Monday, July 03, 2006

Whither the Liberal Media?

The word “liberal” might be too confining. It has been co-opted and defined primarily by the Right as “everything that is not conservative,” or perhaps “weak, wrong headed, whining, bleeding heart,” etc. Liberals coddle terrorists. They cut and run. Conservative talking heads on FOX like to claim that Hilary is liberal, which really pisses the liberals off because Hilary is too conservative for them (Bill was too). Most liberals do not want to be associated with her. In politics real liberals, like Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank, for instance, are few and far between. Liberals don’t play well in the burbs.

But the main force that gets tagged with liberalism is the press. The “liberal media,” has been the Republicans’ most faithful whipping boy since Nixon’s day. I’ve often said that the press is not particularly liberal, but I should probably back off that in the case of the New York Times. I’m not going to say that the Times *is* liberal, but I am certainly going to own up to the fact that the Times is anti-Bush. At this point it would be hard to deny. Mind you, they are not as anti-Bush as the Post and Fox Network News are pro-Bush—they still have some integrity—but they are standing up to Big Brother in a way that few other journalistic institutions are.

I was quite amazed yesterday to read on Joe Scarborough’s blog a post where he basically defended the Times against the Bush administration’s recent attacks. He even quoted Jefferson on Newspapers and Government (given a choice between a government without newspapers and newspapers without a government he’d choose the latter). Apparently, Joe’s conservativism doesn’t go so far as to accept either snooping into people’s bank records or attacks on the press. Like I said, I’ve always *wanted* to like Joe, but then I watch his show. Maybe I should just stick to reading his blog.

But the Times is not liberal, not in the way the conservatives like to use the word. I am reminded of this once again while doing research into the media coverage of the Patty Hearst trial. Much of it ahs been into the mainstream press coverage, which was understandably confused and outranged (especially the Examiner, which is to be expected). But there was also in the seventies a thriving underground press, a press which really doesn’t exist today. Newspapers like the San Francisco Phoenix and the Los Angeles Free Press published truly radical political ideas. Most of these papers disappeared while a few of them are still around in the form of “alternative weeklies” (the Village Voice, which pre-dates most of the underground papers, is the best example). The Phoenix is long gone, while the L.A. Free Press was recently reborn. Papers like the Voice and the San Francisco Bay Guardian are the only ones left to carry on the most important mission of the underground press, offering a true alternative to mainstream corporate media, which was and is believed by most on the left to be in bed with both the government and the corporate advertisers who pay for the media. However, these papers have always been more arts oriented than politically oriented (most of them began not as political papers but as a way to advertise musical acts on a weekly basis).

It’s really interesting to read these old leftist papers to see how far away from the real left our supposed left has strayed. I’m looking at a Phoenix front page right now that includes a headline about an American soldier still in Viet Nam who says he supports the Symboinese Liberation Army (the group that kidnapped Hearst) plus a bit of full frontal nudity, and a caption (I’m not sure how it goes with the picture) comparing soldiers on long range reconnaissance patrols in Viet Nam to “an army of Huns, massacring every living thing that moved—men, women, children.” Not the type of quote you’d hear on the Today Show, even though it appears that right now in Iraq the same sort of thing is taking place that took place at My Lai in 1968.

The story of the L.A. Free Press (which was not really in the SLA’s corner, and suggested that the whole Hearst kidnapping was likely a CIA plot to discredit the left), is an interesting case in point. It went out of business in the seventies. Most often this is credited with a mass defection of the staff, which went off to form a rival paper. But it is also noted that when the Free Press’s headquarters was set afire in an arson that was never solved or even really pursued, it took the fire department two hours to respond to the alarm; and that at the same time the Free Press’s book store, which sold no food, was closed down for health code violations; and that a book of columns written by Harlan Ellison for the Free Press was suppressed by the Nixon Administration (all this from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt). If there was paranoia among the left, and in the left leaning press, then some of it was probably justified.

Of course, the revolution they were all waiting for never occurred. Communism fell, the left became just another marketable taste group, and Che Guevara became a T-shirt. Resistance to corporate imperialism shifted from communists in Latin America (though they’re making a comeback in Venezuela and Bolivia) to Islamic Jihadists (Marxist theory goes a long way to explaining the Jihadist movement as well: communism may be a terrible economic system, but it is still the best way to analyze popular discontent and populist uprisings, whether in the streets of Baghdad or of New Orleans).

Which brings us back to current times: I work at the moment for a true leftist bookstore, much like the one the Free Press operated that was shut down (though, unlike them, we do serve food). We are publishing our own alternative paper, the Megaphone, which I was pleased to see on a rack at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope the other day. I’m still not sure what Sander’s economic beliefs are since, after all, he is a business owner (I gave up any communist pretensions myself once I became a landlord). I may not agree with all of Vox Pop’s politics, but they are carrying the torch of true debate. This may or may not be a good thing: there is something to be said for patriotism in times of war as well as dissent; but at least they, and the Voice, and the Guardian, and a few other rags and websites out there, endeavor to persevere.


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