Friedersdorf on the Conservative Echo Chamber

In the wake of Obama’s reelection, Conor Friedersdorf delivers a serious body slam to his fellow conservatives who have chosen to live in an alternate reality/fantasy land — what I call Planet Wingnuttia — rather than inhabiting the real world.

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because Romney supporters like Jennifer Rubin and Hugh Hewitt saw it as their duty to spin constantly for their favored candidate rather than being frank about his strengths and weaknesses. What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election.

Conservatives were at an information disadvantage because so many right-leaning outlets wasted time on stories the rest of America dismissed as nonsense. WorldNetDaily brought you birtherism. Forbes brought you Kenyan anti-colonialism. National Review obsessed about an imaginary rejection of American exceptionalism, misrepresenting an Obama quote in the process, and Andy McCarthy was interviewed widely about his theory that Obama, aka the Drone Warrior in Chief, allied himself with our Islamist enemies in a “Grand Jihad” against America. Seriously?…

How many hours of Glenn Beck conspiracy theories did Fox News broadcast to its viewers? How many hours of transparently mindless Sean Hannity content is still broadcast daily? Why don’t Americans trust Republicans on foreign policy as they once did? In part because conservatism hasn’t grappled with the foreign-policy failures of George W. Bush. A conspiracy of silence surrounds the subject. Romney could neither run on the man’s record nor repudiate it…

In conservative fantasy-land, Richard Nixon was a champion of ideological conservatism, tax cuts are the only way to raise revenue, adding neoconservatives to a foreign-policy team reassures American voters, Benghazi was a winning campaign issue, Clint Eastwood’s convention speech was a brilliant triumph, and Obama’s America is a place where black kids can beat up white kids with impunity. Most conservative pundits know better than this nonsense — not that they speak up against it. They see criticizing their own side as a sign of disloyalty. I see a coalition that has lost all perspective, partly because there’s no cost to broadcasting or publishing inane bullshit. In fact, it’s often very profitable. A lot of cynical people have gotten rich broadcasting and publishing red meat for movement conservative consumption…

It ought to be an eye-opening moment.

But I expect that it’ll be quickly forgotten, that none of the conservatives who touted a polling conspiracy will be discredited, and that the right will continue to operate at an information disadvantage.

I expect he’s right. There’s too much invested in creating this fantasy world, both financially and psychologically, to give it up.

30 comments on this post.
  1. criticaldragon1177:

    Ed Brayton,

    The reliance so many of them had on baseless, and often bigoted conspiracy theories may have harmed them the most.

  2. Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant):

    When they’re concentrating 24/7 on only things that appeal to the most frayed part of the fringe they’re not getting their message to anyone who can be swayed by it.

  3. jamessweet:

    You posted a week or so ago that the question for the Republican Party is whether the old white evangelical voters will fall in line if they modernize their platform on social issues. But I think you are partially wrong: there is little doubt in my mind that they will, with much kicking and screaming, nonetheless fall in line; rather, the question is whether those with a tangential grasp on reality (who recognize the necessity of modernizing on social issues, for example) can regain control of the party, or whether the lunatics will continue to run the asylum.

    The GOP is floundering not because they are wrong on so many issues (though that they certainly are), but because, like Friedersdorf says, the spin machine has gotten so out of control that the party can no longer even take an honest inventory of how they are doing. Their reality denial on climate change may be destroying the planet, but it’s their reality denial in regards to the electorate that will destroy their chances at reelection.

  4. composer99:

    What I find so remarkable about the conservative echo chamber, at least in North America, is how mainstream it is, considering how chock-a-block full of crankery it is.

    Is there anything like as comparable an echo chamber for liberals & progressives, in terms of its mainstream appeal?

  5. fifthdentist:

    I hear MSNBC is, composer99, but I’ve never watched to confirm. I watched Fox “news” a lot while Bush was in office just to hear their ridiculous spinning of Dubya’s fuck-ups.
    I occasionally turn on CNN to see in which city the lunatic-with-too-many-guns shooting spree du jour took place.

  6. raven:

    What I find so remarkable about the conservative echo chamber, at least in North America, is how mainstream it is, considering how chock-a-block full of crankery it is.

    It’s part of American Exceptionalism.

    The USA is a world leader in many areas.

    We have the largest lunatic fringes on the planet. They have their own religion, fundie xianity and their own political party, the GOP. They occasionally take power and run things.

    It’s often a disaster. They also occasionally control almost half of the world’s nuclear weapons.

  7. The Lorax:

    Was watching the Colbert Report the other day, and the guest (I forget her name) said that the GOP doesn’t understand much, but it does understand losing.

