Readers respond to David Talbot's review of "What Liberal Media?" by Eric Alterman.

Published March 7, 2003 8:15PM (EST)

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You want a template for a liberal TV network that takes on Fox News head-to-head? Start with Comedy Central's "Daily Show." No it's not serious news (uhh, not even close), but it skewers the Bush administration on a nightly basis and, more importantly, shows that unabashedly liberal ranting can be fun and damn easy to watch and enjoy. Especially when it's peppered with a little sex, dark humor, and a healthy dose of cynicism. The great weakness of the right is that it takes itself so seriously. Liberals know how to laugh.

People forget that Fox News started out as a wacky, almost irreverent network so tailored to the nutjobs on the extreme right that nobody took it seriously. It wasn't until the Bush presidential run got cooking that it truly started taking itself seriously. The left should copy Fox News -- and take it one step further. Don't even bother trying to appeal to the center until there's a strong following on the left. Start with a heavy dose of cynical comedy (think of what "South Park" gets away with every episode). Build an audience. Once there's momentum, start getting serious. By Year 3, come up with a slogan as ludicrous as "We report, you decide." Then you know you've made it.

-- Jason Owens

Lack of public support is part of the price that liberals must pay for political correctness.

The definition of "p.c." is the adoption of ideas in liberal guise so lacking in credibility that they actually generate support for conservative causes.

The current flap over whether women should be admitted to Augusta is but the latest example. There they go again. Like it matters to the rest of us whether Meg Whitman or Oprah can schmooze with the boys at Augusta. I'll respond to that issue if and when I become eligible for membership.

Likewise, a trillion dollars in racial reparations in a time of budget deficits on behalf of people who never were slaves at the expense of people who never had them is simply not serious. This is never going to happen and those who insist on trumpeting this issue are simply wasting our time.

Affirmative action has become a bonanza for middle-class white women. It is much less useful for lower-class blacks. Far be it for anyone to suggest that lower-class white males, at whose expense it has been promoted, have any rights. Those stupid white men just keep on listening to Rush.

There is a curious unwillingness on the part of liberals to advance meaningful proposals for economic justice, for healthcare, for education. Rather, they prefer to celebrate soccer moms. This is why they are so strangely intimidated by "class warfare" rhetoric.

-- Duncan Kinder

David Talbot is right: The media has been worked over to approach the conservatives with kid gloves. The "liberal media elite" does need to get its act together and counter the conservative media onslaught, but Talbot's list of "progressive[s] ... who know how to express themselves passionately and in the idiom of talk TV" is a sorry list.

Michael Moore, while having the populist working-man look, is prone to ineffective stunts and generally comes off as condescending to not only his targets, but also to those he's championing. Janeane Garofalo, while a fine actress and an intelligent woman, is too inexperienced in the world of full-contact punditry, and her antiwar interviews show this. That said, she could in time find her voice in this role, and I wish her well. Instead, substitute Alec Baldwin for the role of actor/pundit.

Finally, I'm aghast at Talbot's mentioning of Katrina vanden Heuvel as an effective voice for the left. Yes she's an extremely intelligent (and quite attractive) woman with impeccable liberal credentials (editor of the Nation no less). Superficially, she would appear to be a good balance to the right's Ann Coulter, but as anyone who's seen her on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" knows, she's incapable of expressing herself in a sound bite. She is repeatedly shouted down and outmaneuvered by lesser right-wingers. She thinks those shows are debates rather than the ideological cage matches that they are.

-- Jonathan Koren

In every debate about conservative vs. liberal bias in the news, people are making one very important, but perhaps false, assumption -- that Americans are watching the news to become informed. It is clear that today people are watching the news channels to be entertained.

We assume that because conservative voices are in control of the news media, people will come to view the world in a conservative way. However, if indeed people see the new conservative media as entertainment, then the content is disposable and the Fox News Channel changes the world in the same way "All My Children" does. People don't see "the crusading conservative fighting the liberal menace" as reality -- they see it as just another poorly written drama.

People will always have a desire for news, and today they can get that news easily from the Internet from many sources. Even the Fox News Web site is informative because the sarcasm and the sneering does not come through in plain text. But because of this easily accessed news, all the traditional media outlets are redefining themselves to present a more desirable product -- entertainment -- which cannot be considered journalism.

Have faith in common Americans! They can tell the difference between fact and fiction!

Essentially, Fox News became popular by completely giving up on the news. We liberals can take pleasure in knowing that while Fox News may be the No. 1 news network, it is still only the No. 2 cartoon network.

-- Kyle Smith

I am a conservative and a keen reader of Salon. Though some of the more "progressive" pieces annoy at times, I enjoy the lively take on things and enjoy hearing different voices. The last thing you want is to become an American Prospect, an enormously dreary trudge through liberal whining. (Whining is always dreary whatever the source.) Its British counterpart is far more entertaining, taking as it does the remit to have interesting, well-argued debate as opposed to rehashing slogans from either side.

