What liberal BBC?

BBC correspondent Justin Webb writes a blistering account of the waywardness of American Democrats.

Democrats do not have a message on the key issues of our time. Or, more precisely, they have several mutually exclusive messages….

From World War II until the Reagan revolution the establishment in the US was socially progressive. There was a belief that there was such a thing as society, and its ills could and should be tackled. Now, there are plenty of Americans who still hold those views, but the arteries which once fed them into the nation’s vital organs, have been clogged or cut.

The universities do not have the power they did, professorial authority is less respected.

Most importantly, the worlds of entertainment and news (which used to pipe a vaguely left-wing message into the nation’s homes) have been blown to bits by technological changes which render them powerless.

There are 600 channels on my television. I never watch any of them.

But if I did the chances that my neighbour has watched the same thing (particularly when you add the broadband internet options now available) have shrunk to virtually nil in the past few years.

The Democrats need a message and a new way of communicating that message to a mass audience. They have neither.

We can debate the fate of the Democrats — and after the Bush Administration is finished with them, the fate of the Republicans, too. I’d say that the two parties today look about as fit and just as happy together as Time Warner and AOL.

: But what I find particularly interesting about Webb’s argument is his contention that that the internet’s fracturing of the media industry has a direct impact on the left. Oh, sure, some will say that’s because the left owned Hollywood and Sixth Avenue, but let’s get past that obvious old saw and ask the better question: Has the left, indeed, had a necessary dependence on media? Hmmm. I’d say that the rise of the right via Fox News would be evidence to the contrary.

But perhaps it’s not the use or control of the media but, instead, the appropriateness of the message for the medium of the time. Cue McLuhan.

Broadcasting — sermonizing — to the masses was, then, inherently liberal.

Narrowcasting — ranting — on cable is better for the conservatives.

But what about the internet? It’s tailor-made for the libertarians. The internet is the embodiment of individual liberty, the great product and celebration of freedom.

When blogs started, I wondered why so many bloggers seemed to be libertarian, why they gathered in this medium in apparently disproportionate numbers. That’s obvious to me now. They have found their home. They have the message and the medium for it. But they’re just as disorganized as the Democrats and the Republicans. It’s not just about Democratic disarray. It’s about a benign anarchy sweeping the politics of the land. [via Francis Turner, the Olive Tree]

  • penny

    Jeff, please, one “blistering” anti-Dem rant does not make the BBC, of all publications, less leftist and biased. Someone probably mentioned to the executive editor that after thousands of back-to-back leftist shillings that they need to look balanced.

    The Democratic party deserves to crash and burn.

    The two party system?

    How about sane centerist with a coherent WOT policy versus sane conservatives with a coherent WOT policy filling the void.

    The universities do not have the power they did, professorial authority is less respected.

    They’ve become concentration camps where rabid leftists have destroyed freedom of expression, where exposure to a marketplace of ideas isn’t tolerated. Larry Summers is defeated by craven leftwing harpies. Ward Churchill lingers on.

    Please, please run Hillary so we can by a landslide finally pull the plug. She’s got enough garbage in her history, plus her cold miserable demeanor, 24/7 attack ads won’t run out of material.

  • Jeff,

    Has the left, indeed, had a necessary dependence on media? Hmmm. I’d say that the rise of the right via Fox News would be evidence to the contrary.

    Could you clarify what you are trying to say?

    The ascendancy of Fox could be due to many factors and doesn’t offer any evidence that the left is media independent.

    As channels and websites have been proliferating, hasn’t the “left” been losing elections?

  • Jake

    Looks to me like the BBC got it right, for once.

    And the rise of Fox News pretty clearly is a reaction to the left’s dominance of big media. At some point, someone had to tap the underserved market for right leaning TV news.

    As to whether big media does lean left… well, I’m in the newspaper marketing business and I don’t think I’ve ever been a client meeting with another Republican (except, admittedly, at the Washington Times). Anecdotal evidence yes, but gee, at some point all the denial just begins to sound silly.

    Had dinner recently with an editor at the WaPo and her friend… a correspondent for al Jazeera America. Objectivity was not on the menu, believe me!

  • “Has the left, indeed, had a necessary dependence on media? Hmmm. I’d say that the rise of the right via Fox News would be evidence to the contrary. ”

    I’ll take issue with that, too. The right is not dependent on FoxNews in the same way the left has been on traditional media; but FoxNews’ popularity has had a positive effect across the board in helping to shake loose at least a *bit* of the chronic bias of other networks. A liberal/Democrat probably doesn’t recall, because it is of little importance to them, but in the past panel shows often included small ratios of conservatives as token buffoons (usually one against a quorum of liberals, a configuration that Phil Donahue tried to resurrect at MSNBC, with disastrous results).

    Stories like the one cited here in the BBC probably would not have been considered for print, pre-FoxNews and pre-internet. Even when Reagan had won his second term in a landslide, the monopoly held by the liberal media allowed them to continue painting conservatives as a wacky minority. When Republicans took the house during the Clinton administration, liberal media portrayed the significant political event not as the victory of a legitimate political party, but compared it to the violence committed by Michael Douglas, where he played an angry white man who went nuts. By contrast, Democrat gains (such as when Jim Jeffords briefly swung the Senate back to Democrats) are visibly celebrated by “unbiased” journalists.

    Rush Limbaugh by himself in the 90s was easy to dismiss. Talk radio was “hate radio”. With the addition of other alternative media, it becomes more difficult for liberal media to prop up the big lie that conservatives are nothing but a pocketful of angry cranks and nutcases.

    So while the left mocks FoxNews for its “fair and balanced” tagline, it has, by virtue of its existence, forced liberal media to be more “fair and balanced”. This could be considered a victory for conservatives, but it’s really a victory for honest debate all around. For conservatives, it’s not a matter of having a monopolistic tool with which to steamroll other ideas, which is what has been the natural inclination of liberal journalists through liberal organs; it’s a matter of legitimate access.

  • The Message….
    The key is the message. With so many outlets for news and commentary the public looks for the “message”. Libs don’t have one. They whine, complain, accuse. Conservatives have a definite message and they stick to it. Polling data does not steer them or cause them angst when it is bad(apparently bad depending how you read it).

    Recent issues like the wiretapping are good examples. Conservatives support wiretapping terrorists phone calls for the sake of preventing another attack. Libs will say “we support trying toi thwart an attack” but claim that wiretapping is infringing on Americans privacy. Can’t have it bot ways and that translates into a mixed message. They want investigations on how we wiretap and possibly stop it but want security as well. They look foolish.

    Filtering news….
    I have noticed many issues that are in print or spoken about in conservative circles yet not even found anywhere in newspapers and major TV networks. The fact that tapes from Saddam Husseins kids noted weapons of mass destruction should have been huge news. It was on FOX and mentioned on conservative radio shows. Didn’t even make the front page on most newspapers or mentioned on the networks. There is an obvious filtering of news and messages out there.

  • The crucial assertion by Webb here is: “There was a belief that there was such a thing as society.”

    This seems an odd formulation to Americans since it is a reference to a famous assertion by Margaret Thatcher that “there is no such thing.” This debate — whether we live in society, with obligations to our fellow citizens, or whether we live as atomized individuals and families, only guided by self-interest — is a fundamental difference between the political left and political right back in Britain.

    Flowing from this is the idea held by those opposed to Thatcherism that the public square in civil society must be informed by a common set of news, values, information…so that society’s debate about how to conduct itself can proceed.

    Thus, from a British understanding, atomized, customized and idiosyncratic media — what the BuzzMachine calls libertarian — are by definition anti-progressive since they disavow the existence of civil society.

