Not Much Analysis in This ‘Analysis’

August 7th, 2007 1:40 PM

At first glance, this piece entitled “Analysis: Who should control how we get political news?” seemed like a good thing:

From a convention of liberal bloggers here [Chicago] to talk-radio studios to the halls of Congress, people are arguing over who should control the way Americans get information about politics.

Among the flash points: Should the government stop conservative Rupert Murdoch from buying The Wall Street Journal, should the government require that liberals get radio shows to counter the influence of conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and what role should new media such as bloggers and YouTube play in politics?

Hooray! We’re going to get to the bottom of things, right? Wrong. This isn’t so much an analysis, but more of a “danger, Will Robinson!” moment.

After giving a brief rundown of this summer’s biggest media-related stories (the News Corp. buyout of the “Wall Street Journal,” the wish to re-introduce of the Fairness Doctrine as it relates to talk radio, and the brouhaha surrounding Bill O’Reilly’s criticism of Democrat presidential candidates attending the YearlyKos convention), we get to the analysis part at the end:

The two examples illustrate that in the world of new media, there are multiple outlets where political content can be found, and as those outlets become identifiably liberal or conservative, politicians and voters can pick friendly forums while damning the other side's outlets as illegitimate. Whether this is healthy for our nation's political life is a question worth pondering.

That’s it? Wondering if it’s healthy for our nation’s political life for the proletariat to know a news/commentary outlet’s ideological leaning?

The problem as I see it is not that the new media promotes openness about one’s ideological leanings, but that the old media continues to deny the existence of such. This “analysis,” written by Steven Thomma for McClatchy Newspapers, is less of an honest look at the current media landscape than it is a yearning of the days of yore. The clue is in the third paragraph:

All this comes as the traditional media landscape is shifting with earthquake force. Newspapers are watching readers shift to the Web. The big TV networks are losing viewers to cable. And among the best-informed viewers are those who tune in regularly to "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central.

Historically, a relatively small portion of the population has had control over the dissemination of news. While they claim to be neutral and balanced in their coverage (just ask Diane Sawyer), the simple act of reading between the lines (as NewsBusters does) is a real eye-opener. The fact that newspaper circulation and viewership at the alphabet networks are both way down is a bad thing for them. After all, they are in the business of selling advertising space based on raw numbers – and if people aren’t reading or watching, then the piggy bank isn’t filling up. So it’s in their best interest to “ponder” whether or not it’s “healthy for our nation’s political life” to have so many other news and commentary outlets to choose from.

Is the current level of dialogue healthy? Now that’s a different topic. Some say that the new media (blogs, etc.) is contributing to a decline in civility, due to the anonymity the Internet can provide. I can understand that concern, and even agree with it. But while I don’t have a problem with Bill O’Reilly complaining about DailyKos if he desires, I do have a problem with the government sticking its Pinocchio-sized nose into the media with any kind of Fairness Doctrine, be it television, radio or the Internet. Once the barn door is open, it’s difficult to get the livestock back in. While citizens have the right to point out bias if and when they see it, the government has no right to impose what it considers to be fair and balanced on private enterprises.

If news outlets of any kind would simply be honest and up front about their ideological leanings, wouldn’t that be best for everyone? (Talk radio hosts, who provide commentary based on their core beliefs, certainly aren’t shy about it.) Then “We the People” would be able to sift through the flotsam and make up our own minds about what’s going on. Those of us who are not too busy obsessing over the latest celebrity gossip, that is.

But that’s the danger big media worries about. The teeming masses thinking? Making decisions without their hands being held? Scary days indeed. Bottom line: the only ones who should be controlling anything are those who provide and those who consume. It’s called a free market, the cornerstone of our society. Anything less is unacceptable.

So beware of Greeks bearing gifts. And beware of “old media outlets” trotting out analyses about whether or not the “new media” is a good thing.