Way back in the Clinton Administration, I had the opportunity to socialize with Chris Mathews at a small dinner function. It was one of those charity deals where they have some important person give a little speech and chit-chat with the attendees. This was before Mathews had his mental breakdown so he was good fun, despite being a Lefty. People forget that he was not great fan of the Clintons, even though he was always a loyal party man.
This was the mid-90’s and the Drudge Report had just gone up as a website. Americans were flocking to computer stores to buy modems so they could use that AOL disk they got in the mail. I forget what we were discussing, but at some point I got the impression that Mathews simply had no idea the internet existed. I made mention of something about on-line news and Mathews had this puzzled look, then said, “Oh, you mean that internet thing.” He was unaware of the biggest technological event since the steam engine.
It is a story I like to tell as way to illustrate that people in the national media don’t live in America like the rest of us. The old joke in DC was that the big media outfits sent their foreign correspondents to cover stories in Ohio. That’s an exaggeration, but our national media does live in bubble. They can, when they feel like it, do a good job telling the rest of us about the doings in politics, but otherwise they are baffled about what happens out among the Dirt People. You see that in this Megan McArdle column.
How can the Republican Party keep another Trump candidacy from derailing its future electoral chances? Forget messing around with the primary system. If Republicans want a party that can win, says Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post, the first thing they need to do is to “drain the right-wing media swamp.”
“It is, after all, the right-wing radio, TV and Internet fever swamps that have gotten them into this mess,” she writes, “that have led to massive misinformation, disinformation and cynicism among Republican voters. And draining those fever swamps is the only way to get them out of it.”
I could point out that Rampell is remarkably ungenerous in ignoring the many serious conservative journalists who spoke out early and often against Donald Trump, including an entire “Against Trump” issue of the National Review, the elder statesman of right-wing journalism. (The National Review also printed an editorial unequivocally stating that then-President-Elect Barack Obama was a natural-born U.S. citizen.) None of this had much effect on folks like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, nor does it seem to have appreciably damaged Trump. It’s unclear how the Republican establishment critiquing Fox News and talk radio would be any more effective.
Note the pleading in there about how “serious conservative journalists” are anti-Trump. McArdle plays a libertarian on approved media sites. Libertarian in this context is the house broken type that Progressives will tolerate. These are the low-tax liberals, who are the first to answer the call when it comes time to make war on the crime-thinkers. In the current crisis, this manifests as obsequious rumpswabbery where the “libertarian” comes close to begging the loopy liberal woman for mercy.
Let me suggest a better strategy. Liberal journalists who want to drain the “fever swamps” should not be pointing the finger at Republican politicians. If they want to get people out of the swamp, they’ll have to make room in the castle.
The media is overwhelmingly liberal. It tends to mirror the left-to-center-left spectrum of the social class from which most journalists are drawn. That affects coverage, which right-wing readers pick up on.
Yes, liberal journalists, I’m saying that the media is biased, and I know you don’t see any evidence of that, because that’s how bias works: You don’t notice it when you share the bias. No, my loonier Republican readers, I am not confirming your belief that journalists deliberately slant their coverage to achieve political ends or even just to provoke you.
The not-so-subtle condescension here is what always gets me about these people. Instead of “right-wing readers” I suspect she wanted to write “slack-jawed yokels.” In case that’s not clear, she makes sure her Progressive friends all know that she thinks people like you are loony. Most of what passes for conservative or libertarian opinion in the media is really just moral signalling. In this case, McArdle wants her Progressive friends to remember she is not one of those disgusting Trump people.
Conservative media, in other words, became an ideological ghetto. And ghettos often develop pathologies. What’s remarkable is not that so much of the right-wing media is so vitriolic and prone to conspiracy-mongering; what’s remarkable is that so many of those outlets remain committed to careful reporting and debunking things like the Obama birth certificate nonsense, rather than simply pandering to their readers.
The defining feature of Official Conservatism™ and its retarded little brother, Reason Libertarianism, is a fear of being “ghettoized” which is the scare word for being left out of the Progressive party circuit. They fear that more than death. If the price of admission means mocking and ridiculing the people whose interests they claim to champion, that’s a price they are more than happy to pay.
I’m not blaming liberals for the rise of the conservative-media ghetto. “Blame” implies that someone made a decision to make this happen. The thing is, no one made any such decision. There was no secret plan.
There was certainly no liberal media conspiracy, just an iterative process controlled by no one: Being human, liberals naturally prefer the work of folks who agree with them, so those are the folks they tend to hire and promote. As they became increasingly dominant in the media, the trend became self-reinforcing. Fewer conservatives wanted to enter the castle in the first place, and few were allowed to. Now the castle residents are peering into the swamp and wondering what the heck is going on out there.
I suspect she had to fight back tears writing those two graphs.
But whoever is to blame for the problem, yelling at the residents of the swamp to behave themselves is probably not going to fix it. What would fix the problem is if the folks in the castle made a concerted effort to open the doors and persuade some of the swamp-dwellers to move inside. Not just to move inside, but to help run the place, pushing back on liberal pieties and dubious claims with the same fervor that liberals push back on conservative ones.
Call me Swamp Thing.
One of the amusing aspects of these columns is that people like McArdle are just as clueless about life outside the bubble as her moonbat friends. She positions herself as soul sister number one, down with those loony Dirty People in the swamp, but she would break out in hives reading the sorts of things that are coming from the Dissident Right. The fundamentals of what is driving the rebellion against the elites is well outside the field of vision for people like McArdle. She does not know what she does not know.