Different news for different views
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And up in Maine, Michael Boland couldn't disagree more about the bent of the mainstream press. He thinks it leans toward the middle to conservative - leaving out a truly liberal perspective. His primary source of information is The New York Times, which he sees as anything but progressive. He also listens to National Public Radio, another source that is perceived by many as liberal, but he contends has gotten more conservative since the 1991 Gulf War. "For instance, they use the term terrorists to describe some groups that are clearly not terrorists: They're freedom fighters or in a civil war," he says. "I have an ability to read between the lines, but I also think it's really important for us as a country to have good alternative sources of information."Skip to next paragraph
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He would also like to see Air America - the liberals' answer to Limbaugh - become more friendly and available to the "average Joe" just as Limbaugh has done. That's some of what comedian and now co-host Janeane Garofalo is determined to do. She's convinced the mainstream media are beholden to economically privileged interests and don't represent most Americans.
"The 'liberal bias' in the mainstream media is a neat trick; it does not exist," says Ms. Garofalo, cohost of "The Majority Report" on Air America. "The conservative movement demands underdog status. It demands that its listeners, whether [they're listening] to Fox or Limbaugh, are the underdogs fighting the good fight against this alleged media bias."
The pitched battle for America's hearts and minds may be intensifying - with skirmishes now in the courtroom as well as on the airwaves. The Democratic group MoveOn.org was scheduled to announce legal action Sunday challenging the Fox network's use of "fair and balanced" as a slogan - a jab at what critics see as a blatant conservative bias on the network.
As liberals and conservatives clash more sharply, some Americans are taking things into their own hands to cut through the bloviation. People like Bryan Keefer. At age 21, he was appalled by the vitriol on both sides of the 2000 election fray over Florida ballots. So he and some friends started spinsanity.com, a blog on the Internet that attempts to cull the wheat from the political chaff. The site took off, and is now a mainstay for many politicos.
"We are specifically nonpartisan, we consider ourselves sort of the umpires, we call it as we see it," he says. They've taken on both Michael Moore's innuendo in "Fahrenheit 9/11" and George W. Bush's selective use of facts - what Mr. Keefer calls the "strategically dishonest talking points."
Every week now in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Spinsanity has a column critiquing two claims, one from the left and one from the right. "We're holding everyone accountable," says Keefer, who is now also the assistant managing editor of CampaignDesk.org, which is run by the Columbia Journalism Review.
Indeed, the public in general likes to see issues debated, rather than spun, in the media, according to a recent Pew study. And not everyone sees the American media going to ruin. Despite all of their failings and biases - liberal, corporate, or conservative - news organizations still maintain independent voices that are accessible, regardless of political leanings.
"The American media is a real treasure. There's nothing else like it in the world - an institution that provides an independent voice is very rare: hard to build, easy to destroy, and hard to rebuild," says Robert Lichter of the Center on Media and Public Affairs. "But you know, the republic did survive for 150 years with a partisan one."
Next in the Continental Divide series: Pennsylvania, where the red-blue battle is up for grabs.