08/05/2010 01:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Think Again: Left and Right Both Do it? Wrong.

It is a rule of historical thumb that whenever mainstream journalists find themselves the subject of political controversy they fall back on the old adage that "if both the left and right are criticizing my work, I must be doing something right." But as author, editor, and publisher Victor Navasky points out in his book, A Matter of Opinion, "Ideology is simply a body of beliefs or doctrines... If The Nation has the ideology of the liberal left and National Review has the ideology of the conservative right, then the New York Times, the Washington Post, the newsweeklies, and the networks have the ideology of the center, and it is part of the ideology of the center to deny that it has an ideology."

Navasky cites the sociologist Herbert Gans in his book Deciding What's News, who takes a shot at defining the mainstream media's ideology by identifying eight clusters of what he calls "enduring values." These are "ethnocentrism, altruistic democracy, responsible capitalism, small-town pastoralism, individualism, moderatism, social order, and national leadership... And it is these assumptions -- or prejudices -- that prevent publishers and editors from understanding, or even being open to, any new reality that might be an alternative to those assumptions."

Gans's book was published 30 years ago and the ideology of the center has undoubtedly moved rightward during those decades. And yet it operates in fundamentally the same fashion. In the past few weeks one mainstream media honcho after another has sought to draw a rough equation between the deliberately dishonest antics of Andrew Breitbart -- who has repeatedly and successfully manipulated the mainstream media with deliberate lies and doctored videos -- with the contents of purloined email conversations of 400 liberal journalists on the now defunct list-serv, "Journolist," which were also published in a deliberately doctored and deceptive fashion on the right-wing website of one-time journalist Tucker Carlson.

Examples of this tendency are not exactly hard to find. Writing with Politico editor-in-chief John Harris, Jim VandeHei pronounces the dawning of an "Age of Rage," equating Breitbart and company's perversion of the truth with the fact that some liberal journalists and academics participated in occasionally less than polite discussions about conservatives (and one another). In the careless reasoning of the Politico honchos these discussions deserved equation with Breitbart's nefarious techniques because both "featured sharp personal attacks against political opponents. Both revolved around indignant claims from people claiming to be victims of bias and the corrupt ideological agendas of their opponents -- all the while stoking and profiting from the bias and conspiratorial instincts of partisans on their own side."

VendeHei equates Breitbart's antics with The Huffington Post's reporting and opinion in another column. The result of these developments, both editors argue, is that "Responsible people in power and in the mainstream media are only beginning to grapple with this new environment -- in which facts hardly matter except as they can be used as weapon or shield in a nonstop ideological war."

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