Mass Media, Mass Conformityrnby Erwin KnollrnItake a certain amount of gleeful satisfaction—the Germansrncall it Schadenfreude—in the schisms and divisions thatrnseem increasingly to bedevil the American right. The pitchedrnbattles between neoconservatives and paleoconscrvatives, betweenrnlibertarians and authoritarians, and, of late, between socialrnconservatives of the fundamentalist Christian persuasionrnand traditional economic royalists who care much more aboutrnunearned income than about unborn infants—all of thesernst]uabbles suggest that the American right, which seemed to berngiddily on the ascendant onl- a decade or so ago, has a long wayrnto go before it can establish the ideological hegemony it so passionatelyrncraves. And, from m perspective, that is a very goodrnthing.rnBut my almost obsessive interest in the nasty family feuds reportedrnby sundry right-wing publications suggests that there isrnone deeply held conviction, one fundamental assumption,rnone bedrock principle to which every conservative faction andrnsubset subscribes: the notion that America’s most grievousrnproblems are caused, or at least seriously exacerbated, by thernmass media, which are mysteriously but intractably biased in favorrnof the left.rnI, too, believe that the mass media bear a considerable burdenrnof responsibility for what ails America, but I am at a loss torncomprehend how anyone could possibly place them on the leftrnof the political spectrum. I wish at least some of them were, sornthat our society could experience the benefits of genuinely adversarialrnjournalism. I wish there were mass-circulation dailyrnnewspapers, or weekly news magazines, or television networks,rnErwin Knoll is editor ofThe Progressive, a left-wing magazinernpublished since J 909 in Madison, Wisconsin.rnor commercial radio stations that brought to their news coveragernthe kind of antiestablishmcnt insight that informs thernstruggling, small-circulation publications of the Americanrnleft—the Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, Mother Jones.rn1 wish the many millions of Americans who glance at morningrnnewspapers or doze off while watching the e’ening news had anrnoccasional opportunity to be exposed to an alternative viewpointrnthat challenges the fundamental assumptions of Washington’srnoften-benighted foreign polie’ or of the profit-drivenrnmarket system. But that is decidedly not the case.rnIf there ever was a time when real debate on fundamentalrnideological questions was fostered and stimulated by the massrnmedia in our country, it ended with the advent of the ColdrnWar. The exigencies of the nuclear age, the perils of America’srnconfrontation with Soviet communism, made it imperative, wernwere told, that “politics stop at the water’s edge.” This put foreignrnand military policy—literally matters of life and death—rnbevond the pale. Critical media scrutiny was verboten, andrnpublic debate, when it existed at all, was ine’itably uninformedrnand in’ariably unwelcome. And the media, which often engagernin loft flights of rhetoric about their devotion to the FirstrnAmendment, eagerly embraced this drastic limitation notrnonl on their freedom but on their essential function. Theyrnbecame devoted and obedient servants of the official line—rnas obedient as their counterparts in the communist camp,rnwho at least made no pretense of independence.rnLet me illustrate first with a personal experience that markedrnthe beginning of my understanding of the realities of Americanrnjournalism. It was the spring of 1960, and I was a young reporterrnon the local news staff of the Washington Post. Across thernworld, the Russians had just shot down an American U-2 spyrn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn