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vast left wing conspiracy
By Dena Ross
On September 11, 2001, American journalists did something that they hadn't done before. They reported without bias. At least that's Bernard Goldberg's claim in his controversial new book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.
Media bias is a hot topic right now, partially due to Goldberg's book, which addresses liberal bias in the media. Its message is nothing new to conservatives, like me, who have known all along about the media's tendency to sprinkle our news with liberal perspectives. It does, however, bring up a few questions about online publications. If traditional media does have a liberal bias, then what about new media? Interestingly, online journalism is never mentioned in Bias. Is this because online publishing offers a utopia for fair and balanced reporting and thus, there is no bias? Possibly. And, if conservative issues are ignored in broadcast and print, might conservatives find their niche onlineor if not a niche, then at least a level playing field? Actually, they already have.
Rod Dreher, former New York Post columnist and Senior Writer for the National Review Online, a popular conservative webzine based on its dead-tree twin, agrees that there is a liberal bias in the media and finds offline media to be a great outlet for conservative views. Although he had to battle with censorship from liberals at the paper, he's had a different experience in his online career. "You don't have to explain why a certain story is important to readers," he says. "My bosses know."
This issue is key heads at liberal networks, like CBS, and editors at major publications don't seem to pay attention to who their viewers or readers really are. For the most part, Americans lean toward the right. But, you'd never know this watching the evening news or reading the local paper.
We see examples of liberal bias when pro-life activists are presented as loony holy rollers or, more often, not presented at all; when one of our presidents is ridiculed for being less articulate than another who gets blown in the Oval Office; and when it's suddenly okay for prominent, "unbiased" news anchors to participate in Democratic fundraisers. It's no wonder Americans distrust the media. Thankfully, the Web will change this. We've already seen the increasing prominence of watchdog sites of all ranges of the political spectrum. In offline media we don't see equivalents to Media Research Center and Media Whores Online. Because the Web is a many-to-many medium, everyone gets a chance to have his say. Who would ever say that only liberals or only conservatives or only anarchists use the Web?
The Web gives conservatives the chance, not only to continue commenting on the liberally tainted news of the day, but also the chance to report on news that the liberal media choose to ignore. It is for this very reason that conservatives flock to sites like World Net Daily and NewsMax people like Glenn Nocera, a former Republican candidate for the New York State Assembly and avid reader of conservative webzines, who prefers online sites like these to traditional media outlets. "I feel that the [offline] media is very liberally biased because the people in the media are liberal and they do the news, not for the viewers, but for their liberal friends who they get together with at cocktail parties."
This seems like the most likely explanation as to why conservatives are flocking online. Online media makes it possible for conservative groups to bypass the big bad liberal media and publish on their own. This, coupled with fairly cheap website start-up costs, makes online media look very attractive to conservatives.
Steve Martinovich, editor of the conservative webzine Enter Stage Right, thinks the future of conservatism on the Web looks pretty good. "I know the media love to focus on how groups like those opposed to the World Trade Organization or free trade agreements use the Web to network, but conservatives have been using the medium for years to organize and get their message out," he says. "Websites like Free Republic show that the conservative movement remains dynamic, capable of the same activism traditionally ascribed to the left."
Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra!, the bimonthly magazine from the media watchdog organization FAIR, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, does not feel that there is a liberal bias in the media. He feels a "centrist, pro-establishment, pro-corporate bias" is at work. "With traditional media you have a very rigid center to right spectrum," he says. "On the Web you have much more of a complete spectrum of debate." However, he also acknowledges that there is more right wing commentary on the Web. "Sites like NewsMax and Free Republic build on what the buzz already accomplished," he says, pointing out that many conservatives are referred to sites by conservative commentators on talk radio.
Though conservatism on the Web has a bright future ahead, that's not to say that liberal sites aren't getting attention. There's Tom Paine and AlterNet out there too, offering a wide variety of liberal views.
"[The Web] is a medium that reconfigures the communicative power of all actors," says William H. Dutton, professor of communication and expert in e-government and new media at the University of Southern California. The Web "can amplify the voice of any group of any political stripe," he argues. "In some respects, it is inherently more democratic than the traditional one-to-many media of the press and broadcasting, but in other ways it can be used by the traditional media to amplify their voice."
Dreher agrees with this notion of amplification. Because National Review Online has an older, print counterpart, it already had an advantage when it launched. However, the online version has the ability to influence debate in Washington in real time, in ways that its print version can not. "[The] conservative webzines that last will be those with roots in traditional media or media institutions," he says. "Certainly, this will be the case until someone figures out how to make money off the Web."
So what's in the future for conservative webzines? I believe the Web will eventually be the only balanced news medium, where a wide variety of news coverage and commentary will be offered. It's already evolved into a place where conservatives can find information they probably didn't hear about on the news. Ideally, liberals should have this chance too, not because I endorse their views, since that would be a cold day in hell, but because of my belief in a medium that will give everyone a say, where journalists could master the difference between commentary and news and label each as such, and where the bias issue isn't an issue anymore.
Dena Ross is an NYU undergraduate journalism major and freelancer.
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