What Conservatives Might See in Provocateurs

In yesterday’s posting, I essentially asked in a roundabout way whether more traditional conservatives would be more comfortable with others using more aggressive or flamboyant tactics if they were tethered not to Pres. Trump, but to someone like Newt Gingrich.

The former Speaker was labeled a “bomb-thrower” as he ascended to power.  But his politics, if not always doctrinaire conservatism, tended to fall enough within the ballpark of Reaganism that the establishment Right did not see him as the sort of threat they (we?) suspect Trump represents.

I added that some conservatives would still object to “bomb-throwing,” even if Trumpers were not in the dominant position of the GOP at the moment, and even if such tactics served a traditionally conservatarian vision, strategies, and projects.  I also wrote that I’d try to flesh out these ideas further, based on what I think the source of the remaining objections are.

Some of the objection to flamboyant political tactics may be aesthetic.  Conservatives, like everyone else, have grown up in a world where the Left (esp. the original New Left) has had a near-monopoly on provocative activism.  Who wants to act like those dirty hippies and commies, anyway?

Fair enough, although I wonder how much of the aesthetic objection is simply cultural habit at this point.  It may be that some Millennials have less of a problem with provocateurs not only because they are young, but also because they have not been programmed to associate it solely with the Left.

However, I suspect the larger objection is baked into conservatism itself.

What do conservatives do?  Well, many are into conserving things.  Especially those Burkean-types.  You know who you are.

In particular, conservatives are into the preservation of what they see as the virtues of various systems and institutions.  We tend to invoke G.K. Chesterton’s example of the fence:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.‘ “

Thus when we see someone on the Breitbart-inspired Right talking about #WAR, we reflexively recoil.  After all, politics is supposed to be the system that allows us to work out our political differences without war.  Talk of war is an admission of failure.

But what if we, as conservatives have failed — and not just failed, but failed on a massive scale?  What if we helped win the Cold War, but lost a hundred or a thousand other battles?  What if conservatives have been losing the political battle on the fiscal, social and cultural fronts for decades, perhaps a century?

This is certainly the pessimistic outlook that fuels nostalgia-soaked Trump supporters.  Taken to an extreme, such people become Neo-Reactionaries, who ostensibly see nothing left to preserve.  Virtually all of them are lying, either to themselves or to us, but that doesn’t mean the current political environment may nourish them.

What I am suggesting here, however, is that if conservatives are truly committed to saving institutions and systems — or what we see as the salutary aspects of them — we need to be honest about our historical record on this score, which is not terrific.  All too often, we have nobly shoveled against a flood and slowed it marginally.

Accordingly, if a Trump fan or a Young Alinsky is looking to target an institution like the University of California at Berkeley for some form of (non-violent) right-wing activism, the more stolid among us ought to take a moment for reflection.

As Chesterton suggested, we should consider and understand what a university is supposed to do.  We should ask ourselves — and everyone else: Is Berkeley doing any of those things in a satisfactory manner?  We should ask:  What does Berkeley actually do, and how much of it is it worth conserving?

I think I know how most conservatarians — and even some center-left types — would answer those questions.  If the answers are what I expect, then perhaps we should be thinking of issues like academic tenure differently than our knee-jerk conservative reflex might dictate.  Indeed, we might go well beyond tenure, and beyond the Berkeley campus.

In short, I am suggesting that — particularly in the current political climate  — conservatarians may have to consider the usefulness of more provocative activism, not only to defend and conserve those aspects of institutions and systems we revere, but also to expose where the budding totalitarians of the New New Left have already crashed Chesterton’s gates and (in some cases) burned them to the ground.

After all, if serious people leave political provocation to the shallow, the shallow and ultimately counter-productive will fill that vacuum.

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Vision, Strategies, Projects and Tactics, in the Trump and Post-Trump Era

In my additional notes about “Young Alinskys,” I wrote:

“Though I have not been a big fan of the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality,  the extended version of ‘Young Alinskys’ works a little harder at trying to understand the #WAR perspective as more than the ends justifying the means, and perhaps even challenge my priors in the process.  Just as Monday’s post was the foundation of this Federalist version, the new conclusion may serve as the springboard for my further thoughts here.”

In response, I have received feedback — indeed, some pushback — on the notion that more traditional conservatarians can learn anything from Trumpian tactics or the Breitbartian #WAR mentality.  In particular, I have more than once had people respond that to adopt Trumpian tactics is to become Trumpian in general, sooner or later.

