MRC dubs, as "liberal," just about anyone who offers any view that can in any way be interpreted as out-of-sync with the far right (as they define the far right, which they represent as simply "conservatism"). Of the articles that appear on the Center's Newsbusters blog, a large portion are devoted to simply complaining about the fact that someone somewhere offered a "liberal" (as they use the word) point of view, the implication being that this shouldn't happen.[1]

Today, for example, Bob Schieffer, the host of CBS News' Face the Nation, asked a pair of senators why, with the looming matter of the debt ceiling yet unresolved, the Senate is going to waste time debating a balanced budget amendment that everyone, on all sides, knows has no chance of passing. This drew a complaint from Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard. Though Sheppard suggests, in his closing sentence, that Schieffer was somehow poorly informing the public about the measure, he offers nothing to support that. Rather, his objection in the article is simply that Schieffer quite reasonably called into question the wisdom of setting aside a much more pressing matter in order to have a futile debate on a measure that, while apparently beloved by Sheppard, has no chance of passing.

Sheppard offered another example of this today as well. On "The Chris Matthews Show," the host asked a panel of journalists, "of the Republicans running for president, which one offers the best chance of becoming a great president?" None of the panelists picked one. Sheppard didn't like that. Mainstream journalists, operating in a profession that puts a premium on "objectivity," always tend to be non-committal on such questions and three of the four panelists simply dodged it.[2] Sheppard, of course, presents their failure to endorse as potentially great any of the candidates as evidence of the irredeemable liberalism of the press, which is a non-sequitur that both ignores that big, obvious reason they would dodge the question and presumes that no conservative could fail to find at least one of the 2012 Republican candidates to be "great." The latter puts a lot of Republicans in an awkward position--throughout this year, "undecided" or "someone else" has usually polled, among Republicans, ahead of any of the named candidates.[3]

This is what many--maybe most--Newsbusters articles are "about," mere complaints that anyone with a different point of view was given any time at all. That these points of view are so often alleged to be different based on willfully negative, counter-intuitive and even counter-factual and completely irrational "interpretations" bespeaks how little actual substance is available for an org devoted to exposing "liberal bias" in the press to cover.

While preaching "balance" in the press, the MRC gang doesn't practice anything like "balance" in the way they manage their blog. When I tried to sign up for Newsbusters, they took a month to approve me.[4] There were long delays, I was told, because they had so many applications and tried to weed out troublemakers, by which, from the composition of their regulars, they seem to mean "liberals who may offer something other than blind cheerleading for the team." Somehow, I slipped through but I didn't last long.

In my time, there, I would sometimes get pulled into side-arguments with the other posters but for the most part, I tried to offer substantive criticism of Newsbusters' work.

The regular posters there did not appreciate this effort.

The Newsbusters' regulars, it should be said, are some of the absolute worst I've ever encountered in all my years of poking through the right wing of the internet. Virtually every time I wrote anything, I was reflexively met with charges that I was a black-hearted liar, that I was a hypocrite and so on--basically any charge that would in some way discredit me. I was even accused of plagiarism, after I cut-and-pasted some of my own words. This was the response to every substantive criticism. More than half a dozen posters seemed to have nothing better to do than follow me around and append to my every utterance these same sorts of accusations. They couldn't, in even a single instance, substantiate their charges--the charges had no basis in reality--but making any sort of substantive case wasn't the point. I was a "liberal" (though I'm not) and to them, that meant I was, by definition, guilty of all of those things.[5] Their endless barrage of charges amounted to a deployment of the Big Lie technique against me and they seemed too deluded by their own fantasies to even realize it.

Whoever is charged with overseeing quality control at Newsbusters--very concerned about troublemakers, remember--allowed this to go on day in and day out. When, however, I offered a substantive critique of a column by MRC head Brent Bozell (the details of which are recounted here), my Newsbusters account was suspended and the critique deleted from the site. While I've been kicked out, all of those other right-wing posters--the ones who devoted all of their energy to libelous attacks on me and the few other liberals who managed to get through the filtering process; the ones who never offer a single substantive comment on any subject; the ones who act as nothing more than an amen corner for Newsbusters' writers--are still active.

That's "balance" at the MRC, the kind they give every indication they'd apply to the rest of the press.



[1] Even comedians making jokes about conservative political figures end up in Newsbusters' crosshairs (the writers display a particularly intense obsession with Bill Maher and Jon Stewart).

[2] The fourth, Time's Joe Klein, picked Barack Obama, who has, indeed, ruled as a Republican president in all but name. But Klein said he was a great Republican president and "great" simply isn't a word one can justify applying to the Obama.

[3] Two days ago, in the most recent Gallup poll on the subject, 58% of Republicans declined to express a preference for any of the Republican candidates, and of the candidates themselves, only Mitt Romney draws double-digit support (and he only manages 13%).

[4] This is in sharp contrast to the way the MRC's liberal, democracy-friendly counterparts handle such matters. If a reader wants to comment on an item from Media Matters For America or FAIR, it's a simple matter of offering the comment (at the FAIR blog) or taking a few seconds to sign up then make it (at MMFA).

[5] One technique that was constantly employed was a demand for "sources" for even the most incidental parts of anything I'd written, which I quickly learned wasn't a legitimate request for sources but was, instead, just another way of accusing me of lying--insinuating I didn't have any and trying to get me to stop what I was doing and go look up things that those demanding the source could just as easily Google themselves. Any mainstream news source I would provide was then immediately dismissed as "liberal" and thus "bullshit." The high-point--the low-point?--of this part of the saga came when, to prove some rightist figures had said what I'd quoted them as saying, I posted some links to the raw video and audio of them saying it but because this raw audio and video was archived at Media Matters, it too was dismissed as a liberal lie. Rush Limbaugh never made sexist comments at all, right?

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