Why is it a surprise??
Kevin Drum has expressed puzzlement at why liberals on TV almost always appear overmatched by their conservative counterparts [via TDH]. I'm not sure why this is perplexing to Kevin. The reasons are blindingly obvious.
1. Lack of preparedness: Unlike conservatives who come with their message and talking points honed (with practice) and who usually stick to those talking points regardless of whether they make sense or not, liberals don't usually have consistent talking points - they just seem to show up unprepared (sometimes woefully) to debates. This may be because liberals appearing on TV (or radio), unlike conservatives, don't like the idea of being "coached" on what to say or don't have a VLWC to give them bulletized talking points (or are simply lazy), but the end result is clear. Even Democratic politicians are no exception. Sometimes, they even do a woeful job defending their own colleagues because of their being unprepared or uninformed. (Not to mention, they also display an appalling inability to work together as a team. It's more often I, I, I than We, We, We - that's a clear prescription for failure.)
2. Faux liberalism: Just because someone on TV or radio or print claims to be liberal, it doesn't make them so. The media is filled with faux liberals (examples here and here) who are more interested in trying to appear (faux) "centrist" or "balanced" than in showing a respect for facts or a real conviction in the belief system they claim to subscribe to. When you combine unpreparedness with a fervent desire to create false balance (for the sole purpose of portraying oneself as "fair and balanced") at the expense of truth/facts, as even David Brock has pointed out, such "liberals" obviously come up lacking in comparison to conservatives who are usually fearless about taking a strong "unyielding" position (even if they are liars or flip-floppers extraordinaire, in reality).
3. Wimpishness: More often than not, liberals seem to be constantly trying to be polite and courteous to their counterparts, a favor that is not often returned by their counterparts. I am all for civility but what I usually see is wimpishness. Despite losing elections again and again to the side that (overly) bares its fangs all the time, the wimpishness continues -- in order to appear "moderate". Thus, conviction and passion are sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. Tell me the last leader in public life who *really* inspired people by sounding passive, gutless or uninspiring.
4. Numbers: When you have far fewer liberals appearing on TV (or radio) than conservatives, there's far less opportunity for the best (and more lively and interesting) liberals to show up and participate. As it is, many of the people who pass of as liberals are downright woeful (performers) because of the reasons above (1-3); on top of that, if you restrict the access pool, you're not going to make it easy for the "American
Idols Liberals" to rise to the top and shine.
Unless the Left actively looks for and cultivates good numbers of informed, passionate, aggressive spokespersons, who not only have conviction in their beliefs but also don't plan to run for political office (so that they're not afraid to be straight with hosts or viewers), they will keep being represented by those who are more likely to make their audience take a nap. It's pretty simple really. Let's not wonder about this "mystery" anymore. Let's fix it.
P.S. And Kevin, I certainly do not agree with your statement that "it's not that network news honchos are unsympathetic to liberals" and that "Liberals do fine on op-ed pages." But I won't get into that today.