The Real Press Bias
August 18, 2012
Here is an excerpt from a Paul Krugman column, date noted below, which makes the interesting argument that the media is mainstream, not left wing or right wing, but mainstream. I would submit though that Krugman has it wrong in part, in the part where he says “many commentators want to tell a story about US politics that makes them feel and look good….” Rather, I would suggest that these many commentators tell the story as Krugman describes it, “a story in which both parties are equally at fault in our national stalemate,” because they believe that story. This story has the benefit of allowing these commentators to “stand above the fray,” to be sure. But like a lot of Americans, even most Americans, these commentators have bought the story the politicians – and others of the opinionated elite – tell, viz., of a political system that is “broken,” that needs to be “fixed,” and that these fixers must be “pragmatic” rather than “political” types. That is, to put this more directly, this story concludes that we need “mechanics” or “serious policy wonks.” This is what underlies the emphasis on “even-handedness,” which the media and others take to be an unalterable duty. I mean even Fox “News” pretends to bow before that altar of being “fair and balanced.”
But if our system isn’t “broken,” but is being controlled by some oligarchs, as it seems to me it is, then “mechanics” or even “serious policy wonks” won’t help, because then our problems are political, not “mechanical.” And as Aristotle argued so long ago, politically the best thing that can happen to an oligarchy is for it to be balanced with some democracy. So what we need, in this view, is not “even-handedness” in our media or in our politics but, rather, more democracy or, if you prefer, popular government. One aspect of Aristotle’s politics that is not often enough commented on is that, for him, any attempt “to stand above the fray” is bound to fail, to fall prey to those political partisans, whether democrats or oligarchs, who seek power in order to rule. Or, to put this more directly, for Aristotle there is no escaping politics and as all forms of political rule are partial, there is no escaping partisanship.
But Krugman’s quote is still worth considering because it does help to illuminate what story the media is telling and how that story serves to reinforce the status quo, serving those partisans who currently hold and exercise power. And as Krugman points out, we all want to think that there are “good, honest, technically savvy…politicians,” politicians we can admire because they are all about “ideas,” not partisanship. It is nice story, a really nice story. Too bad it isn’t true.
Paul Krugman wrote Monday in The New York Times:
“Like Bush in 2000, Ryan has a completely undeserved reputation in the media as a bluff, honest guy, in Ryan’s case supplemented by a reputation as a serious policy wonk. … It’s because many commentators want to tell a story about US politics that makes them feel and look good — a story in which both parties are equally at fault in our national stalemate, and in which said commentators stand above the fray. This story requires that there be good, honest, technically savvy conservative politicians, so that you can point to these politicians and say how much you admire them, even if you disagree with some of their ideas; after all, unless you lavish praise on some conservatives, you don’t come across as nobly even-handed.”