October 2, 2008

Critic Counters Claims Of Liberal Media Bias

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“I consider myself to be the liberal media,” said Eric Alterman ’82, media critic for The Nation, in his speech yesterday about media bias in the 2008 presidential election. In his speech, Alterman tried to convince his audience that the media is not as biased in the Democratic Party’s favor as people tend to think. More specifically, he asserted, the media is not biased in favor of presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Alterman began with a brief definition of what the media is. “Media,” he said, is a plural noun because it encompasses so many different sources.
“When most people talk about the media, what they mean is the elite national media,” Alterman said.
According to Alterman, the idea that this media is overwhelmingly liberal is a myth. In reality, he said, journalists who may be socially liberal are economically conservative due to their upper-middle class lifestyles. Alterman went on to claim that many of the organizations and people in charge of the major news outlets are not liberal.
Alterman acknowledged that there is a built-in bias in the media system that is a result of the overall economic conservatism of the media.
Countering the claim that the media favors Obama, Alterman asserted that “There’s never been a candidate that was as admired by the so-called ‘liberal media’ as McCain.”
Alterman cited R.W. Apple, associate editor of the New York Times, as one example of “liberal media” support of McCain. According to Alterman, McCain was described by Apple as, “a man of unshakable character willing to stand up to his opinions.”
Alterman went on to point out that McCain has flip-flopped on issues that reporters had admired him for, such as his bipartisan view on immigration and his opposition against Bush’s tax policies.
“As a politician, he’s gotten away with murder and that’s because he’s invested so much in getting the press to love him,” said Alterman.
He also discussed the democratic primaries and how even though it was obvious that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) had lost the race months before, the media would not declare her loss. Alterman said there was a three-month period of time when both McCain and Clinton continued to attack Obama, which he claimed showed that the media do not support Obama as much as they are alleged to.
Similarly, Alterman claimed that it was obvious to most that Clinton would not be declared Obama’s vice presidential candidate, yet the media continued to cover the story because they were uncomfortable with Obama as the nominee.
“Obama hasn’t done what most presidential candidates do, he hasn’t stroked the media, he hasn’t charmed them, so he’s really relied on the media to report honestly,” Alterman said.
When McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) as his running mate, Alterman said, he turned the media against him. However, Alterman said that it is remarkable that the election is as close as it is given that the overall approval rating for the Republicans is so low.
“The election is going to get much dirtier because that’s the only card [the Republicans] have left,” Alterman claimed.
“I feel like right now media bias in America is unbelievably prevalent,” said James Welsh ’10, who was in charge of planning the event, which was co-sponsored by the Cornell Democrats.
Many students in attendance were drawn by the topic of discussion, especially in light of the upcoming debates and election.
“I saw the sign for the speaker and I thought it would be interesting. This is the first presidential election that I’m voting in,” Annie Wong ’09 said.
“I thought it would be interesting to hear [Alterman] speak and I wanted to be more involved in the election and current events,” Erica Rhodin ’12 agreed.
Alterman graduated from Cornell with degrees in government and history. He received his masters in international relations from Yale, and a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford. He has a column in The Nation and writes the political blog entitled, “Altercation.” He has also written several books, including “Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America,” and “What Liberal Media?: The Truth about Bias and the News.”