I am not sure I entirely buy this anymore, though I did until quite recently.  In one of my first postings here, I wrote about Trump’s politics exhibiting a postmodernism more common on the Left.  I noted the difference, however, between pure postmodernism and its insertion into politics:

[P]olitical postmodernism isn’t really nihilistic.  Rather, it hypocritically pretends that truth and morality are relative, while seeking to impose a particular set of values by increasingly fanatical methods.”

I cannot imagine ever being for fanatical political methods, such as are being increasingly practiced by the New New Left and increasingly tolerated (or not denounced) by the Left in general.  But to the extent that Trumpian tactics stop short of fanatacism, the case that they should not be immediately dismissed by conservatarians might be found in the thinking of Newt Gingrich.

In the mid-Nineties, when Gingrich was ascendant, one of his many, many theories about political activities (or human activities generally; Newt’s thinking was never not grandiose) was to conceptualize them in terms of a vision, strategies, projects and tactics:

“The top of it was vision, and after you understood your vision of what you’re doing you designed strategies, and once you have your vision and strategies clear you designed projects which were the building blocks of your strategies, and inside the context of those projects you delegated dramatically an entrepreneurial model in which a project was a definable, delegatable achievement. … At the bottom of the model is tactics, what you do every day.”

This model is, as Gingrich noted, derived from military planning models.  When Gingrich succeeded — ascending in party leadership, attacking Democratic leadership, building a farm team of GOP candidates, creating and executing on the Contract with America — it was largely through the application of this model.  When he failed, it was usually at the level of projects or tactics (though such can be large failures) or due to his own failures of character.

We need not be as rigidly theoretical here.  But insofar as Trump skeptics and outright anti-Trumpers on the Right are concerned with Pres. Trump’s character flaws, the fact that this planning model was embraced and applied by the flawed Gingrich merely reinforces the point that the model exists apart from the character of those who employ it.

Moreover, the model reminds us that one of the other primary problems Trump skeptics and outright anti-Trump conservatives have is that Trump is not particularly conservative.  He is not seen as sharing our vision, except in a purely transactional sense.

Trump is seen by many as having little vision outside himself, though his national security team may be developing a foreign policy vision for him.  People like Stephen Bannon or the writers at American Affairs are trying to build an ideological infrastructure around a man who sees no need for one.

What the model therefore suggests is that the problem with Trumpian tactics is that they are in service of a politician, not a vision.

Indeed, I can argue that Speaker Paul Ryan operates from a broadly conservative vision and that the initial failure of the healthcare bill was: (1) one of tactics in trying to railroad AHCA through the house in a matter of weeks; (2) AHCA was a failed project in the sense that it had little in the way of a constituency; or (3) AHCA as a project did not adequately serve Ryan’s larger strategy.

Would skeptics and anti-Trumpers necessarily have objections to more aggressive or flamboyant tactics if Trumpers were not in the dominant position of the GOP at the moment?  Would they object to such tactics in service of the correct vision, strategies, and projects?

[BTW, that’s not just a dig at people who turned out to have less control over the GOP than they thought.  It’s pretty easy to look at the public opinion data and conclude that Trump himself is still not a very popular face of the party.]

FWIW, I tend to think that some conservatives would still object.  And that’s alright.  A political party or a movement broad enough to maintain sustained political power will necessarily be diverse and disagree over things below the vision level from time to time.

Yet that disagreement does not mean that there should be no place for happy #warriors in on the Right.  Rather, it means that tactics should be evaluated or debated in terms of whether they serve projects and strategies consistently in the service of the right vision.  It means that the sub-group that is a fan of #WAR should be willing to accept the discipline of a military planning model for their activism.

I’ll try to flesh out the general parameters for evaluating these tactics, based on what I think the source of the remaining objections are, in the near future — perhaps tomorrow.  Ooh, cliffhanger.

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The Irony of the Media Bubble

At Politico Magazine, Jack Shafer and Tucker Doherty observe that “The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think.”  With all due respect to them, not really.  More like “The Media Bubble is Worse Than The Authors Thought.”   But the irony at the heart of the piece and the reaction to it — particularly from journalists on social media — is telling.

I cannot help but note the schizophrenic tone of the piece.  On the one hand, it reads like a pitch to the journalists under discussion: “Look, I know you think conservatives are crazy, but this ‘media bubble’ is real; we have data and everything!”

