Conservatives are justifiably proud of the alternative they've created to the mainstream media — the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, big regional papers, TV networks, and the national news magazine. Last year, conservative talk radio, websites, and bloggers forced the Swift Boats vets story onto the national media agenda and instantly destroyed 60 Minutes' case against President Bush and his Texas Air National Guard service. But conservatives shouldn't get triumphal. The mainstream media still rules.
We see this every day. Consider the case of Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who recently called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The mainstream media treated this as a shot out of the blue by a defense hawk who suddenly concluded that the war was unwinnable. Conservatives knew better — namely that Murtha had been criticizing the war for many months and that his call for withdrawal was utterly irresponsible.
The mainstream media view prevailed. Murtha was treated as a pro-war hawk who had reluctantly — and more in sorrow than in anger — turned against the intervention in Iraq. Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" gave him an "up" arrow, and indeed that reflected media opinion about Murtha and opposition to the war in Iraq. The dissent by the conservative media barely registered.
Despite all the good done by the alternative media, the mainstream media is still able to impose its interpretation on news events. It has no qualms about creating out of whole cloth national figures it likes. And the mainstream media continues to hold to a double standard, one for Democrats and liberals, another for Bush and Republicans.
I don't mean to diminish the alternative media. It's simply that the mainstream media is far bigger and much, much stronger — and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Talk radio, websites and bloggers don't report. They can only react to the reporting of the mainstream media.
Fox News has dozens of reporters. It's not really part of the alternative media. True, it's far more welcoming to conservative commentators (I'm one of them) than any of the mainstream broadcast outlets and this gives Fox a conservative tilt. But Fox also has many liberal commentators. And its reporters, in my view, are fairer and less partisan than most mainstream media reporters.
A good example of the mainstream media's power is Cindy Sheehan, the left-wing mother of a soldier slain in Iraq. She showed up in Texas last summer demanding to see the president, who was on vacation at his ranch. The mainstream media elevated her stardom, rarely mentioning that she had already met once with Bush and had allied herself with far-left activists.