The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Alternative Universe

Let's consider an alternative universe in which the United States is populated by a main stream media that is identical to our alphabet networks, the cable news outlets, and major newspapers such as the NYT, WP, LAT to name only a few. There's only one difference—in the alternative universe only one major news outlet is strongly liberal with every other major MSM outlet being either center-right or sympathetic to the far right. They claim to be objective arbiters of the news (or entertainment), but their far-right bias is palpable.

An incompetent, inexperienced, highly ideological, divisive right-wing President has been in office for one term. Under his stewardship, a bad economy has gotten worse, and unemployment has stuck above 8 percent for 40-plus months. Our debt is at stratospheric levels, and as a kicker, our foreign policy is in grave trouble. There's much more bad news, but you get the picture.

The right-wing President is running against a moderate, center-Left politician with considerable executive and business experience. But the MSM (with the exception of one liberal major media outlet), refuses to fully explore the depth of our economic problems or the implosion of our foreign policy. Instead they denigrate the liberal challenger in every way they can, de-emphasize any news story that might reflect badly on the right-wing incumbent,and generally spin even positive news items about the challenger in a way that reflects a negative tone.

Although polling shows the race to be very tight, they insist that the right-wing incumbent is significantly ahead and suggest that every week is a "terrible week" for the liberal challenger.

I suspect that progressives throughout the country would be upset by such biased treatment of their guy by the media. In effect, the liberal challenger would be running against the incumbent and a media that is an extension of his campaign. The progressives would argue that the media should provide unbiased information about both candidates, should report all the news, even stories that might hurt the re-election prospects of the incumbent, should conduct thorough investigations of both candidates, not probe one and be amazingly incurious about the other. And progressives would be absolutely right. Of course, delusional elements on the far-right would argue that there is no bias, that media treatment is fair, or even pro-challenger. That position would be so ridiculous that it doesn't warrant comment.

Of course, we don't live in an alternative universe—we live in this one ... where the media's political bias is exactly opposite. But you already knew that. And sadly, many people get the majority of the "news" they do absorb from the MSM.

In the universe in which we live, Walter Russell Mead writes about the alternative universe I depicted:
If the president were a conservative Republican rather than a liberal Democrat, I have little doubt that much of the legacy press would be focused more on what is wrong with America. There would be more negative reporting about the economy, more criticism of policy failures and many more withering comparisons between promise and performance. The contrast between a rising stock market and poor jobs performance that the press now doesn’t think of blaming on President Obama would be reported as demonstrating a systemic bias in favor of the rich and the powerful if George W. Bush were in the White House. The catastrophic decline in African-American net worth during the last four years would, if we had a Republican president, be presented in the press as illustrating the racial indifference or even the racism of the administration. As it is, it is just an unfortunate reality, not worth much publicity and telling us nothing about the intentions or competence of the people in charge.

The current state of the Middle East would be reported as illustrating the complete collapse of American foreign policy—if Bush were in the White House. The criticism of drone strikes and Guantanamo that is now mostly confined to the far left would be mainstream conventional wisdom, and the current unrest in the Middle East would be depicted as a response to American militarism. The in and out surge in Afghanistan would be mercilessly exposed as a strategic flop, reflecting the naive incompetence of an inexperienced president out of his depth.

And as the media expands and enhances its bias by the week, Mary Kate Cary comments on the public response:
This just in from the Gallup organization: Americans' distrust of the media has just hit a new record, with six in 10 Americans saying they have "little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly." Forty percent say they have a "great deal" or a "fair amount" of trust, and I assume this is the same crowd who approve of the job Congress is doing. Where do they find these people?

Gallup says the 20-point difference between positive and negative views of the media is "by far" the highest Gallup has seen since it began asking the question in the 1990s. Among those who trust the media, 58 percent identify themselves as Democrats; 26 percent as Republicans; and most interestingly, 31 percent as independents. That means 69 percent of independents don't trust the media. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the implications of that ...
It appears that the Center has significant problems with the media, and that's a good thing. Because it means that with all the spin, the purposeful omissions, and the unfair campaign coverage, the Center (those of us whose votes win and lose elections in battleground states) have rejected media bias and will search out a collection of sources that provide us with a true picture of both candidates.

If Mitt Romney defeats Barack Obama in this election, and that's a big if, he will have done so by defeating not only a President whose record is abysmal, but also a media machine that is doing just about everything possible to ensure that President's re-election.

Update; (9/25/12):

Richard Fernandez considers the current state of the American media and its fawning adoration of Barack Obama when he writes:
In the past the media played favorites by shading the percentages, by adjusting and subtly manipulating the imagery to advantage their preferred candidate. This was in recognition of the fact that the American public had some hold on common sense and therefore it was inadvisable to lie to them blatantly. It was necessary to persuade them by fact, albeit shaded. But recent efforts have all the subtlety of a North Korean poster. If so the new style marks a transition from the older form of ‘news’ to straight out barking-mad propaganda ...

Propaganda is generally an appeal to emotion, not intellect … Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political or religious agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare.