What’s Going Wrong in Conservative Media

I start with the near-obligatory reminder that I am on the record arguing that until establishment media hires enough people with non-Left viewpoints as both reporters and editors to constantly challenge newsroom groupthink, its fundamental biases will persist.

I tend to doubt Big Media will ever do this, but some recent stories about conservative media will hand them some easy rationalizations.

Judge Andrew Napolitano returned to Fox News Channel and affirmed his belief that Pres. Obama asked British intelligence to conduct surveillance on Pres. Trump.  He was previously suspended for making this claim and the supposed “news” side of Fox tried to distance itself from the apparently baseless claim.  But he not only repeated it on a straight news show in his return visit, but also appeared on another supposedly straight news show that evening (lest you think he got suspended again).

Geraldo Rivera accused the House Freedom Caucus of “treason” for opposing the failed House GOP healthcare bill.  Rivera is considered a Fox News correspondent, not a contributor.

Breitbart News has been denied permanent press credentials on Capitol Hill until it clarifies its links to a conservative nonprofit group as well to a major Trump donor whose family is an investor in the site.  And Breitbart’s brand of journalism has corporate advertisers trying to flee association with the site.

Not even GOP loyalists like radio talker Hugh Hewitt trust Breitbart as a news source.  Yet Breitbart dominates conservative social media, perhaps because the number of high-profile conservatives who regularly speak out about Breitbart’s excesses is pretty small.

Regnery Publishing is interested in publishing the book by Milo Yiannopoulos that was dropped by Simon & Schuster after comments surfaced in which Milo condoned sexual relationships between young teenagers and adults.  Apparently his anti-Semitic remarks need more publicity, because Regnery seems to be overlooking those also.

The Independent Journal Review has seen staff departures over the publication of a conspiracy theory and the site’s general editorial direction.  Reportedly, other staffers are also looking to leave.

Of all these stories, the IJR report is the most heartening, as it demonstrates that there are conservative journalists who do not want to be associated with the standards adopted by some conservative media outlets, and overlooked by many conservative media critics.

If conservatives want the establishment media to take conservative journalists seriously, they need to take conservative journalism seriously enough to hold it to the standards they want the establishment to observe.

Update: There’s a minor correction to this post (i.e., it does not affect the thesis) at the end of this companion post.

PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar (the posts come straight to your inbox; no muss no fuss). And following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing!

The Conservative Movement: What Happened?

The “Milo Yiannapolous disinvited from CPAC” story may be dead, But Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman and the Daily Beast’s Mark K. Lewis got good columns out of it by using the incident as a signpost on the road to decline the conservative movement seems to have traveled over the years.

It is in part a tale recalling Eric Hoffer’s observation: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

This is the part of the tale they tell.  Rothman blames the state of the movement on “[t]he right’s entertainment class,”  while Lewis argues that “Yiannopoulos’s invitation was, perhaps, the logical denouement for a cause that prioritizes provocateurs over polemicists and entertainment over substance.”

This is all true as far as it goes.  It is certainly true of CPAC.  But it is not the whole story and misses important pieces that will be necessary to any sort of conservative regrouping.

One of the main things Rothman gets right is that for many who consider themselves conservative, “their introduction to conservatism came not from reading the philosophy of John Locke and Edmund Burke but from a casual exposure to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.”  But the primary problem with this is not necessarily that the latter have been provocateurs (Limbaugh’s peak audience and influence occurred while he was at his least provocative).

Rather, the issue is that the understanding people get of conservatism from talk radio (or cable news as talk radio with pictures) is and almost inherently will be shallow.  There is an old adage (of uncertain origin) that “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; [and] small minds discuss people.”  Programming aimed at entertaining a mass audience will tend to reflect this dynamic, regardless of how provocative it is or how valid any particular provocation may be.

A conservative movement that is broad but shallow will be more likely to claim it embraces constitutional conservatism but ignore constitutional and prudential political constraints when they become frustrated, for example, that a GOP Congress seemed so ineffective in advancing a conservative agenda.  This is part of the reason many conservatives wrongly discount some of the achievements of the GOP to which Rothman correctly refers.

Conversely, however, the shallowness of many ostensible conservatives also partially explains why the GOP could be as politically successful as it is today.  The ascension of Pres. Trump is, if nothing else, a wake-up call to how little influence the conservative movement has had within the GOP, contra Rothman’s claim that the current “Congress is also one of the most conservative in the country’s history.”

This is a claim which is, imho, deeply ahistorical.  The postwar period has been one where the overarching trend has been to cultural and political progressivism.  What seems like stolid conservatism these days mostly represents fairly modest attempts to regain ground lost over the course of decades of cultural and political losses.

Moreover, conservatives across the spectrum disagree over what to make of this central dynamic.  Peggy Noonan, not exactly a fire-breather, was nonetheless able to recognize the frustration conservatives have over the fact that the GOP, even when controlling the government as they did for six years under George W. Bush, still seemed to negotiate and grow the government as if they were the minority party.  David Brooks looked at the same frustrated conservatives as engaged in identity politics.

Perhaps both Noonan and Brooks had a point, and the inability of the GOP establishment to successfully manage True Conservatives (both actual conservatives and shallower people who imagine themselves to be) and more intelligently address their concerns eventually boiled over into frustrated people comparing the 2016 election to Flight 93.

The other problem with a conservative movement that can be both shallow and aggressive is alluded to, but not fully explored, by Lewis.

