Eric Alterman

What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News

The question of whose interests the media protects—and how—has achieved holy-grail-like significance. Is media bias keeping us from getting the whole story? If so, who is at fault? Is it the liberals who are purported to be running the newsrooms, television and radio stations of this country, duping an unsuspecting public into mistaking their party line for news? Or is it the conservatives who have identified media bias as a reliably inflammatory rallying cry around which to consolidate their political base as they cynically “work the refs?” The media has become so pervasive in our lives that regardless of exactly where on the ideological fence you sit, the question of media bias has become all but unavoidable.

Most of the criticism (and anger) has so far emanated from the political Right, which has offered us the rather unconvincing argument that a systematic Left bias is destroying the quality of news and debate in our country today. Journalist and historian Eric Alterman begs to differ.

What Liberal Media? confronts the question of liberal bias and, in so doing, provides a sharp and utterly convincing assessment of the realities of political bias in the news. In distinct contrast to the conclusions reached by Ann Coulter, Bernard Goldberg, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, Alterman finds the media to be, on the whole, far more conservative than liberal, though it is possible to find evidence for both views. The fact that conservatives howl so much louder and more effectively than liberals is one significant reason that big media is always on its guard for “liberal” bias but gives conservative bias a free pass.

After reading What Liberal Media? you will understand that the real news story of recent years is not whether this newspaper, or that news anchor, is biased but rather to what extent the entire news industry is organized to communicate conservative views and push our politics to the right—regardless of how “liberal” any given reporter may be.

Eric Alterman currently writes the “The Liberal Media” column for The Nation and the “Altercation” web log (www.altercation.msnbc.com) for MSNBC.com. In recent years, he has been a contributing editor to, or columnist for Worth, Rolling Stone, Elle, Mother Jones, World Policy Journal, and The Sunday Express (London). His Sound and Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy (1992/2000), won the 1992 George Orwell Award and his It Ain’t No Sin To Be Glad You’re Alive: The Promise of Bruce Springsteen (1999), won the 1999 Stephen Crane Literary Award. He is also the author of Who Speaks for America? Why Democracy Matters in Foreign Policy (1998), and When Presidents Lie: Deception and Its Consequences, which is forthcoming. A senior fellow of the World Policy Institute at New School University, and an affiliated faculty member in the magazine journalism program at New York University, Alterman received his B.A. in History and Government from Cornell, his M.A. in International Relations from Yale, and his Ph.D. in U.S. History from Stanford. He was born in Queens, New York and lives with his family in Manhattan. He can be reached online at www.whatliberalmedia.com.

Only a liberal would be dumb enough to title a book, What Liberal Media? Listen to just about anyone and the answer is obvious: “What are you, stupid? Just pick up a newspaper or turn on your TV.” Should that fail to convince, bemusement can turn to anger, or at best, pity, as in “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” America’s argument about media bias features just two points of view. The right argues that the media is biased toward leftists. The other side responds, to quote David Broder, “dean” of the Washington press corps, “There just isn’t enough ideology in the average reporter to fill a thimble.” The idea that the media might, for reasons of ownership, economics, class or outside pressure, actually be more sympathetic to conservative causes than to liberal ones is widely considered to be simply beyond the pale.
—From What Liberal Media?

"'What Liberal Media' is bold, counterintuitive and cathartic."
--The New York Times Book Review

"A polemic is nothing without passion , and Alterman's argumentative vigor is engaging [and]... the meticulous care with which his arguments are sourced and footnoted is in commendable contrast to the efforts of some of his more fire-breathing opponents."
--The New Yorker

“A well-documented, even-tempered and witty answer, I might say antidote, to such toxic recent bestsellers as Bernard Goldberg's "Bias."
--Los Angeles Times