    In the United States, Webb’s observations carry less weight, in my opinion.

    Here there are big-government society-minded liberals (who support, say, universal healthcare, envirnomental regulations, a social safety net) and big-government society-minded conservatives (who support, say, a strong military and law enforcement, stringent immigration border controls, strict laws upholding traditional institutions of marriage).

    At the same time there are small-government, libertarian liberals (who support, say, sexual diversity, reproductive freedom, unrestricted narcotics use, multicultural expression) and small-government, libertarian conservatives (who support, say, freedom to bear arms, minimal taxation, unrestricted land-use zoning laws, rejection of so-called political correctness in speech).

    Thus in this country both broadcasting and narrowcasting find fans, big government and libertarian respectively, both on left and right.

  • W. James Au

    Jeff, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say political bloggers are disproportionately libertarian. That was definitely true a few years ago, but doesn’t seem to be the case now, at least in terms of popularity. Check out the political blogs in the Technorati top 50:


    Eight are left-liberal, three are conservative, and only one, Instapundit, is consistently libertarian.

  • Jack Straw

    I think the medium determines the audience as much as the messenger. Consider who listens to the radio at all during the afternoon (a big generalization coming, with no demographics to support): men and women who are working with their hands, outdoors, or in factories, and can listen to radio while doing other tasks. Those folks are not necessarily GOP, but they are conservative to Clinton-centrist at most. They have jobs, hate taxes, and hold to traditional values. Liberal talk radio has no chance in the daytime environment.

    And who is online developing cyberspace? The first wave were certainly small-L libertarians. Folks that distrust authority, government, Dems, and Republicans. They want reason to dominate, and blogs actually allow them to believe that reason just might stand a chance of surviving.

    Jack Straw

  • Question authority.

    But now “authority” is the left.

  • Any publication or news outlet that can discuss the Supreme Court nomination, mention the Roe decision abortion debate, but FAIL to show any pictures of an aborted fetus, can be called liberal biased — if such outlet has shown Abu Ghraib pictures, or the Pulitzer Prize winning terrorist execution of innocent Iraqi election workers, or the dung covered Virgin Mary.

    The reason to show a few Abu Ghraib pictures is to show part of the “truth”; to show dozens the purpose becomes to change policy. The reason to NOT show abortion results, especially partial-birth abortions, is to avoid showing that part of the “truth”, because of a biased desire to NOT change policy.

    The real problem for the Dems is that their 60s goals that were good have been implemented, and accepted by the Reps. Only the extreme stuff (gay marriage & adoption & total equal gov’t support) hasn’t been. And it’s obvious that Summers was booted because of violating the PC thought police code of “equality of the sexes (irrespective of the facts)”.

    The centrist position is civil unions, not marriage — but since Bush supports this, the Dems can’t. The centrist position on abortions is “legal, but rare” — meaning support for parental notification laws; ending partial birth abortions after 6 months (5 months? 4?); waiting periods; no gov’t funding. More gov’t support for adoption; for single mothers in schools; for part-time jobs (like more gov’t part time jobs?). No party is consistent yet on this — but the Dems are radical pro-abortion absolutists.

    Sorry; but a “bias press” article can only talk about bias with respect to positions. And the Dems don’t have centrist positions.

  • jimbo

    What Andrew Tyndall said.

  • Jack Lillywhite

    Interesting – coming from someone at BBC. I lived in England and other parts of Europe on and off until 2003 and until 2001 there was no alternative to a liberal/left-wing/socialist/big government/anti-american television media. Then Fox News stepped in on cable. Even Sky News (Murdoch owned) was pretty much left-center. Labor and the Libs had no problem getting their message out since there was no challenging media from the Conservatives. In fact, apoplexy set in when Blair endorsed the Bush view of WOT. It through the traditional leftist media for a loop since Labor was their knee-mounted dummy. If anyone here thinks the NYT or LAT or WAPO or Nation are bastions of left-wing/socialistic secular humanism thought in their reportorial and editorial style manuals then you haven’t watched mainstream British television lately.

