So-Called Liberal Media

Digby caught this first, but I thought I’d expand on it:

In recent years, MSNBC has apparently decided that there’s a market (which they can make money from) being sort of a liberal counterweight to the unfair and imbalanced GOP advocacy of FAUX “News.” I say “sort of” because in reality, MSNBC isn’t at all the liberal counterweight to FOX. Yes, their nightly lineup has consisted more and more of liberals and progressives – which is somewhat of a counterweight to FAUX’s lineup – but FAUX’s advocacy continues 24 hours a day, even (perhaps especially) during what are supposed to be “straight” news programming during the day. I won’t link; examples are legion. The point is that MSNBC doesn’t do the same thing during the day. In fact, their news coverage is pretty run-of-the-mill, resembling CNN more closely than it does a hypothetical “left-wing FOX.”

That’s the main thing which separates what FOX does from what MSNBC does. Yet there is a persistent myth that the media is “liberal.” This myth pre-dates MSNBC’s decision to stack their evening opinion line-up with progressives by a good long while, but now that MSNBC is the most-visible target (with the arguable exception of perhaps the New York Times, a perennial favorite of “liberal media” conspiracy-theory folks), they’re taking the brunt of being the tip of the spear of the liberal media. Which is why the clip I’m about to show struck me so strongly. It’s a bit difficult to determine whether “the media” – any media – can be accurately labeled “liberal” or “conservative” or anything else, since opinions differ about what those terms really mean, and even if there were agreement on that, there’s no agreement about how you’d measure a media outlet’s relative political stance.

But by nearly all accounts, Chris Matthews is considered a liberal. He’s the former chief of staff for Tip O’Neill, for starters, and he occupies the same general MSNBC-evening time period shared by Olbermann and Maddow. He’s also been around longer than both of them, meaning that he’s had longer to accrue a reputation as a lefty. But watch this clip from Monday’s Hardball. I’ll set it up this way: it was a segment on Newt Gingrich and some of the abominably racist, xenophobic stuff he’s been saying pretty regularly lately. Make no mistake, Matthews’ intent in this segment was to lambaste Gingrich, both barrels. But the part that really caught my attention was this one (fast forward to about 5:10 into the clip):

Did you catch it?: “What about people like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner who’ve made their living in the center…

This is one of the extremely effective ways in which the right wing noise machine operates: they’re quite aware that most cable show reporters and pundits are both too lazy (generally) and don’t have enough time or frankly, chops, to do enough research to really pin things down, and they’re prone to a sort of ersatz “two-sides-to-every-story” mentality, especially lately. So although I doubt there’s any big-tent strategy session between Gingrich and McConnell or Boehner, they’ve all read from the same play book long enough to know that the drill has to do with the Overton window. That is: you let the furthest-out kooks into the debate, to say far-out, kooky things…and you thereby make what had previously seemed to most people to be the far-out positions you hold seem like tepid, moderate, sensible views by comparison. The right wing does this much better than liberals. When was the last time you saw Noam Chomsky on national TV, for example? And Chomsky’s not even noticeably kooky – he’s just considerably more left than most people, even Democrats. So Democrats’ instinctive reaction is to not talk about him, not quote him, keep him away from the media and not give the sense that they think he’s a legitimate source or reasonable enough to refer to. And the media follow blithely along.

But because there are people out there in the national debate like Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell and Rand Paul, supposed “liberals” like Chris Matthews routinely say, seemingly without a shred of self-awareness, that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have “made their living in the center.” In reality, of course, the American Conservative Union, which issues scorecards to all GOP politicians based upon how much of the conservative agenda they supported with their votes, gave both Boehner and McConnell a 96% rating for 2009.

96% rating from the American Conservative Union. That’s what Chris Matthews, noted liberal bombthrower, considers “the center.”