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Location: Montgomery Area, Alabama, United States

Former BUFF driver; self-styled military historian; paid (a lot) to write about beating plowshares into swords; NOT Foamy the Squirrel, contrary to all appearances. Wesleyan Jihadi Name: Sibling Railgun of Reasoned Discourse

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Planet Raspberry

The WaPo's Bill Raspberry, who I have always thought a fairly moderate liberal, froths at the mouth over the "threat" posed by eeeeeeeevviiill Fox News in his column yesterday:

The in-your-face right-wing partisanship that marks Fox News Channel's news broadcasts is having two dangerous effects.

The first is that the popularity of the approach -- Fox is clobbering its direct competition (CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, etc.) -- leads other cable broadcasters to mimic it, which in turn debases the quality of the news available to that segment of the TV audience.

The second, far more dangerous, effect is that it threatens to destroy public confidence in all news.

The latter, I admit, is more fear than prediction, but let me tell you what produces that fear. Fox News Channel -- though the people who run the operation are at great pains to insist otherwise -- is deliberately partisan. It is as though right-wing talk radio has metastasized into cable and assumed a new virulence.

So why would I consider Fox such a generalized threat? Because I think the plan is not so much to convince the public that its particular view is correct but rather to sell the notion that what FNC presents is just another set of biases, no worse (and for some, a good deal better) than the biases that routinely drive the presentation of the news on ABC, CBS or NBC -- and, by extension, the major newspapers.
I usually ignore Lefty frothings unless I find them particularly amusing (like this guy's), but Raspberry's has me a bit worried. It appears to demonstrate two things: 1) the extremism overtaking even formerly moderate corners of leftydom, and 2) the left's more general retreat from reality.

"In-your-face," "right-wing partisanship," "dangerous," "debases," "dangerous," "destroys," "fear," "partisan," metastasized," "virulence," "generalized threat," "the plan." And that's just the beginning. This sounds more like something from Izvestya at the height of the Cold War or People's Daily during the Great Cultural Revolution. At very least, it rivals the more extreme right's frothings during the height of Clinton hatred.

This from the man who won my respect, along with a Pulitzer, for his forthright condemnation of the Nation of Islam's violent rhetoric and misogynistic rap lyrics. He rates a relatively low 28 on Lying in Ponds' total partisanship index, even counting his last year's worth of increasingly immoderate columns. Compare him with other well-known leftist columnists, like Maureen Dowd (52), Paul Krugman (71), and Molly Ivins (76), and to the right's most partisan MSM columnist (you guessed it) Ann Coulter (68). He has generally been a voice for sanity on the left. And now he's jumped into the fever swamp head first.

And all this is over Fox News, too! I mean, Coulter? I could see that. Rush? Yeah, sure. Even LGF or PowerLine. But Fox? Obviously Mr Raspberry hasn't seen or doesn't believe this, an objective assessment of major media political bias from UCLA, hardly a hotbed of right-wing fanatacism. It uses sophisticated, empirical statistical techniques to correlate Americans for Democratic Action ratings to media positions. Fox is the "furthest right" of the MSM broadcast outlets, but it is fifth closest to the rating of the average US voter (after PBS Newshour, CNN, ABC Good Morning America, and the Drudge Report (!)). Fox is one of only two media outlets that is to the right of the average US voter (the other is the Washington Times). Everything else is further to the left than Fox is to the right. Fox scores 39.7, roughly equating it to Olympia Snow (R-WA) or Charles Stenholm (D-TX). By contrast, Bill Frist scores a 10 and Tom Delay a 5. Teddy Kennedy scores a hefty 89.5. CBS News and the NYT each scored 73.7. Raspberry's WaPo scored 66.6 (appropriately enough)--in other words, significantly further to the left than Fox is to the right. The average of the 18 MSM outlets to the left of the average voter was 62.3--further to the left than fox is to the right.

Got that? Eighteen outlets to the left of the average voter by a margin of 12 points. Two (count 'em) outlets to the right, Fox being 10 points to the right--roughly equivalent to a moderate Democrat congressman. For my liberal friends: hold up two fingers. Good. Now hold up eighteen. That right! You don't have 18. Take off your shoes and socks. I'll wait. Good. Now, which number is bigger?

So ... where's the "dangerous" "right-wing partisanship" that "threatens," "debases" and "destroys" public confidence with "metastasized" "virulence?" Is Fox really a firebrand bastion of right-wing sentiment, or has Bill just gone so far to the left himself lately that he imagines the MSM's ingrained left-wing bias represents the middle way? You check the links and decide. I think the evidence supports the view that even moderate liberals are being driven out into the fever swamps today by the increasingly virulent rhetoric of the left and the resultant polarization of American politics. This will further marginalize the left in our national discourse. As someone to the right of the average voter, I suppose I should welcome this, but I don't. Even more than any "conservative" principles (whatever those may be), I believe in checks and balances. It is healthy to have intelligent voices on the left (like our own esteemed Chefjef's) pull national discourse back toward the middle. So when folks like Bill Raspberry appear to be coming unhinged, it concerns me.

Ahh, you say, but Raspberry maintains that the "threat" derives from Fox's "verbal ruffians'" sinister "plan" to undermine confidence in our Holy Imperial Self-Appointed Masters of Information. He bemoans the death of the age "when if you saw it in the New York Times, that settled the bar bet and the other guy paid up." When was that, Bill? 1951? What planet have you been living on since?

"What worries [him] is that journalism could become a battlefield of warring biases." Wake up and smell the newsprint, Rip van Raspberry. When has the press ever been anything but a battlefield of warring biases in this country? (Was it our noble press that published this, this, this, this, and this? And that's just about one guy.) That's what a free press does, Bill--it provides a convenient public forum for the debate of ideas. Sometimes that debate gets a bit heated.

If anything, the "right-wing" perspective is grossly underrepresented in the MSM. Even liberals who honor a truly free press should welcome venues like Fox News as part of a healthy national discourse. There may have been a brief period born of liberal fantasy--let's call it the Media's Camelot--when we all pretended that there was some Grand, Noble, Stratospherically Aloof Fourth Estate, keeping Holy Information in Sacred Trust For the Benefit of All the People, but most of our history has been broadsheets and yellow journalists--and we did just fine, Bill. In fact, since the Media's Camelot ran from the mid-50s until the early 80s, the era during which we tore down the family, tore down the church, spat on our veterans returning from the only war we lost, built the vast Nanny State, surrendered the keys to our government to a pack of activist judges, and invented sansabelt slacks, maybe it wasn't such a Good Thing after all. Could there have been a partial correlation between Camelot and cultural crap? Not saying there was, but...

The very notion that the MSM ever represented some kind of objective fourth estate proves that Raspberry, like many of his colleagues on the left, has become a stranger to reason. There never was a happy-happy-peyote-bud-tellitubby-sweet-flower-power magic Leftotpia where all journalists were Good and Noble Servants of All Mankind, nor is there a threat today from an EEEeeeevil goat-horned, maniacally-cackling Darth Bush and his sycophantic, blood-drinking minion Karl Rove, manipulating a dark "Foxidation" conspiracy to suborn the public's trust.

Come back to us, Bill. Come back from Planet Raspberry.


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