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Colin Friedersdorf is Half Right

John on October 6, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Colin Friedersdorf is a semi-hemi-conservative blogger who writes for the Atlantic, the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post. Recently he wrote a piece about what’s right with the NY Times and how, by contrast, conservative media is penny ante. In particular he takes issue with Andrew Breitbart:

Mr. Breitbart’s media empire, and the outlets with which he most closely associates himself, are thoroughly ideological enterprises, publish few if any ideologically heterodox pieces, seldom if ever correct factual mistakes, and ignore liberal insights entirely.

What critics like Friedersdorf always, always seem to miss is the idea — perhaps best stated by Rush Limbaugh — that conservative media doesn’t strive for balance in the traditional sense precisely because conservative media tends to see itself as the balance.

Let’s apply this to the Times itself. If, as Friedersdorf claims, the Times is the greatest newspaper now extant and if, as he also admits, the paper has a long history of overlooking conservative news, what is the solution to this problem?

Friedersdorf’s solution is to create competing newspapers which play most things down the middle and only occasionally pick up that conservative tinged story that the Times overlooked. In essence he’s saying, if the Times scale tilts left, set up a whole new scale that tilts slightly right.

Is this really practical? What’s the cost to enter the game in the Times league? Even in it’s weakened state, the value of the NY Times company stands at roughly $1.2 billion dollars. One certainly could, as Friedersdorf suggests, balance out the Times by investing $1 billion in a new media conglomerate which is 90% down the middle and occasionally tilts right. [And for the record, I think the Times bias affects more than 10% of its output.]

The other option, the one chosen by Drudge and Breitbart is to simply publish those stories which consistently do not make it into the NY Times, an option which turns out to have a much more attractive entry point.

So I’ll grant that this is a tacit admission that a lot of what the Times does is of value. Contrary to what Friedersdorf claims, I think quite a few conservatives appreciate the Times when it is not engaging in partisan water-carrying.

Finally, I can’t let this go because I think it demonstrates that Friedersdorf isn’t quite playing his own story straight:

Compare Fox News’ commentary spoken by Mr. Hannity or Washington Times columns written by Mr. Breitbart to The New York Times Magazine opinion columns once written by current New York Times head honcho Bill Keller. You’ll quickly discover how absurd it is for the former men to demand ideological open-mindedness or fairness to political adversaries from the latter man.

Why do we have to make this apples to oranges comparison? Why not just compare the opinion pieces by Hannity, Beck and Breitbart to the pieces by Frank Rich, Bob Herbert and Maureen Dowd which the Times publishes every week? I think one would find them to be mirror images in terms of partisanship. It was Dowd, after all, who was recently caught cribbing material (unknowingly she claims) from a lefty blogger.

The Times has it’s moments and when I’ve come across them, I’ve said so. But it’s not necessary to build a whole new billion dollar journalistic enterprise as a kind of mirror image of the Times bias on the right. It’s much easier for new media outlets like Breitbart (and to a lesser degree this blog) to accept what is good and then place a balancing finger on the side of the scale where the Times coverage is forever light.

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