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the press and the right

The most devastating takedowns of last night’s Republican presidential debate—”the Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC; it’s called the mainstream media” (Marco Rubio); “the questions that have been asked so far at this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media” (Ted Cruz)—were directed not at candidates, but at the people covering them.

There are, in fact, legitimate reasons why this line of attack plays so well with Republican voters. The legacy press tends to give the liberal establishment a pass while scrutinizing Republicans much more closely. Consider, for example, how the media might have covered the Libya debacle if it was undertaken by a hawkish Republican, or how increasing poverty among African Americans would be spun under President Romney, or how campaign finance coverage might be different if the press scrutinized Hillary Clinton’s megadonors the same way it scrutinizes the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

Many conservatives charge that reporters have a conscious left-wing bias, but the reality is probably more subtle. After all, left-wing Bernie Sanders fans, and the outlets that cater to them, like the Nation, have a legitimate claim that the “corporate media” ignores many of their interests as well. In our view, part of the rationale for the press’ apparent bias against the Republican Party over the past few decades has to do with the demise of the blue social model and the way this has affected the media’s institutional interests. As Walter Russell Mead wrote in 2012:

Back in the glory days of the blue social model, the journalistic establishment was stable and stratified. The three television networks of the day (ABC, NBC and CBS for you younger readers) held a virtual monopoly on national television news. The Time-Newsweek duopoly included the only two genuinely national sources of weekly news in print. There were, in those days, no national newspapers. Each great metropolitan area was served by what was usually a slowly decreasing number of newspapers, three local network affiliate television stations and, if you were lucky, a public station (no cable or internet, kids, so you could only get the TV stations within range) and a somewhat larger number of AM and FM radio stations. […]

The press was a part and a very important part of the leadership of blue era America. The elite national press at that time was deeply grounded in the assumptions and ideas that shaped the progressive society of the Fordist era and played a significant role in shaping the dominant political ideas of the time.

Journalism is one of the elements of our society that has been most profoundly affected by the decay of the blue social model and the rise of the information age. Old worries about news monopolies in local markets seem almost quaint when so much information from so many sources is so easy to get and when online startups (including blogs) are so easy and cheap. The erosion in the power of the great media companies of the past and the efforts of the great media enterprises to rethink their franchises for the new era have transformed the industry almost beyond recognition.

The national elite press does not, on the whole, welcome the decline of blue model America and, like academics and others whose interests, self-image and power in the world are adversely affected by the reshaping of American society, it naturally and almost inevitably interprets many of the changes taking place through the conceptual model of the Grim Slide from the time of Ronald Reagan to the present day. The changes in American society look like the systemic erosion of the social achievements and protections of the progressive era, and the economic misfortunes, falling wages and declining job security of many old media journalists reinforce their dark forebodings about what the transformations mean.

In other words, it may be that the establishment press pines for the blue consensus around high regulation, high taxes, and a stable corporate-government alliance, and is fearful and skeptical of the market-oriented economic changes that have unseated it from its midcentury role as the supreme authority in American political and cultural debates. The press’s instincts are still to try to triangulate and report from the “center,” but the center it settles on tends to be that of the liberal establishmentarians—the ideological successors to blue-era elites.

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  • ddh

    “The press’s instincts are still to try to triangulate and report from the “center,” but the center it settles on tends to be that of the liberal establishmentarians—the ideological successors to blue-era elites.”

    How is this response different from a post-World War II Micronesian cargo cult?

  • CosmotKat

    This opinion doesn’t wash with the facts. The facts are that Progressivism is deeply embedded in the media and the passions that drive Progressivism is self-righteousness and hate. Hate for any idea that does not align with their POV or what ideas and ideology they deem is fashionable and therefore legitimate. This is increasingly indisputable as we saw last night and during the debates on CNN.

  • Matt_Thullen

    While I agree that most journalists lean quite left and regard themselves as squarely in the political center, that comes from the bubble they inhabit. In their world, they interact with lots and lots of people who are far, far more liberal than they are (e.g., Bernie Sanders voters, social justice warriors and campus radicals). They also have limited contact with conservatives, so their world consists of a vague bunch of what they believe are dangerous crazy people on the right and well-meaning misguided people on the left. Hence, they are in the center–of their own world.

