Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Talk Radio and the Origin of the MMLB concept

So much time is spent by conservatively disposed media sources expressing outrage against the mainstream media's so-called liberal bias that one wonders whence this began and why it has proven so effective in framing people's view of the MSM as left-leaning. Not only has the integrity of reporting come under attack by blogs and talk radio, but the very distinction by which the MSM defends its integrity, between facts and spin, reporting and editorializing, press and politics, has been discredited. Whatever the causes, the consequences have been a boon to the likes of FOX news and the disciples of Rush Limbaugh.

The politically-charged state of writing these days is revealed in the comments by David Faster Wallace (of Infinite Jest fame) in his sprawling, seemingly endless Atlantic Monthly (April 2005) article, "Host." "Host" is about Mr. John Ziegler, conservative talk radio in America, and the operations of his southern California talk show. In the magazine margins, Wallace complements the main text of his article with side-bar-like information with labels making explicit the point of view on offer. Nobody can accuse D.F.W. of being neutral, of coloring his views with the pretense of pure, value-free truth. "Editorial Aside," "Purely Informative," "Semi-Editorial," "Consumer Advisory," "FYI," "Contains Editorial Elements," "Contains What Might Be Perceived As Editorial Elements," "Editorial Quibble," "Just Clear-Eyed Dispassionate Reason," "Editorial Opinion," "Tiny Editorial Correction," "Editorializing, Or Just Stating The Obvious?" The labels function as WARNING signs, directing the reader to read fact as fact and opinion as opinion and never to get them mixed up—precisely what the subject of his article, John Ziegler, must confuse and conflate in order to be entertaining and "stimulating" on-air to sustain his audience's interest and animostity toward the "liberal" MSM.

Wallace doesn't criticize this common practice for being bad journalism. Talk radio, he says, is motivated less by ideology than revenue. "Political talk radio is a business, and it is motivated by revenue. The conservatism that dominates today's AM airwaves does so because it generates high Arbitron ratings, high ad rates, and maximum profits," he says. Conservative radio wouldn't have such high ratings, suggests Wallace, if it wasn't for Reagan's repeal of the 1949 Fairness Doctrine and the national syndication of The Rush Limbaugh Show. Without the latter, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine wouldn't have meant much. Limbaugh's blend of news, entertainment and partisan analysis has become the great model for ambitious radio personalities to imitate.

More to the point, he was "the first great promulgator of the Mainstream Media's Liberal Bias idea." To quote Wallace,
"This turned out to be a brilliantly effective rhetorical move, since the MMLB concept functioned simultaneously as a standard around which Rush's audience could rally, as an articulation of the need for right-wing (i.e., unbiased) media, and as a mechanism by which any criticism or refutation of conservative ideas could be dismissed (either as biased or as the product of indoctrination by biased media). Boiled way down, the MMLB thesis is able both to exploit and to perpetuate many conservatives' dissatisfaction with extant media sources—and it's this dissatisfaction that cements political talk radio's large and loyal audience."


xtrachromosomeconservative said...

Ilya, your facility with acronyms is a clear indication that the midwest is the wrong place for you. You traffic in acronyms with the ease of any bureacrat or d.c. based wonk.

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