OTOH, knowing that this piece would be read by conservative political junkies and journos, there is simultaneously the desperate plea that their study not be interpreted as an admission of liberal media bias: “Look, you right-wing kooks in flyover country are going to ‘seize’ or ‘pounce’ on this, but all we’re really saying is that the media biz is increasingly concentrated in the deep blue cities on the coasts, which can’t help but affect coverage.”

The main criticism from journalists on social media was that the article doesn’t offer solutions.  And the criticism is correct, though it doesn’t acknowledge that the authors aren’t interested in a solution.

Think I’m kidding?  In the penultimate graf: “It’s hard to imagine an industry willingly accommodating the places with less money, fewer people and less expertise, especially if they sense that niche has already been filled to capacity by Fox.”  And in the final graf: “The best medicine for journalistic myopia isn’t reeducation camps or a splurge of diversity hiring, though tiny doses of those two remedies wouldn’t hurt.”

Question 1: Is the political and cultural bloc that makes up roughly half the electorate really a “niche”?  Question 2: If your answer to Question 1 is “yes,” do you think you’ll be convincing anyone that ideological bias is not a major source of the media bubble?

If you put almost any conservative in charge of hiring and firing the reporters and editors at a dozen of the top media outlets, you could very quickly make media coverage far more balanced and far less obsessed with the provincial concerns and phobias of cosmopolitan progressives.  But this is unthinkable to the authors.

Thus, they want to pretend that blowing the story of the 2016 election will be a sufficient lesson and an incentive to improve.  It won’t.

The secondary blowback from journalists was that the body of the study is sandwiched into the frame of that failed 2016 coverage.  Focusing on the frame, the response was to huff that everyone thought Trump was going to lose, including Trump, so more expeditions into swing states or hiring people outside their groupthink wouldn’t have helped.

That’s a fair point as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far, given the vast universe of other stories before, during and since the 2016 election where the groupthink was confined to progressives.

A more narrow and nuanced critique from the progressive side came from Jamison Foser, who attacked the premise that the focus of election coverage is to predict the result, instead of informing the electorate.  Unfortunately, he then descended into facile partisan claptrap about the Comey letter swinging the election, which I won’t bother to dignify here.

Foser’s good point at least focuses on the nature and function of journalism.  And it is at this juncture that the irony of the piece and its critiques emerge.

Strip away the election-based frame, which seems intended to bait people into reading what is really a piece of data journalism.  What you get is the story of a declining industry, one that suffered large job losses throughout the heartland, largely due to advances in technology.

That story could be a story about the steel industry, or coal mining, or meat packing.  But it’s about newspapers — and the remaining coastal elites don’t even see the parallels.

It’s worth noting that for many years, journalism was considered a blue-collar job, one that could be done by ink-stained wretches without the artificial barriers of credentialing.  It only became a gentrified, white-collar profession around the time people decided the job was more about being a paid left-leaning activist — “making the world a better place” in the post-Watergate argot.

What does it mean that the current cohort of supposed elite journalism is so detached from the stereotypical segment of Trump voters as to lack empathy, despite both groups having had to face — to one degree or another — the economic pressures of technological advances in their industries?

Many, including on the Right, will be tempted to conclude that it is a matter of aesthetics.  Much like the Bobos of David Brooks fame haughtily sneering at Pres. Trump’s preference for a well-done steak with ketchup, the theory will be that coastal, urban journalists cannot see the parallels with Trump voters because they view them as “deplorables,” perhaps even “irredeemables.”

Although some of them are, that theory seems insufficient.  The difference between those with a more globalist or nationalist viewpoint, and between those with a conservative viewpoint or progressive viewpoint, is both substantive and aesthetic, both economic and cultural.

Journalism, as a profession, has been captured by cosmopolitan progressives.  That the result is centralization in urban centers by a credentialed, so-called elite, believing they have the solution for a large and staggeringly diverse nation, was fairly predictable.  That the result is a dysfunctional, one-size-fits-all product was almost inevitable.

The distances between coastal journalists and inland voters are far more than geographic.  And they are so vast that journalists cannot even recognize that they shouldn’t be vast.  That’s ironic, in both the dictionary and Alanis Morissette sense.

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What’s the Matter with ESPN? (Plus Bonus Notes)

We’ll Forget About ESPN’s Woes Soon, But Not For Long” is my latest column at The Federalist.

Although it’s all new material, with a bit of a twist on some of the other commentary I’ve seen on the subject, it’s also informed by my writing here at WHRPT.  So here are a few bonus notes.

In recent days, I have been noticing the generational angle in various media/politics stories.

