Magazine article American Journalism Review

Go Rightward, Liberal Media? the Airwaves Are Filled with Conservative TV Talk Shows

Magazine article American Journalism Review

Go Rightward, Liberal Media? the Airwaves Are Filled with Conservative TV Talk Shows

Article excerpt

For years the American news media have been type-cast as liberal, to the point that the phrase "liberal media" long ago entered cliche territory. Now a spate of right-leaning shows hitting the airwaves has some critics warning direly of a creeping conservative bias.

The latest such addition was the September debut of PBS' "Journal Editorial Report," a roundtable discussion of the week's stories led by Paul Gigot, editor of the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page. During the 30-minute show, Gigot is joined by other members of the paper's editorial-page staff to analyze news and share opinions.

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PBS first came under fire for lurching right after it gave conservative CNN commentator Tucker Carlson his own slot in the public-affairs programming lineup in June. Some viewers perceive an additional insult because PBS' best-known liberal show, "NOW with Bill Moyers," will slim down to a 30-minute format when Moyers, who plans to retire in December, hands it over to his ideologically neutral cohost David Brancaccio. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides much of the funding for PBS' programs, also is considering a new cultural issues show that would pair conservative radio host Michael Medved with a liberal cohost, according to published reports.

While the new programs triggered an avalanche of disapproval from left-leaning media critics, PBS executives insist they are not "stacking the decks" to favor conservatives. "Public television is designed to be a forum for all viewers and a diversity of opinion," says spokeswoman Lea Sloan. "It's our mission--our obligation--to serve every part of our audience, and that's what we think these shows accomplish."

PBS is not alone in the trend to add more conservative voices to the airwaves. CNN and MSNBC have provided megaphones to right-wing pundits who give news a more conservative slant and, some say, ignore liberal arguments on important issues.

MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" is hosted by Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman. Last March, the network also launched a show with conservative host Michael Savage but pulled it abruptly in July when he was fired for belittling a gay caller. CNN's "Crossfire" balances conservatives Carlson and Robert Novak with liberals Paul Begala and James Carville, and the network is bringing more right-wing guests to its prime-time lineup.

Why the sudden ideological shift? The mounting popularity of Fox News Channel may well be a catalyst. "The advent of the Fox network with its very clear tilt has made conservative points of view more noticeable than before," says Av Westin, executive director of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation. "Because they've gotten such good ratings success, CNN and MSNBC have made sure they have more right-wing voices."

Marvin Kalb, senior fellow at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, sees the addition of conservative voices as an effort to attract right-leaning viewers, who make up about 43 percent of the cable news audience, according to a June study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. By comparison, about 14 percent of the cable audience describes itself as liberal and 37 percent as moderate.

"The conservative movement has done a much better job in recent years of getting a wider part of its spectrum on the air," says Tom Rosenstiel, founding director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "It is a movement more suited to the polarized dialogue of modern TV--the 'Crossfire' culture."

Bucking conventional wisdom, Rosenstiel argues this development "has nothing to do with Fox." He says the move toward adding more conservatives "goes back decades before Fox was ever even an idea," and the left has long complained the media cater to conservatives.

Conservatives counter vehemently, contending the media promote liberal political ideas disguised as news. …

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