You have to be a certain age to remember the days when Republicans tended to be better informed and more rational than their opponents. Back before the conservative media complex took on its present shape, conservatives constructed their vision of reality from the same pool of facts generally available to everyone else. They just drew a different set of conclusions about that picture than their rivals on the left.
Going back as far as the sixties, many on the Republican right flank became convinced that they were losing not because their ideas were unpersuasive, but because the media landscape was hopelessly tilted against them. Guys like Nixon aide Roger Ailes envisioned a counter-balance, a conservative journalistic infrastructure that might counter this tilt.
Ailes and other conservative media critics were both right and wrong. While it is true that Journalism is an inherently liberal institution, they were completely wrong about what that means. Their “success” generating a parallel news institution coincided with the emergence of unfiltered, Internet-based media to spawn a storm of unintended consequences for Republicans.
Instead of an alternative news source, conservative media has developed into a dangerous misinformation machine, threatening to cripple conservatism by blinding it. Self-identified conservatives are now some of the most hopelessly and militantly misinformed voters in our system. It may be too late to repair the damage.
Conservative media is nothing new. There has always been a strong culture of conservative commentary, producing figures like William F. Buckley and George Will. What’s new in this landscape is the attempt to manufacture a completely unnatural creature – conservative journalism.
No one should trust a liberal police force or a conservative university. Some institutions are inherently bent toward a certain philosophical perspective. Conservatism, as a philosophy, is built on a respect for tradition, history, and inherited authority. Conservatism values faith more than doubt. It places a higher premium on belief than on inquiry. Conservatives are suspicious of any force that would upset traditional understandings of the world or challenge the established order, with good reason.
Journalism seeks to establish a set of facts through inquiry, investigation, and relentless doubt. Journalism is perpetually at odds with authority, a nuisance to the privileged. Good journalists are relentless turd disturbers who refuse to let well enough alone. Journalism is based on liberal values.
Journalists, individually, tend to be liberal in their philosophical orientation because the profession largely demands it. There aren’t a lot of liberal FBI agents or conservative reporters. Journalism is as a discipline is the most accurate and reliable method for uncovering news. That does not mean that journalists, or liberals, formulate the best policies. It means that journalists do the best job of uncovering the facts on which intelligent policy decisions are made.
Conservatives like Roger Ailes imagined they could build an inherently conservative journalistic enterprise. They ended up with a product that straddles the line between tabloid and propaganda. Imbue Journalism with conservative values and you will stop getting news. Take away the liberal-oriented critical thinking that goes into the journalistic process and you will get a consistently misleading picture of reality.
This may not matter if you are merely looking to build a base for political activism, but it will exact a merciless price when you need to operate intelligently in the world. If you wish to govern, rhetoric must at some point bend to external realities. Failure to accurately calculate those external realities is like driving blind.
Liberal journalists might vote for Democrats, but theirs’ are the methods that will tell you accurately what’s happening in the world whether you like it or not. They may not draw the right conclusions about policies or philosophy, but they will always do a better job than conservatives at reporting the news. Tune them out and you’ll get unskewed polls, endless fantasy scandals, a deluded base, and a political movement that is never capable of governing.
Conservative’s misguided hostility to the “lamestream media” is the Achilles heel of the modern Republican Party. Obama’s secret weapon in every political standoff with Republicans is that he actually knows what’s happening. Democrats are no smarter than Republicans. They just cheat by turning on their headlights.
Fox News, Breitbart, and the rest of the right wing journalistic engine are political opium. They deliver a rush of unskewed reality that briefly soothes the ache of cognitive dissonance that increasingly ruins conservatives’ moods. Conservatives have consistently lousy information because the rise of Fox News coincided with the Internet age to create a storm of disinformation, too tantalizing to turn down.
There are only two functioning political parties in this country. It will always be possible for Republicans to win some elections no matter how dysfunctional the party becomes. The price of our hostility to information comes not from elections, but from in our steeply declining capacity to govern and the weakening of conservatism as a relevant political philosophy.
It is unclear how many failures it may take to shock the American right out of its stupor, but the toll from this binder is mounting. We could be in for a long, painful ride. Perhaps it’s time to buy more gold?