There has been the generational struggle in the Murdoch family regarding the direction of Fox News.  There also has been Bill O’Reilly’s appeal to Boomers — and what it may mean for a segment of Millennials.  I even briefly touched on why the generational appeal of Marine Le Pen is different from the generational appeal of Donald Trump.

Although my column on ESPN focuses more on how broader technological shifts affect the media and our consumption thereof, there is a generational component also, if only because younger people will generally tend to embrace those shifts more swiftly and deeply.

In a weird way, ESPN faces a different version of a dilemma faced by Fox News (and even the GOP): how does a large entity with an audience that includes many aging, cultural conservatives face a future that is more diverse and perhaps less conservative?

I tend to think that ESPN is misjudging the power of woke sports programming to attract Millennials and post-Millennials, in part because their media consumption habits are diverging from those of past generations in general.  Maybe Disney has data suggesting this is their least worst strategy; if they do, I haven’t heard about it.

Rather, I suspect ESPN’s management has bought into the theory that the totalitarian view of the New New Left is the future, in which case everything will be viewed through a political lens.  If the original New Left is any example, the New New Left may well ascend to control the Democratic Party and influence the culture, but only after tempering their views following years in the electoral wilderness.

Lastly, the column makes a little joke about Mel Kiper Jr., though in fact I admire him quite a bit.  Kiper was obsessed with college football players and the NFL draft, but the coverage of his beat was bad-to-nonexistent.  He got in his car, started a newsletter, and is overwhelmingly responsible for building an entire sub-genre of sports journalism.  It is a quintessentially American story, and yet another example of supply-side economics.


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Young Alinskys (Extended Dance Remix)

Today, The Federalist is running “How Millennials’ Experience With Boomers’ Broken Institutions Affects The Right,” which you can think of as the extended dance remix of Monday’s WHRPT, “Cultural Conservatism and Young Alinskys.”

Or:  If you end up liking it less than the original, you can think of it as a “Special Edition.” I blame George Lucas, as I do for most things.

When I started WHRPT, I noted that part of the point was to workshop pieces, themes and ideas for publication, so I guess I can hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner here.  But you you should read the extended edition, and not just as an exercise in considering the differences in style between a blog post for you hardcore folks and a column for a broader audience (though you could do that also).

I have added a couple of things to the original, beyond a couple of additional supporting links.  For example, I additionally tie in a connection between the original post and my hobby-horse about he ESPNization of politics and political media.

But more significant, I made a few small changes in the first part of the column to set up a new concluding section further considering the tension between traditional conservative ideology — and its traditional tactics — and the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality of Trump/Alinsky/Breitbart school.

The Federalist’s new headline suggests that part grabbed the editors.

Though I have not been a big fan of the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality,  the extended version of “Young Alinskys” works a little harder at trying to understand the #WAR perspective as more than the ends justifying the means, and perhaps even challenge my priors in the process.  Just as Monday’s post was the foundation of this Federalist version, the new conclusion may serve as the springboard for my further thoughts here.

At a bare minimum, it’s a good thing to keep examining my priors, which was another reason to establish this blog in the first place.


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Le Pen and Trump: Crossing the Streams

Yesterday, I was working on a column for a change.  So this post will truly be more like a blog post, recalling that brevity is the soul of wit (in someone else’s hands, maybe).

Ever since Marine Le Pen made the second round of runoffs for the French presidency — and beforehand, tbh — people have been discussing her similarities to and differences from Pres. Trump.  Here are the similarities and differences I find most interesting.

First, and foremost:

I suppose it’s possible that widespread voter apathy, especially from the far left, could still bring Le Pen within striking distance of a victory.  OTOH, Le Pen draws a fair amount of support from former communists, so it’s not clear to me that apathetic Mélenchon voters back Le Pen into the presidency by inaction.

This aspect also seems significant in a race against Macron, who isn’t great, but has that outsider vibe that seems in vogue (even moreso than Le Pen, whose family has been a fixture in French politics for years now).  Indeed, it’s further possible that Trump’s victory fuels the current anti-Le Pen vote to some degree.

Second, and secondmost:

Having just written about the generational politics of Trump, I was struck by the contrast.  But consider that the G.I. and Boomer generations that tend to like Trump and O’Reilly here are entirely different from this cohort in French history.  Their political experiences of WWII and the immediate post-war period are nothing like the triumphalism inculcated in Americans of the same age, no matter how arrogant the French can be.

