Doing that left-right MSM thing

Those on the left view MSM as mainly conservative. See

Posted by wildwest at 11:01 am on June 23, 2005

MSM = corporate owned, lilly-livered, roll over and don’t make waves, sensationalist, full of schmuck reporters standing around in the cold and dark in front of the “scene of the incident” live at 11 pm HOURS after the incident is over and cleaned up and everyone has gone home, site of the pained look of consternation (or constipation, take your pick) while reading grammatically questionable sentence construction about the latest celebrity falderal, really only useful for lining bird cages (print edition).

Posted by Molly at 2:54 pm on June 23, 2005

Clever, but wrong. She describes media in general. All media succumb to the sensational, etc. The MSM manage to do all this and remain utterly unaware of their extremist left-wing bias. Quite talented, really, to juggle both.

Posted by Stephen A. at 9:57 pm on June 23, 2005

Well now.

Let’s pause for a moment for a brief worldview statement about GetReligion, even though I know that can’t speak for my non-Borg partners. This Indianapolis Star bias case is the kind of thing I hear about all the time, since most of my speaking engagements are linked to issues of religion and journalism.

I wonder, is there anyone else out there in the blogosphere/academia/news biz who has, on the within-reach bookshelf above his or her desk, a copy of Ben Bagdikian’s classic The Media Monopoly sitting right next to a copy of Marvin Olasky’s Prodigal Press?

The first is a touchstone book for the left and the latter plays the same role for the right.

Both books argue that the basic structures of journalism are biased. And both of them, I believe, are right. The problem is that these books are focusing on totally different issues, when it comes to media bias.

Bagdikian is a classic political progressive — old school. He is right that the corporate media of our day tend toward a brand of economic conservatism, especially on issues that are close to home. It is hard to get more conservative than a newspaper within shouting range of a military base that is about to be shut down. If corporations are conservative, then we live in an increasingly conservative age in journalism. Your basic one-newspaper-city newspaper is not going to be “liberal” when it comes to groups that attack the economic status quo.

The enemy is Gannett, with all of its top-down corporate culture.

Olasky is a religious, social-issues conservative. He is primarily interested in issues of faith, morality and public culture. He is a political conservative, but he bleeds on media-bias issues linked to abortion, sexuality, religious liberty, etc.

The enemy is, well, Gannett, with all of its top-down, rules-based liberalism on social issues.

Bagdikian has lots and lots of facts on his side when it comes to labor issues, economics, etc. Olasky has lots of facts on his side when it comes to social issues and religion.

In other words, the heart of the MSM is a kind of moral Libertarianism. It’s kind of Clintonian economics and morality. Leave us alone and let us make lots of money. It’s a Hollywood conservatism. It’s a corporate thing. It’s a moderate Republican thing, the brand of faith that dominates business elites.

The problem is that our age is dominated by the politics of social issues. When the first non-conservative seat on the U.S. Supreme Court bench goes open, do you expect hotter-than-hot arguments over economics or morality? Foreign policy or religion?

Do the same dynamics affect the journalism wars? Absolutely. We should expect the Indianapolis Star case to boil down to corporate leaders clashing with the morally conservative beliefs of individuals. You can read all about it in Olasky and Bagdikian.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Joe Perez

    Interesting. Thanks for a very informative post and the recommended reads.

  • Steve Nicoloso

    I’ll second that “good job” Terry. If, as Alan Wolf and Fiorina, et al., suggest, the culture war really is a myth, and I think they make compelling points, then few stand to gain more from selling the myth than the MSM. I guess the news business has always been about money and power (Citizen Kane-n-all that). And now what with all these purple folks just blending inexorably toward the middle, a media capitalist has a tough time making a (dis)honest day’s work. Better to bring back the days of the hard, brick-throwing left and top-hat bedecked, cigar-smoking right, each with their own lingo, their own mutually exclusive agendas, and, best of all, their own papers. We’ve lost the virtue of believing that there are some things worth fighting for.


  • jjayson

    Re: “MSM is a kind of moral Libertarianism.”

    Just concerning economic coverage, then why do all the libertarians really dislike the media’s coverage of economics?

    Because the media is to the left of the spectrum of what is now acceptable economic thought. It pushes higher taxes, laments about imaginary trade deficits and unremarkable budget deficits, supports increased regulation, and just about any other American liberal economic position. Liberal Keynesianism isn’t libertarian, it isn’t even moderate in America.

    Just look at the Times’ new series about class in America, an attempt to rekindle zero-sum class dialogue of old.

    Just because it isn’t way to the left advocating socialist economics doesn’t mean it is to the right of general American discourse. The old school progressive socialists and communists lost the economic battle in both academia and practice. Now they get upset when nobody cares about their views and pretend like their ideas still hold some kind of value.

    Bagdikian is just another cut from the Chomsky mold. He even uses the same language of Chomsky when he talks of “manufacturing politics”.

    It is entirely absurb to call the American media “libertarian” in economic thought.