    The media’s biases aren’t so much ideological as they are partisan. Their reluctance to highlight Democratic misrule (great examples are cited in the post) and their ignoring Bernie Sanders stems from the desire to avoid harming Democratic electoral success. Note that the national media is eager to highlight every stupid comment made by a minor state-level Republican official, while, at the same time, burying equally idiotic comments from Democratic politicians, both national and local. If journalists were simply pining for the days of the blue state model and their role in it, they wouldn’t be so uneven in what they choose to cover, nor would their tone towards Republicans and conservatives be as sneering as what we saw last night on CNBC. Occam’s Razor applies perfectly here, as the media’s behavior is more consistent with a desire for Democratic electoral victories than it is for any desire of structural governance. They just want Democrats to rule.

    • Corlyss

      How do you define the difference between partisan and ideological? The parties represent ideologies; ideologies manifest thru the parties. The press has a history of committed socialist/communist support, to the point of “acceptable lying” on behalf of what they viewed as the “good points” of the tyrannies justifying themselves with the language of socialism/communism. There simply never seemed to be enough dead bodies to offset the well-publicized “good intentions” of the tyrannies. Make no mistake. They are doing the same with the Democrats/Liberals/Progressives. There are even bodies involved; just look at the death toll in Chicago and LA. The press would have you believe they are victims of gun violence, while ignoring the failures of the blue model to accomplish anything more than a death toll for the trillions of dollars wasted in the anti-poverty programs.

      • Dale Fayda

        Nice to see you back, Corlyss.

  • Jim__L

    Interesting situation we have here — we have a Conservative party (in some ways even reactionary), a Leftist party which is not so much a party of the future as a party dedicated to either the protection of an old model, or the expansion of the old model along lines that have not been re-evaluated for decades if not generations… and then you have the “fourth estate” pursuing an effectively conservative agenda as well.

    How can any of them see what the future will really be like, much less chart it out? What will the goals be, what are the resources that will be available to achieve these goals? What will the power bases be, what are their interests, would those interests serve the interests of the majority of the United States, specifically the traditional goal of a strong, growing, and flourishing Middle Class? Is that now an uphill battle (or forlorn hope), after centuries of seeming inevitability?

    I’ve had some experience with the new Silicon Valley outlook by now. (Had my fill, really.) I’m completely unconvinced that it could provide a system of broad-based economic benefit for Middle America. Disruptive economics sends wealth flowing into too few hands, family formation is not only disincentivized but actively disparaged, and generally the economy serves only its own interests rather than the interests of the population at large.

    I’d really like to go a-wandering through Middle America, maybe the South, then along the Eastern Seaboard, to sample the outlooks there.

    Something new is going to emerge, because what is being pushed as “new” by the Leftist party is neither useful nor even new. I don’t think the conventional wisdom — the abysmal “gig” economy, the demographically-imploding Swedish-style welfare state — are going to provide for human flourishing. While conservative ideas and virtues have worked in the past, and still work today for as many people as bother to follow them (though with diminishing returns), it’s difficult to say whether 60’s anomie has done so much damage to the social incentives that once underpinned the system that we can move easily back to that system.

    While another system may arrive without anyone really knowing what it would be — in fact, this is really the default case — it would be nice to think that people could figure out what the resources actually are, and what the obstacles would be, then use that knowledge to achieve the sort of broad-based prosperity and broad-based equality of social status that we’ve traditionally seen in America — and, yes, spread that abroad and defend it at home.

    Lots to think about, lots to learn still.

    • Ellen

      Thanks for your great post. Your description of the left is right on the bull’s eye. They are promoting a 1960’s social welfare model and sex/drugs/rock n’ roll culture without bothering to analyze the wreckage that resulted from precisely those 2 things being the mainstream culture now for 50 years. Not reevaluating old models (nice phrase) is what the Communist Party of the Soviet Union did, as you may recall, right up until the point in 1985 when Mr. Gorbachev declared that this model was on the verge of a systemic crisis.

      Sadly, I think we are headed for our own systemic crisis in the US. The difference is that parts of the US population, as you imply, still live by the old virtues and will survive this crisis because of the fact that the government here does not control our lives to the extent that the CPSU controlled the lives of its citizens. Nonetheless, the people who now live off of liberal largesse will find themselves becoming more and more like Syrian refugees. Scrounging around for someone else to live off of, once the established order implodes.

      Sorry to be so pessimistic. Have a nice day, and thank you for sharing.