Conversely, the political coming of age for French Millennials has been, if anything, worse than for American Millennials.  The French youth unemployment rate is roughly 25%, as opposed to 10% in the U.S.  And it’s younger Muslims who are most hardcore their faith and its relationship with the French government.

This is significant not only for this election, but future ones.  If the inexperienced Macron wins and takes that victory as a license to ignore or ridicule the economic and cultural concerns of Le Pen voters, French politics could turn more toxic in a few short years.

Lastly, and thirdmost:

Marine Le Pen has benefited greatly from a hostile press.  Given the American establishment media’s desire to draw parallels between Le Pen and Trump, this one is curiously not discussed much.

After the election, a professor of Italian heritage compared Trump to Silvio Berlusconi.  He wasn’t the first to do this (I recall Ben Domenech doing it when he wasn’t likening Trump to the Joker or Bane).  The professor argued that the opposition would be more effective focusing on issues over personalities.  But even the generally anti-Trump media is addicted to those sweet, sweet ratings that accompany the circus.  Sad!

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Cultural Conservatism and Young Alinskys

At the end of Friday’s post on Bill O’Reilly, I suggested that his particular shtick largely did not appeal to younger conservatives or to those focused more on fiscal conservatism, foreign policy, or even religious conservatism.

Later in the day, because great minds think alike, NR’s Ian Tuttle wrote a piece arguing that age was even more of an O’Reilly factor (ouch!), marking a divide between younger righties like Ben Shapiro, Katie Pavlich, and Ben Domenech from Fox News staples like O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

Tuttle also touched on the idea of the pugnacious Trump/Fox News style trickling down to some younger so-called righties.  NR’s David French focused on this latter point, identifying Tomi Lauren and Milo Yiannopoulos as examples — while also noticing both have recently fallen as quickly as they rose.

Jonah Goldberg followed with a G-File, in general agreement with Tuttle and French, with two twists.  Goldberg attributes much of the current dynamic to “Alinsky envy,” noting that it’s ultimately difficult to argue that “[o]ur ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless.”  He also worries that the young and ostensibly right-wing Alinskys have more appeal to young conservatives than Tuttle does.

I’ve previously written about the tension between Alinsky tactics and having any ideology beyond amassing power for oneself, so I’ll focus more on the generational argument and the twining of these two threads.

Having already written that Trump-friendly voters are more comfortable with New Deal/Great Society America than “true conservatives,” I agree with Tuttle’s general claim that such voters will tend to be older than the generations that grew up when Reagan Republicanism had become the status quo.

I don’t think that the political overlay is the only one at work, however.  If Trump/O’Reilly fans are older, cultural conservatives, that conservatism is very small-c, not only in the sense of not wanting the existing New Deal/Great Society programs disrupted, but also in the sense of having a nostalgia for cultural norms and mores of that period.

If you’re reading a niche blog like this, I am going to presume you read many pieces in 2016 about Trump and Clinton representing different strains of this nostalgia: the Brat Pack vs. Woodstock, etc.

Younger conservatives are often a different animal.  As Ben Domenech told The Fifth Estate recently, his vision for The Federalist is one that may be critical of the progressives’ culture war, while remaining engaged with the culture itself.  He’s not interested in simply becoming a cultural scold.

I think similar attitudes in younger conservatives help explain the genius of  FNC’s recently-departed RedEye and the rocketing popularity of the Weekly Substandard podcast.  They generally lack the nostalgia of the disaffected cultural conservatives (nostalgia for Ultraman or Star Blazers is a different matter, even if Millennials like Sonny Bunch may not get it).

But Goldberg isn’t wrong in noting the appeal of cultural conservatism to at least a segment of younger conservatives.  I can think of a few things that help account for it.

First, there is one of my hobby-horses: the dumbing down of American education, especially regarding Western Civilization.  Cultural conservatism (e.g., the War on Christmas) is the easiest to understand absent a good education involving history, economics, philosophy, etc.

Cultural conservatism may also be the sort most likely to be transmitted from parents to their children.  When I was studying political science, your parents’ politics were the most solid predictor of your own politics over time.  And I would bet that’s not changed much; parenting matters.

Lastly, if we’re discussing generational politics, I’ll dip lightly into the generational theories of Strauss & Howe, even if I don’t put the same weight on them that Trump adviser Stephen Bannon apparently does.  In the Strauss/Howe typologies, Millennials, like Boomers, are generations that are ascendant during periods of upheaval (though arguably different types of upheaval).  Millennials are also generally the children of Boomers, so it’s not shocking that they would have a certain similarity of character.