As Lewis notes, “[t]rue conservatism has been replaced by a fetish for fighting political correctness.”  It is perhaps a coincidence that Limbaugh went national at approximately the same time that Jesse Jackson was leading college kids in chants of, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ. has got to go,” but maybe it wasn’t a total coincidence.

The confluence here is remarkable.  Political correctness is in large part about making America’s intellectual discourse more shallow and less conservative.  The revolt against political correctness — at least the mass (dare I say populist) revolt against it — often has the same characteristics.

The demands of mass media that inexorably drive the discussion more to people and events than ideas will also tend to shape the debate into one about who people are against, rather than the underlying ideological conflict.  This is particularly true of conservatism, which is a default for people seeking to protect what’s good about the status quo; the focus moves toward the attackers and the attack, not on the advancement of the virtues of what we seek to conserve.

Lastly, Rothman and Lewis largely avoid addressing that the most recent iteration of this battle is marked by an even more totalitarian Left than the spasm that played out in the late 80s and early 90s.  The New New Left, in an almost Newtonian fashion, will push more people into the camp that opposes the politicization of all aspects of American life.

What it does not ensure is that the marginal increases in the opposition to totalitarianism will be conservative, or even much care about conservatism on any philosophical questions.  Rather, they are the “Not Left,” people simply looking for a champion to repel the barbarians at the gates.  And when the GOP establishment fails at constructively addressing deep or shallow conservatives, it should be no surprise that some — certainly the latter –will look to the provocateurs raising the banner highest against the immediate threat.

PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar (the posts come straight to your inbox; no muss no fuss). And following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing!

Are You Not Entertained?

There is a line of ridicule that Ace of Spades has been pursuing for years on Twitter.  Harsh, but not entirely unfair:

The media does love their shows.  Progressives love their shows.

But they’re not the only ones.  At least, I’m guessing that the audience for Tucker Carlson figuratively defenestrating low-level lefty competition isn’t wildly progressive.

I also don’t think many progressives voted for the former host of The Apprentice to be President of the United States.

And it wasn’t progressives who cheered Pres. Trump’s most recent press conference, or his campaign-style rally in Florida.  Someone else was cheering.  He really gave it to the media didn’t he?  And the media played their role as foil, just as though it was one of those WWE shows at which Trump was such an excellent performer.

Of course, the media had it coming, didn’t they?  They enabled an anti-democratic revolt by the Deep State that at least contributed to the firing of Trump’s national security adviser.  That’s an entirely legit complaint, even if we may not know whether it might be an exceptional case, even if righties didn’t say much about FBI leaking political intrigues surrounding the investigations of Hillary Clinton, and even if Trump has himself expressed contempt for political norms and the law on occasion.

But what about Trump’s presser on Sept. 16, 2016?  That was the event where Trump finally admitted Pres. Obama was born in the United States.  As you may recall, part of Trump’s entrée to Republican politics was an appeal to Birtherism — and it was the first time of several he would accuse his political foes of literally not being American.

But that was okay, wasn’t it?  Democrats had called Republicans un-American before.  Of course, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio aren’t Democrats, but it was okay to suggest they aren’t citizens because…why was that again?  Does it matter?  No one took that literally or seriously, amiright?   It was just Trump being outrageous.  It was very entertaining.

Anyway, after he won the nomination, the Trump campaign decided he needed to ditch the Birtherism.  Trump never likes to retreat from a position, so this was kind of a big deal.

What did Trump do?  He started the event, held at his DC hotel, with a parade of war veterans declaring they were not the “deplorables” Hillary Clinton had recently attacked.  Trump then appeared onstage to blame Clinton for starting Birtherism (which isn’t really true, though Mark Penn proposed a similar tactic in 2008) and very briefly declare Obama was born in the U.S.  Then, instead of taking questions, he tried to take the press pool on a promotional tour of his hotel.

Some might have called that breathtakingly cynical, even for Trump.

Many on the right, however, called it awesome.  They ate it up.  Wow, did you see how he trolled the media?  Granted, he did it to distract from his attempt to clean up his grubby political roots…but he trolled the media!

Of course, the media had it coming, didn’t they?  The MSM is biased.  They’re the opposition.  Trump has all the right enemies.  And gets away with being outrageous.  So entertaining.

By the way, did you hear that Milo Yiannopoulos is a featured speaker at CPAC this year?  Sure, he makes anti-Semitic remarks and is a fellow traveler of the alt-right.  And sure, his remarks about relationships between adults and young boys at a bare minimum should make your skin crawl.

But you know, Milo’s just being a provocateur, saying outrageous things to promote himself.  He has all the right enemies, doesn’t he?

Plus, CPAC isn’t representative of the right as a whole; it’s just someplace Donald Trump donated a ton of money before he got invited onto their stage.  Trump is going to be there again this year, as is Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who was the last guy to offer Milo a platform. (I recommended Bannon go to CPAC, but since he’s double-billed with WH Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, it’s virtually certain he’s not taking my advice.)

I’m guessing Trump, Bannon, and Milo will get a lot of media coverage at CPAC, because it’s bound to be a show.  The media does love their shows.  Progressives love their shows.

On this point, Ace can be pretty harsh. But not entirely unfair.

Update: CPAC disinvites Milo…

…because of the man-boy love comments.  Apparently, the anti-Semitic/alt-right sewage is still kosher with the so-called American Conservative Union.

PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar (the posts come straight to your inbox; no muss no fuss). And following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing!