CHICAGO — One of the biggest political battles this summer isn't over the message. It's over the messenger.
From a convention of liberal bloggers here to talk-radio studios to the halls of Congress, people are arguing over who should control the way Americans get information about politics.
Among the flash points: Should the government stop conservative Rupert Murdoch from buying The Wall Street Journal, should the government require that liberals get radio shows to counter the influence of conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and what role should new media such as bloggers and YouTube play in politics?
All this comes as the traditional media landscape is shifting with earthquake force. Newspapers are watching readers shift to the Web. The big TV networks are losing viewers to cable. And among the best-informed viewers are those who tune in regularly to "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central.
First, the Journal.
Several Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail charge that conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch's purchase of The Wall Street Journal threatens democracy.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., fears that the conservative Murdoch will order pro-conservative reporting in the news pages of a newspaper that already has a very conservative editorial page. He wants the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department to investigate whether the purchase violates antitrust laws. He didn't mention investigating any liberal bias in any other news organizations.
"We have to stand up to him (Murdoch). It's time to put a stop to this," said former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who helped lead a Democratic boycott of a debate sponsored by Fox News. Murdoch owns Fox News.
Edwards also demands that his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, give back $20,000 in campaign contributions from executives of Murdoch's News Corp. ``John Edwards will never ask Rupert Murdoch for money," an e-mail from Edwards said. "He won't accept his money."
Edwards had no such complaints about Murdoch's media empire last year when he accepted a $500,000 book advance and a $300,000 check for expenses from a Murdoch publisher. (Edwards' campaign says he donated all the money to charities.)
Then there are the radio airwaves.
Several Democrats in Congress want to restore the Fairness Doctrine, which once ordered radio and television to give equal time to opposing political views. The doctrine was adopted in 1929, when there were few media outlets, and rescinded in 1987, when the government determined there was ``a multiplicity of voices in the marketplace.''
Since then, conservatives such as Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have built huge audiences and dominated talk radio. Some liberals mount talk shows, but none challenges the conservatives' market dominance.
After several Democrats said they'd pursue a new Fairness Doctrine, Republicans worked for a pre-emptive way to block it. The House of Representatives voted 309-115 in June to block the FCC from reinstating the doctrine_ with 113 Democrats joining 196 Republicans in the majority — but at least one House Democrat still plans to push legislation, and the question remains open in the Senate.
Finally, there's all the new media.
Democratic presidential candidates courted liberal bloggers this week at a gathering in Chicago founded by the Web site dailykos.com. The Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly charged that they were legitimizing a "hate" Web site that once included a very crude, manipulated photo of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, whom liberals loathe for his support of the Iraq war.
On the other side, several Republican presidential candidates are signaling that they won't subject themselves to a debate next month in which people pose questions via YouTube videos. The Democrats did it last month.
The two examples illustrate that in the world of new media, there are multiple outlets where political content can be found, and as those outlets become identifiably liberal or conservative, politicians and voters can pick friendly forums while damning the other side's outlets as illegitimate. Whether this is healthy for our nation's political life is a question worth pondering.