The fact that the airwaves now contain a number of "rabid" conservative commentators does in no way redress the fact the mainstream network news still reports with a liberal bias (albeit pro-war).

I was interested in Mr. Alterman's list of conservative journalistic infrastructures, purportedly showing how conservative the media now is. But in each case none of them was the market leader: The New York Times dwarfs the New York Post, the Washington Times is certainly more junior than the Washington Post, Fox vs. the old networks, etc.

Rush Limbaugh and some of the other more extreme voices are not intended to be seen as serious authorities as much as entertainers. The fact that they are successful is simply a demonstration that there was a real yearning for more conservative voices, precisely because the mainstream media did not reflect large portions of the American public. I can't tell you how irritating it is to be watching major network sitcoms and comedians and to hear jokes that presume that their audience is liberal.

Personally, I hate Rush et al. because sweeping generalizations and playground taunting annoy me. Conservatives come in witty and intellectually searching flavors too. These programs don't represent us. Clever, well-argued and innovative stuff gets me every time, even if I don't agree. That's why I like Salon.

I implore you to 1) stay online and 2) continue to publish people who have novel things to say across a wide spectrum of subjects. Simply becoming an outlet for liberal views will mean death. Not because of where you are placed on the political spectrum but because it would become deadly dull.

-- Richard Conolly

Having read Alterman's "What Liberal Media?" I found David Talbot's article "All Conservative, All the Time" persuasive. To a point.

The suggestion that the impotence of liberal media is largely the result of "elitist bias," while not entirely untrue, seems a bit oversimplistic. It implies that the "cure" must necessarily involve somehow emulating an enemy that posits a black-and-white world that can be adequately explained through sound bites and spin. While that approach may have enabled the right to gain its stranglehold on national opinion, it is nevertheless disingenuous and cynical, an insult not only to "elitists," but to the audience at large.

The fact that such a fine distinction may be lost on the "audience at large" will not excuse the liberal media (or whatever is left of it) from abandoning its obligation to confront complex issues with the kind of intellectual honesty they require. A hypothetical liberal counterpart of Chris Matthews, who admonished one of his guests recently to "keep it short for my American audience," is simply not in the realm of possibility.

Finally, I share the angst of all who are confounded by the problem of how to counter the neo-conservative lock on today's media. My only suggestion is that those of us who embrace a liberal/progressive philosophy stop being intimidated by the vitriolic right and unabashedly stand up for what we believe. As this president leads us down the road to economic ruin, the time has never been more opportune to win hearts and minds. And we don't have to do it by being like "them."

-- Tom M. Liston

David Talbot wonders why there isn't any left-wing analogue to Rush Limbaugh in the mainstream media. But I think I know why. Here, from the perspective of a 23-year-old leftist, are three key pieces of evidence:

1) 50 percent of my friends don't watch television, and most of them are proud of it. Nobody listens to the radio.

2) My friends find it strange that I read Time and Newsweek regularly.

3) "The space shuttle blew up two days ago? Are you serious? Why didn't I hear about that?"

You have to understand that, as liberals, we have been trained from birth to know that all TV, "corporate" radio, and any publication not put out by hippies in San Francisco is evil, evil, evil, and we must stay away from it lest our intelligence be lowered irrevocably. I think this is bullshit, obviously, but it seems clear to me that the reason there are no leftists on TV or radio is because leftists don't watch TV and don't listen to radio.

I agree with Mr. Talbot that it would be nice if rich progressives started foundations on the right-wing model, but the fact remains that if progressives are going to start any kind of mainstream movement, they have to realize that an audience in the mainstream media is essential, and you can only repeat "the medium is the message" so many times before it just becomes a weak excuse. TV and radio aren't right-wing because it's in their nature; they're right-wing because liberals abandoned them long ago. But we can come back, as an audience first and then as a participant. We need to stop reflexively trashing TV and radio and start seeing their immense possibilities -- to start engaging with the mainstream rather than removing ourselves from it.

-- Michael Barthel

Thank you, David Talbot, for so eloquently airing my fears over the right-leaning bias of media today. As a staunch liberal I have been watching the media love affair with the right-wing Bush administration with despair. After the vicious and, for the most part, unwarranted attacks on the Clinton administration, where are the lefty watchdogs who should be screaming about the many unethical actions of the Bush administration?

For example, why has there been minimal coverage of the GAO dropping its lawsuit against Cheney because, despite a court order to do so, the V.P. still hasn't disclosed the required information about the energy meetings. He has made it clear he never will, yet the fact that the vice president of the U.S. is flouting the law is barely a whisper in the news!

