I finished reading Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?, which I picked up to see whether "Alterman delivers well-documented, well-argued research in compulsively readable form".
One of the most interesting things about the book is that Alterman never once defines the term "liberal". If this were an honest investigation of the question whether there is "liberal" bias in the media, you would think that Alterman (who recently completed his PhD at Stanford and should therefore understand the process of posing and testing hypotheses) would tell us from the outset what he means by "liberal". On page 15 he asks the question "Just what constitutes a 'liberal' bias anyway?". Unfortunately, he never answers his own question. In chapter 2 he cites political philosopher John Rawls' notion of liberalism (without footnote), but never turns this into a workable definition for testing the hypothesis of liberal bias in the media, and never mentions Rawls' concepts after page 19.
What Alterman does do, is label people:
p. 28: "... the Wall Street Journal's far-right editorial page..."
p. 28: "... the extremely conservative George F. Will.."
p. 30: "... the right-wing journalists [Robert] Novak and Tucker Carlson..."
p. 30 "... the brilliant, but not-so-liberal Mike Kinsley..."
p. 33 "... extreme right-wing ideologues [Pat] Buchanan and Novak...'balanced' by the wishy-washy neoconservatism of [Morton] Kondracke..."
p. 76 "... the right's most extreme expressions, including Andrew Sullivan"
It would never have occurred to me that a person who supports gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana for medical use and abortion rights in most cases would be among the "right's most extreme" members. But under Alterman's definition of "extreme right" he apparently is. Unfortunately, Alterman doesn't include his definitions of "left" or "right", "liberal" or "conservative" anywhere in his book.
Alterman rarely labels anybody as a liberal. One exception is Wall Street Journal editor and CNN panelist Al Hunt. And because Alterman never defines "liberal", he can modify Hunt's label whenever it fits his rhetorical purpose.
To make the point that even liberal journalists favored George W. Bush in the Florida election controversy:
Alas, more [examples of "Orwellian doublespeak"] were produced, even by liberals. Al Hunt demanded of Al Gore that he "give the hook to Jesse Jackson, with his phony claims of African-American disenfranchisement" [p. 182]So Hunt is a liberal. Oh wait, in order to rationalize the claim that "Most television pundits are strong conservatives":
Columnists Mark Shields and Al Hunt also play liberals on television [p. 45]Is he a real liberal, or does he only play a liberal on TV?
Apparently he's not any kind of a liberal. In order not to undermine Alterman's claim that the Wall Street Journal has a "far-right editorial page" (if it were "far-right", it wouldn't include any liberals, would it?):
Al Hunt, the token moderate on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page... [p. 210]I guess the easiest way to prove that there is no liberal bias in the media is to call the media whatever the heck you want it to be. Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at June 30, 2003 04:25 PM