There’s a reason conservatives complain that artists are liberal, and that journalists are liberal. It’s because — more often than not — they’re right.
This issue most recently came to the fore last week, when Beverly Hills photographer Jill Greenberg — an artist and journalist — confessed (actually, bragged) that she had made some purposely unflattering photographs of John McCain in a cover shoot for The Atlantic (which you can find on her Web site).
Greenberg’s case, as you would imagine, has already become a cause celebre on conservative blogs and in publications like the New York Post. The reason is not that The Atlantic has done anything wrong; it hasn’t. Greenberg did her Atlantic assignment as requested. She delivered the “heroic” shot that The Atlantic asked for, which is what the magazine ran on its cover. The writer of the accompanying story has responded by calling Greenberg’s actions “repulsive” and saying she has “disgraced her profession.”
None of which has detracted from the resonance of Greenberg’s story. The story resonates because it fits an existing narrative — the media is biased and liberal. Add in the fact that Greenberg is based in Beverly Hills, and we get to bring in the “Hollywood liberal” narrative, too.
The narratives are so powerful that the Republican party has been using them ever since Spiro T. Agnew complained of the “nattering nabobs of negativism” during a convention speech in 1970. Even McCain — who has been a media darling for years — has found a way to tap into conservative resentment of the media, through his campaign’s complaints about the coverage of Sarah Palin.
These narratives exist because there is a kernel of truth to them. Most journalists, as well as most artists, are progressive in their politics. Surveys consistently show this to be the case.
The funny thing is, even though our culture is more celebrity-obsessed than ever, and the anti-media rhetoric from conservatives has been ratcheted way up over the past several years, the actual impact that individual “liberal” journalists wield has been in sharp decline for decades.
So, here’s why I think (1) most journalists are progressive; and (2) this is basically a non-issue.
(1) Journalists (especially those of the print variety) don’t enter the profession to get rich. If money was their goal, they would apply their college educations and insatiable curiosity in more profitable directions. Young people enter journalism, for the most part, because they want to make a difference. Their egos are fed not by the money they make, but by the impact they have. Journalists have impact by causing change. And change is inherently anti-conservative (although not necessarily anti-Republican).
(2) While individual journalists tend to be progressive, virtually all major media organizations are owned by large corporations that are inherently conservative. There are a small handful of exceptions, but for the most part, companies like General Electric, Disney, News Corp. and Time Warner control our media — and these organizations have a very strong interest in maintaining the status quo.
So individual media members and their corporate owners are fundamentally at cross-purposes — like an evenly divided Congress that produces mostly gridlock.
The media is in gridlock today, compared to 30 years ago. Do you think a Woodward and Bernstein could emerge today? I don’t. In 2008, the media too often allows the political parties to dictate the agenda, instead of acting as an independent fourth estate.
So, what of Jill Greenberg? Oh goody, she gets to post some silly Photoshopped images of John McCain on her Web site, maybe sell one to some marginalized liberal publication — and never be hired by a mainstream magazine to shoot a political figure again. If Greenberg is representative of the “liberal media” bogeyman the American public is told to suspect and fear, we obviously have nothing to be afraid of.
Except, of course, for real issues like war, healthcare, and corporate influence in Washington. Those are among the issues lurking in the dark, waiting for the “liberal media” to open the closet door.