The left needs a better voice in the media. As my husband likes to say, they should no longer be called Republicans and Democrats -- what we really have are the Mean party and the Incompetent party. If the left wants the public to hear our side, we'd better get our act together and start playing hardball. Nothing talks louder than money.

-- Karen Kasper

David Talbot is afraid of the bogeyman!

"Wow, what an absurd assertion," you might say, given Mr. Talbot's posturing as the brave and iconoclastic rhetorical warrior for the liberal camp. He shows no fear when raining ad hominem attacks down on the heads of the administration and conservative Goths storming the gates of the media. How could he possibly be afraid of an imaginary terror such as the bogeyman?

Well, perhaps because he has so emphatically embraced Eric Alterman's notion that the long-held belief of liberal bias in the media is unfounded. On top of that is Mr. Talbot's declaration that in fact, at this very moment, conservatives hold the electronic high ground in the war for the hearts and minds of the American sheep ... er, people.

But Mr. Talbot should be reminded by one of his braver junior editors that no matter how many times one repeats a falsehood, it never, ever becomes true. Sorry, Dave. The fact is that there is no statistical basis for Mr. Talbot's assertions.

While conspicuously excluding the two giants of the media, network news and major newspapers, from his list (and why: they're proven liberal media conduits!), Talbot claims, "Talk radio is dominated by Rush Limbaugh and his imitators, the Web has fallen to Matt Drudge, and cable TV is ruled by Ailes and his wannabes at the rival channels."

While no one can argue with the hegemony of conservative talkies on radio (where have you gone, Mario Cuomo), claiming any kind of defeat or even credible threat in the other electronic media is simply a statistical falsehood.

While Fox News Channel is the ratings leader in cable news, the combined audience of CNN and MSNBC is greater than Fox's, and neither channel even approaches Fox's conservative tendencies. And while it may be considered the 600-pound gorilla of cable news, Fox is a 98-pound weakling when compared to the ratings numbers of even the poorest performing network news broadcasts (Captain Dan, that would be you and your cohorts at CBS).

But let's look at Mr. Talbot's most dubious surrender -- in essence, his own back yard: the Internet. The Drudge Report might have great name recognition, but it hasn't translated into big numbers in online audience. Just look at the Nielsen NetRatings.

For Internet news sites, CNN.com is tops, ranked 22nd overall online. They are followed by ABC News online (55th), New York Times online (61st), Time (104th), and the Washington Post online (132nd).

The Drudge Report comes in at 176th in the ratings -- hardly what one would call an overwhelming victory for the horde of wired conservatives. Then again, perhaps Mr. Talbot's view is a bit skewed from Salon.com's perch at 408th in Nielsen NetRatings, just ahead of Sleazydream.com (409th), but still way out in front of his stated nemesis, Rush Limbaugh (a gimpy 541st overall).

So, given the hard empirical evidence, Mr. Talbot (or Bill Clinton or the DNC, for that matter) can't claim any kind of conservative dominance of electronic media. Perhaps what Mr. Talbot really objects to is the mere presence of conservatives in the media, especially as something other than the target of his juvenile, ill-informed ranting.

It's OK to come out from under the bed, Mr. Talbot. There is no bogeyman.

-- Joe Brennan Jr.

The reason that liberal voices are not out there is that no one is buying their views anymore. It is that simple.

Conservatives stand for basic American values:

  • personal responsibility
  • faith and morals
  • equality
  • small government
  • capitalism and hard work
  • patriotism
  • freedom!
  • Advocating for more handouts, racial discrimination, "tolerance," and more government programs will not sell.

    Although I will miss Salon, it will not be for the leftist analysis pieces, which were usually filled with bullshit.

    -- Henry Szubzda

    The media are neither liberal nor conservative, but whores. With a few exceptions, listed in the article, they kiss up to whoever is in power at the moment. Since Ronald Reagan used his B-movie acting skills to convince the voting sheep that conservatism was the big answer to all our ills, reporters and columnists have wanted to be on the A list for White House and statehouse functions. I call it the Clarence Thomas syndrome. Have you noticed how many minority columnists are now writing conservative pieces? It is simply a good career move. A lot less competition.

    Have you read anything by Richard Cohen lately? He has become a big hawk.

    I cannot even stand to look at George Stephanopoulos. One of the great ironies of the Clinton impeachment was that Linda Tripp's disgust with the Clinton White House stemmed from her hatred of George Stephanopoulos. She said she could not stand his "greasy hair and his eating peanut butter and crackers with his feet up on his desk." In the grand scheme of things, not such mortal sins, but that's what set her off, and then he has turned around and stabbed Clinton so many times. But look where it got him! You don't see Molly Ivins (bless her for not selling out) hosting ABC's prime Sunday morning show, do you?

    -- Joy Williams

    By Salon Staff

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