  • Nevis07

    I didn’t watch the debate last night, but I read about this MSM issue that showed up last night. As I read the comment sections below (in those MSM sources such as the NYT, The Guardian,CNN, NPR, etc.), I noticed there were quite a few people who were obvious progressives who were just giddy that anger from the GOP candidates. They thought it was funny. They knew it was true and many of them didn’t even try to deny it; it seemed to me that they simply felt that progressives were morally and intellectually superior. The majority of the MSM journalists might be oblivious to their own bias, but from what I can tell, the majority of progressives are quite aware and are happy to pretend to not know otherwise.

  • Andrew Allison

    The MSM does not report, it opinionates. This was, according to the reports of last night’s debacle, on full display last evening, the moderators displaying no interest in the topic of the debate.

  • Boritz

    “The press’s instincts are still to try to triangulate and report from the “center,” but the center it settles on tends to be that of the liberal establishmentarians”

    This credits them with having a warped sense of reality. In fact they are supremely dishonest.

  • wigwag

    Who could blame the candidates for ripping the mainstream media last night? After all, the only people dumber in Denver than the morons answering the media’s questions were the people asking the questions. The moderators for all three Republican debates from Fox, CNN and CNBC have been beyond horrible. It’s hard to assign blame for the fact that we can’t have a reasonable political debate in this country; is it more about media stupidity or candidate stupidity? Seems like a close race to me.

    There’s certainly no question that Via Meadia is right; the mainstream media hates Republicans and conservatives; it never gives them a fair shake. But what Via Meadia gets wrong is the suggestion that what GOP candidates and GOP voters hate about the media is the fact that its relentlessly liberal; it actually goes deeper than that.

    Fox News isn’t relentlessly liberal; far from it. What was the single best thing Donald Trump ever did for his surging campaign? Trump’s shrewdest move yet was attacking the Empress of Fox News, Megyn Kelly, in the raunchiest, nastiest way imaginable. First he criticized her for being premenstrual, then he criticized her for menstruating and finally he made clear that he didn’t think much of the post menstrual Kelly either. Accuse Megyn Kelly of being whatever you think she is, but no one with a brain thinks she’s a raving liberal. Yet the more Trump attacked her, the more his popularity escalated. Having won that round decisively, Trump decided he had nothing to lose and everything to gain, by taking on the rightwing’s favorite news outlet. Trump skewered Fox News with reckless abandon; his defeat of the go to network for the right wing set was so devastating that conservative icon, Roger Ailes, had to crawl back to Trump in the most humiliating fashion and beg for a truce. If its only the liberal media that they hate, how does Via Meadia explain that given the chance to side with their network of choice or a man who is obviously a faux-conservative at best, the Republican base overwhelmingly chose Donald Trump?

    Sensing that Trump was on to something; Ben Carson decided to try the same trick himself. Remember, it was only a few weeks ago that Carson made clear that he would never support a Muslim candidate for President; the entire news media was shocked, just shocked at Carson’s announcement. It wasn’t just MSNBC commentators who were appalled, it was the likes of Charles Krauthammer and Chris Wallace who found Carson’s view beyond the pale. They said so and they said so often. How did the Fox News audience respond? The surge in Ben Carson’s poll numbers tell the story.

    Now there may be some who are deluded enough to believe that Fox News really isn’t a conservative network but just a pale imitation of its more liberal stations around the dial. But this plainly isn’t true; Fox is no weak sister to MSNBC, its the flagship of the conservative movement. Yet given the chance to side with Fox News or Trump, huge swaths of the conservative movement decided that they preferred a man who supported partial birth abortion as recently as three years ago, to the network they’ve sworn allegiance to for more than a decade. If anything proves that Via Meadia’s assertion that its the liberal media that conservatives hate is wrong, its Trump’s incredibly successful Fox News bashing.

