Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What liberal media?

From the archives: January 19, 2004
Last night I finished Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?, an indispensable book, brilliantly and--given the provocations--temperately argued, exhaustively researched and scrupulously documented. I'm sure Al Franken's Lying Liars is a lot more fun, but this is the one "every well-informed person," that mythical being, should read.
So I open this morning's Times, and how does America's newspaper of record choose to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday? Why, by honoring Ronald Reagan.
The essay, by one Kiron Skinnner, an assistant professor of political science at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, co-editor of "Reagan: A Life in Letters," and, oddly, "member of the Defense Policy Board" (hhmmm, how was it, I wonder, that an assistant professor of political science attracted the eyes of Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz to share space around that august table with the likes of Newt Gingrich and Richard Perle? Interesting, but no matter...) is titled "The Odd Couple." Odd, indeed. Skinner's essay is about how it was that Reagan signed the bill making King's birthday a national holidy. Was it just politics? No, "something else was at work." Skinner, who has gone through all of Reagan's "writings" (God, what a task to undertake! All those speeches for General Electric, written in his own hand), now has read King as well, and endorses the finding of a Reagan speechwriter that "I kept finding passage after passage in King's work that Reagan might almost have written himself."
"Indeed," writes Skinner, "when one looks closely at each man's writings, it's clear that they shared an unswerving commitment to democracy, liberty and equality."
Totally in sync. Amazing, isn't it? Of course, what Skinner cannot acknowledge, what anyone then alive immediately remembers, is that four years before signing that bill into law, Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign for the presidency at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, infamous as the place where sheriff Lawrence Rainey, deputy sheriff Cecil Price, and four or five other Klu Kluxers murdered Mickey Schwerner, James Cheney and Andrew Goodman just sixteen years before Reagan spoke there and uttered the words "I believe in states' rights." I remember Schwerner's widow and Andy Goodman's mother speaking of their horror at what Reagan had done.
So now the Times gives this sedulous Reagan legend-builder editorial space on King's birthday just to show how impartial it is--no liberal bias here, by God!
Then in the same edition I find a full-page color ad for MSNBC, "Battle for the White House," full coverage of the Iowa Caucuses by "the team of pros who know politics from the inside out." MSNBC, "the network of record' (cheeky theft that, isn't it?), and the "pros" are Norah O'Donnell (never heard of her), Pat Buchanan, Keith Olberman (last I knew, a sports journalist at Sports Illustrated and ESPN), Chris Matthews ($2 million a year rightwing hatchet man and Hillary hater), Joe Scarborough (former Republican congressman from Arkansas, now talk-show ranter), Peggy Noonan (former Reagan and Bush speechwriter, coiner of "thousand points of light" and "the lift of a driving dream" ((which sounds like a luxury car commercial)), Wall Street Journal attack blonde--her latest, "Howard's End," on how the Democratic pros must stop Dean in Iowa, and author, most recently, of A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag: America Today (2003), and, oh yeah, one real journalist, Howard Fineman of Newsweek (who, come to think of it, nailed an exclusive interview with George W. and Laura on how they stood up to the crushing pressures after 9/11 and the way their Faith got them through it all, three pages in Newsweek).
Think of it, the "network of record," a line-up that might have been chosen by Roger Ailes or--what the hell--Karl Rove himself! Four rightwing hatchet swingers and three eunuchs. Well, at least they don"t say "fair and balanced."