Book Review: What Liberal Media?: The Truth about Bias and the News, Eric Alterman (2003)

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Don’t believe the conservative talking points!

four out of five stars

Even though it was published in 2003, Eric Alterman’s WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA?: THE TRUTH ABOUT BIAS AND THE NEWS is just as relevant and insightful today, as the 2008 election cycle begins to heat up. From the mainstream media’s misogynist slurs against Hillary Clinton to their love affair with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain (note to Chris Matthews: the media isn’t supposed to be ANY candidate’s “base”), the total lack of a liberal bias, even among ostensibly moderate-to-lefty journalists, is painfully evident.

Alterman debunks the myth of the liberal media from a number of angles. From the rise of right-wing pundits and well-funded conservative “think tanks” (an oxymoron if ever there was one), to the political leanings of and corporate pressures faced by individual journalists, Alterman illustrates how the Republican Party seized control of the mainstream media, all the while decrying its supposed bias in favor of liberal causes.

Especially timely is his discussion of how the media has treated George W. Bush with kid gloves, previously having eviscerated (sometimes, rightfully so) Bill Clinton for lesser evils. Yes, Bill Clinton deserves scorn for taking advantage of an awe-struck intern (power disparity, anyone?); but a BJ pales in comparison to an unjust war. (Mind bogglingly, the media’s slant has only veered further to the right in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.) Shortly after the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq passed 4,000, Dick Cheney declared “It places a special burden obviously on the families, and we recognize, I think — it’s a reminder of the extent to which we are blessed with families who’ve sacrificed as they have. The president carries the biggest burden, obviously.” Bush himself said – with no hint of irony, compassion, or remorse – that he’s found his presidency “joyful” and he sleeps “a lot better than people would assume.” And the MSM didn’t even blink.

*head desk*

Seriously, WHAT liberal media!?

As the primaries drag on, it’s a whole lotta history repeating.

While WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? probably won’t sway any hardcore conservatives, it is a useful tool for liberals who wish to quash the myth of the liberal media, and might help to educate misinformed moderates and independents. Generally speaking, it’s a good read and a persuasive argument, but I wish Alterman had included more hard statistics and fewer anecdotes. Then again, there seems to be a dearth of research in this area; perhaps WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? can serve as a starting point for some enterprising young journalism or social science students looking to study the issue further. An update for 2008 would be a welcome addition as well; Alterman has four more years of dubya’s shenanigans to document, not to mention the farcical 2008 primaries.

To the content of the book, I bequeath four stars. To the format, which was for me an audiobook, one lonely star. I’m normally a huge fan of audiobooks, since they allow me to “read” 2-3 times as many books as I might otherwise. Yet Alterman narrated WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? himself, and the result is almost un-listenable. It’s truly awful. (His Bill O’Reilly impression is spot on, though. Hey, credit where credit’s due.) And this comes from someone who has a high tolerance for non-professional narration; I usually prefer that authors record the audio versions of their own books, since it lends an added authenticity to the reading. I loved listening to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s INFIDEL and Christopher Hitchens’ GOD IS NOT GREAT, both of which were read by the respective authors, thick accents and all. But Alterman’s publisher really should have shelled out the extra money for a pro.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)