Is Big Media Embracing Right-Wing Populism?

Is the mainstream media embracing right-wing populism? I heard KPFK host Ian Masters ask this question on his show, Background Briefing, this past weekend during a segment about the tea party movement. It’s hard to shake the feeling that that may be true, especially after going through an entire weekend of wall-to-wall television coverage of the first National Tea Party convention in Nashville and the dustup over CBS’s broadcasting of an anti-abortion group’s ad during the Superbowl, after the network in previous years rejected issue ads from left-leaning groups such as MoveOn.org.

Despite the fact that only 600 people showed up at the Nashville convention, that didn’t keep the media from hyping the event and breathlessly highlighting former Alaska governor and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s keynote speech. By contrast, the first Netroots Nation, the yearly gathering of liberal bloggers and activists, attracted 1,400 attendees, according to the Washington Monthly. All the major networks and cable channels – CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC and of course, FOX – gave ample coverage to the National Tea Party convention, including commentary and interviews with attendees. All the nightly news shows – whose audience is more than the cable news networks’ audience combined – had segments on the event. CBS even has the entire video of Palin’s speech on its website. Liberal gatherings don’t get this much press. When hundreds of thousands of anti-war activists demonstrated around the world against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, how much of that did you see on your nightly news? And the thousands of gay rights activists and health reform activists who marched in various rallies in Washington D.C. last year barely got mentioned in the mainstream press compared with the endless stories about tea partiers screaming at town hall meetings.

What’s troubling is that too many news outlets seem to be trying to mainstream right-wing demagoguery, while downplaying or outright ignoring alternative voices. Giving disproportionate attention to a loud-mouthed minority is distorting public opinion on every issue from healthcare to taxes to foreign policy. And what’s even more infuriating is that all the major networks and cable channels continue to give a platform to Palin – one of the most unqualified and intellectually-challenged political personalities ever to to be unleashed into national prominence. She keeps being touted as a possible presidential candidate for the Republicans, even though most Americans think Palin has no business being anywhere near the White House. Thirty, 20 or even 15 years ago, no one would have taken her seriously. And all the attention given to her by the American media just makes our country look more deranged to the rest of the world.

Showered with a cascade of meaningless soundbites, the viewing public is given little context about the origins of the tea party movement. What started as a grassroots movement of anti-war, anti-tax Ron Paul supporters has recently been co-opted by astroturfing groups representing corporate lobbyists. Few primetime news shows (primarily on little-seen left-leaning cable outlet MSNBC) have extensively exposed the corporate funders behind the tea party movement. So most of the viewing public is not aware of the true goal of this wave of right-wing extremism – to consolidate corporate power over the people. Perhaps Big Media wants it that way because, after all, they are a part of Big Business.