OCALA, Fla., May 12, 2014 — Divisions between America’s political left and right or more extreme than at any other time in modern history.
The disputes between the camps boil well out of partisan politics’ realm, directly into the heart of our mass media. The rise of cable news networks, talk radio, and perhaps most importantly for the future, activist-manned blogs has created an environment of continuous animosity.
How can one side forget about the past and build a brighter future when yesterday’s follies never go away? How can they when various pundits bring them up in ever-convenient, and almost always out of context, thirty-second-or-less sound-bites?
Amidst such a troublesome situation, many allege that media bias is more the product of left than right.
“Frankly, I think that’s an absurd notion,” Norman Solomon told me earlier this year. He is a longtime activist for leftish causes, ranging from the anti-nuclear energy movement to opposing various military conflicts. Solomon is most well known, however, for his journalistic work, which revolves around exposing and preventing biased reportage. In 1997, he founded the Institute for Public Accuracy and had a nationally syndicated column from the early ’90s until 2009.
“In the overall U.S. media terrain, the dominance is — through ownership, advertising and content — shaped by the sensibilities of large corporations and the warfare-state governance in Washington,” Solomon continues. “Anyone who thinks that corporate America and the Pentagon (and its contractors) are left-leaning is suffering from serious illusions.”
Dr. Tim Groseclose is a political scientist who serves as the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics at UCLA. In his bestselling book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, he did something a bit unusual. Rather than simply claiming the press is prejudiced, a scientific argument was made which holds that our country’s very social fabric is defined by journalistic presentation.
“I use a statistical method to estimate the ‘slant quotients’ of news outlets and a separate statistical method to estimate the ‘political quotients’ of political actors,” Dr. Groseclose told this journalist in 2012. “I find that the slant quotient of nearly all mainstream outlets is higher (i.e. more liberal) than my estimate of the political quotient of the average U.S. voter.”
Dr. Groseclose also mentioned that “(i)n our current world, where the media tend to have a liberal bias, the average American thinks and votes approximately like the average voter in a purple state (such as Iowa, Colorado, or Nevada).
“However, if we could magically eliminate media bias, then, according to my estimates, the average American voter would think and vote approximately like the average voter in a solid red state. That is, if we could magically eliminate media bias, America would begin to think and vote approximately like Texas or Kentucky.”
Aside from the blogosphere, a recent development by any standard, cable news channels are usually thought of as being the hallmark of modern media bias. Their impact on every facet of American life struggles to be understated.
“The steady decline of newsprint has seen an erosion of journalism that is based on verifiable fact,” veteran reporter Chris Hedges explained to me in 2012. Hedges is a longtime left-of-center media critic and human rights advocate. His commitment to seeing a story through, irrespective of its popularity, has earned him no shortage of respect and animosity.
“Newspapers, although they certainly had failings, nevertheless sent reporters out to report stories that were then edited and fact checked before they reached the public,” Hedges pointed out. “Television used to do the same. The public discourse centered largely, at least within the mainstream, on facts.
“In the new media culture this careful process of establishing verifiable fact has largely been dispensed with. First of all, the news cycle is so rapid there is little time to report and less time to check information. Secondly, the decline of fact-based journalism means that it is easier, and indeed more profitable, to peddle opinions and emotions as facts. Liberal and conservative, right-wing and left-wing, all retreat into these ideological ghettos where opinions are only confirmed.”
Mikey Weinstein is a Ronald Reagan Administration appointee and former Air Force Judge Advocate General. Most who know him probably aren’t aware of this, however. He heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a prominent legal aid group which focuses on the separation of church and state for U.S. Armed Forces personnel. Due to his involvement, Weinstein has become a frequent target of Religious Right activists, including fundamentalist Christian stalwart Dr. James Dobson.
Criticism of the MRFF is often aired on Fox News Channel, with far less coverage offered to the Foundation’s sympathizers. Last month, while interviewing Dr. Dobson, a FNC host alleged that Weinstein and his group are atheists. Said allegation is not in line with the facts and prompted a legal warning from Weinstein’s law firm.
Weinstein tells me that “a very much financially-based attack” is coming from FNC. “They get big ratings when they do it and of course our foundation….we’re the number one monster to the Religious Right maniacs in this country. Focus on the Family, American Family Association, the American Center for Law and Justice, and certainly the Family Research Council, and then I’m sure they’re making millions upon millions of dollars by scaring people….My gosh, they formed a coalition of 23 or 24 such organizations called ‘The Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition’, which almost exactly copies our name, because I think they realize they’re making a lot of money on it, and ultimately they don’t like individuals that fight or organizations that fight the way we fight in the media and in court. They’re not used to that.
“This is not…..a fight for sissies, this is a full contact sport, and the way I’ve described it, it’s not like riding a unicorn through a cotton candy forest handing out lollipops to little forest animals who are singing in unison….This is bloodsport and you do not bring a knife to a gunfight, and this is not a problem issue or challenge that we’re fighting in this country today. This is a national security threat of the highest order.”