Friday, June 05, 2009

The triumph of the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis: E.J. Dionne on Rush, Newt, the media, and how conservative spin skews the news

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you missed it, make sure to check out this brilliant column from E.J. Dionne, published yesterday at the WaPo. While it says what many of us have been saying for a long time -- namely, that the establishment media are effectively being manipulated by, and have for a long time been dominated by, conservative narratives that shape and frame how the media inform their consumers -- it is nonetheless a powerful indictment of the media, and their relationship with the far right, from a critic near the very center of Beltway establishmentarianism (and from one of the more thoughtful Beltway pundits). Here's a taste:

If you doubt that there is a conservative inclination in the media, consider which arguments you hear regularly and which you don't. When Rush Limbaugh sneezes or Newt Gingrich tweets, their views ricochet from the Internet to cable television and into the traditional media. It is remarkable how successful they are in setting what passes for the news agenda.

The power of the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis means that Obama is regularly cast as somewhere on the far left end of a truncated political spectrum. He's the guy who nominates a "racist" to the Supreme Court (though Gingrich retreated from the word yesterday), wants to weaken America's defenses against terrorism and is proposing a massive government takeover of the private economy. Steve Forbes, writing for his magazine, recently went so far as to compare Obama's economic policies to those of Juan Peron's Argentina.

Democrats are complicit in building up Gingrich and Limbaugh as the main spokesmen for the Republican Party, since Obama polls so much better than either of them. But the media play an independent role by regularly treating far-right views as mainstream positions and by largely ignoring critiques of Obama that come from elected officials on the left.

Indeed, there is much blame to go around, and some of it must be reserved for the Democrats, and for liberals-progressives generally, who have not effectively counter-balanced the right in terms of setting the narratives that govern the media (though they have been doing much, much better in this regard).

But it is the establishment media, the MSM, that continues to treat right-wing propaganda like mainstream orthodoxy, that continues to provide a lofty platform for the likes of Rush and Newt, that essentially validates their views and biases, that tilts the political spectrum to the right, making it seem as if Obama (and pretty much any liberal) is some crazed anti-American radical.

Are Newt and Rush "winning," as Dionne suggests? Yes, in a way -- and in spite of Obama's popularity. Which means that there is much work for us to do.

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