The New New Left, then, may be seen as largely the spawn of the Old New Left.  Young people who are not drawn to the New New Left are probably the children of those non-Lefties who were coming of age when Nixon’s “silent majority” was beating the Old New Left (however temporarily).

Some non-Left Millennials may be attracted to the next iteration of Nixon/Wallace styles of politics — thus the attraction to pugnacity and perhaps even “dirty tricks.”  The fighting spirit during a period of cultural or secular tumult transcends the politics in which it manifests.

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Were Conservatives Too Quiet About Bill O’Reilly?

Unsurprisingly, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters thinks conservatives should have been harder on former FNC star Bill O’Reilly, dismissed amid charges of sexual harassment:

The cheap and easy response — to paraphrase the Partnership For a Drug-Free America — is that we learned it from you, Dad.

America’s cultural progressives mainstreamed sexual misconduct by the rich and powerful when they decided to defend the serial sexual misconduct of Bill Clinton (including lying under oath to a federal judge in a sexual harassment case about his exploitation of a 19-year-old intern).  His chief enabler was Hillary Clinton, who among other things was prepared to smear the intern and write the scandal off as a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Media Matters — according to the rabid right-wingers at The New New Republic — “had long ceased to be a mere [media] watchdog, having positioned itself at the center of a group of public relations and advocacy outfits whose mission was to help put [Hillary] Clinton in the White House.”  But Hillary managed to lose to Donald Trump, leaving Media Matters with less to do… outside of organizing an advertiser boycott of O’Reilly.

A skeptic might be forgiven for thinking Boehlert’s outrage is mostly an attempt to squeeze the last drops of juice out of that campaign.

The second-easiest retort is to note that Boehlert criticized RedState in particular for not being critical of FNC, although the site had been critical of O’Reilly (more than once, including on this subject), not to mention Sean Hannity and Eric Bolling (and any combo of these).  It takes a special kind of media watchdog to get into a Twitter fight with a site that was among the least guilty of going easy on O’Reilly or FNC.

But the fact that the issue was raised by a paid partisan troll and with enough hypocrisy to fill the Grand Canyon doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad question.

After all, if you think that the Clintonite Democrats should not drag all of our standards into the gutter, some self-reflection should be in order.  Aside from the corrosive effects of cultural progressivism, there are several other factors worth considering.

For example, Boehlert’s complaint seems to be that people in conservative media don’t want to cross FNC because of its role as a gatekeeper and because it is in some ways the top of the conservative media food chain.  Conservatives shouldn’t pretend there is no truth in that.  Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote back in 2010 about the problem righty media folk often face: sell out to the movement or sell out the movement.

OTOH, lefties might want to consider that this incentive structure for conservative journalists exists in no small part because the establishment media — media that Boehlert is paid to find too conservative — is in fact much more likely to hire from overtly liberal outlets than from conservative ones.  That would require progressives to recognize a type of privilege that doesn’t fit neatly into their identity politics.

That doesn’t mean conservative journalists cannot and should not aspire to be better; it just means the establishment media might aspire to the same.

Of course, the incentive structure for conservative journalists isn’t the only O’Reilly factor (ouch!).  As Dougherty and Rod Dreher pointed out in responding to Boehlert, O’Reilly appealed more to their parents than to them.  This is consistent with my note yesterday that the main demo for FNC primetime is white seniors.  If you’re the sort who who reads — let alone works for — Media Matters, it may not register that many — or at least some — righty writers don’t have a monomaniacal obsession with FNC.

As with most things, however, there is a flip side to this point.  As Issac Chotiner points out at Slate, O’Reilly was always much less of a fiscal, foreign policy or religious conservative than someone motivated by cultural conservatism and his own “unrepentant solipsism.”

Regarding this latter point, also listen to John Podhoretz on the Commentary podcast (wherein JPod — can I call him JPod? — also places O’Reilly’s solipsism in the broader context of non-fiction “star vehicles” on TV).  But let’s more closely examine the former point.

I would submit that a substantial segment of the conservative media outside FNC didn’t spend much time thinking or caring about Bill O’Reilly because they really didn’t think or care much about the sort of cultural conservatism that drove O’Reilly’s show.  Some still don’t.  They missed the O’Reilly story because they weren’t invested in him or his issues.

But that’s part of How They Missed Trump, too.  And that’s why I’ve written about the need to take “dumb news” seriously.  When the better minds don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised when the provocateurs fill that vacuum, generally to bad results for the Right.

