In election year, opposites distract

HOLLYWOOD — Those nattering nabobs of negativism have come out of the woodwork again, and this time the focus of their invective is the Bush administration in general and the Fox News Channel in particular.

Thirty years ago, Spiro Agnew used the expression to dismiss all those media types who lambasted the Nixon regime and its policies. And that meant just about all reporters and all news outlets.

OK, perhaps there was a certain sameness of tone and tenor to the established media back then, but at least the discourse was civilized, sometimes even enlightening.

We learned a lot from Watergate, and a presidency collapsed because of it.

Flash forward 30 years: The media landscape is seemingly more varied, though perhaps it’s only more polarized — just like the country is, on just about every imaginable issue.

The difference is that the discourse has gotten shriller and more disputatious, not more enlightening. Reporting may actually have gotten softer, as even the lofty New York Times has beaten its breast over its own too-unquestioning support of the war in Iraq. Objectivity now seems a quaint ideal: Newsies are simply assumed to be embedded and agenda-driven.

Another difference is that the media landscape is now dominated by fewer owners, and while that may not have (as yet) undermined creativity on the entertainment side, it may be squelching voices on the news side.

The number of ways in which pundits with a microphone manage to say “shut up” to those they interview, but don’t agree with, is proliferating faster than ever.

And because we’re headed toward a closely contested presidential election, we can expect things to get even more contentious.

Not that the feistiness of Fox News or other hard-pumping outlets is un-American, or uninteresting to watch: It’s just fun, and healthy, to see them get a bit of their own caustic medicine. And are they prickly.

In any case, the liberal elite has finally come out fighting, fielding a new documentary called “Outfoxed” that suggests Rupert Murdoch’s news net bends the facts to suit its right-wing agenda and to favor the Republican cause. Who knew?

And the advocacy groups Moveon.org and Common Cause are suing Fox News over its use of the slogan “fair and balanced.”

I applaud the pluckiness of all this, though I can’t imagine what legal ground the suit can stand on. Nor can I see any sign of Fox News’ popularity diminishing.

I only hope the left can keep the high ground — explaining why the country would be a better place with regime change than with another four years of the Bushies.

How much Hollywood will help — or hinder — that effort remains to be seen.

A hatred for Hollywood is the one thing that unites radical Islamists abroad and evangelical Christians here at home. But a distaste of Tinseltown also extends deep into the American heartland — and that’s where all those supposed swing voters hang out. Still, however ambivalent the Kerry-Edwards team may be about its Hollywood support, celebs and execs are coming forth to put their mouths where their money is.

Whoopi Goldberg got down and dirty dishing the Bushies a couple of weeks ago in New York and was raked over the coals for her off-color comments by right-wing radio pundits; Linda Ronstadt last week praised docmeister Michael Moore for “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but was roundly booed by her Las Vegas audience and summarily escorted from the hotel.

Meanwhile, Paramount toppers have consciously timed the release of their remake of “The Manchurian Candidate”to hit screens on the eve of the Democratic Convention. They’re hoping the pic about brainwashing will strike a chord with politically primed adult audiences.

Still, all agendas aside, and with a nod to the negativism ascribed by Agnew: Whoever can reject rancor and refuse to rise to the bait — both on the stump and behind the anchor desk — is likely to come out ahead in the long run.

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