  • ed


    I think what you’re ignoring is the impact of a controlled media on a political party. Consider the following:

    *Politics is a highly competitive venue where the best survive and the worst are weeded out.*

    Which on it’s face does seem to be rather true. Now consider what possible outside forces would in fact act as “predators” within this system. One such predator would be the various media organizations. As they search for vulnerable prey they force a survival pressure on the population of politicians. Yet if the media applied this pressure in a biased manner then this predatory pressure would be applied in an unbalanced manner.

    In such a circumstance one group would winnowed on a regular basis with the weaker candidates weeded out of office or contention, and the remainder hardened by their experiences. On the other hand the safe group would not be burdened with such pressures. In that case the weak would have the same opportunities as the strong, and it would be very difficult to distinguish amongst them when attempting to determine the relative strengths and weaknesses.

    Which frankly explains the rather bizzare set of candidates put forth by the Democratic party in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

    So my opinion on the impact of the media? That politics is subject to the process of natural selection and that this helps improve the political parties so subjected. That political parties that are not subjected to this natural selection risk putting forth candidates that are in fact incapable of winning or, having won, succeeding.

    *shrug* my 2 shekels.

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  • Jeff Jarvis:

    But what about the internet? It’s tailor-made for the libertarians. The internet is the embodiment of individual liberty, the great product and celebration of freedom.


    I came to the same conclusion in my March, 2005 post here:

    One final thought before I go earn my daily bread. As a small-l libertarian, I am greatly heartened by the rise of the blogospere. Why? Again, let’s look back at the architecture. Journalists have readers. Bloggers have … bloggers! Again, the devil’s advocate says: nonsense! Bloggers have blog readers (or lurkers, to dredge up old Usenet terminology). I am quite willing to admit that many blog readers are content to remain just that. But the Welcome Mat to join the blogging ranks is forever and always there. An intermediate rank between blogger and blog reader is blog commenter. Bloggers love good commenters! Bill Whittle credits getting his start as a commenter on Rachel Lucas’ and Kim du Toit’s sites. Frank Martin got encouragement as a commenter on Stephen Green’s site. And Hugh Hewitt I believe has got be credited with encouraging more bloggers to get started than any other blogger with his Vox Blogoli series, where he introduces a discussion thread and vows to post a link to every response he receives.

    So why does this hearten me as a libertarian? Because I want to be surrounded by empowered individuals. When I read a great post on Powerline, or Just One Minute, or Little Green Footballs, I can righteously walk away saying “Yeah, what he said!”. Well that’s pretty easy, isn’t it? But for me to go from “what he said” to “what I say” requires traversing a huge gulf. People will read what you have to say, and many may not like what you say. To articulate your thoughts in writing takes focus, knowledge, and courage. Passivity (even well-informed passivity) takes no particular talent at all.

    Another way of putting this is that the blog is a particularly well-suited tool for the libertarian, and, if not an ill-suited tool, at least not a very useful tool for the liberal. Why? Because the libertarian’s wet dream is to live in a world of empowered, expressive adults (those who acknowledge that it is up to each individual to know what’s good for themselves, even when it’s “obvious” that there are those who don’t). The liberal wet dream is to live in a caste society of parents (those who know what’s good for everyone else) and children (victims who don’t, and can’t possibly, know what’s good for themselves). Why anyone would want to be a “child” (or a “parent”!) is beyond me.

    Sorry for the long quote. There is more “setup” to this passage if you follow the link. Great insight!

  • >Patricia Says:

    >February 27th, 2006 at 2:22 am
    >Question authority.

    >But now “authority” is the left.

    Republicans control all three branches of the federal government.

    “Hardball” had a panel last week of Tucker Carlson, Joe Scarborough, and Rita Cosby. “Meet the Press” had a guest list yesterday of Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Warner and Peter King.

    Perhaps you like to think of Republicans as the underdog, but that view doesn’t have much in common with what is going on in the world.

  • dick


    That set of circumstances is so unusual that it bears looking into. The normal practice is that if you have a conservative guest then you have to balance that with a liberal at the same panel to discuss while if you have a liberal guest he is there alone. The other normal practice is that when you introduce the conservative guest, you emphasize that he is a conservative or if you mention an organization or think tank you emphasize that it is conservative; for a liberal guest you mention his job (congressman or senator or professor) without mentioning his being a liberal and the same goes for your organizations which are either not classified or are classified as non-partisan. That is still what is going on in the most of the media world. Liberals don’t notice because that seems right and proper to them; we conservatives have known this and complained for decades.

    The funny part is that the more partisan the liberal media becomes, the more seats the republicans win; then we hear all about how the media is owned by the conservatives and their lackies with rles and positions coming straight from Karl Rove and the liberals actually say this with a straight face!!

  • “The real problem for the Dems is that their 60s goals that were good have been implemented, and accepted by the Reps.”

    So true–all the goals I fought for as a young liberal have been largely achieved. And trying to convince Americans to vote for Dems by telling them that they are bad people simply will not work.

    And Bold Eric,
    The media and education and popular entertainment are all dominated by the left.

  • dick –

    It isn’t “so unusual” for “Hardball” to have a panel consisting of Tucker Carlson, Rita Cosby and Joe Scarborough. They have done it before.

    “Meet the Press” also had more conservatives than liberals the week before Sunday.

    Patricia –

    How many liberal TV talk show hosts can you name who regularly give their opinions like Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, and Joe Scarborough?

  • It’s worth remembering that libertarians had a far stronger incentive to make use of the Internet than either liberals or conservatives because they had so little presence in the established media. People who already had powerful tools like TV networks, talk radio or major newspapers on their side were much less likely to see the then-obscure new medium of blogging as important. After all, what effect could a personal web site ever have on the likes of CBS?

    Also, the computer industry contains a lot of strong-willed individualists because its geeky image has traditionally been a deterrent to anyone who is easily swayed by peer pressure. It’s also experienced years of rapid growth and technological advance which encourages a confident, optimistic outlook. Many of the early bloggers were computer professionals or enthusiasts because they had the technical skills to do it and few other people had heard of it anyway. So the early-adopters came from a group that was particularly likely to be sympathetic to the libertarian vision of free, powerful individuals.

  • Eric,
    Stephanopolous, Colms, Mathews, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Colbert…and many others that I can’t name because I stopped watching.

  • Rich Cook


    The internet does not seem to be tailored to any one party or ideology but give the greatest return to the group that knows how to exploit it. The problems with the Dems is, as the article pointed out, they have no message. They do have a message and that seems to be that “we know best and you are scum”. That’s the impression I get listening to them. The libertarians have a different problem. They’re message is unpalatable to the mass of voting Americans. It makes no difference the media the message will be continually reject. In this case success means the number of libertarian office holders. They make much more impact in the research and think-tank work than they do as politicians.

  • penny

    Perhaps you like to think of Republicans as the underdog, but that view doesn’t have much in common with what is going on in the world.

    Hey, Erica…………

    Even after considering that leftist tenured faculties, secured and cultivated over decades, get to indoctrinate our kids with their dribble on our nickel, it is amazing that we haven’t lost Republicans among the higher educated.

    Remove FOX from the media equation, then count on your hands and toes all of the major media outlets that run left-of-center? Take away Mel Gibson and how many conservative movies come out of Hollywood a year? Name them? The majority of movies are based on the pc, multi-culti, and corporate America as evil leftist’s screed.

    Maybe Republicans are better adept at seeing past the insipid self-censoring mass media and the pc, multi-culti leftist dribble on campuses, Erica. Maybe most of us Republicans aren’t good at regurgitating like sheeple the cherished popular memes without scrutiny.

