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The Alterman Fog Machine By: George Shadroui
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Eric Alterman, media critic for MSNBC and the Nation, has an obsession about what he calls mythologies on the right, but a review of his work suggests that he is perfectly adept at making up myths of his own. While it is not easy to follow a thread of logic in the mental meanderings of Alterman, obvious themes emerge.

1. Right-wing publishing and media

Alterman has written two books, Sound and Fury and more recently What Liberal Media?, in which he claims that, if anything, the media skews toward the right. As evidence, he lists a couple of dozen pundits or academics, a handful of radio talk show hosts, and Fox News. He then goes on to challenge the liberal credentials of Michael Kinsley, Howard Kurtz and the editorial writers as the Washington Post (among others), a confusing claim given that in Sound and Fury, page 134, he describes Kinsley as "a liberal who did become quite influential" -- just one small example of how Alterman evades inconvenient realities.

Alterman gets uptight over a few foundations that fund conservative books or studies, and can barely contain himself because conservatives appear on the nightly news shows. What he does not say, of course, is that you could not mention by name all the  liberals  who write or talk in the media because the list would not be a couple of dozen, but a couple of thousand. It would include every major network other than Fox, most of the newspapers across the country and  almost all the major magazines, including Time, Newsweek,  U.S. News & World Report. While it is true that conservatives have far more voice in the media than they did a few years back, that is not saying much. Two decades ago, Bill Buckley  was the conservative media personality and National Review and Commentary as the media vehicles through which conservative views could be expressed.

Moreover, what Alterman fails to acknowledge, though it is manifestly known, is the near liberal monopoly of intellectual discussion and publication on college campuses, a combined influence that dwarfs any conservative foundation effort. University presses crank out thousands of  subsidized books a year, most of them  liberal and an alarming percentage perversely left. A cursory review of the top 20 endowments for public universities totaled close to $25 billion.  One private college,  Harvard , has an endowment  of $18 billion  all by itself. Many leftwing and liberal journalists (and almost no conservative ones) have sinecures at universities that subsidize their efforts. Deceptively, Alterman never factors in this huge component of the media equation.

Meanwhile, another survey published by the Chronicle of Higher Education (circa 1998) shows that of the top 50 foundations (ranked by total value of grants distributed for purposes of higher education) 12 are listed on Progressivepubs.com. Of that same top 50, only one, the John Olin Foundation, is clearly supportive of conservative causes. The rest of the 50 are dedicated to such causes as science, health care or general educational support, but are not clearly partisan. Those 12 foundations, by the way, distributed more than a half billion dollars in educational grants during the period surveyed. Remember, these are foundations that are identified as supporting "progressive" causes. In addition, progressivepubs.com lists hundreds of other foundations committed to progressive agendas.

It gets worse for Alterman, however. As David Horowitz has observed, the assets of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation alone, a noted progressive foundation, are three times those of the three major conservative foundations combined – the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John Olin Foundation.  Alterman simply overlooks these facts.

Alterman’s transparent effort to skew reality is not limited to his  preposterous claims of huge conservative influence in publishing or in the media. He also questions the funding of book projects undertaken by a handful of prominent conservative authors, as if there were something nefarious going on, but somehow forgets to focus on the significant funding he has received for his own projects, including funding from Bill Moyers’ Schumann Foundation for a book on foreign policy that seems to have disappeared as quickly as it was published. His latest book, What Liberal Media, also received major support from Schumann foundation to the tune of $110,000, money which was funneled through the Nation Institute, according to research done by Frontpagemag.com.

In attempting to scare the public about excessive right-wing influence, Alterman and those who have followed his lead are engaging in precisely the game they accuse conservatives of playing – crying foul in order to get greater access. This is not surprising. After all, Alterman, who made his reputation criticizing the horrors of corporate-controlled media, now works at a network that calls Bill Gates daddy. So much for the materially disadvantaged left.

2. The "illegitimacy" of Bush

It is my hope that most Americans have turned off the leftist whining about the 2000 election, but it is still deeply disturbing to see Alterman advertising the corruption of American democracy on foreign soil, as he did in the  Manchester Guardian in a December 15, 2001, column. The mantra has been repeated by Norman Mailer, Al Gore and virtually every leftist who has been given a platform.

Alterman wrote: "and as evidence now demonstrates, Gore won not only the national vote…but also a clear majority of all the legal votes cast in Florida." Comprehensive studies of the issue do not concur, however. Perhaps the most exhaustive analysis done on the elections, the Miami Herald’s Democracy Held Hostage, reports:

If all of the under votes had been inspected by election supervisors as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, Bush almost certainly would have won anyway. In fact, the examination of all 64,248 ballots in the state showed that – depending on the standard employed to assess the ballots’ legitimacy – Bush’s official 537 vote lead over Gore might have grown if the recount had not been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court (p. 9).

