Alibi V.12 No.27 • July 3-9, 2003 

Art Article

Lies, Lies and More Lies

What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News

Eric Alterman
Basic Books
hardcover
$25

Just trying to buy this book proved the truth of its title. I confidently asked for What Liberal Media? at our Los Lunas clone of a chain bookstore. After all, Alterman is nationally known, and the book is selling well online. The bookstore said they had one copy on order. Some weeks later I went back.

One lonely copy cowered among shelf after shelf of screeds by right-wing trenchmouths like Ann "Phony Phootnotes" Coulter and Michael "Changed My Name from Weiner" Savage.

Prize-winning author and columnist Alterman takes the right wing's eternal howl, "You've been deceived by the liberal media," shoots it, guts it and dries it for jerky.

Alterman begins by surveying different media—TV, print, Internet, radio and the armies of pundits and essay writers issuing from right-wing think tanks and foundations. He then tackles neo-conservative accusations of social and economic bias. He analyzes the corporate media's most spectacular sellouts, the attempt to bring down Bill Clinton and the 2000 presidential election. He finishes with a visit to the emperors of the right-wing media circle jerk: the Wall Street Journal's opinion page, Rupert Murdoch's tabloidy conglomerate and the Granddaddy Warbucks of them all, Richard Mellon Scaife.

One can't condense the richness of Alterman's material. He covers pervasive tropisms like the corporate media setting the bar so low for George W. Bush that they gush if he manages to not "drool on himself at state dinners." He chronicles individual peculiarities like conservative columnist Peggy Noonan pretending to be liberal, Senator Paul Wellstone confessing his wrongness from beyond the grave.

But Alterman's core theme of how right-wing media sources reinforce each other shows up most clearly in his history of Charles Murray's publications. Murray's recent book, The Bell Curve, written with Richard Herrnstein, argued that IQ determines income and, well, white folks are just genetically smarter than black folks by about 15 IQ points.

Alterman relates how neo-conservative foundations subsidized Murray's writing. He describes how the book, which normally would have received academic peer review before publication, went only to other conservative pundits for praise. Galley proofs went only to right-wing publications, where they received glowing reviews. Mainstream reviewers, scared of "liberal bias" accusations, took the book seriously. Conservative book clubs bought it in bulk, propelling it onto bestseller lists. Months later, credentialed scientists in the field nailed Murray's data as skewed, nonexistent or impossible to replicate, but by then the book's thesis had entered the national consciousness.

This stuff is everywhere. Recently I looked up "fascism" in my American Heritage Dictionary, 1983 abridged edition. It stated, "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism." Then I checked the current AHD edition online. Mention of the "extreme right" had been scrubbed, along with any reference to the merging of state and corporate power.

Welcome to the Matrix.