Friday, May 30, 2003

The Faint Voice of the Left

Thane Peterson - BusinessWeek Online -- Here's a quiz for you: Name the best-known and most influential conservative commentators in America? Rush Limbaugh? George F. Will? Bill O'Reilly? Now, quick, who are their liberal counterparts?

If you can't think of any, you're not alone. Conservatives love to rant that liberals dominate the news media. Trouble is, it's just not true. In fact, I'd argue that the biggest problem with America's public discourse today is that the left is barely represented at all on mainstream TV and radio talk shows and in major newspapers and magazines.

To my mind, that's the main reason debate in the U.S. and Europe is diverging so radically on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to genetically engineered food and capital punishment. In, say, London a much more lively debate is going on between the left [given voice in mainstream outlets such as the BBC and Guardian] and the right.

The U.S. situation is likely to get a lot worse if Michael Powell, Federal Communications Commission chairman, has his way. He wants to loosen or remove many of the last remaining restrictions on how much of the market Big Media conglomerates can control. Among other things, Powell would allow more cross-ownership of local TV stations and newspapers by the same companies. He also would let a single company own TV stations covering 45% of the national viewing audience, up from 35% now.

Link from Off the Kuff who got it from Rhetoric and Rhythm's May 20th essay which has more to say.

Fox News has become the leading cable news channel by offering a steady stream of Republican propaganda and right-wing commentary without even the pretense of trying to be fair or balanced. CNN has abandoned most commentary shows in an effort to avoid being labled “liberal.” Even, the old workhorse “Crossfire” has been cut back and stuck in a poorly watched time slot so as to attract as little notice as possible. I haven’t watched the show in a while, but I believe it is currently one of the only shows where you can hear an unapologetic liberal voice -- James Carville or Paul Begala -- balanced of course by two or three conservative voices. And over at MSNBC, the lone liberal commentator Phil Donohue saw his show canned in favor of a slew of new shows for right-wing talkers including Dan Savage and Joe Scarborough.

The best chance for hearing a liberal perspective on TV these days resides with PBS (which Newt Gingrich and the Republican’s in Congress failed to shut down a few years ago) especially with Bill Moyers’ NOW program. But like CNN, PBS and its radio counterpart NPR have felt pressure to “balance” every liberal voice with a conservative one - something that the other networks and radio shows fail to do in reverse.

For people looking for a left perspective today one is practically forced to turn to the Internet where you can track a few liberal columnists at major newspapers like Paul Krugman and Frank Rich at the New York Times, E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post, Robert Scheer at the Los Angeles Times and Molly Ivins at the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Another powerful voice from the left is Michael Kinsley, the former editor of the online Slate Magazine, whose columns appear regularly in Slate and the WashPo.

Next, one must turn to the blogosphere to find leading voices from the left. Joshua Marshall has become very influential with his Talking Points blog as has Eric Alertman’s Altercation hosted by Then there is the anonymous Atrios who runs the Eschaton blog. Also, look for Joe Conason’s regular journal entries at the online Salon magazine.

It is a pretty thin list today, especially when compared to the number of folks lining up to pontificate the right-wing perspective over the corporate-controlled airwaves.

One problem for the left today is the continuing scourge that is Ralph Nader and the Green Party which drove a split through the Democratic Party and handed the presidency to George W. Bush during the 2000 election. A number of left leaders became caught up in the Nader charade including Michael Moore, Jim Hightower and to some extent even Molly Ivins. Today, some though not all of these people have returned to their senses. But it still remains to be seen whether the left can rally around a Democratic candidate be it Howard Dean, John Kerry or someone else.

Posted almost entirely as his archives are bloggered.

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