As best the Herald could determine, there were certain counting scenarios that might have led to Gore winning, in one instance by three (yes, three) votes after weeks and weeks of ballots being handled, mishandled and stored. Hardly the "clear majority" claimed by Alterman in the Guardian.

In fact, the election was essentially a statistical tie. There were counting strategies that favored Gore, others that favored Bush, but by the standards Gore and the Florida Supreme Court themselves were prepared to impose, Bush would have won. So let’s deal with reality. There has been no proof of any  civil rights violation in Florida. There were discarded ballots, but they were found all over the country with no obvious bias against either candidate. No doubt we learned that our electoral machinery required some fine-tuning, but we did not learn that Gore had any greater claim to the presidency than Bush. On the contrary, by the rules established prior to election day Bush and even after election day by Bush’s opponents, Bush still won. All the claims of illegitimacy are nothing more than leftist demagoguery.

3. The war in Iraq

Alterman has made the claim that "the Likud faction of the Republican Party would like a war without any bothersome discussion beforehand." In making this claim, Alterman misrepresents reality in two ways. First, there had been discussion about the policy of regime change in Iraq going back to the last two yeas of the Clinton administration, which means, in fact, that at least a half decade had been spent discussing the issue to one degree or another. Moreover, in suggesting that the push for war was driven by pro-Israel Jewish Republicans who were somehow bending public opinion (not to mention the president) to their will, he does a disservice to truth. I happen to be an Arab American who supported the war. As best I can tell, so did most of the Iraqi-American population in the Dearborn, Michigan area, not to mention 70 percent of the American public and a healthy percentage of Iraqis clearly relieved to be liberated from Saddam. National defense, human rights and sincere hopes for Arab democracy explain this support (agree or not), not secret Jewish cabals who haunt Alterman in his sleep.

Of course, Alterman has continued to misrepresent the war effort. He claims in his MSNBC column that concerns about weapons of mass destruction were not sincere. "It was all a big joke; something for suckers to get worked up about while Bush and company went to war for their own reasons."

How does Alterman explain the ongoing effort by our military to find the weapons? Apparently, it is all a conspiracy. We know they don’t exist, but we are just pretending to try to find them. Never mind reports from the New York Times, hardly a pro-Bush mouthpiece, that many of those weapons might have been hidden or smuggled out of the country just prior to the war. No, in the leftist mind, the terror regime of Saddam is incapable of conspiracy, but the Bush administration and its corporate allies are conspiring endlessly to involve us in wars "for their own reasons."

It is telling that Alterman expresses more horror over the President’s appearance on board the Abraham Lincoln to thank American soldiers returning from Iraq than he does over the mass graves being found in Iraq. Typical. What a waste of tax dollars, cries Alterman, who has, at long last, found government spending he opposes. I am confident most Americans will recognize this mock concern for tax payers as pure hypocrisy, in which trade Alterman is becoming a major trafficker.

In an April 14 post, Alterman quotes Lawrence Eagleburger to the effect that Bush would be impeached if he launched a war against Syria. And then this: "Speaking of impeachment, Harold Myerson asks "Is Bush the most dangerous president ever?" (Hint: 'Yes,' unless you include Jefferson Davis.)"  Harold Myerson is a well-known socialist who edits Bill Moyer's journal The American Prospect which speaks for the Democratic Party left. It is not surprising, therefore, that Myerson and Alterman would confuse a President responding to an attack on his country with a  leader  who sparked a civil war  in defense of slavery that led to 600,000 deaths and the near destruction of the  union .  This is a perfect example of Alterman's casual malice against his political opponents.

This is what his  histrionics  over  Florida  and the conservative media and the war are  all about . "I’ve said it before and will say it again and again and again: Liberals talk about principle, but forget that winning is a principle. We can take the guy down. But we have to do it on terms favorable to us."   Not surprisingly, Alterman actually has suggested that it would have been a service to the nation had Rush Limbaugh gone deaf, that Charles Krauthammer’s position on the war in Nicaragua was somehow a threat to free speech, that David Horowitz is a "lunatic" who should suffer an early death. 

Alterman made his career with the book, Sound and Fury, in which he took the Washington "punditocracy" to task for its facile and shallow coverage of public policy and government. Yet, I would challenge readers to find a Washington pundit whose work is as shallow as Alterman’s MSNBC column. It is journalism reduced to graffiti and you will struggle to find a coherent theme, other than Alterman’s  hatred  for the Bush administration and the  men and women trying to defend this country in the face of the terrorist threat.




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