Actor Harry Shearer Hits 'Vaguely Liberal' Journos for Love of 'Sob Stories'

March 15th, 2011 6:57 PM

Actor and filmmaker Harry Shearer, best known for his voice work in 'The Simpsons', blasted the news media in a speech to the National Press Club on Monday.

Specifically, he singled out the media's "myth-making" tendency - its constant desire to fit current events into mostly pre-formed narratives. "What I’m calling a ‘template,’ is based on facts. Some facts. A partial collection. The first dusting," Shearer claimed. "It then becomes adopted as ‘the narrative.' The mental doors lock shut, and no further facts are allowed in."

The Daily Caller's Chris Moody reported Tuesday:

He made the case, using coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War and Wikileaks as examples, that once a “template” is set, news practitioners have a hard time diverting from it.

On Katrina, he recalled the time NBC News anchor Brian Williams told him that viewers prefer personal feature stories over detailed accounts of why the levies broke during the storm.

“A bias toward sob stories is as old as William Randolph Hearst’s first hard on for an actress,” Shearer cracked.

He said that the tendency for national news media outlets to “parachute” into an area they know little about for a story, combined with a dash of hubris, makes it difficult for them to rethink whether they even had it right in the first place.

“You can’t stay on a story very long, and when you come back, as everybody did to New Orleans for the fifth anniversary last fall, there’s now corporate institutional ego involved in defending the template against the assault of new information. After all, the networks, cable and broadcast bragged big time about the ballsiness of their Katrina coverage,” he said. “Exactly how do you go about retracting a boast?”

Veteran journalist W. Joseph Campbell has written at length about media myth-making, including in post-Katrina New Orleans. He discussed much of the media's self-aggrandizing attitude towards its own coverage of Katrina and the aftermath in an interview with NewsBusters.

For his part, Shearer stopped short of proclaiming a widespread liberal bias in the news media, Moody reported:

On questions of media bias, he said the real slant is not just a liberal vs. conservative issue, but one that bends toward laziness.

“Most journalists are vaguely liberal; most media owners are not so vaguely conservative,” he said. “The far more pervasive biases, I suggest, those of logistics of parachuting in and asking cab drivers, ‘what’s the mood here?’”

Of course laziness often lends itself to media liberalism, since lazy reporters who (by Shearer's telling) lean left are more likely to incorporate shallow but easily presentable narratives - such as race-centric opposition to Barack Obama or the perpetual "corporation bad, union good" line - into their reporting.