Do you want to see a classic example of two journalists talking right past each other on issues linked to media bias and, indirectly, religion? It seems there was a debate, of sorts, the other night at the University of California at Santa Barbara between Eric Alterman, author of "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News" and conservative talk-show host Tucker Carlson of MSNBC. According to reporter Devon Claire Flannery's story in the student newspaper, The Daily Nexus, most of what transpired was pretty predictable. Thus, the voice on the right says:
Carlson contended that three issues -- abortion, the second amendment and gay marriage -- are always presented from a left-leaning point of view in American media. On average, Carlson said, journalists tend to be white, come from liberal, coastal areas, graduate from liberal colleges, and as a result have the same culture and perspective of the world.
"Everybody in journalism is pro-choice, pro-gun control and for gay marriage," Carlson said. "When you only have people [in the media] that all think the same, you do not have good coverage. You can't cover America until you have a newsroom that looks like America ... who thinks like America."
Then the spotlight turns to Alterman, who says what he always says, which is that media is steered by conservative bias:
"If we had a liberal media, then 44 percent of Americans would not have believed the Sept. 11 bombers were Iraqis," Alterman said. "We get an extremely biased version of the news."
Alterman also contended that, even if television pundits or politicians were not overtly liberally biased, the structure of media in general allows for much more coverage of conservative interests. "Everyday I read the Business Section of the New York Times. Not the Labor Section, not the Environment Section," Alterman said, referring to two nonexistent sections. "These are conservative assumptions."
I, for one, would like to see the source poll for that Sept. 11 statement, but never mind. The key here is to note that Carlson is talking about media bias on religious and moral issues, for the most part, and Alterman responds by talking about issues of economics and other more strictly political concerns. Apples and oranges, in other words.
In fact, in his "What Liberal Media?" book, Alterman's chapter on social issues admits that the MSM is, for the most part, biased on precisely these kinds of issues. At one point he hauls off and says:
I concur that the overal flavor of the elite media reporting favors gun control, campaign finance reform, gay rights and the environmental movement, but I do not find this bias as overwhelming as some conservative critics. ...
Of course, he also says:
From my own perspective as an urban, East Coast liberal who is surrounded by others who hold views not unlike my own, I am perfectly prepared to believe that members of the elite media transmit liberal views in the guise of objective reporting on occasion. On some issues this bias might be called pervasive. ...
Alterman then digs into the meat of the famous Los Angeles Times series by the late David Shaw (please click here) on the issue of media bias in coverage of the ultimate media-bias issue (from the point of view of moral conservatives) -- abortion.
In other words, Alterman and Carlson may not, in fact, disagree with each other all that much. Or, as I put it in a post here at GetReligion last summer:
... (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.
Do you think anyone pointed this out to the talking heads on the left and right during their "debate" the other day out in California? Probably not. These journalistic ships just keep passing without contact, headed in different directions.