    The GOP will most definitely backpedal, fix it self up, and try for moderate conservativism in 2016. Oh sure we’ll get the last few Tea Partiers yelling and screaming, but by now, everyone knows they’re loons. The GOP spin machine will erase everything that they caused, and make the GOP candidate appear “more left than the Democrat candidate” (I’d put money on that line being used). It will be lies, of course, but that’s what they’re doing now, and they almost won; what lost them the election was the truth squeaking out.

    In short, the GOP will tighten their belt, silence the idiots within their ranks, pretend to be more left than they are, pander quietly to the ultra-conservatives, and most importantly, maintain their ideology exactly as it is now.

  8. jamessweet:

    MSNBC, while certainly biased to the left of the American center, is nowhere near as reality-denying as Fox News. It’s not really a fair equivalence.

    I’m not sure if there’s a good answer to composer99′s question. Certainly, there is nothing as mainstream as Fox News. Trying to think here…

    I managed to get myself on the mailing list for CREDO, which is actually a pretty cool company, but I get a lot of e-mails from them that are… well, just not true :) I’d hesitate to say it is as bad as Fox News, but we’re starting to get into the same ballpark, with them repeating easily debunked stories that fit their political agenda, etc. However, we’re talking about the mailing list for a niche company that exists explicitly to cater to liberals, not a major national news network that purports to be “fair and balanced”.

    I guess you hit the nail on the head when you said the striking thing is not the degree of reality denial, but rather how mainstream it is. It is not difficult to find progressive enclaves that engage in a level of reality denial that matches the conservative echo chamber, but you have to go to the extreme fringes to find it. To find the conservative equivalent, all you have to do is turn on the TV.

  9. Michael Heath:

    Conor Freidersdorf writes:

    Most conservative pundits know better than this nonsense — not that they speak up against it.

    Cite requested. The only conservative pundits I observe who demonstrate they have a clue have personality profiles which do not fit the characteristics of American conservatives. They’re right wing, but have no influence on the GOP, are not “conservative” in how they think relative to how today’s U.S. conservatives predominately – almost monolithically think, and they’re very few in number.

    I count Mr. Freidersdorf in that tiny population, e.g., Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett, and help here, do we have others? (I don’t count David Frum or David Stockman in this collection since they still think like conservatives, they’re merely more honest on a few matters. However if Mr. Frum keeps evolving as he’s been doing perhaps someday he’d fit the profile of this elite crew. Stockman has more in common with Ron Paul’s type of conservative-libertarianism than not-conservative, especially being entirely lucid on some matters and a wingnut on others.

  10. mudskipper:

    I’m not sure that the GOP can reform itself in the near term. To be honest, I think it has lost control of its message. Fox News is a profitable enterprise that makes money pandering to the looney fringe. Same with Rush, Glenn, and, I assume, WorldNetDaily. Their self-interest is not the same as the GOP’s self-interest. As long as they can make money doing what they are doing they will continue to do so, regardless of its affect on the GOP. As long as they are the loudest voices on the right, they will make it extremely difficult for a winning candidate to emerge from the Republican primaries or for a reasonable party platform to be put together.

  11. raven:

    The GOP will most definitely backpedal, fix it self up, and try for moderate conservativism in 2016.

    That is the sensible, rational thing. What any intelligent group would do.

    I’ll have to disagree for fun though.

    AFAICT, they are so far down the rabbit hole, they can’t get out.

    1. They did the same thing in 2008 and lost.

    2. They did the same thing in 2010 and won.

    3. They did the same thing in 2012 and almost won.

    Who says what they are doing isn’t working? They control the US House and most governorships and many state legislatures. This election was close, a lot closer than the electoral votes would indicate. A lot of key states that Obama carried, he carried by a fraction of a percent of the vote.

    4. There aren’t enough moderate Republicans left to fight off the crazies. In their civil war, the moderates were crushed. And we already have a party of moderate Republicans aka the Democratic party.

    My wild guess is that they will keep on doing what they are doing and slowly start losing more and more for another decade. There is a demographic shift but those are really slow movements.

  12. Michael Heath:

    jamessweet writes:

    Their reality denial on climate change may be destroying the planet, but it’s their reality denial in regards to the electorate that will destroy their chances at reelection.

    I see this as part of a trend which I started to notice in 2008 with the enthusiastic acceptance of Sarah Palin as the VP nominee. That GOP leaders are increasingly part of the conservative Christian voting base rather than solely identifying with the plutocrats who pander to them. Bush and Romney are hybrids as we observe this evolution take place.

