Monday, May 17, 2010


Paul Krugman looks at recent events -- the ratification of a tea party platform by Maine's GOP and the rejection of Robert Bennett by Utah's -- and makes an excellent point:

... suddenly, the takeover of the Republican Party by right-wing extremists has become a story.... But why is this happening? And in particular, why is it happening now?

... Republican extremism was there all along -- what's changed is the willingness of the news media to acknowledge it.

... the truth is that the hard right has dominated the G.O.P. for many years. Indeed, the new Maine platform is if anything a bit milder than the Texas Republican platform of 2000, which called not just for eliminating the Federal Reserve but also for returning to the gold standard, for killing not just the Department of Education but also the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

... Or consider those talk-show hosts. Rush Limbaugh hasn't changed: his recent suggestion that environmentalist terrorists might have caused the ecological disaster in the gulf is no worse than his repeated insinuations that Hillary Clinton might have been a party to murder....

But I don't know if he's quite right in his theory about why this is finally being noticed:

So why has the reporting shifted? Maybe it was just deference to power: as long as America was widely perceived as being on the way to a permanent Republican majority, few were willing to call right-wing extremism by its proper name. Maybe it took a Democrat in the White House to give some observers the courage to say the obvious.

Perhaps, but no one in the mainstream press was particularly alarmed by Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or Regnery's book output in the Clinton years, and no one was particularly alarmed by the crazies after Democrats took Congress back in 2006.

I think the crazies were ignored until recently because, yes, the elite media did look down on them -- but instead of actually expressing contempt, media elitists just ignored them. That gave them free rein. They were able to exert a tremendous amount of influence on American politics while not being subjected to the slightest bit of scrutiny or accountability by the old-line press.

I'm not sure what changed. Maybe it wasn't just the election of Obama -- maybe it was the fact that he was elected in the midst of a really huge crisis that genuinely scared even highly paid media elitists (who, of course, were noticing that their own jobs were at risk because of the recession and because of big changes in the media business). Suddenly, politics wasn't just a pleasant little sport, which is what it seemed to be to most mainstream journalists even when (e.g., during Clinton's impeachment) it seemed like a war with real bullets to a lot of us outside the Village. Suddenly it mattered what the government did.

And the elitists may have noticed more crazy talk because it had migrated into "their" world. Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, and the nasty crowds that cheered them on weren't involved in something declasse, like a Texas governor's race or an NRA convention -- the ugliness was taking place in a presidential race, which is elite journalists' turf. The tea parties were promoted by Rick Santelli, a CNBC talking head, and then by Beltway-insider lobbyists and Fox News. This wasn't just on some AM stations in flyover country. So, suddenly, it mattered.

There still isn't enough mainstream parsing of the crazies. It's still not considered alarming that the biggest star of America's most influential news organization is peddling lunatic conspiracy theories. But, yeah, the press has at least turned the radar on and fired it up to low power. That's a start.

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