Alterman is ready for a bar fight, and he comes out swinging. His first targets are Goldberg and Ann Coulter, the acidulous commentator whose mini-skirts and mini-thoughts have ensured her a wide following on the paleolithic end of the political spectrum. Alterman dusts off some of her more outrageous quotations (wishing that Timothy McVeigh had blown up The New York Times, to cite one example), which more or less refute themselves, and then proceeds to the more serious argument that ''the right is working the refs'' the way loudmouthed coaches do -- to gain whatever tactical advantage they can.
In fact, Alterman argues, the bias is hard to find. The Times was hardly soft on the Clinton administration, chasing after Whitewater for years, and The Washington Post has been slouching rightward for some time. Talk radio is Death Valley for the left, and the world of television punditry is not much better. Throughout the book, the idea of a liberal reporter seems a faint anachronism -- like the typewriter or Jimmy Olsen's bow tie -- when contrasted to the disciplined nexus of private foundations, talk shows and dirt-seeking oppo men that the right uses to get out its message. Alterman vividly presents this nether world as something out of Dante's ''Inferno'' -- the trust-funders with deep pockets, like Richard Mellon Scaife; the Internet bottom-feeders who traffic in rumors and half-truths (Matt Drudge); the braying hosts and guests on shows like ''The O'Reilly Factor'' and ''The McLaughlin Group,'' who never shut their mouths to listen to one another (where's the duct tape when you actually need it?).
But it's one thing to rant about the right, and it's another to show tangible proof that democracy is being tampered with. This Alterman sets out to do in his two best chapters, detailing the press's dismissive treatment of Al Gore in 2000 and its indifference to the actual counting of the votes in Florida. Alterman suggests persuasively that the press mollycoddled George W. Bush in the months leading to the election. Another interesting revelation is that the Republicans were poised to launch a ''massive talk radio operation'' to attack the verdict if Gore won the electoral count but lost the popular vote. History turned out differently, as we know, and Gore was excoriated as a sore loser for even questioning the result. By working the refs, the Bush team ended up winning the Super Bowl....
New York Times
Alterman, a columnist for The Nation, says that, to the extent that the liberal media still exists, "I work in the middle of it, and so do many of my friends. And guess what? It's filled with right-wingers." His thesis, a response to recent books by the conservatives Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg, is that liberal media outlets take pains to feature opinion from all across the political spectrum (and are in some cases veering rightward); meanwhile, the right-wing media -- a well-funded empire of radio stations, TV shows, and magazines -- pursues an overtly partisan agenda. A polemic is nothing without passion, and Alterman's argumentative vigor is engaging, although his focus sometimes drifts, and he can happily spend an entire paragraph upbraiding Howard Kurtz for having said that William Kristol's being a Mets fan proves him to be "contrarian." Like most media commentators, Alterman probably overestimates the influence of media commentators, but the meticulous care with which his arguments are sourced and footnoted is in commendable contrast to the efforts of some of his more fire-breathing conservative opponents.
The commercial success achieved by right-wing authors Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg has inspired Alterman, a lefty, to take his own turn at bashing the media. In his second book, the author challenges the notion of a "liberal" media, arguing that the right has been so successful at manipulating the press that political debate in this country has shifted dramatically to the conservative side. Moreover, the right raises huge sums of money to influence that debate and rewards conservative media spokespersons like Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge. Alterman expresses his displeasure with President George W. Bush and attacks a variety of personalities in the administration and among the journalists who cover it, including New York Times reporter Frank Bruni, whose coverage of the Bush campaign Alterman calls "issueless." In fact, Alterman's incessant attacks on his peers are so many and so virulent that the reader may eventually suspect him of being less interested in reporting than in settling scores.
Media bias has been preventing the American public from getting the whole story, says journalist Alterman, and bestselling books like Ann Coulter's Slander and Bernard Goldberg's Bias aren't helping matters. Alterman, who writes the "Stop the Presses" media column for the Nation and an MSNBC Web log, "Altercation," passionately lays out his case in this succinct, abridged reading of his latest book. Along with Coulter and Goldberg, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and George Will come under the gun, too, as Alterman picks apart the problems with today's news media. While it's intriguing to hear him list what he sees as quite grievous offenses by conservative media outlets, Alterman's well-documented research is what makes the book so engaging. Alterman reads this audiobook like a fervent political science or journalism professor might, listing facts and citing reports, then adding his own inflections to emphasize points. A Queens, N.Y., native, Alterman speaks with a slight accent and an even slighter lisp, but this does not detract from his heated, heartfelt performance. Simultaneous release with the Basic hardcover (Forecasts, Jan. 27). (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Alterman and this book got a lot of attention when the hardcover edition was published, joining Al Franken and others in the liberal counterattack against conservative books alleging liberal bias in the media. Alterman's book is among the most carefully researched and argued of the lot, and as media critic for The Nation he is a smart, experienced journalist who makes no bones about being an old-fashioned liberal politically. The book examines what kind of messages really get out in television, print, and radio. He also has chapters about economic and social bias, the 2000 election, "W's World," and ends with an afterword on "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Of course such a book is part of a cultural dialogue at a particular time in history, and many of the names and events discussed have already been succeeded by new media favorites as the debate (at least on cable TV) continues. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Perseus, 357p. notes., Ages 15 to adult.
Do the media lean to the Left or the Right? Bernard Goldberg argued for the Left in his best-selling Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. Alterman, media columnist for the Nation and author of Sound and Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy, counters that the whole idea of a predominantly liberal press is a pernicious myth. Calling for a more open-minded approach to the discussion of media bias, Alterman documents the range of conservative media outlets in all formats, showing that the conservatives far outnumber the small and underfunded liberal media. He further challenges the notion of liberal bias by highlighting the consolidation of major media into the hands of a smaller number of corporate owners, whose focus on profits encourages a conservative slant to news. To support his argument, Alterman relies on recent political history and media transcripts. Readers who have been bombarded by complaints about a too liberal press will welcome Alterman's articulate counterargument. Both academic and public libraries will want to add this book to their journalism collections.-Judy Solberg, George Washington Univ. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Journalist Alterman disproves with vigor the notion of news organizations’ left-wing bias, only to leave the more important question hanging: why ignorance trumps ideology. The author believes that the media should be watchdogs: aggressive and independent in securing news, questioning of authority, frank about any self-interest involved. Given his definition of liberals as those who believe in "a steeply progressive income tax, to say nothing of making universally available, high-quality health care, education, housing, public parks, beaches, and last but not least, political power," it doesn't take much to trot out the media opposition. The influential, or at least conspicuous, conservative pundits Alterman identifies range from the alarmist Ann Coulter to the paleoconservative William Safire, with all manner of the frothing Michael Kelly and the egregious Cokie Roberts in between, all of them selling an ideological agenda when not shoveling forth errors and insults, partial or misleading truths. Nor do these pundits own their last words; those are the property of editors, publishers, producers, and advertisers (witness the News Hour/Archer Daniels Midland embarrassment) geared toward a market whose heart isn't in hard news. Conservatives and liberals alike can hurl examples of bias at each other all day long, but it’s understood that "the White House depends on the media to make its case to the public; the media needs the White House to fill their airtime." Alterman (Sound and Fury, 1992, etc.) hits the nub when he writes, "Most reporters are ignorant about most things"; all too often, journalists don't have an inkling of what they are covering, especially regarding national politics(see Election 2000) and international affairs (from the Balkans to Iraq, few ask the hard questions). Regrettably, the author doesn't pursue this fundamental point. Nonetheless, a sobering reminder that TV long ago abandoned serious journalism and that watchdogs and skeptics are thin on the ground in all media--bad news for those who believe a vibrant, informative press is one of the bedrocks of democracy. Agent: Tina Bennett/Janklow & Nesbit