Thoughts on the Liberal Media

So the Republican leadership is at a loss to explain President Clinton’s high approval ratings despite the release of the Starr Report, despite the unprecedented release of Mr. Clinton’s videotaped testimony before a Grand Jury, and despite the endless barrage of headlines exploring every possible angle of the scandal? "I’ll tell you why he remains popular," a co-worker of mine volunteered recently, apparently possessing more political acumen than those baffled inside the Beltway. "It’s the liberal media," he explained with the confidence and assurance of a math professor explaining how to determine the length of the hypotenuse to a first-year geometry student. A light bulb suddenly glowed above my head. Ah, yes, of course, the liberal media.

My friend is not alone in his insight. I’ve heard countless people – at the water cooler, at lunch, at the brushless carwash – invoke the liberal media mantra as a way of explaining not only Clinton’s durability in the face of scandal, but the actual fact of his presidency as well, the implication being that if there were no media, there would be no Clinton. These Liberal Media Invoking folk (I’ll just call them LMINGs, for short) do so in earnest, with a straight face, oblivious to any irony or contradiction in what they are saying.

Any protracted conversation with LMINGs on the Lewinsky affair will reveal that they know about the dress, they know about the cigar, they know about the tie, the pen, the hallway in the oval office, the telephone call, the president’s definition of sex, the denial, the admission, the non-apology, and the apology. In short, they know an awful lot. We all do. Probably a lot more than we ever cared to know. Where did we get this information? None of the LMINGs I know has ever spoken to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Starr, Ms. Lewinsky, or any of the other key players. The obvious answer is that every single sordid scrap of information they have on Lewinskygate they have obtained from the media. Newspapers, magazines, the nightly news, special news reports, radio, and the Internet have all had something to say about this. For many, it is too much. As one newspaper article interviewee noted, "You can’t not know about this." Most of the articles use words like "scandal," "misdeeds," and "lurid," in connection with the president’s actions. Are these words of affirmation? Does anyone not know that the president is now being investigated by congress for high crimes and misdemeanors? Are these reported allegations meant to engender an upwelling of support for the man?

The simple truth is that such a blanket generalization as "liberal media" is not pertinent to national politics, and certainly not this specific situation. It makes no more sense than, say, "illiterate republicans," or "well-informed democrats." There are newspapers and magazines with a decidedly conservative bent, just as there are newspapers and magazines with an unquestionably liberal slant. We have all been bludgeoned by the diatribe heard in conservative talk shows and liberal talk shows. What you choose to expose yourself to and how you choose to interpret the information presented to you is – or should be, anyway – a personal issue.

This is not to say that the possibility of media bias does not exist. Although polling has come a long way since Dewey beat Truman, all polls warrant a certain amount of skepticism with me. As another friend said of the aforementioned approval ratings, "I want to know who they’re polling, anyway. They haven’t asked anybody I know." Of course, biases go both ways. The media can exercise a bias in what they report, and in what light it is reported. But the glare illuminating the national political scene is not the same as the faint glow of, say, net fishing for tuna.