  13. Scott Hanley:

    composer99 says:

    What I find so remarkable about the conservative echo chamber, at least in North America, is how mainstream it is, considering how chock-a-block full of crankery it is.

    Is there anything like as comparable an echo chamber for liberals & progressives, in terms of its mainstream appeal?

    fifthdentist says:

    I hear MSNBC is, composer99, but I’ve never watched to confirm.

    I don’t watch MSNBC, either, which probably goes a long way toward answering composer99′s question. Can you imagine a conservative who has remained oblivious to Fox News? I, for one, don’t want a leftist mirror image of FNC. I’d much rather listen to Diane Rehm, who will bring in guests from two or three sides of an issue, and forbid them to insult each other.

  14. fastlane:

    Lorax@7:

    In short, the GOP will tighten their belt, silence the idiots within their ranks, pretend to be more left than they are, pander quietly to the ultra-conservatives, and most importantly, maintain their ideology exactly as it is now.

    I get what you’re saying, and I think you’re right, but the bolded part, in this day and age of camera phones and people willing to use them, is going to be harder and harder to do as we move into the future.

    All it takes is one person being surreptitious, willing to release video/audio to the media or post it on youtube, and a candidate’s election can be sunk.

    And I like it that way!

  15. dugglebogey:

    I would think that if you ever heard a candidate repeat anything he heard on Fox News (such as Romney did with the Jeep production moving to China story) without verifying that information from a reliable source that should immediately eliminate him from your list of viable candidates for any office higher than village idiot.

  16. scienceavenger:

    I watch MSNBC, CNN, and Fox regularly (love that DVR), and I can say without reservation that MSNBC is nowhere near what Fox is. Sure, their big hitters are liberals, and they emphasize what they talk about accordingly. But that’s about where the bias ends. I disagree with them occasionally, but I’ve never felt like their presentation was dishonest, or reacted to their opinion with “WTF are you talking about?” as I do with Fox on a daily basis.

    MSNBC is a news channel biased for liberals. CNN is a news channel biased for the shallow mainstream. Fox is a different animal. It is NOT a news channel. It’s a propoganda tool for the GOP.

  17. Modusoperandi:

    scienceavenger “Fox is a different animal. It is NOT a news channel. It’s a propoganda tool for the GOP.”
    Oh, please! You’ve got it all wrong. The GOP is the legislative arm of FoxNews. And Limbaugh is the president.

  18. baal:

    “Conservatives were at an information disadvantage ”

    This was by design and fully intentional.
    The organizers don’t fully seem to understand why that’s a problem but generally they don’t need to deal with the negative fall out of people de-friending family or co-workers livid and frothing over the white-house’s creeping push to teach sharia and gay marriage to our kids. The only time the reality of the information disadvantage shows up to them is in lost elections from Sharon Angle to “I’m not a witch” to those rape guys.

    OTOH, I don’t seem them giving it up. They might moderate a little but they cease being what they are if they actually start getting real info out (’cause i need more theys in my life, they = right wing media and the money people who drive them).

  19. redpanda:

    I don’t watch news at all, as I don’t even have a television. My Republican father-in-law thinks that CBS is the liberal version of Fox, and that MSNBC is just a complete joke that’s not worth taking seriously in any respect. How far off the mark is he?

  20. cptdoom:

    @composer99 – as a regular MSNBC viewer, I have to agree with the other commenters – the network has a liberal bias, but it has nothing on Fox News, in large part because the network is willing to examine every story for the facts first. You certainly see Ed Schulz (who I cannot stand), Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews make clearly left-leaning comments, but the echo-chamber atmosphere with alternate explanations of reality when it doesn’t meet your preconceived worldview is absent. Rachel Maddow, the jewel of the network, is even better, because she is super-smart. Her delivery is absolutely non-extreme, and she has effectively destroyed various right-wingers (to the point most won’t even go on the show) simply by bringing up the truth that may contradict them. She is also scrupulous about getting the story correct, and typically begins interviews with her guests by making sure she has the facts straight before she starts the actual interview. MSNBC has also expanded their weekend shows, bringing in Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry, who are great. They have lots of different viewpoints in their panels including, just this last weekend, some Wall Street bigwigs defending themselves.

    I think the other facet that created the right-wing echo chamber is the lack of alternative ideas. Blogs like this one, and all the liberal blogs/sites I frequent, allow open comments. You are free to spew your right wing mythology, you can, but you will be shot down by reality-junkies pretty quickly. The major right-wing sites (like Free Republic and all the anti-gay marriage groups) don’t allow contrary comments at all.

