Bill Keller gets it exactly wrong

So there’s this very funny and revealing quote from the New Yorker this week. Nick Lemann (dean of Columbia Journalism School) is writing about mainstream media bias, and basically says that as far as most of them are concerned, they get equal amounts of flack from the left and the right, and they’re always bending over backwards to include the wrong opinions on everything, so they can’t really be accused of bias. Which is funny, because no matter how far they think they’re bending over backwards, the fact that none of them know any conservatives means that most our views fit into the category of the “unknown unknown”, and therefore can’t be covered. And Nick Lemann is one of the most reasonable liberals out there. So here he interviews Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times:

However, Keller, who is himself of indeterminate politics but is probably more conservative than his fiery populist predecessor, Howell Raines, went on, “Conservatives feel estranged becuase they feel excluded. They do not always see themselves portrayed in the mainstream press as three-dimensional humans, and they don’t see their ideas taken seriously or treated respectfully. This is something I’ve long felt we should correct, not to pander to red-state readers but because it’s bad journalism to caricature anyone with reductionist portraits and crude shorthand. Portraying conservatives fairly does not mean
equal time for creationism. But it does mean, for example, writing about abortion in a way that does justice to the deep moral qualms most Americans have about it. It means trying to understand the thinking of people who regard gay marriage as unacceptable, who worry that gun controls represent an encroachment on their civil liberties.”

And there you have it. In a nutshell, “We should really stop presenting conservatives as two-dimensional idiots. Instead we need to understand how homophobic, creationist, anti-abortion gun nuts think.” And that’s the problem. He just doesn’t get conservatives. Most conservatives are just people who think socialism is the problem and freedom is the solution. Gay marriage is a very small sideshow in the big battles of government vs. markets, malpractice lawyers vs. patients, teachers unions vs. children, progressives vs. poor people, taxes, regulations, huge government programs, property rights, what have you. Conservatives believe that the reason that education, pensions, and health care in this country are expensive and low quality but clothing, food, and entertainment are cheap and high quality is that the government controls the former and markets control the latter.

The reason that the New York Times makes my blood boil is not that they can’t understand why anyone would be against gay marriage, it’s that they view the world through the filter of “is this good for George Bush?” and if it is, they ignore it, and if it isn’t, they ram it down everyone’s throat. Is the economy good or bad? Well, George Bush is in power, so it must be bad. Is the environment good or bad? Well, George Bush is in power, so it must be bad. Are things in Iraq going well or badly? Probably badly until a democrat gets elected. There doesn’t seem to be much of an attempt to catalog the way the world really is and let people draw their own conclusions. Because if they did that in an unbiased way, everyone would conclude that the Democrats need to be turfed out for good, and that’s not something they can stomach.


5 Responses to Bill Keller gets it exactly wrong

  1. hmmm says:

    “Most conservatives are just people who think socialism is the problem and freedom is the solution. Gay marriage is a very small sideshow in the big battles of government vs. markets, malpractice lawyers vs. patients, teachers unions vs. children, progressives vs. poor people, taxes, regulations, huge government programs, property rights, what have you.”

    a very small sideshow.

    your boy squeaked out a second term victory using that little sideshow, and it appears to have become the cecil b. demille extravaganza of the hour.

    social security privatization is the universal health care of this administration- the bold initiative that will end in flames. and what’s happening is interesting: the freshmen legislators who came into congress on this election are a lot more interested in the social conservatism issues that the administration championed last summer and fall and nowhere near as idealistic when it comes to short-circuiting the third rail.

    i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: the cultural right in this country is one of the scariest things out there, our al-quaeda, our nazi party. they manipulate the fears and faiths of millions of americans in a particularly terrifying way, and you are making a HUGE mistake by thinking their influence will never have an adverse affect on your personal life.

    i simply cannot understand how you can have the nightlife you have and remain in bed with the jerry fallwells and the rick santorums of the world. dude, they don’t give a shit about you. you’re going to hell and when that happens they will breathe a sigh of relief. be careful of those people, alex. they are not your friends, and you do yourself a great disservice by not criticising their actions in the name of defending conservatism.

    and how the hell can you make a statement like ‘it’s that they view the world through the filter of “is this good for George Bush?” and if it is, they ignore it, and if it isn’t, they ram it down everyone’s throat’, when you’re talking about the paper that continues to pay the salaries of elizabeth bumiller and judith miller? there are few better media servants to the white house in mainstream media.

    what, because they’re not all “jeff gannon” they can’t be trusted?

    oh and also- if i raise $10,000 for your armor and supplies, will you go to iraq? how much would it take?

  2. Dan says:

    Josh —

    That was my post. I’m going to take issue with your statement that Bush won the election on social and cultural issues. The interesting thing about the election was that while it’s true that 22% of voters did list some vague notion of moral values as their biggest concern, that’s not why Bush’s percentage of the vote increased from last time in 48 states. Bush had the same percentage of rural and suburban voters in 2004 and 2000, but his vote share in urban areas shot up 14%, which provided him with a fairly comfortable margin of 3 million votes. Simply put, I’m not the only urban person who voted for Clinton in ’96, Gore in ’00, and Bush in ’04.

    I think what’s happening here is that a lot of urban people see the democrats as the party of good urban people, like you said, but our experience with democrats running our government has led us to the conclusion that leftism doesn’t correlate well with competent administration. But then at the same time, there were enough people like you are out there saying that the cultural right is our nazi party to scare us into voting democrat anyway. The interesting thing that’s happened is that the Republicans have been in power, and it turns out that they’re actually pretty good, and so we’ve concluded that either you have a very poor sense of what the Nazis were all about (the Nazi party was a big-government National Socialist party), or you have a very bad sense of what we conservatives are all about.

    The good news is that it ought to be possible for the democrats to win back our votes. Calling us Nazis is not probably not the best way of doing that. If the democrats want to get back in power, what they need to do is stop frothing at the mouth and seething about the evils of republicans and conservatives and capitalism and rich people. That scares people. Instead they need to offer the public a reasonable alternative for competent, humble, limited government. Howard Dean is not the answer.

    And about social security, the Democrats may very well succeed in blocking any sort of reform. All that will do is create bigger problems for everyone down the road. The responsible thing for the democrats to do would be to work with the republicans to come up with a viable alternative. Pretending that there isn’t a problem just makes them look unserious.

  3. hi dan. i see you’re here to offset me + robert.

    if alex really wanted dialogue, he’d put us in as guest bloggers too! 🙂

    1) i wasn’t talking necessarily about the presidential election, but the congressional ones. the problem is that bush DID wear the badge of social conservatism and christianity, and many incoming freshmen coasted in on that badge.

    2) i wasn’t saying that republicans = nazis. what i meant was that there is no more dangerous american tendency AFAIAC than the impulse to confuse faith and government. every time an elected offical mentions christ, i die inside, and you both should too. remember, as jews, we are all going to go to hell. as drug-sympathizers, if not drug users, we are all going to go to hell. as homosexual-marriage-supporters, we are all going to go to hell. and this is going to get worse, not better. militant christianity is the new islamofacism.

    re social security: WHERE IS BUSH’S PLAN? can we see specifics before democrats around the country are called obstructionist reactionaries?

  4. ooghe says:

    By way of full disclosure, I actually used to be a Reagan loving, Soviet-bashing, G.H.W.B. Kuwait-liberating Republican, until I actually saw what happened when Democrats were in power. I had been led to believe that if that ever happened, society would collapse under the weight of it’s social programs, jack-booted federal thought police would come bursting through the door making me swear there is no God, there’d be price controls, Chicom tanks would be rolling down 5th Avenue, etc.

    None of these things happened, and my former republican proponents continued to mewl about how oppressed by the government they were, it should be smaller, taxes were still too darn high, Clinton was stealing their issues, blah blah blah, etc. Then I went revealing around the world and saw what actual government oppression looked like and concluded, during the Clinton impeachment, that most conservatives were a bunch of freakin’ crybabies. Now that they’ve been elected to three branches of government, the US is in the most fiscally unsound position since the last time a Republican was around, the size of government is enormous, and oh yes, the world trade center got blown up and we invaded the wrong country yet the guy in charge is supposedly the greatest thing since FDR, I’m starting to suspect there may have been a wee bit of spin going on during my initial exposure to conservatism. Longer post to follow…

  5. ooghe says:

    Post initially intended as a response to Alex, but Dan- good to have you around : )

    the post:

    This gets into what I was saying earlier, Alex- when you had asked where I was going with my comments about neoconservatism. I realize there is a distinction between specifically neoconservative political philosophy and the more general rubric of republicanism, but here’s my general take on neo/paleo, idealism/empire, America/Europe, etc:

    I was making the social observation that many neoconservatives (and other right wingers) of a certain age and temperment I’ve met see what they’re doing as if the 60’s were the cultural nexus that put the ‘big battles’ you describe front and center on the political plate. There was a recent article in Salon I was trying to find the link to, in which a youngish neocon essentially said as much; describing the act of voting for Bush as a ‘punk rock gesture'(presumably making Kerry the listless establishment guy).

