This Saturday afternoon in Campbell Hall MSNBC political commentator Tucker Carlson and author Eric Alterman will debate whether the media slants stories to fit political principles.
The event, part of the annual Arthur N. Rupe Great Debate series, features two speakers with polarized political viewpoints. Carlson – former co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” current host of MSNBC’s “The Situation With Tucker Carlson” – will present his conservative-to-libertarian viewpoint, while Alterman – The Nation columnist and author of What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News – will argue from a more left-leaning perspective.
Tickets to the 3 p.m. event are $10 for the general public and $5 for students.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Alterman said he believes the media does not have a liberal bias, but rather, liberal points of view are underrepresented on national and cable news television.
“There’s no question that television leans rightward rather than leftward,” Alterman said. “There’s not a single liberal on a cable TV show, [and] conservatives are extremely well-represented.”
Alterman, also the author of The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America and When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences is a professor at CUNY Brooklyn in New York and also writes a weblog called “Altercation” for MSNBC.com.
Alterman’s appearance at UCSB on Saturday with Carlson is part of an ongoing series of debates presented by the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation aimed at “exploring contemporary societal issues of national and international significance through the presentation of authors, commentators, scholars and policy-makers who hold divergent viewpoints,” according to a press release.
From his office in New York, Carlson said he disagreed with Alterman, acknowledging that while conservatives may be well-represented as talk show hosts, the majority of the media has a generally liberal perspective.
“Virtually everybody who works in the press is pro-choice, for gun control, doesn’t go to church,” Carlson said. “There is, without question, a strong liberal cultural bias. I mean, I’m looking around my office right now; I’m probably the only person here who thinks abortion should be illegal. On those subjects, I think the press is biased. But I don’t think the press is left-wing, or [that] news organizations are advocating for socialism. I do think pretty much everyone in journalism is secular. And that’s a problem – it’s a huge problem when you’re attempting to represent the country.”
In addition, Carlson said that a possible reason many people believe there are few liberal political hosts on television is because very few political news shows exist anymore.
“There aren’t too many openly political hosts left,” he said. “There aren’t many political shows left. ‘Inside Politics’ was canceled, ‘Crossfire’ was canceled; ‘Hardball’ is really the only political show on TV now that I know of. That’s one – out of all the shows on television, there is one national political show. And its host is liberal, and that should tell you a lot.”
Alterman said his opponent for Saturday’s debate represents a libertarian standpoint, but that many television pundits share a generally conservative point of view as well as an inherent tendency to accommodate more right-leaning perspectives.
“I would say that right-wingers, like Bill O’Reilly, like Rush Limbaugh, like Sean Hannity, definitely dominate the discourse on television,” Alterman said. “And most of the questions asked by people who aren’t right-wingers are themselves determined by right-wing assumptions because they are reporting on the Bush administration, and they accept the Bush administration’s definition of things. For instance, you’ll see the war on terrorism frequently confused with the war in Iraq, even though the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.”
Alterman says he thinks this conservative media bias is having a negative affect on the country.
“I think [the conservative bias is] a bad thing because it’s not consistent with reality,” Alterman said. “Everything the Bush administration said to convince the country to go to war turned out to be false. There’s no significant relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq, there were no weapons of mass destruction, there’s no Iraqi nuclear program, and yet because the right wing was able to determine the course of the debate, these issues were never seriously debated. Everybody just took their word for it.
Carlson, whose generally conservative views have appeared in Esquire magazine and The Weekly Standard, said he believes the media is more liberal in some areas than others.
“There’s no question the press pushes a gay rights agenda,” Carlson said. “I’m actually not particularly anti-gay myself, but I don’t think the press should be pushing any agenda. Take [the recent film] ‘Brokeback Mountain’ – the implication of it is that anyone who’s offended by a movie about gay cowboys must be a bigot. And I just don’t think that’s fair. I think people have a right to be offended by that and that being offended by that doesn’t make you a bigot. And the average reporter assumes that if you don’t want to see [that movie], then you’re anti-gay.”
Carlson also said he believes a liberal bias in the media stems from a lack of representation of many Americans.
“You can boil it down to this – everybody [in the media] kind of went to the same school, everybody kind of comes from the same background, everybody sort of grew up in roughly the same areas on the coasts,” Carlson said. “You don’t find a lot of vigorous, committed, Dutch Reform Protestants from Grand Rapids in the New York Times newsroom.”
Besides UCSB’s Arts & Lectures, Saturday’s debate is co-presented by the College of Letters & Science, the Political Science Dept., the Santa Barbara News-Press, the UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center and Young America’s Foundation.
“I’m absolutely looking forward to the debate,” Carlson said. “I hope it’s friendly – I’m a big believer in friendliness.”