The question I'm most often asked at cocktail parties is, "Was that you rolling Swedish meatballs to the dog -- across my white carpet?"
The second-most often asked question is, "Do you think (the TV network I work for) really does have a liberal bias?" This assumes of course that they know exactly what I do for a living and where I do it.
My answer is typically the same; It's some variation of the word "no."
Let me set the record straight. Whether or not the people behind the scenes or in front of the cameras hold liberal views near and dear to their hearts is irrelevant. That's because there isn't a moment when these beliefs aren't superceded by something else entirely -- something large and unseen, but certainly felt, looming over their shoulders. I'd like to believe that -- as most people in this business were taught in J-school (the slacker presently at the keyboard notwithstanding) -- the awesome responsibility to be fair and impartial would be the priority that dogs journalists in their waking and working hours. Although some might argue that fairness IS the eventual byproduct of the specter to which I'm referring, it's not the specter itself.
What I'm talking about -- that feeling -- that motivating factor -- is fear.
Moreso than in any period I can remember, journalists have been demonized by right-wing demagogues, including those in the White House, and have been forced to play defense to a seemingly never-ending series of accusations of bias and outright dereliction of duty. The eerily synchronized cries of foul from these thuggish but obviously well-organized clowns have created a vast echo chamber which is responsible for helping to turn the supposedly free voice of the press into one voice -- their voice. The reason for this? We drank the Kool-Aid.
Rather than standing up for ourselves against the onslaught of bullshit accusations from the likes of hypocritical fuckheads like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Tom DeLay, we rolled over and -- for some completely unknown reason -- believed it. Contrary to the left-wing slant we've been accused of presenting, the result has been an over-compensation in the opposite direction. We're TOO careful not to offend those who accuse us of bias -- not to give them any more ammunition, so to speak. We do this as if something, anything, we do will appease our tormentors, when in reality it isn't a fair shake they're after in the first place. The creation of a perceived enemy bent on persecution as a means to foster unity and strength-of-will is older than Joseph Goebbels himself, and the "liberal media" has been a convenient boogeyman for the right and its cheerleaders for as long as we've allowed them to get away with it. Complain. Accuse. Repeat.
Indicted for campaign finance violations and abuses of congressional power so egregious they make the Kennedy car-crash controversy look like a fixed parking ticket? All your stated reasons for taking this country into an unnecessary war turn out to be complete horseshit? That same war claiming the lives of American soldiers and innocent civilians daily? Not a problem -- just blame the over-educated elitists on the coasts who control the airwaves and have decided to conspire to withhold the truth from you.
That's why more Americans turn to Fox News!
The rise of the Fox juggernaut has probably had a more adverse impact on responsible journalism than any single recent event short of Alberto Gonzalez threatening to throw reporters in prison. It would seem a simple task to avoid the nonsense that Fox foists on its acolytes, and it would in fact be -- provided Fox didn't have something all programmers and news directors covet and are willing to adjust their own coverage to get, often at the sake of the muckraking spirit of true journalism. That something, is ratings. It's only in the quest for the almighty "numbers" that networks will pursue the relatively small group of people who hang on every word of a laughably Vaudevillian buffoon like Bill O'Reilly, rather than writing them off as the kind of fucking idiots you just can't reach and therefore don't want watching you anyway.
The important point which today's news departments seem to forget is that, once again, those who accuse the responsible media aren't looking to play watchdog, they're simply looking to ensure that their war never really comes to fruition, let alone ends -- like the schoolyard bully who keeps shoving and taunting, safe in the knowledge that if he's imposing and boisterous enough, the target of his wrath will never dare to take the first swing that would start an actual fight. The reality is this: as long as the complaints continue from the right -- and they most certainly will because up until now, they've worked splendidly as a means of distraction -- news organizations, at least in television, will never... NEVER get Fox's audience. Network general managers can skywrite "trustworthy" above Topeka; news managers can hire Irving Kristol and shake him like a magic 8-ball for answers during political coverage; promotions managers can sponsor a network NASCAR team. None of it will make a goddamned difference to the "Fox Fans." NONE of it.
There's a sad irony to all of this; walk into any television newsroom in America -- cable or broadcast -- and you'll hear occasional rumblings from the adminisphere that Fox is at best a factor to be ignored and, at worst, one to be shunned and ridiculed. Put simply, this is trying to have it both ways. Either you ignore Fox, and forfeit the right to complain if and when they trounce you in the ratings -- or you admit that you're no different than them; you're simply the political flip-side of their coin.
That's when you can do what the bully isn't expecting you to do -- what he's praying you won't do. That's when you take a swing at him and knock him on his ass.
Just a note... the always brilliant Peter Daou helped to inspire this post with his own call for the media to finally stand up and grow a backbone. You can see it here: