Rightwing Media's Distant Relationship with Truth

Birther protest signs
If you take a swing through the rightwing news media, one thing jumps out at you immediately -- what you find there is virtually indistinguishable from what you find on talk radio. It's a collection of scandal pimps, outrage manufacturers, spinmeisters, and out-and-out propagandists. What you won't find is a lot of factual reporting.

And this leaves conservative news consumers open to a lot of big surprises. Conor Friedersdorf uses the Hagel confirmation to illustrate the problem.

[The Atlantic:]

...Americans who get their news from anti-Hagel conservatives discovered Tuesday that much of the analysis they've long been fed on this subject left them as misinformed about the likely course of events as they were about Mitt Romney's prospects for victory during Election 2012. Of course, a single nomination battle isn't nearly so consequential as a presidential election. This is nevertheless another reminder for the rank-and-file on the right: Demand better from the journalists whose work you patronize, or remain at an information disadvantage relative to consumers of a "mainstream media" that is regularly outperforming conservative journalists.

Rightwing punditry and blogs lost it when Hagel was confirmed and twitter lit up with condemnations of Sen. Rand Paul, who cast a surprise vote for Hagel. But Hagel didn't win by one vote. He cruised to easy confirmation with eight votes to spare. The small, hundred vote electorate that is the Senate makes the math very easy -- Hagel was confirmed in an 58% landslide. Instead of blaming the media sources that had steered them so wrong, conservative news consumers blamed Paul.

Friedersdorf singles out rightwing Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin for criticism, but she's really just one example out of many. Anyone reading Rubin's posts would assume that Hagel would not only be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans alike, but was practically facing execution for the crime of being the Worst Nominee Ever. He offers a very thorough list of examples and I recommend it highly, if only for the chance to see the world as conservatives see it and marvel at just how wrong it all is. Rubin has always been a laughably bad pundit, but to see it all right out there makes you wonder how she keeps the WaPo gig. This isn't analysis, this is a fantasy porn of wishful thinking presented as granite-solid fact; a version of Fifty Shades of Grey, where the truth is the one that gets the spankings.

But if you want another example of a wingnut pundit steering the faithful wrong, head over to Politico, for an op-ed by Keith Koffler titled, "Republicans need to go negative." Right away you spot three problems with the argument:

  1. The word he's looking for is "negativer."
  2. Negativer is not a word.
  3. It's impossible, in any case.
Basically, he argues that President Obama has been on an attack campaign as soon as he got into office, that Mitt Romney failed because he wasn't a "true conservative," and that if people just hear conservative principles articulated plainly, they'll flock to the GOP in droves. The problem with that last is, of course, that conservative principles have been articulated plainly -- and it's driven everyone but white Christian males screaming away from the GOP.

But people read these things and they wag their heads up and down, despite all recent evidence that shows it's all happy horsecrap. Not because it's believable, but because they want to believe it -- whether or not it's true. And here's where Friedersdorf goes wrong. Well, half-wrong. He argues that conservative news consumers should rise up and demand some real goddam factual reporting for a change -- and they should.

But the underlying assumption is that they're the victims in this whole thing. They aren't. There's a lot of supply and demand going on here, with the bloggers, radio hosts, and TV networks with reports most favorable to Republicans and least favorable to Democrats being in the greatest demand. The conservative media serves the consumer who wants to be lied to. And if this leads to heartbreak down the road, you cares? They asked for it.

Want to get boatloads of web traffic? Report that all the polls are wrong and that Romney's a shoe-in, report than Chuck Hagel's about to be horsewhipped in the Senate, report that Barack Obama is totally going to take all the blame if the sequester is triggered. The conservative audience doesn't want the facts, they want spin. That's why they keep "falling for" these ridiculous ideas. A poll taken in October found that 71% of Republican voters believed all the polls were wrong and that Romney was going to win. 71%. They can't possibly all be that gullible. They believed what they wanted to believe -- just as they do with everything else, from economics to science to history. That's why tax-borrow-and-spend Reagan is their symbol of cutting taxes, cutting spending, and reducing the deficit. It doesn't make any difference what's real. All that matters is what they want to be real -- and they'll reward any charlatan who comforts them and tells them what they want to hear.

How do you fix this? I don't think you can. At this point, it's a death spiral -- conservative media can't start truthtelling or they'll go broke, because media consumers will just move on to another comforting liar. Brietbart.com can steer them wrong again and again, with hoax after hoax, and they'll keep coming back for more. Don't get me wrong, conservative news consumers are, by and large, chumps. But it's not because they're especially dumb, it's because they want to be chumps.

Like die-hard Soviets, they think that believing all the propaganda with all your little heart is the definition of patriotism.


[photo via Fibonacci Blue]

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