Thursday, July 30, 2015


At Vox, David Roberts writes about a just-published report on the extremism of right-wing media and the political harm it does. The message of the report -- which was written by Jackie Calmes of The New York Times and grew out of her recent fellowship at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government -- is summed up in its title: "'They Don’t Give a Damn About Governing': Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party."

Calmes, Roberts tells us, discusses the report in a podcast, in which she admits that she didn't know much about the right-wing media before beginning her research:
The first thing she says is that before launching her research project, she wasn't really aware of right-wing media beyond Limbaugh and National Review and was surprised at the size and radicalism of the right-wing media/activist network.
Well, Roberts says, at least she gets it now. And then he says that it's getting harder and harder for journalists and others to remain ignorant of right-wing extremism:
One of the longstanding critiques of mainstream media on the left, from the very beginning of the blogosphere, was that reporters in the Beltway "Village" failed to grasp modern conservatism and wrote about it in such a way as to sand down and mute its extremity. Their attachment to a certain mental model of politics -- "both sides" with their mirror-image extremes and centers -- made them blind to "asymmetrical polarization." In fact, people are still making that critique; here's Paul Krugman from just a few days ago.

... there are still plenty of mainstream political reporters who cling to the both-sides illusion to this day, imagining politics as a sober business conducted by Very Serious People in suits, premised on a shared set of facts and assumptions. But as the far right sends the Republican Party through an ever-more-absurd series of showdowns and tantrums, the illusion is fading. Now lots of established journalists seem to have moved on to the bargaining stage of grief, holding out hope that the Adults will once again take charge.
But is that really what the typical mainstream journalist believes -- that, yes, the right is crazy now, but cooler heads ought to prevail any minute now?

I think it's worse than that. I think every flare-up of extremism that's the Village can't simply ignore is treated as an isolated incident, the work of an unrepresentative "lone nut" or collection of lone nuts. It certainly never reflects the nature of the party as a whole! The demonization of Sandra Fluke? That was just that awful Rush Limbaugh! "Legitimate rape"? Todd Akin, speaking solely for himself, and not in any way expressing a widely shared belief on the right! The government shutdown in 2013? Blame Ted Cruz, and only Ted Cruz (or maybe a tiny band of Tea Party legislators who are very, very different from the vast majority of Republicans)! The Trump phenomenon? It's just Trump! As soon as he fades, Republican voters will be delightedly embracing their true heroes, folks like Jeb Bush and John Kasich!

The Villagers never think "the Adults will once again take charge" because they never truly believe that the crazies are in charge. Every extremist flare-up is a fluke. And that's what they're going to believe when the Trump phenomenon ends, even though the crazies will be clamoring for Jeb (or Scott or whoever) to be as extreme as Trump. That thirst for the crazy is unslakable -- but to the Village, most of the time, it's invisible.


Unknown said...

There is also simply the fact that the media don't care about policy. So the fact that Trump is for the same immigration policy as the rest of the Republican field doesn't matter. (Actually, he may be much more reasonable.) The outrage over Todd Akin wasn't about what he believed -- that was fairly standard in the Republican Party. It was about the words he used to discuss it. A common thing we hear now on the left is that the difference between the Tea Party and the Republican Party establishment is media training. That's true. But it wouldn't fly if the media cared about substance rather than just decorum.

petrilli said...

Steve, if there were a learning curve for them, what would it bend toward?

• Would it approach, "Both sides don't it, only one side is really doing it."?

• Or would maybe they aim at the Jay Rosen Press Think rubic of "Savvy," "Sphere of Deviance," etc?

• Or worst of all, is there no curve possible for them at all ever, like the Seinfeld Show lens of, "No Hugging, No Learning?"

Unknown said...

You really have to imagine it was the same dynamic when fascist regimes took power in the 1920s and 1930s. Nothing like that had ever been seen before-- strong arm tactics, brown/blackshirts, parliamentary maneuvers, etc. The "professionals" had no idea it was as serious or catastrophic.