    As usual, Via Meadia has perfected the art of finding the sour-spot of the story; it presents a half accurate version of events, but being half accurate isn’t good enough if its a realistic picture that you’re attempting to paint. The reality is that the civil war being fought throughout the Republican Party is remarkable to behold. Yes, House Republicans are at each other’s throats and yes there are more GOP Presidential candidates saying more terrible things about each other than ever before, and yes the GOP is working overtime trying to hand Hillary Clinton the presidency by committing repeated acts of political malpractice such as the recent hearings featuring the former Secretary of State, but the internecine warfare goes well beyond Washington, D.C.; it extends to the right wing press. Fox News desperately wants to rehabilitate the traditional conservatives; Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Christie. Anyone other than the Donald who recently handed the network’s head to it and embarrassed it before its traditional audience. Breitbart and its brethren hate the traditional conservative politicians and love the insurgents. The actual views of the insurgent don’t seem to matter that much; there just seems to be something about insurgency that this branch of the Republican Party is drawn to like a fish to water. Talk radio is all over the place; Rush Limbaugh just can’t break his infatuation with Trump; he knows Trump is bad for him and the political party he loves, but he’s as drawn to Trump as he is to oxycontin.

    Via Meadia gets it all wrong; its always harping about a blue civil war. There is no blue civil war. Don’t get me wrong; I wish there was one. Democrats are desperately in need of a civl war between those who prioritize economic issues and those who prioritize social issues. Nothing would be better for Democrats, liberals and the rest of the nation than for these two factions of the Democratic Party to go after each other. Gentry liberals are slowing ruining the Democratic Party and they are slowly ruining America. When the two biggest items on your political agenda are the right of the transgendered to use the restroom of their choice and the right of college students to be protected from speech that might offend their delicate dispositions, its pretty clear that something is terribly wrong. Unfortunately the Democrats are not having the civil war that they need while the Republican are going at it like banshees.

    When it comes to the next Presidential election, the Republicans don’t seem to know what a perilous position they’re in. They’re repeating the remarkably dumb mistake of Mitt Romney who was convinced that he was in for a landslide win the night before the last presidential election. The Republicans are in huge trouble. It doesn’t matter who the Republicans nominate; of the five largest treasure trove for electoral votes, California and New York are going for the Dems and Texas is going for the GOP. Pennsylvania never goes Republican in presidential years anymore so the GOP can kiss that state goodbye. It is increasingly hard to see how any of the Republicans can beat Hillary Clinton in Florida; native sons Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are increasingly unpopular in their own home state; Clinton would macerate them like sugar cubes in a champagne cocktail. Could Kasich in the Vice Presidential spot help the GOP carry Ohio? Maybe, but even this looks increasingly doubtful. My guess is that Kasich won’t even accept the vice presidential nomination. If you want to add Virginia to the mix; the chances that the GOP’s presidential candidate will carry Virginia are slim and none.

    I suspect that the only GOP candidate who has any chance of beating Hillary Clinton is Donald Trump. Look at it the Donald’s way; he’s already defeated Fox News, why couldn’t he defeat Hillary Clinton?

  • FriendlyGoat

    1) The thing is, CNBC, as the business channel, is not “liberal” and Comcast, the owner of CNBC is even less so. As for political commentary on so-called MSM, there is no more-effective stealth right-wing bias than Chuck Todd on NBC. Meanwhile, everyone knows that MSNBC exists as a business strategy only for the purpose of capturing the niche market of people wanting to hear liberalism instead of the alternative niche market of constant conservatism over on Fox News.

    2) I’m glad WRM, above, describes those as “lucky” who received a public TV station in times past. That is still the case for those who have the courage to turn off most of the rest of the noise and actually watch PBS. There are no substitutes for the PBS News Hour, Charlie Rose, Frontline, and The American Experience.

    3) Donald Trump’s views, taken together, do not need anyone to call them a “comic book”. They are much more ridiculous when just restated respectfully with a request to Mr. Trump to reiterate them. Harwood blew it badly—-trying to be cute, when cute is unnecessary..

    4) Getting rid of fantasy football for money really is an important issue, even if not THE most important issue. Christie sold the GOP audience a crap line—-and, being a typical GOP audience, they bought it.

  • Eurydice

    I think the main problem is that journalism has gone from reporting facts to expressing opinions. And when one expresses opinions, there will always be bias. The moderators of the debate may have thought they were asking questions about the issues, but what they were actually doing was making a statement, forming a conclusion about that statement, stating an opinion about that conclusion, and then asking the candidate to rebut that opinion. So, it went “You said this and such, which means this and that, so how does that not make you a cartoon villain?” A much more entertaining question, but nothing to do with news.

  • Pait

    Democrats have yet another super PAC, so to speak: science. Some 90% of scientists strongly disagree with the vast majority of Republican policy proposals, because they are in conflict with professional scientific judgement.

    That’s a fact. And facts have a well-known liberal bias.

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