The media's coverage healthcare reform has been atrocious. Most of the reporting has focused on sideshows -- like scuffles at public meetings held to discuss the issue. Reporters pay attention to spectacle because they would rather create and exploit controversy than educate and inform the public.
Creating drama is a quick and easy way to generate traffic, which, in turn, fuels revenue. Engaging in sustained and helpful dialogue, however, takes time and may not lead to short-term spikes in traffic. Our legal system, however, gives extraordinary protection to news sources because they supposedly comment on matters of great public importance. Much of the contemporary reporting, however, falls short of this lofty ideal.
What Liberal Media?
Although conservatives often describe the media as "liberal," this label is inaccurate. Mainstream news sources are opportunistic, rather than liberal. Politically, they are most likely centrists, but they could lean right or left, depending on what is popular at the moment. The same "embedded" media personalities that salivated as shock and awe erupted, gushed with enthusiasm and emotion in response to Obama and his anti-war narrative.
During the wave of patriotism surrounding the Iraq War and the silencing of critical speech, Peter Jennings was the only major United States news anchor who raised serious questions about the appropriateness of the war. By the end of Bush's second term, when public support for the war had plummeted, no self-respecting reporter had anything decent to say about Bush or "his" war.
Now, the so-called liberal media is proving once again that it only operates to generate profits and to remain close to power (which are related goals). Throughout 2008, the media adored Barack Obama. He could do nothing wrong. Media figures moved swiftly and vigorously to rebuke Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Latino voters, poor white and uneducated voters, racism, anti-elitism, and any other perceived obstacle to Obama's election victory.
Although I am a progressive, I was stunned that my liberal colleagues embraced such a clear lack of criticism among mainstream news sources. They seemed unable to recall that an uncritical media stood idle during John Kerry's "swiftboating." The mainstream media almost universally failed to contextualize statements by Al Gore, which became fodder for late-night television and conservative commentary (he never said he "invented" the Internet).
Hillary Clinton became evil incarnate during the Democratic primaries. Now, conservatives are complaining because she has pretty much escaped criticism as Secretary of State. Bill is now the media darling because of his "diplomacy" in North Korea. Just a few months ago, the Clintons were awful racists destroying their legacy, the Democratic Party, the first "serious" black presidential candidate, and the possibility of "change" in the United States.
And the "Dean Scream" was a gross distortion that only a few networks conceded weeks later. The media, however, was comfortable using it to knock out Dean to boost the limping campaign of more mainstream Kerry.
During the Democratic primaries, the media often described criticism of Obama as rooted in racism. Although some criticism directed towards Obama was indeed racist and xenophobic, the media engaged in absolute overreach on this issue. Keith Olbermann, who at times seemed like he longed to become First Lady, launched into a nearly 30-minute tirade criticizing Hillary Clinton for supposedly saying during an interview that she remained in the race just in case someone killed Obama. Olbermann intentionally twisted and distorted Clinton's words. The newspaper that conducted the interview agreed. But this side of the story received very little attention.
Times have definitely changed. When Obama delivered his "race" speech in Philadelphia, some media commentators described it as surpassing any racial discourse ever uttered in the United States. When Obama said that the police acted "stupidly" when they arrested Henry Louis Gates, the reviews were mixed.
With respect to healthcare debates, the media never really gave the Democrats' reform agenda competent analysis by honestly discussing public opinion (the public actually wants a public plan) and discussing the merits and drawbacks of the legislation (as opposed to the theatrical politics surrounding it). Walter Cronkite is definitely dead.
One other point: Some "liberal" media commentators continue to take their cues from Obama, going as far as contradicting their prior arguments and isolating liberals for criticism and describing the center as "pragmatic" and smart. But I cannot bring nearly as much to this subject as Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com.
Check out Greenwald's recent commentary on this and other aspects of the media:
The Beltway Consensus: The Left Is to Blame for Health Care Battle
Bush Critics: Still Evil, Crazy Extremists
Fringe Leftist Losers: Wrong Even When They're Right
For criticism of the media on Dissenting Justice, see:
Excuse Me Dana Milbank, Your Sexism Is Showing (Again)
Isn't It Ironic: E.J. Dionne's Column on Politics, the Media and Obama
Reader Challenge: How Has Obama Changed DC?
LA Times Joins the Hillary Media Makeover
"Scratching and Surviving" Less Newsworthy Than Politicians at Labor Protests: Scant Media Coverage of Republic Windows Workers After Sit-In
"Change" Has Arrived: NYT's Frank Rich Criticizes Obama For the First Time!
2008's Biggest Losers: The Media
Absolutely Shocking News Alert!
Oy Vey: Liberals Dominate Media Because They Want to "Change the World," Says WaPo Ombudsman
Why I Don't Trust the Media, Part 1000: Palin-Africa Story a Hoax
After the Obamercial: A Hint of Criticism Amidst Effusive Praise
2 Politico.Com Reporters Concede Media Biased, Blame McCain
ABC News Takes on Issue of Media Bias and Concludes: It Exists
Another Study Proves That 1+1=2, Or That the Media Love Obama, Hate McCain/Palin, and Who's Biden?
On Low Roads and Hypocrisy: The Media, Sexism and Hillary Clinton