  • Patricia –

    Regarding “Stephanopolous, Colms, Mathews, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Colbert” as liberal hosts who give their opinions:

    George Stephanopous doesn’t give his opinion on “This Week” since he became a host. He asks questions.

    Alan Colmes is balanced by Sean Hannity, whom I didn’t mention above.

    David Letterman isn’t doing a political show and doesn’t give his opinion on politics a fraction of the times Bill O’Reilly does.

    Jon Stewart – OK.

    Stephen Colbert doesn’t express liberal views. He expresses right-wing views, ironically.

  • Linda Edwards

    If it’s Sunday talk, it’s conservative.


  • penny

    Hey, Erica, I’ve noticed you’ve addressed every question but mine.

    You’ve addressed chickens**t technicalities, try major themes and content next.

    Oh, and Bill O’Reilly is an easy target. No points there. It’s one program, hardly a counterpoint to the well documented liberal landscape.

    Keep them coming, Erica.

    About the yearly number of conservative movies or the counter-balance to the leftist agendas on campus…….I’m waiting for your refutations.

  • Frank

    Jake is right about the bias of media…I’ve repped consumer and trade magazines for over 20 years, and the only conservative editors I have ever met worked at a conservative Catholic publication…

    A “conservative” in an editorial department is generally a moderate lefty….

    As for the business side-I have found most of the males to be right-of-center, while the ladies to be as lefty as the editorial staffs…

  • I don’t think you have to go McLuhanesque on broadcast/narrowcast/citizens’ media to explain the initial political adoption pattern. Comparative advantage on political niches does just fine:

    I’ll stipulate (with backup above and from readily available surveys) that the MSM average soft-left, with a two-sigma distribution spread out between the DLC on one end and Nancy Pelosi on the other. If your views and political ‘voice’ fell in that span BCM (before citizen’s media), then your itch was being scratched pretty well.

    Come the blogosphere, who adopts most quickly? The libertarians, who had essentially no media voice. The Deaniacs / hard left, who fell outside the MSM span. Followed in not too long by many conservatives, for whom the limited number of pulpits afforded by narrowcast weren’t sufficient.

    McLuhan may have something to say, but that looks more like fairly standard ‘market entry’ phenomena, where immediate comparative advantage is what counts, not long term absolute value.

    Now speculating: In the short/mid term this may be / have been a significant disadvantage to the Dem party, assuming you’re not of the Deaniac persuasion. One of the rarer blogging birds to sight is the principled centrist liberal, say an Armed Liberal, a Marc Cooper, a liberalhawk, or our host. Hard for them to carry on a discourse while dodging incoming from the far left and mid to far-right; come watch A.L. try it on Winds of Change.

    That largely leaves the swath of political opinion represented by the MSM to carry out its discourse through the MSM. I can’t think that’s any advantage, given its atrophy of critical thinking over the years of monopoly.

    If those who see citizens’ media ascendent over the long run are correct, this should all even out. The MSM are dying demographically, and the soft left will have to chase the votes into new media at some point.

    Watch where the parties and fellow travelers spend their money, and the candidates their time, in ’06 and ’08. Should be a couple of fascinating data points to tack onto the ’02 and ’04 time series to see how political opinion is being addressed in a mixed old/new media world.

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  • I lean left, generally speaking. But I do my best not to lean at all, or even hang out in the same ideological arenas as main stream US politics.

    The truth is that the whole system is grinding to a halt, essentially because Republicans are so riddled with corruption and arrogance that they are confusing their own spin with reality, while Democrats rarely have any spin anyway and are totally powerless to fill the void left by a self-destructing GOP.

    Bush isn’t evil and I know that. He’s just not particularly competent and the limp and impotent excuses for political parties in the US don’t give a leg to stand on or a decent political enemy to combat.

    So vote for me!