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GOODBYE TO PC
ONE Thanksgiving dinner in the early '70s, my father announced to our suburban New Jersey family that he would no longer subscribe to The New York Times. He was sick and tired of its implicit endorsement of urban rioters, spoiled-brat campus peaceniks and welfare cheats. At the time I was barely a teenager, with only the dimmest idea of what bias in a newspaper might be, but I noticed that the grownups at the table, whether left, right or center, obviously thought my dad was a crank for bringing it up.
How times have changed and maybe even the Times. In last Sunday's paper, so-called public editor Daniel Okrent assessed the Times' use of anonymous sources, scarcely down from 51 percent to 47 percent of all stories and this a year after management urged reporters to reduce such sources, with guidelines that asked reporters to explain why sources are anonymous, and indicate their possible motivations. He also noted that the paper will soon offer its staff suggestions on "sourcing, bias, the division between news and opinion and communication with readers," in a document titled "Preserving our readers' trust."
Elsewhere in the Op-Ed section, Frank Rich cited a Pew poll registering the press as the least-trusted American institution, while a long article on the economics of blogs ran on the front page of the Sunday business section. The crux of that story was to point up bloggers' ability to quickly unearth and publicize ethical lapses by the traditional media.
And so one might be forgiven for thinking that Brian C. Anderson's "South Park Conservatives" is actually on to something. Anderson, senior editor of City Journal and a pundit of long standing, is riding this wave of mainstream awareness of the existence of media bias.
In blistering detail, Anderson analyzes the rise of challengers to mainstream media complacency and liberal illiberalism. His title is drawn from the distinctively in-your-face satire of TV's "South Park," but even those who've never watched the show can see his point: When independent thinking is outlawed, as it was in the PC '90s, only outlaws will have independence and the glamour of transgression.
Public awareness of media bias is in part a reaction to what Anderson aptly terms "the defeatist coverage of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars."
It's good to be reminded how the Times' R. W. Apple had "government officials" (that's the Times' tic for unnamed sources again) speaking of the American "quagmire" in Afghanistan just days before the fall of the Taliban. (The Wall Street Journal occasionally runs roundups of positive news from Afghanistan gathered by bloggers that paint a very different, more subtly textured picture.)
Another contributing factor is certainly the alarming evidence of liberal illiberalism gathered by Anderson, from leftist professors who toss conservative students out of class or threaten them with low grades, to employee sabotage against John O'Neill's "Unfit for Command" by clerks at Borders Books, which was exposed in National Review.
But even a convinced liberal would be advised to take a look at this book, if nothing else to see how the tide is turning. As Anderson points out, "from 2000 to the summer of 2004, 18 of the 30 bestselling political books were conservative." On talk radio, liberals have never managed to mount a convincing presence, while Fox New Channel has achieved dominance in cable TV.
Even on college campuses, conservatives are making themselves heard, in part because the tide has swung so far the other way. "Conservative ideas take on even greater allure to students when the authorities say they're verboten." Which should sound a warning to conservatives, too, as they gain power: never forget the allure of forbidden fruit.
Ann Marlowe is the author of "How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z."