A Lack of Alternative Perspectives?

What’s wrong with the mainstream media? “Conservatives” and “liberals” often squeal that the press is biased against their own side, but they’re both wrong. Oh, the press certainly is biased, but the direction of the slant is not left or right, but up, toward more government. Consciously or not, most journalism is statist, always pushing for the government to ban this, regulate that, and subsidize the other.

This statist bias is not confined to domestic affairs, either. Susan D. Moeller’s excellent “Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction” [pdf] examines American and British reporting on WMD-related issues at three crucial periods since 1998. Moeller’s major findings are as follows:

“1. Most media outlets represented WMD as a monolithic menace, failing to adequately distinguish between weapons programs and actual weapons or to address the real differences among chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological weapons.

“2. Most journalists accepted the Bush administration’s formulation of the ‘War on Terror’ as a campaign against WMD, in contrast to coverage during the Clinton era, when many journalists made careful distinctions between acts of terrorism and the acquisition and use of WMD.

“3. Many stories stenographically reported the incumbent administration’s perspective on WMD, giving too little critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats, and policy options.

“4. Too few stories proffered alternative perspectives to official line, a problem exacerbated by the journalistic prioritizing of breaking-news stories and the ‘inverted pyramid’ style of storytelling.”

The inverted pyramid’s to blame?! Well, yes, partly, since “the tendency of the US media to lead with the most ‘important’ information and the most ‘important’ players gave greater weight to the incumbent administration’s point of view on WMD issues, at the expense of alternative perspectives.” Adds Moeller, “Poor coverage of WMD resulted less from political bias on the part of journalists, editors, and producers than from tired journalistic conventions.”

Tired journalistic conventions. A lack of alternative perspectives. That just about sums up the problem, doesn’t it?

I humbly submit that Antiwar.com is a big chunk of the solution. While Big Media have been busy conflating nerve gas and nukes, we’ve been running pieces that challenge the conventional wisdom. While the hotshots have been scaremongering about terrorists with WMD, we’ve been saying “not so fast.” They stenographically report, we critically examine. They parrot the White House, we ask “what else ya got?”

Of course, we do make the most of what the major media offer. Most of the links on the site are to news, not commentary, which has won us fans in some unlikely quarters. The popular website Tacitus.org lists Antiwar.com as one of its primary news sources – quite a compliment from the cream of the warbloggers. A writer for the magazine Reason recently called reading Antiwar.com one of “the two most frequently denied activities in America” (I’ll let you guess the other). Let the hipsters deny it all they want – maybe they’re jealous. At any rate, we’re the ones leading a movement.

But we need your help to keep going. As I see it, we must answer two questions. One is why should you contribute? There are two answers, and the first is fairly obvious – though you can access Antiwar.com at no cost, we need money to produce it. Now, you can read for free and hope someone else takes in the slack, but the Information Superhighway is littered with the dead URLs of sites people once read but didn’t pay for. Which brings us to the second, more profound answer: your contribution affirms your values. While we try to appeal to a broad range of political leanings, we at Antiwar.com are libertarians. We believe in markets. If this site dies, it will mean one of two things: either the peace and liberty we promote are not as important to most people as we think they are, or else we do a poor job of promoting them. I will assume that anyone who has read this far does not believe the latter.

So, if you agree that you should contribute, the question becomes how much? Even if you could put a price on peace and liberty, how would you pay that price after taxes, the mortgage, tuition, and filling up the car? (No war for oil, indeed!) But you don’t have to quantify intangibles or forego retirement to help out. My formula is simple. Just ask yourself, “How much time does Antiwar.com save me?”

Now, I spend what I hope is an exceptional amount of time on the Web (I hope you guys lead lives more exciting than mine!). I trawl through hundreds of news and commentary sites each week, and Antiwar.com still saves me hours. How about you? For instance, on Monday, a typical day, the front page boasted 120 news articles and eight essays culled from several contributors and all of cyberspace. (To say nothing of the blog, the casualties page, book reviews, etc.) Let’s say you read 30, or 20, or ten of those links. How long would it have taken you to find them, including all of the time spent digging through chaff? Now total up the hours saved in a week, a month, a year. I can’t tell you how much your time is worth, but the U.S. minimum wage is just over $5 an hour, which seems a reasonable place to start. If Antiwar.com saves you just one hour per month (and I suspect it’s a lot more), then you could send $5 a month for more news and commentary than you could squeeze from ten newspapers and magazines. And it’s tax-deductible. Some of your money for this, or all of your money for that.

Of course, we appreciate every contribution, whatever size, because every penny is voluntary. Our pro-war competitors are effectively taxpayer-subsidized, since they mainly regurgitate Pentagon press releases. We depend entirely on your willing patronage, and we hope we have earned it.