Salon: Media’s Political Coverage Favors ‘War-Fighting Skill Set’ of Conservatives Over Fact-Driven Liberals

We don’t know who’d win a presidential race between Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon, but apparently we could be almost certain of three things: Jefferson would campaign ethically; Nixon would play dirty; and the media would have no problem with Nixon’s sleazy tactics.

The above scenario is extrapolated from Paul Rosenberg’s Salon article last Saturday in which Rosenberg argued that liberal Democrats, “fair-minded and rule-abiding,” have long been at a competitive disadvantage against conservative Republican “streetfighters,” and that “the Beltway media takes these double standards for granted, accepts them as normal and even adopts them as their default framework.” From Rosenberg’s piece (emphasis added):


It’s [standard operating procedure] for the so-called “liberal media” to play along with the GOP, savaging Democrats when they occasionally do push back hard…

But to really understand what’s going on with PolitiFact and those who think like them, we need to shift focus…to the very different ways that those on the left and the right are routinely expected to operate.

Put simply, there are two sets of rules: one for liberals and Democrats, the other for conservatives and Republicans. The former are supposed to be fair-minded and rule-abiding, as befits a tradition that harkens back to the likes of Jefferson, Madison, Montesquieu and Locke. The latter are expected to be Nixonian streetfighters—whatever they do is “just politics,” and “everybody does it,” so there’s “nothing to see here.”

These differences are deeply rooted in political culture. Liberalism descends from a long line of urban-, commercial- and professional-based culture, built on three major movements that have shaped the modern Western world: the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment…Success in this world—a non-zero-sum game—is largely reflected in the uncoerced judgement of one’s equals, one’s peers. Conservatism’s roots, in contrast, are rural, provincial and aristocratic, centered in institutions of hierarchy: the military, the church and, more recently, big business, as well as the patriarchal family. Success in this zero-sum world comes from subordinating others to one’s will, from coercing them…

For months, years, even decades on end, liberals and Democrats have played by these bifurcated rules, and they have repeatedly gotten clobbered as a result…Republicans and conservatives routinely think of impeaching Democratic presidents, expending considerable energy to roil their bases, elaborating paranoid, fantastical, conspiratorial narratives. Democrats do quite the opposite—preemptively discouraging talk of impeach[ing GOP presidents]…

…What liberals/Democrats see as “acting responsibly”…are seen by conservatives/Republicans as showing signs of incredible weakness and lack of resolve, which are an open invitation for them to utterly crush everyone and everything that might possibly stand in their way. It’s not an invitation to peace, but to war—or, more accurately, to slaughter or wanton terrorism.

Now, every once in a while, something unusual happens. A significant chunk of liberals and Democrats wake up and decide to fight back—at which point conservatives and the GOP counter-attack them for “being mean” and “political” and “cynical”–in short, for acting like Republicans. And that’s precisely what we’re seeing now, as the GOP tries to pretend that impeaching Obama is Obama’s idea…

…[T]he problem here is twofold: First, that conservatives…have a deep-seated double-standard. Second, that the Beltway media takes these double standards for granted, accepts them as normal and even adopts them as their default framework…

Of course, the media’s politics vs. policy problem is not limited to liberal vs. conservative issues—but it does help to illuminate them. James Fallows wrote about this problem extensively in his 1996 book, ”Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy,” in which he argued that reducing everything to political gamesmanship undermined democracy while eroding the public’s trust in the media as well. While not overly and intentionally ideological, this process clearly favors conservatives over liberals, it values their war-fighting skill set, while downgrading the importance of facts, with their well-known liberal bias…

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters