Friday, May 14, 2004


What Liberal University?

So today I'm packing my bags and getting ready to leave my classroom after teaching, and the instructor's class after mine is preparing for a presentation on Alterman's What Liberal Media? (no link--he doesn't deserve one), a presentation which seemed to rest on the argument that since big businesses own media corporations, then the media must be biased in a conservative direction.

First of all, this proceeds on the erroneous assumption that all business people are conservative, and that all companies lean to the right, an assumption which hardly explains the large donations to the Kerry campaign made by several big businesses (though not by the Heinz Corporation, curiously enough--what do they know that we don't?).

Second, it assumes that if a media group is owned by a conservative, then the information presented must be have a conservative bias. Of course, if we proceed on this sort of assumption, then we must also proceed on the assumption that the leftist who teaches the course after mine must necessarily be teaching her course from a leftist bias, and that our whole program must be biased towards the left, since the Director of Composition is as left as left can be, but we'll leave that alone for now.

What really irritates me is that there was no actual examination of the content of the news--merely a bunch of fancy graphs showing which company owns which media outlets and then a conclusion that these graphs have somehow proven conservative bias. The whole process of finding evidence for an argument has been bypassed, and no link between the CEO and the newsroom established. I would think a few choice clips from Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings would be enough to at least call the conclusion into question, if not to refute it entirely.

This is what passes for critical thinking in our composition program. This is what parents are paying for their children to learn.

Congrats on enabling the comments!

"it assumes that if a media group is owned by a conservative"...what would this even mean? Almost all major media companies are public companies, meaning that they are not owned by anybody in particular. And I would hope that Alterman is familar with the "agency problem"...the fact that those running organizations do not always do what is in the best interests of their owners.
Hell if I know. The underlying assumption seems to be that big business is both evil and conservative (though around here, using both words is redundant). Since big business is conservative, and since big businesses own many of the major media outlets, what is aired on those outlets must of necessity be following the agenda of the conservative business mogels who own them. The syllogism seems to be:

A. Big business is conservative
B. Most media in the U.S. is owned by big business
Therefore, most media in the U.S. is conservative.

The syllogism is certainly a valid one, but the premises are unacceptable, so the argument itself is unsound. However, since most composition teachers in the program have never even taken a class in elementary logic, this sort of bogus reasoning is to be expected. And, since the students have not been exposed to logic either, they are often fooled by what sounds logical.

I'm not necessarily saying that the instructors are doing this deliberately. They believe the premises are true and the argument sound. Evidence to the contrary they dismiss as an abberation, or the attempts of "honest" broadcasters to break through the impediments put in front of them by their conservative employers.

Frankly, other than making a snide remark here or there, I've pretty much given up on trying to actually change anything at this university, save for within my own classroom, where all arguments--my own included--are placed under the strictest logical scrutiny.

The underlying assumptions of many of my colleagues are almost religious in nature, and they hold onto them as tightly as any zealot would his or her faith. There's no common ground upon which to begin an argument, so the attempt is useless. There's little difference between arguing with them and arguments I used to have with a Jehovah's Witness student years ago. The subject was different, but the reasoning was more or less the same.
I found one of your earlier posts particularly interesting, the one about the theory question in interviews. Yeah, I believe you. :) A friend of mine was asked last year how a particular text by Foucault connects to their project, which has nothing to do with Foucault or his theories, of course. In this case it was a small Northeastern college, and the questioner was an asst. prof. who seemed to be trying to impress the rest of the hiring committee. Someone else later called my friend to apologize. (!)

Email me:

I wonder whether I know you . . . ?
A bit late coming to the conversation, but Alterman's argument is exactly the one used by Counterspin for years.
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