My only quibble (so far) about “‘They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing’: Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party,” published by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, is that “conservative media” is just one part of a larger, integrated right-wing infrastructure that has been driving U.S. foreign and domestic policy for at least 40 years.
Conservative media are the most visible part of the infrastructure, but conservative media alone wouldn’t be anything without what the study’s author calls the Conservative-Industrial Complex. This would be “the network of no-compromise advocacy groups financed by the Kochs and other right-wing patrons,” the author, Jackie Calmes, writes.
There are now hundreds of conservative media outlets, not only the national ones you’ve heard of but regional, local, and niche outlets that speak directly and exclusively to the conservative (read: older white male) demographic. It’s a full media ecosystem; there’s no longer any need for conservatives to stray outside it to stay informed, or “informed.”
Alongside the growth in media (and funded by many of the same people) has emerged a newly muscular ideological machinery. Together they form what political scientist Richard Meagher half-jokingly calls “the vast right-wing conspiracy”:
Conservative talk radio, print publications, television networks, and internet sites have numerous connections, both direct and indirect, with the think tanks, advocacy organizations, academic research centers, and foundations that develop and promote the Right’s policy agenda.
If you spend much time at Sourcewatch, you begin to see how the whole infrastructure, from media outlets, Heritage Foundation and other “think tanks,” and the mostly astroturf advocacy organizations are all being funded by a relatively small group. Oh, and don’t forget ALEC. Time and time again, you run into the same few names. The Koch boys are prominent, of course, but other names that come up frequently include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.
In short, dozens of allegedly independent right-wing organizations are all being bankrolled by a relatively small group of foundations. And as Charles Pierce keeps pointing out, it’s these people who are driving the Right’s agenda, not the Republican Party.
It has been an article of faith in this shebeen almost since we opened it in 2011 that there is no actual Republican party in any real sense any more. Ever since the Supreme Court legalized influence-peddling in its Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, there only has been a loosely held group of independent franchises who are doing business for themselves under the Republican Party brand. This is why the suits belonging to obvious anagram Reince Preibus are so very empty.
Put another way, the Republican Party has lost control of this monster and really isn’t in charge of anything any more. The GOP exists only as a facade, or as part of the nominal political infrastructure that must be used in elections.
The take-aways from all this:
- Calmes is right that they don’t give a damn about governing. The puppet masters (the Koch boys et al.) have no interest whatsoever in governing. They are looking out for their own interests.
- A big chunk of the American electorate now gets all of its “information” about current events from the right-wing media infrastructure, meaning they soak in propaganda 24/7 and have no clue what’s actually going on.
- There is no leftie equivalent of the right-wing infrastructure.
Operatives in both parties and independent observers generally agree that left-wing media do not come near conservative media in terms of the number of outlets, size of audience and political influence, despite the frequent parallels drawn between Fox and MSNBC, for example, or RedState and DailyKos, Hannity and Rachel Maddow. “It’s my conviction that there’s no comparison,” said Price, the Democratic congressman and political scientist. Pressure on Democratic politicians like him, Price said, comes less from left-leaning media than from liberal advocacy organizations like labor unions, environmental groups and women’s and minority rights organizations. …
…Arceneaux, the political scientist whose focus is partisan media, said politically engaged Americans on the right and the left “just consume news in a different way.” Liberals favor comedy satire shows like Jon Stewart’s, for example. Leftwing pundits initially had a bigger presence than conservatives among bloggers when the Internet first took hold, though no longer. As for radio and TV talk shows, Arceneaux said, “For whatever reason, liberal ideologues aren’t drawn to that.” One reason is suggested by Hemmer, who in her coming book Messengers of the Right also writes of less successful messengers of the left. “MSNBC, and earlier, Air America” — a short-lived network for liberal talk-radio shows — “were trying to replicate what they saw as the political influence of conservative media and they were unsuccessful at it,” Hemmer said in an interview. “Conservative media — and the habit of consuming conservative media that is so central to conservative political identity — have been something that has a half-century of history. And liberals don’t have that same history. To the extent that liberalism has a base, it doesn’t come out of media, it comes out of organizations — like labor unions, or groups like MoveOn.”
- “Mainstream” media remains remarkably clueless about what’s really going on. News organizations think that “fairness” means neutrality, and neutrality means a “view from nowhere” — it’s an artificial impartiality that is maintained by doggedly pretending that the reporter is standing in the middle between two equivalent political forces. As a result, the meltdown into insanity of one of America’s major political parties, going on right before our eyes, is ignored. Politicians who express views that ought to get them committed are treated as “serious.” And political elites, the so-called “Villagers,” are just as bad.
- Individual reporters may be catching on, but they fail to grasp the scope of things. Roberts of Vox continues,
One of the longstanding critiques of mainstream media on the left, from the very beginning of the blogosphere, was that reporters in the Beltway “Village” failed to grasp modern conservatism and wrote about it in such a way as to sand down and mute its extremity. Their attachment to a certain mental model of politics — “both sides” with their mirror-image extremes and centers — made them blind to“asymmetrical polarization.” In fact, people are still making that critique; here’s Paul Krugman from just a few days ago.
… there are still plenty of mainstream political reporters who cling to the both-sides illusion to this day, imagining politics as a sober business conducted by Very Serious People in suits, premised on a shared set of facts and assumptions. But as the far right sends the Republican Party through an ever-more-absurd series of showdowns and tantrums, the illusion is fading. Now lots of established journalists seem to have moved on to the bargaining stage of grief, holding out hope that the Adults will once again take charge.
But see Steve M on this point; he thinks Roberts is being too generous to the established journalists and the “Villagers.”
We’re seeing evidence that the Republican Party is getting a clue it has lost control. I don’t think the GOP bargained for the fact that the puppet masters and the activists, who don’t care about governing, don’t care about the GOP, either. The Party was just a host, and the activists are like parasites devouring their host. But I’m not seeing a bottom yet, either. And I’m not seeing anyone approximating an Adult who can take the mess back into hand.