In sum, there are plenty of reasons why conservative writers didn’t opine as much as they might have about the allegedly scandalous exploits of Bill O’Reilly.  But it’s never too late for righties — and lefties — to learn from it.

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Upheaval at Fox, But It’s Still Rupert’s Empire

Bill O’Reilly is out after 21 years of holding the flagship position on-air at Fox News Channel, as the sexual harassment charges and settlements piled up.  But no one should seriously doubt that Rupert Murdoch remains the Palpatine of his media empire.  Indeed, the turmoil at the network even now proves it.

To be sure, people will opine that O’Reilly’s ouster represents a victory for Rupert’s sons, James and Lachlan, bolstered by senior executives at other divisions within the Murdoch empire who chafed at the seeming special treatment for the man with the falafel.  And it is nice that 21st Century Fox is being dragged into the late 20th Century.  I know people who still work there and the HR office doesn’t need to be run by Roger Sterling and Don Draper.

But what Rupert understands is money.  Not just the relatively small-to-him sums being paid out to settle claims brought against O’Reilly or former program honcho Roger Ailes, or to buy out their contracts.

Rather, he’s likely looking at the threat posed by FNC’s highest-rated show being boycotted by prestige advertisers.  FNC’s primetime has always been based on the model of talk-radio-with-pictures; Rupert undoubtedly noticed what happened to the revenues and clearance for the entire conservative talk radio sector once a similar boycott stuck to Rush Limbaugh.

But the turmoil that has gripped FNC over the past year largely has been caused by Rupert’s control over his vision for the operation, both before and after yanking O’Reilly off camera.

The general narrative has been one of Rupert fighting his sons over the direction of the network he created with Ailes many years ago.  As right-leaning talk video, it has attracted largely the same demographic as right-leaning talk radio: white seniors.

James and Lachlan would like to start the transition that will be inevitable as its core audience literally dies and is replaced by another generation that may not have the same politics as the current one.  Rupert sees the current FNC as a yuge cash cow and is loath to fuss with the formula.

While I might prefer the sons’ vision for FNC, I can’t blame Rupert for the impulse to not fix what isn’t broken, especially when you have to answer to stockholders.  That said, there is also an argument that you can stagnate and lose when you don’t take the initiative to innovate from time to time.  And it is very much a question of timing that is probably unknowable.

All of that said, consider that the departures of Ailes and O’Reilly were basically forced upon Rupert by the circumstances, not by choice.  OTOH, Rupert chose to let Megyn Kelly leave last year — and FNC’s schedule would have been far more stable had he met her asking price.

That choice was quite consciously one in the direction of a Trumpier FNC, as is yesterday’s decision to give Eric Bolling a show while moving the rest of The Five to primetime.  And it is most evident in the meteoric rise of Tucker Carlson, who has surfed the shock waves at FNC from weekends to Greta Van Susteren’s slot into O’Reilly’s chair.

Carlson is nothing if not flexible.  He has been a middle-of-the-road conservative for CNN, a provocative prankster at the Daily Caller, a libertarianish righty for MSNBC, and now a Trumpian tribune for Fox (even dropping his signature WASPy bow tie in favor of more proletarian neckwear).

As Carlson told McKay Coppins recently: “I’m not much of an economic conservative, and I’m not conservative at all on foreign policy.  If your politics don’t change when circumstances do, you’re an idiot, you’re a reactionary.”

I could write a longread deconstructing that quotation alone, but today is not that day.

Rather, the important thing now is that Carlson’s chameleon-like adaptability has provided him with an opportunity, but one that comes with its own inherent challenge — and one Rupert has imposed on FNC in general.

The challenge of boarding the Trump Train is that it doesn’t run on tracks.  You have no idea where it’s going to make stops.  Indeed, Trump has recently been making a raft of policy shifts seemingly away from populism and nationalism, and toward a far more conventional Republican approach.

Carlson’s reaction has been to do things like debate Lindsey Graham for agreeing with Pres. Trump’s new position on Syria, and to bring Ann Coulter on to chastise Trump.*

Carlson thus seems (so far) to be taking the Bannonesque position of holding Trump accountable to that segment of his core voters who were really serious about Trump’s advertised nationalism and populism.

But what if that’s not a yuge segment of Trump voters, let alone Fox News viewers?  What if Trump’s support is driven more by the tribal drums of traditional partisanship, by GOPers who voted for Trump because he was a better choice than Hillary Clinton, who like his recent turn towards more traditional Republicanism, and are just more inclined to side with the President over some griping talking head on Fox?

