On Friday night, PBS star Bill Moyers took up the question of the media’s coverage of President Obama. It was not a liberal vs. conservative debate. His panel was two left-wing bloggers: Glenn Greenwald of Salon and Jay Rosen of PressThink. Unsurprisingly, they felt the media weren’t "progressive" enough.
But Greenwald went far beyond that, making claims that "establishment media venues" forged a political "partnership" with the Republican Party and "the right wing" during the Lewinsky affair that continued and "translated into the media being blindly supportive and reverent of the Bush administration." He also claimed – against all evidence – that massive demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2003 were almost ignored: "the media virtually excluded those demonstrations from the narrative."
These strange theories erupted without Moyers really demanding an attack on the media elite:
MOYERS: The Rasmussen Poll this week shows an eight point drop in support for the stimulus plan, what do you make of that?
GREENWALD: You know, I think if you go back to the 1990s, what you saw is essentially a partnership between the Republican Party, the right wing, and establishment media venues. And this partnership was formed when they were essentially engaged in their lynch mob over the Lewinsky affair.
And that partnership, those methods that were so successful then, translated into the media being blindly supportive and reverent of the Bush administration. And that partnership hasn't really gone anywhere. And so, I think that Obama, being somewhat new to Washington, and looking at Washington as this culture ready to be changed, and leave behind its old ways - that's what he really believes he can accomplish - may have been somewhat surprised by how potent that process is, when it works together.
And it suffocated his message. It attached the most dreaded label in Washington to what he was trying to do, which is conventional liberalism, that this is just a standard package of liberal economic policies: taxing and spending, and imposing burdens on the American taxpayer. And that message resonated with the media, and therefore, with the American public, and steamrolled the White House in a way that I think demonstrated they weren't really prepared for how vibrant that partnership remains.
Moyers was explicit in suggesting the mainstream media have failed to put enough emphasis on protests against the economic forces that are accused of creating the economic "calamity" unfolding, which led to Greenwald’s claims of ignored war protesters:
MOYERS: On my computer upstairs, I have a lot of photographs from around the world this week, of protests, demonstrations of people who feel desperate in the midst of economic collapse and calamity. And they're taking to the streets. We don't see that in this country. Will Washington ever get the message unless they feel the pulse of people who are saying we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more?
GREENWALD: I think the idea of street demonstrations is probably the most stigmatized idea in our political process. There were huge marches, for instance, prior to the Iraq war, against the war. There were hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people throughout Europe marching in the streets against the war.
And yet, the media virtually excluded those demonstrations from the narrative, because they're threatening, and because they're considered to be the act of unserious radicals and people who are on the fringe, and I think that in some sense, that's reflective of the fact that that level of agitation is probably the most threatening to the people who have a vested in having the system continue unchanged.
Despite the fact that PBS stations are subsidized by taxpayers, no conservative media critic from MRC or elsewhere was allowed a rebuttal. On broadcast network morning and evening news shows, the anti-war rally of January 18, 2003 drew a pile of coverage: 26 segments, 14 of them before the rally began. Our argument at the time in our Media Reality Check report was that the rally in that week that was truly "excluded from the narrative" was the annual pro-life march on Washington on January 22.