  • Victor Morton

    I wouldn’t be nearly so generous as tmatt. The problem with the left-wing argument is not that it’s wrong, in the sense that “the sky is green” is wrong, but rather it relies on an unstated Marxist fundamentalism … (Victor ducks) … to have any bite. And that this view — that politics is an epiphenomenon of objective economic interests — while never laid out as such, is the key and it is descriptively inaccurate in the “sky is green” sense.

    The liberal argument about media ownership and has some other problems too — it tends to be blind to the role of ideology in the construction of terms like “common good” and “public interest”; it tends to have an unrealistic and unhealthy sense of the political spectrum; it never, in my experience, engages in actual textual analysis of what DOES get published.

    But fundamentally, its global weakness is that it takes for granted that “corporations” and “corporate ownership” are fundamentally conservative things. And while that’s true, as tmatt notes, with respect to matters of particular self-interest or in matters of fundamental, regime-scale issues (all institutions are conservative in those senses, what I’ll call “institutional conservatism”), it isn’t true in any other meaningful sense that one might call “ideological conservatism.” So simply complaining about corporate ownership of news outlets is to make only a half-argument. As for where corporations belong on the US political spectrum:

    Morality/social issues: Here there is not even an argument worth having. Corporations are at best neutral for conservative ideology. More often than not, they’re the outright enemy.

    Economics: Here’s where the Marxist template ought to make the most sense, but it makes less than one might think in a society where there is no Socialist movement and the fundamental order — regulated welfare-state capitalism — is not a live issue on the political agenda. Which is to say — the US since at least WW2. In that world, most economic issues (particularly at the national level) involve regulation, the particulars of taxation, and other marginal issues which are as likely to pit capital against capital, or business interests against one another, because of things like rent-seeking. First example to come too my head — malpractice reform pits doctors and insurers against lawyers. Second example, restrictions on oil drilling also help corporations with heavy stakes in coal and gas and renewable ebergy forms (not to speak of issues like region-vs.-region). Third example, all technological development necessarily penalizes corporations (and communities and shareholders) heavily sunk in whatever products, services and technologies are threatened by the creative destruction of capitalism (the “buggy whip manufacturer” argument, basically).

    Foreign policy — Again the issue is complex (and made more so by the fact that “right=hawk, left=dove” formulation doesn’t fit quite as well as it once did). Certainly, corporations like military contracts, but it doesn’t therefore follow that they’re a force for hawkishness. Rather, the inherent (institutional only) conservatism of business and corporations push toward a pacific foreign policy. For one thing, sanctions and embargos tend to get in the way of doing business. We see this fact about the political interests of business in a variety of contexts — US satellitemakers aiding China’s space program (and thus China’s military); Donald Kendall, Pepsi chairman, was one of the leading detentists in the 80s in re the Soviet Union, where Pepsi had a monopoly; US oil companies (and Halliburton) were eager to lift the 90s sanctions against Saddam; and Henry Ford was an isolationist (and worse) on Nazi Germany, where Ford had significant holdings. Also, though war may help a few particular businesses in the short run, it is generally bad for business in toto because it introduces uncertainty (not to speak of specific losses — has war been good for US airlines? Or Cantor Fitzgerald?). The declines in the stock market and the loss of US currency value since Sept. 11 are attributable to many factors, sure, but the war drums are surely among them, and they have cost US corporations more wealth than any could possibly hope to reap.

  • tmatt

    Bagdikian is just another cut from the Chomsky mold. He even uses the same language of Chomsky when he talks of “manufacturing politics”.

    It is entirely absurb to call the American media “libertarian” in economic thought.

    Posted by jjayson at 7:42 pm on June 24, 2005



    I agree. Thus, here is what I wrote:

    “In other words, the heart of the MSM is a kind of moral Libertarianism. It’s kind of Clintonian economics and morality. Leave us alone and let us make lots of money. It’s a Hollywood conservatism. It’s a corporate thing. It’s a moderate Republican thing, the brand of faith that dominates business elites.”

    The point of the post was that the media tends to be very inconsistent on economic and other classic liberal vs. conservative issues. It is the SOCIAL, moral and religious issues on which the media are consistently Libertarian.

  • Brant

    If the NYTimes represents the “heart of the MSM” — and I think it does — I’d say the MSM IS quite consistent, along a slightly different axis.

    The Times fairly screams acquisitiveness and status from front to back. The ads, art, living, travel, etc. sections offer the life of Marie Antoinette, while the reporting calls for revolution. This does seem incongruous.

    But you have to think this is a fair representation of the BoBo reader’s primary value, which IS quite consistent: Me. I want to feel good about my enligtened-citizen-of-the-world views, plus I want me some way-cool stuff.

    The unwavering value is autonomy.

    Autonomy is a jealous god, and the NYTimes is havin’ church everyday.

  • Tom Breen

    This was an excellent post. It’s something that everyone who works in the media eventually understands, although most journalists feel strange about articulating it. Theoretically, of course, journalists are supposed to strive for objectivity, so it’s uncomfortable to say that most media operations are essentially liberal socially and conservative economically. People on both sides who talk about “extremism,” whether left or right, are so wide of the mark it’s funny.