    In his view, liberals didn’t like neoconservatives because they envied them for being younger and sexier, and having ‘stolen their thunder’ from when liberal activism was hip and revolutionary in the 70’s. In explaining his awkward alliance to the less-than-sexy Christian right, he said that the social tension this generated made for an interesting cultural ferment. Without the religious right “we wouldn’t have Goth fashion”. Europe by contrast, with it’s social democratic model and lack of a religious right was ‘too boring’ and had to import it’s culture. I would assume he felt the UN was another institution that was boring and outraging the international community was fun. The point is, there was a kind of pairing of political activism with snarky in your-faceness- very much like something from the 60’s (but now the shoe is on the other foot!)

    The thought that Europe doesn’t have a politcal force like the Christian right because centuries of religious wars, nationalist movements, and other destructive experiences have rendered it leery of heaven-sent manifestoes seemed to count for less than the usual “they’re a bunch of pinkos from the 60’s” view of non-Republican social attitudes that whippersnaps like him usually espouse.

    I don’t think they understand the implications of the cultural shift they are advocating, nor do I have any higher degree of faith in your various social scientific rationale than I have in equally reasonable marxist, socialist, or even fascist- arguments that, while reasonable, are completely divorced from real experience of the world, produce suffering, and function as justifications for the abuse of power.

    My point is not that every neoconservative who supports using the military needs to go out and enlist tomorrow, but of all the military people I know, and I know many, none has ever described themselves as a neoconservative. If you start from the assumption that what neoconservatives and America genuinely wants is a world with more freedom and less political violence, fine. What is happening though, is that the character of any country is changed the more wars it gets into, and pretending that homophobic, gun-loving creationists are a construct of the liberal media in an attempt to mischaracterize droves of coolly rational, informed conservatives is a mistake.

    In Virginia, at least, very few Bush voters have ever heard of Commentary Magazine or the Cato Institute, let alone approach politics from that angle. Many of them hate the idea of social security privatization as well, as Bush is discovering, and this isn’t a political contradiction for them. For the time being, the most immediately relevant tensions in the country will exist within the coalition of interests called The Right. It’s going to be a long time if ever before socialization is debated in any way (not even Howard Dean is an advocate), the best hope for Democrats during this period is to rely on the strength of representative institutions and combat the centralization of power into the executive branch.

    I don’t think Bush or anyone in his cabinet are fascists, but Bush toyed with some extremely dark sentiments during the election- and if there ever truly was a fascist movement in the US, I can imagine what it would look like, where it would come from, and who it’s audience would be. For the record, a lot of conservative people in Virginia (which is not nearly as nutty as, say, Kansas) who distrust the liberal media tend to put it “the jewish/liberal media”. This Richard Nixon-esque take on the world, I’m sure you would characterize as malingering paleoconservatism, and is on it’s way out. I hope you’re right, but electorally, those guys outnumber you, and whether or not it is convenient to your championing of freedom- the president drew the popular support he needed to win by pointing the finger at a minority group, proposing making a prejudicial amendment to the constitution, and revving up people who pledged allegiance *to George Bush* at political rallies.

    Putting the country into a wartime fervor whenever it is deemed necessary by neoconservatives to liberate a country is going to involve exciting base nationalism as a political condition for getting people to volunteer to die. After all, the reasonable neoconservatives seem to regard the job as about as appealing as ‘firefighting or garbage collection’. Having an armed invasion is to set up a power relationship that’s transforming to both parties, which is why you avoid doing it until it’s absolutely necessary. Even WWII, which we all tend to agree was a “good” war, involved horrible racism towards Japanese people under a Presidency now regarded as too liberal. Anyway, this is what I mean by myopia- portraying resistance to (neo)conservatism as practiced today as at best some ignorance as to what conservatism is, or at worst some nonsensical idea beamed down from space in the 1960’s devoid of any kind of context that would explain why the notion of using the military as the policy of first resort could be questioned, and downplaying the fact that conservatism includes the sizable chunk of the population that feels they have the right to dictate how others wish to live their lives.

    Anyway, Dan, I see my response is conflating some responses to other posts of Alex’s, as well as your own post about Bill Keller. Again, good to have You around. Frankly, I was starting to wondner if Josh, Alex and I were the only people aware of this blog… ; )

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