Inside The Conservative Media Bubble

The Scalia diet of right-wing-only media consumption left me satisfied, but angry.

Chris Wallace (right) interviews Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on 'FOX News Sunday' at the FOX News D.C. Bureau on July 27, 2012.
National Journal
Ben Terris
Oct. 16, 2013, 2 a.m.

A strict Scalia diet of ex­clus­ively right-lean­ing me­dia con­sump­tion got off to an aus­pi­cious start. It began en route to the re­li­gious right’s Val­ues Voter Sum­mit by flip­ping on Fox Ra­dio and hear­ing an archived au­dio clip from Gore Vid­al:

You’re born in­to a so­ci­ety and you are shaped by it wheth­er you know it of not, wheth­er you like it or not. Each of us is born in­to a pris­on of re­ceived opin­ion, of su­per­sti­tion, and of pre­ju­dices. Now, one of the func­tions of art is to try and define the pris­on. The artist must know he’s in it, and many of them don’t, and those are the bad artists.

This writes it­self, I thought. And in some ways, time listen­ing to Rush Limbaugh and read­ing Er­ick Er­ick­son on Red­State.com did pre­dict­ably feel like be­ing in­side a high-vaul­ted cell where the echoes of like­minded lifers drown out all oth­er sounds.

“I have been mak­ing the point, try­ing to any­way, that the Re­pub­lic­ans are win­ning,” Rush Limbaugh told his listen­ers on Colum­bus Day. “That at least the Cruz and Lee fac­tion is win­ning.” Agreed, says the Daily Caller in a story head­lined “How Cruz, Lee and Paul shut down Obama’s agenda,” in which au­thor Chris­toph­er Bed­ford says: “One thing is un­deni­able: Their stand has lit a much-needed fire in D.C.”

So yes, there cer­tainly is a strain of be­liev­ing only what you want to be­lieve — known in tech­nic­al terms as “epi­stem­ic clos­ure” — hap­pen­ing in sec­tions of the me­dia. It’s this type of group­think that al­lows Sen. Ted Cruz to head to a lunch with his col­leagues last week to tell them ac­cord­ing to his polls, things are go­ing great.

But many of Cruz’s col­leagues didn’t buy it. And neither does every­one in the con­ser­vat­ive me­dia.

“Look, this isn’t work­ing out that well for Re­pub­lic­ans. I think the facts show that, so it’s not that con­tro­ver­sial to say that,” Me­gyn Kelly said on her Fox News show last week.

“The Re­pub­lic­ans are un­der­wa­ter by 30 points,” Charles Krau­tham­mer agreed. “That is a cata­strophe.”

Even Ant­on­in Scalia, who re­cently told New York Magazine that he stopped read­ing “lib­er­al” news out­lets like The New York Times be­cause it made him angry in the morn­ing, prob­ably has a sense of how poorly things are play­ing for Re­pub­lic­ans. And yet, the battle rages on.

There’s a vein of un­der­do­gism that runs from Fox News, to the Daily Caller, all the way to Red­State that makes the fisc­al fight un­der­stand­able. Pro­gram­ming is filled with stor­ies about WWII vet­er­ans who gave their “blood, sweat and tears” for this coun­try only to be turned away at their own me­mori­als. And mak­ing things worse, ac­cord­ing to an­chors like Kelly, is that chan­nels “oth­er than FOX” only want to cov­er the rally as a means to point out con­fed­er­ate flag-tot­ing pro­test­ers. “They want you to think it was all about the so-called fringe,” she said.

It’s no dif­fer­ent, really than her seg­ment with O’Re­illy from just days earli­er where they dis­cussed a Wis­con­sin pub­lic school that pro­posed to lim­it the amount of Christ­mas songs sung by their choir. There’s a war out there against the little guys, wheth­er it’s against Christ­mas or vets, and if Fox News won’t stand up for them, no one will.

So sure, the ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans may dis­ap­prove of how Re­pub­lic­ans are hand­ling the shut­down and debt crisis, even they’ll ad­mit that, but this is about stand­ing for what’s right des­pite be­ing in the face of it.

So while ideo­lo­gic­al pur­ists, such as Sens. Lee and Cruz and a chunk of House Re­pub­lic­ans, con­tin­ue to fight on, the in­ev­it­able deal will be viewed by many in con­ser­vat­ive me­dia as a cave by the rest of the GOP. On Tues­day, Limbaugh was already say­ing that the “es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans are not con­ser­vat­ive” and Er­ick­son is call­ing on Re­pub­lic­ans to “keep the fight on the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion about Obama­care.”

Even the es­tab­lish­ment con­ser­vat­ive out­lets, which are ad­mit­ting Re­pub­lic­ans are not faring well in the pub­lic re­la­tions war, are stead­fastly stick­ing to the con­ser­vat­ive policy po­s­i­tion on Obama­care ““ it’s a ter­rible law that de­serves to be re­pealed. Look at Bill O’Re­illy, who for weeks said the de­fund-Obama­care ef­fort was doomed to fail and then last week ar­gued: “If the pres­id­ent is really look­ing out for the folks, he has to know things are not work­ing out well. And the coun­try needs an­oth­er year to bet­ter or­gan­ize the health pro­gram and to see who is go­ing to suf­fer be­cause of it. That’s just fair.”

That Re­pub­lic­ans are los­ing the fight has be­come a tru­ism, even in the con­ser­vat­ive me­dia. But the con­clu­sions that the left and right come to based on those facts couldn’t be farther apart. O’Re­illy isn’t say­ing there nev­er should have been a fight over Obama­care, he’s say­ing the fight should have been about delay, not de­fund. Er­ick­son goes even farther, say­ing the real reas­on that Re­pub­lic­ans are los­ing sup­port is be­cause they are be­ing too wimpy on the mat­ter (a re­cycled ar­gu­ment for why Mitt Rom­ney lost his pres­id­en­tial bid).

“The Red­State con­tact email is now get­ting one anti-GOP email for every one anti-Demo­crat email,” Er­ick­son wrote today. “That has nev­er happened be­fore. All these polls show­ing Amer­ica hates the GOP are ac­cur­ate. Even Re­pub­lic­ans hate the GOP and the GOP might have to learn that the hard way in 2014 primar­ies.”

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