Alterman_what_liberal_media_ch07_social_bias - A lterman...

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Alterman, What Liberal Media? (2003, 4004) 7 What Social Bias? I TIS AX10MATIC that ifyou look hard enough, you can find, without trying very hard, what most people would term a "liberal" bias allover the mainstream media. Journalism, lest we forget, is a nearly perfectly inexact science, the first draft of his- tory and all that. Any number of biases-liberal, conservative, religious, ethnocentric, humanist, heterosexist, age-ist, class-ist, racist, able-ist, weight-ist, to name just a few--can creep into a story despite the best efforts of reporters, editors, and produc- ers to keep them at bay. The key question to ask is not whether examples of bias can be found, but exactly where is bias pervasive and what is its effect on the news and American public life? Though the evidence is sketchy, I tend to believe that on many social issues, con- servatives have a case. Elite media journalists, like most people in their education brackets and geographical locations, rarely come into contact with religious funda- mentalists. So it can be difficult for them to know what people who live, culturally and sociologically, in a far-off hind might perceive as biased. If religion were the only measure of bias then conservatives would have a strong case. Politically speaking, the Republicans are the parey. of evangelical and funda- mentalist Christians, and the Democrats are the parey ofsecularists. Journalists are far more comfortable with the latter; indeed, they consider their position to be the "nor- mal" one. Indeed, ic is so normal, it does not occur to anyone to point it out. Thus the New York Times ran twice as many stories on the power of fundamentalists and evangelicals in the Republican parey in 1992 alone than both the Times and the Washington Post together ran on secularists in the Democratic Parey during the entire decade of the 1990s. 1 Ipso facto, religious conservatives might wish to argue, if the media is secular and the Democrats are secular, the cwo are quite naturally allies against the faithful on those issues where religion plays a role in the public sphere. Moreover, even with the best of intentions, religion is hard to cover as "news" because it is, by definicion, a matter of faith. How is a reporter trained in "who, what, when, where, and why" to treat reports of, say, a miracle or a visitation? Few What Social Bias? . lOS reporters have much experience with fundamentalist Christians and most, I would venture, are clueless about what it is they believe. Stephen Carter, a Yale Law School professor, noted that during a 2000 presidential debate, reporters would use the terms "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" as if they were synonymous. Media who are unable to understand these distinctions, he wrote, "will be equally unable to understand why, in his presidential campaign, the Reverend Pat Robertson ran worse among fundamentalists than among white voters generally."2 Garry Wills, whose lifelong interest in religion and politics is almost unique among liberal public intel- lectuals, mused on thi~ problem in the Washington Post Book World, recalling that
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This note was uploaded on 07/23/2011 for the course POLI SCI 415 taught by Professor Robertsahr during the Spring '11 term at Oregon State.

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Alterman_what_liberal_media_ch07_social_bias - A lterman...

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