Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

On another note, I have read in several "conservoblogs" (a great term that I am stealing from Brian Linse) about the contrasting treatment in the "liberal" media of Stephen Ambrose and Michael Bellesiles (sp?). The most frequent critic has been hyperblogger Glenn Reynolds, who I am sure bristles at the "conservoblogger" label, but certainly tilts to the right on several issues, and I am sure agrees with the notion of "liberal media bias". Ambrose, for those who don't know, has been lifting whole passages from previous works for his popular history books, and is thus charged in the press with plagiarism. Bellesiles has been accused of a perhaps more substantial academic sin, that he fabricated evidence for his ballyhooed The Arming of America, in which he made the claim that guns were much less prevalent in colonial and frontier America than purported in previous histories (and gun-rights propaganda). Because Ambrose is considered a Conservative in viewpoint, and Bellesiles is quite obviously propagating a viewpoint that serves Liberal gun-control advocacy, it is appropriate to ask the question, is the media unfairly attacking Ambrose while giving Bellesiles a pass? I think the answer is no, but with some qualifications. Here are some reasons why the attacks on Ambrose bear no relation to Bellesiles: 1) Ambrose's books have been much more popular RECENTLY, although both were bestsellers; 2) Bellesiles is old news, i.e. the story of his misconduct was broken a while ago, while Ambrose's reputation was recently untarnished; 3) News outlets give their readers/viewers/listeners WHAT THEY WANT. I think this last one is the most important, and indicates not "liberal media bias", but the drawback to rapid information flow in both directions. Any given media outlet can very quickly assess the mood of its consumers, and tailor its news accordingly. It turns out, shockingly, that most NPR listeners and NY Times subscribers are "Liberals", and the stations will therefore tailor their news accordingly. Oh me, oh my, whatever shall we do?? If NPR doesn't tell me what I want to hear, I guess I can...change the channel. If Fox News is too conservative, I can ...change to CNN, or MSNBC, or the Home Shopping Network for all it matters. For all the carping in the Bloggyverse about liberal media bias, it is clear that bias is in the eye of the beholder. The warblog universe is dominated by the center-right, so is there a "conservative web-media bias"? I don't think so.