Carlson has changed his politics to fit what he thinks are vastly changed circumstances.  But he’ll be judged by an audience that may become less incline to cheer New Tucker at the very moment he’s received the big promotion.

And again: Rupert runs a capitalist empire; he won’t think twice about demoting Carlson if the ratings decline — or dispatching any of the people at FNC who have trimmed their sails to the Trumpian winds of months past.  In that regard, Rupert is the alpha chameleon of his empire.  It’s not easy being green, but that’s his preferred color.

*[Aside: Carlson’s inferior knowledge of the Middle East compared to Graham, much like his flailing idiocy about capitalism when trying to debate Mark Cuban, tends to prove my point that Carlson should debate tomato cans less, to keep in shape.  I reiterate this even though the New New Left’s collegiate antifa are a major symptom of what’s wrong with America these days and need to be exposed.  Carlson’s taking the big chair and will need to up his game if he wants to stay there.]

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Us and Them and Decline Porn

In “Decline Porn,” Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman argues that “[i]n the nation’s elite political media, an initially well-meaning effort to understand the voters who handed the president the keys to the White House has morphed into something closely resembling exploitation.”

I hadn’t planned on writing about this, as I tend to think there is a large measure of truth in it.  But I found myself asking why I agreed with it.

At the outset, I probably agreed because I had written previously about why such coverage was likely doomed to fail.  The New York Times already had tried what Jonah Goldberg called “gorillas in the mist” coverage of conservatives in 2003-04, only to find themselves blindsided by 2016 (though stereotypical Trump voters are less conservative than many Republicans).  Iowahawk’s hilarious “Heart of Redness” skewers similar coverage from the Washington Post after Pres. Bush’s re-election.

Ironically, it’s the WaPo’s Alexandra Petri who provides the comedic version of Rothman’s argument in 2017, jabbing both the journalists sojourning into the Trumpian hinterlands and the people interviewed by them (whether she meant to jab her colleagues is debatable, but the effect is the same).

It’s not entirely fair, however, to portray the media as having become fascinated with the decline of rural American towns only after the election.  There were similar anthropological pieces before the election, because the media knew the path to any Trump victory would run through the Rust Belt.  This was discussed frequently.

Moreover, related stories, like the opioid epidemic that seems concentrated in Trump-friendly regions, received extensive coverage during the 2016 cycle.  This coverage was mostly sparked by Gov. Chris Christie’s moving speech on the issue — one that inspired candidates as far apart as Sen. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton to weigh in.

That the media did not start this coverage recently, however, does not mean that it is not on some level exploitative.  Rothman posits that such coverage isn’t particularly useful absent statistical or empirical context, absent debate over how to fix the problems of such people.  Again, my impulse is to largely agree.

OTOH, when I read coverage of the problems of Chicago’s West and South sides so lavishly produced by elite outlets like the New York Times, I find I could offer a similar critique.  The media’s coverage of police shootings tends to be similarly lacking in context or solutions.  The media’s reliance on this arguably exploitative genre is more equal opportunity than it might seem at first blush.

The reason people — and conservatives in particular — may not immediately pick up on this may be that we subconsciously expect the left-leaning establishment media to be more exploitative of the problems of the non-white underclass, given their usual orientation toward Democrat-centric identity politics.

Conversely, there would be a tendency to reflexively impute suspect motives when left-leaning outlets turn to address the problems of the white underclass, particularly given how late they have been to this party (and often hostile to authors like Charles Murray who were earlier to the party).

So while I tend to agree with Rothman, I find myself doing so from the perspective that perhaps he’s drawing back the curtain a bit on some larger issues.

The unstated premise of this mode of coverage (regardless of sympathetic or exploitative intent) is that the mission of the so-called elite media inherently focuses on “national” political coverage.

An essentially progressive media will tend to assume that it has the expertise and skill necessary to provide the breadth of coverage necessary for a nation as vast as the United States.  Yet for all of the progressive fetishization of diversity, so-called elite journalists have a distinct knowledge problem here.  They generally aren’t well-equipped to understand Englewood or Fishtown.

As a result, these scribes generally can do little beyond bear witness, however imperfectly.  This is endemic to most journalism, tbqh.  We just notice it more when the subjects are sensitive and controversial.  And we tend to notice it through whatever personal and political lenses we bring to the viewing.

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