  21. scienceavenger:

    Redpanda, your father-in-law lives in the same bubble of unreality many of my family do. Chris Hayes’ morning show on MSNBC just might be the most intellectually serious show on television, and if anyone knows one better, I’m all ears.

  22. laurentweppe:

    Is there anything like as comparable an echo chamber for liberals & progressives, in terms of its mainstream appeal?

    The Communist parties and the newspapers they controlled in Western Europe before Stalin’s deeds became aknowledged common knowledge during the 60s could qualify.
    We still have a few media -an handful of newspaper and a few internet sites- which act as an echo chamber for the European far-left, but they lost their mainstream appeal decades ago.

  23. machintelligence:

    GOP leaders are increasingly part of the conservative Christian voting base rather than solely identifying with the plutocrats who pander to them.

    Indeed, the inmates are taking over the asylum.

  24. laurentweppe:

    Indeed, the inmates are taking over the asylum.

    But the owners are still paying the bills: I doubt the religious right would thrive prolitically by relying solely on small donors.

  25. Freeman:

    Michael Heath #9:

    I think you could put Daniel Larison in that elite group of clueful conservatives.

  26. gerryl:

    The conservative echo chamber just got sealed a little tighter here in the Portland (OR) area. As of Saturday, Clear Channel switched the area’s one progressive talk radio station to Fox Sports. KPOJ featured a lot of the (loud) national progressives, but the best was the morning drive time show with Carl Wolfson. Intelligent, measured, and with real facts! Folks here are in shock as it happened very suddenly and with no warning.

    KPOJ used to be part of Air America. When that venture ended, the station kept going with a slighlty different line up. Now … nothing. Unless you’re into Lars Larson, Rush and Hannity — or a bunch of mooks talking sports.

  27. Michael Heath:

    Freeman,

    I agree and regret no naming Mr. Larison prior. I used to be a regular reader of his and am no longer with no good reason to have abandoned him.

  28. Nick Gotts (formerly KG):

    Who says what they are doing isn’t working? They control the US House and most governorships and many state legislatures. This election was close, a lot closer than the electoral votes would indicate. A lot of key states that Obama carried, he carried by a fraction of a percent of the vote. – raven

    They control the House because of the heroic gerrymandering they undertook after winning, and the census, in 2010: unless the last few votes have reversed it, Republican candidates for the House got fewer votes across the country than Democrats. In the Presidential election, counting is still going on, but Obama is currently 2.8% ahead in the popular vote. That’s about 3.3 million votes. Only one state went to Obama by less than 1%: Florida (0.9%).

    All that, when unemployment is still near 8%, the President’s approval ratings have hovered around 50%, and he has deeply disappointed many of those who voted for him in 2008.

  29. Paul W., OM:

    Nick,

    I agree with you that Obama’s victory is actually impressive, given what he was up against with the economy and so on, but…

    It seems to me that the election was disturbingly close, and that Romney might have won if he’d been more likable and hadn’t screwed up so much, e.g., with the 47 percent comment, transparent flip-flopping and lying about his record, etc.

    If Romney had been a better candidate, not such a blatant weasel and not so embarrassingly obviously the very furthest thing from a man of the people, he could have beaten Obama, IMHO.

    Whether that’s actually true or not, appearances matter, and I think that many in the dumbass Republican base will see it that way—that Romney’s loss only clearly shows that Romney sucks, and doesn’t clearly show that they should systematically move toward the center.

    How many of them will see it that way, I don’t know, but I suspect it will be enough to prevent any clear consensus from emerging that the party should “sell out” and become moderate.

    I wouldn’t even be shocked if the base doubles down on the crazy in selecting a nominee next time, irrespective of what the party establishment and the sane people want, if no personally likeable, charismatic moderate emerges as the leading candidate early in the primaries. Many of the loons may be less amenable to an establishment-favored not-really-One-of-Us candidate after Romney’s failure, thinking they compromised with the establishment before, and the establishment failed them.

    I wouldn’t have thought that 20 years ago, but things have changed with Fox News, Limbaugh and Beck et al. The party establishment has lost message discipline in a big way, and there is 24-hour-a-day incitement to double down on the crazy.

    The Republican party is now mostly under the de facto control of the right-wing pundits, not the old Republican Party establishment. Those guys are not much interested in moderation because they’re actually kooks and/or hacks whose ratings depend on being interestingly extreme.

  30. laurentweppe:

    It seems to me that the election was disturbingly close, and that Romney might have won if he’d been more likable and hadn’t screwed up so much

    The thing is, had Romney been more likable and less prone to screw-ups, he would have never won the republicn primaries.

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