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Why the Right was Left Out at the National Conference for Media Reform - The LAMP

Why the Right was Left Out at the National Conference for Media Reform

By April 11, 2011 News 4 Comments

House Representative Nancy Pelosi speaks at the Opening Plenary of the National Conference for Media Reform. Photo by Free Press.

Attending the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston this weekend, I overheard more than a few attendees joke about how everyone here is a radical lefty. In the exhibition hall and a few of the presentations I attended, the tone was decidedly anti-corporate and colored by socially liberal ideology. In one session, I mentioned that I had Fox News on for part of the morning, and was met with a gasp. “I think it’s important to understand what the other side is saying,” I explained. But it pointed to a larger issue: Does media reform have to be an inherently liberal endeavor? Everyone needs to be media literate, but where are the social conservatives at this conference?

In that moment, I realized my own bias, having referred to Fox News as “the other side.” And it is that bias which limits the dialogue around issues like net neutrality, minority representation, media justice and so much more. The idea that mass media are necessarily the enemy of media reform oversimplifies the issue. Americans held their breath in anticipation of a government shutdown over the weekend, and while there were people who hoped for that outcome, I believe most people in the Republican and Democratic parties sincerely hoped for a compromise that would keep hundreds of thousands of federal workers in their jobs. We expected our leaders to reach a compromise, and they did.

Similarly, how can we expect a free press, media transparency and accountability if we’re not all working together? One of the most basic tenets of responsible journalism is that it should be fair and balanced, but we can’t have that if the conversation is not also fair and balanced. Media reform will only happen when the American public demands it, but the diverse voices that constitute the public all deserve to have their say. There are no reform measures that will please everyone, but democracy has never been about serving just one perspective.

At the Saturday night keynote, emcee Elon James White asked the crowd, “Where are my conservatives?” The audience laughed, while the house band struck up the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars. I don’t expect that we will be singing Kumbaya and roasting S’mores with Rush Limbaugh any time soon, but surely we can find a way to gather around the campfire in the interest of lasting media reform. Everyone needs to be media literate, regardless of their politics, and the truly progressive act is to welcome people with whom we do not always agree.

–Emily Long
Follow me on Twitter @emlong

  • Firstly, right-wing mass media owners have no interest in dialogue because it’s not in their financial interest. As for knowing their point of view, we need only watch their media and read the briefs they give at committees to which they have often privileged access. Conferences like NCMR are for the left to debate our positions among ourselves.
    That said, you raise a good point that the idea of the mass media all bad and “independent” media as all good is too simplistic.
    For example, there are progressive journalists working in the mass media and some union-supported progressive media has a unions bias.

  • Maybe it’s just the sessions I attended, but although I learned a lot about media reform issues, news and efforts, and met a lot of amazing people, I didn’t find a great deal of debate happening. Mostly, there seemed to be more preaching to the choir. I do think there was some value to that, but I would have loved if, for example, James O’Keefe were there, and we could have challenged him on his tactics and ideology in ways that the mainstream media seem unwilling to do. I don’t support his work at all, but I think the people present at NCMR could have a really interesting debate with him about journalism and media.

  • The reason Fox News is the enemy of media reform (and in fact why conservatives these days are as well) is not just because of ideology. It is ideology in one sense – in that a lot of the problem with media reform is massive corporations owning all of it. The only people in this country that seem to be willing to stand up to corporations are the Left. The entire Republican Party and “centrist” Democrats are all corporatist, so there’s the ideological element.

    But there’s another element. CNN, NBC, ABC are bad for the same reason – they’re owned by TimeWarner, GE/Comcast, and Disney – they thus have pro-corporate bias, not to mention their worship of watered-down, truth-obscuring, “both sides” journalism. Fox News lies, though. Intentionally. That’s a big difference. James O’Keefe lies. Many of today’s mainstream conservatives lie. The heart of journalism and a lot of the media reform movement is an attempt to get the truth heard – that’s what is meant by better news. (Or for that matter, many different points of view that one might consider “true,” which still are based in fact) Therefore, right or left, people who blatantly lie are the “other side,” and we should feel no guilt about calling them that.

    If you’ll excuse the self-promotion, I wrote about exactly this distinction in the midst of going apoplectic that HuffPo would hire Breitbart. (I don’t usually swear in posts, but hiring liars is not acceptable in my book.)

  • I agree with much of what you are saying–there are news outlets and journalists who have been exposed as straight up liars. I can’t respect work that has been purposefully distorted to fill a political or business agenda. I also have a difficult time mustering respect for news outlets which, as you say, water down their news coverage to the point where they are either lying by omission or otherwise not doing their job of encouraging a responsible and informed citizenry.

    But, I do think that “the other side” should be heard, if for no other reason than to be sufficiently called out when they do lie and misinform, and that is where I think the reform movement has failed so far. Howard Kurtz lobbing softballs at James O’Keefe and NPR firing staff over his doctored videotapes serve more to validate his work than to take it on in a critical way and debate him, point by point, on his views. He says he is reporting on things that the mainstream media is afraid to discuss, and oddly, that in itself is not so different from what I think indie media are trying to do. To be clear, his methods are totally slimey, whereas independent media generally operate with a greater sense of journalistic integrity and accountability.

    My desire is for a media literate public, and I think that includes hearing two sides of an argument and then making informed decisions with the ability to think critically about information and media messages. My belief (which I know many find to be too positive or downright naive) is that an educated public will reject media from people who lie, and bring about a more balanced dialogue where facts and editorial opinion are clearly distinguished. My interest in engaging “the other side” is largely diplomatic, and offers a (generous) benefit of doubt. I would much rather for liars like O’Keefe and weak journalism to have less impact as a result of a media literate society, rather than because we’ve shut them up in a closet.