Want Better Conservative Media? Start Small

1. Some conservatives are worried that they’ve created an echo chamber distancing themselves from the rest of the country. (Of course, there are those who are not as worried.)

I can’t emphasize enough that the vast majority of pundits and media outlets and campaign operatives and consultants are after your money. Those who aren’t after your money might be after something more dangerous: they might want your attention or anger so they can get you into their latest cultish scheme. There aren’t many people out there who really want to put forth something interesting in the hope it will be thoughtfully responded to.

Fox News is probably the worst offender in both regards. The Daily Show used to run segments showing how Fox reporters would pump up the crowds at Tea Party rallies. The footage came from Fox News itself, shown there without shame. There are others competing for the “just as bad” title. Tucker Carlson’s rabidly sensationalistic Daily Caller is defended by him in this way:

Unlike some of his colleagues in the conservative press, Carlson showed no hint of regret at his site’s performance, citing record traffic and crediting Obama’s first term with making the company profitable. In fact, he said he founded The Daily Caller out of frustration with the unsatisfactory vetting Obama received in 2008.

“I think we’re the ones practicing traditional journalism and I think a lot of legacy media has ceased to,” Carlson said, emphatically. “And that’s why I think we’ll win in the end.”

Carlson says he got attention and money. Therefore “we’ll win,” whatever that means. I don’t know that I want partisan media to win elections. What I want is a serious point of view to be carefully and respectfully put forth,  given its fair share of time. What I want is partisan media to be aware of the best partisan thought of the other side and highlight it. But that’s me.

Carlson says “legacy media has ceased” to practice “traditional journalism.” I have no idea what he means by that, because the charge’s credibility mainly comes from looking at the slant of the political news on a regular basis. It is true that there’s a lot of left-leaning nonsense masquerading as political stories out there. But if you’re into hard news, everything changes. And if you focus on print media, it’s very hard to beat the legacy media. Want serious reporting on what’s happening in the rest of the world? You could do a lot, lot worse than The New York Times. Even political reporting that is apparently so controversial might be controversial because it tells things conservatives don’t like hearing. Weigel found this gem of a report by Maeve Reston about one of Romney’s Hampton fundraisers. Here’s a little story about one of the donors:

A New York City donor a few cars back, who would not give her name for similar reasons, said Romney needed to do a better job connecting. “I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.

“We’ve got the message,” she added. “But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”

Her point is confused and I’m not sure how much of it to take seriously. I’ll just attack a part which is a viewpoint I know others share. Voting isn’t about whether you “understand how the systems work.” It is about how you feel. If you feel bad or hurt or threatened for a serious reason, you should vote accordingly. And a lot of people did feel hurt or threatened this past election, and it turned out they were a silent majority. Here’s NRO’s Jim Geraghty (again, h/t Weigel), who probably disagrees with me on how liberal the media is, arguing that point about those hurt or threatened:

…Romney concluded that he lost because he couldn’t make a better offer to voters in key demographics who were essentially motivated by laziness and greed.

There’s a word that accurately summarizes the perspective of Republicans who believe that Latinos voted for Obama because they want amnesty for criminals and endless welfare, that young people voted for Obama because they’re ignorant and want free birth control, and that blacks voted for Obama because they wanted free cell phones: contempt. And it’s hard to persuade people to adopt your perspective, join your movement, or vote for your candidate when you speak of them with contempt.

Conservative media as a whole went for money and eyeballs. It did this by catering to people’s worst stereotypes about their fellow Americans. But I don’t think – except for a few nuts – that anyone really meant to be as hateful as they may sound. I think the narrative worked in terms of money and eyeballs because it aimed large: “Here’s a story about the President and how he’s going to destroy the vision of the Founders.” And I think things spiraled out of control because of that largeness, that brazenness.

2. So here’s my vision for conservative media:

  • It should be more “media” than “conservative.” This is the big one: partisan media should retain a degree of independence from ideology and even party. Yes, I know that initially sounds crazy, but we’re living in a world where media is created explicitly to win elections – look at how awful it is. If partisan media can’t break serious news, review movies or books without an ideological filter, recover some stories about the past that wouldn’t be touched by legacy media – in other words, if partisan media can’t show that credible, independent voices came together to try to say something important – then it isn’t media in the first place. It’s just propaganda.
  • Conservative media MUST aim small. The voices that matter are those of actual people. Their voices don’t matter as much when they’re shouting angrily in unison. What matters is that at some point they get to tell their story. Yes, this can involve interviewing veterans and artists and teachers and parents randomly about their lives. It’s corny, but it is way better than hearing apocalyptic rhetoric about green jobs all the time.
  • The conspiracy theories have to go. But, you ask, “Drudge! The Lewinsky scandal! The Holy Grail that started it all?! How can we do away with that?” The truth is it had to be done away with long before. Just because you’re right once doesn’t make you right all the time. Not when politics is eminently practical. Which concludes this rant…
  • An emphasis on proposals, policies and other things that work. There are many sensible conservative proposals that do work. We haven’t heard a thing about them because “the direction of our country” has been at stake for the last 913284792794279 years. So much of conservative media has been self-consciously symbolic that it is really hard to tell what anyone stands for. It has been easy to tell what they’re against.

I deal with a lot of young people who are more right-wing than Rick Santorum, so I’ll be very upfront. We need more open minds and we need them fast. You guys don’t realize what the echo chamber, the lack of serious conservative intellectuals, has done to conservative youth. It is almost impossible to get the younger conservatives I know to say the guy in the corner mumbling to himself about the end times and defending forced labor on Biblical grounds is crazy. They’re used to insanity and a good number of them know how work it to their advantage in small circles. We have very few people who can show them what independent thought might look like. What we have in large part are crackpots with PhD’s saying things like “Jefferson is religious and even if he isn’t he doesn’t matter anyway.” I have my problems with liberals, but I’ve never met anything as sure of itself as conservative media is nowadays. If you want a future where the two parties can talk to each other and make life better for all Americans, start demanding accountability from what we consume.

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