The Right Wing Cocoon

After the election I wrote a lot about how the Republicans will have considerable difficulty winning a national election due to becoming out of touch with reality. The right has become anti-fact, anti-science, anti-reason, anti-history, and anti-economics.  Politico and The Washington Post looked at this problem on Monday. Politico concentrated on the right wing’s media cocoon:

Now, many young Republicans worry, they are the ones in the hermetically sealed bubble — except it’s not confined to geography but rather a self-selected media universe in which only their own views are reinforced and an alternate reality is reflected.

Hence the initial denial and subsequent shock on the right that the country would not only reelect President Barack Obama — but do so with 332 electoral votes.

“What Republicans did so successfully, starting with critiquing the media and then creating our own outlets, became a bubble onto itself,” said Ross Douthat, the 32-year-old New York Times columnist.

The right wing’s cocoon has been more counterproductive due to the publicity surrounding their most outlandish spokesmen:

…for nearly six years, since President Bush’s second term went south, Republicans have been effectively without a leader. And into that vacuum has stepped a series of conservative figures whose incentives in most cases are not to win votes but to make money and score ratings by being provocative and even outlandish.

“Their bottom line is their main goal, but that doesn’t mean they’re serving the population that buys their books,” said Domenech.

And this, say next-generation Republicans, is where cocoonism has been detrimental to the cause.

The tension between the profit- and ratings-driven right — call them entertainment-based conservatives — and conservatives focused on ideas (the thinkers) and winning (the operatives) has never been more evident.

The latter group worries that too many on the right are credulous about the former.

“Dick Morris is a joke to every smart conservative in Washington and most every smart conservative under the age of 40 in America,” said Douthat. “The problem is that most of the people watching Dick Morris don’t know that.”

The egghead-hack coalition believes that the entertainment-based conservatives create an atmosphere that enables flawed down-ballot candidates, creates a cartoonish presidential primary and blocks needed policy reforms, and generally leave an odor on the party that turns off swing voters.

It even fosters an atmosphere in which there’s a disconnect with the ostensible party leaders.

Consider: In the fall of the past two presidential campaigns, those in the conservative cocoon were talking about, respectively, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama as a black radical, and the seemingly impeachment-worthy scandal surrounding the deaths of U.S. officials in Libya. Meanwhile, on the actual campaign trail, John McCain and Mitt Romney showed little interest in even mentioning either topic.

And the entertainers’ power isn’t just with gullible grass-roots activists who are likely to believe whatever nefarious rumor about Obama is forwarded to them in an e-mail chain — it’s with donors, too.

Outside of Washington, New York and state capitals, the big conservative givers are as likely to have read Ed Klein’s Obama book and seen Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary “2016,” and generally parrot whatever they just heard on Fox News as the old lady stuffing envelopes at county GOP headquarters.

The Washington Post argues that Red America must rethink what it knows about America, describing the thought of one Republican (who appears to have lived in the right wing cocoon):

She had devoted her life to causes she believed were at the heart of her faith and at the core of her Republican Party. She counseled young married families at church, spoke about right to life in area schools and became a stay-at-home mom with two daughters.

Now, in a single election night, parts of her country had legalized marijuana, approved gay marriage and resoundingly reelected a president who she worried would “accelerate our decline.”

While she took apart the office, a dozen friends and neighbors stopped by to share the same concerns.

“I just don’t get it,” the county sheriff said.

“I’m worried we won’t see another Republican president in our lifetime the way it’s going,” a GOP volunteer said.

“What country would want more years of this?” asked the newly elected alderman.

Cox shrugged back at them. “I don’t know anymore,” she said. “What the heck happened to the country? Who are we becoming?”

On Monday The New York Times had an article on the increased success of MSNBC as it developed an identity as the liberal counter-part to Fox. It would be misleading to compare them as mirror images of each other. MSNBC has filled prime time with liberal opinion shows. The major objection to Fox isn’t that they spend some of their day with conservative opinion shows but that the shows billed as news are also conservative opinion shows aired in a news format, distorting the news to perpetuate the conservative alternative reality. The prime time liberal opinion shows, while clearly biased in their presentation, are far more honest in presenting the facts. While Fox will distort the facts to support the conservative agenda, MSNBC anchors such as  Rachel Maddow will use the facts to debunk conservative arguments.

Many liberals would prefer that Fox be countered not by a network presenting liberal viewpoints but by objective, high quality news (a niche which CNN does a mediocre job of satisfying). NPR would be a better model. This attitude has helped to reduce the number of liberals who are in a liberal cocoon analogous to the far more prevalent conservative cocoon.

There is an advantage to the success of MSNBC as a liberal network. Getting people to think in terms of a liberal and a conservative network helps place Fox where it belongs. Identification of Fox as the conservative network weakens the idea that Fox is a real news outlet. Plus, if we are forced to have  left and right wing “news” networks, we might as well have a true liberal network. In the past I have often heard people speak of listening to both sides on television, but if they watched Fox there would be no balance from the left. Watching Fox and CNN just gives a far-right and center-right outlook. MSNBC is not my preferred model for countering Fox, but as this is what has developed I am happy to see that it is becoming more successful.

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MSNBC Renews Contract With Rachel Maddow

MSNBC didn’t want to keep Keith Olbermann around, but they have a far better opinion of Rachel Maddow. MSNBC has extended her contract in a multi-year deal.

Keith Olbermann was responsible for Maddow getting her show at MSNBC. His talk of desiring to hire her to join him at Current might have led to her getting a better deal to remain at MSNBC.

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Stephen Colbert Interviewed Out of Character

Steven Colbert assisted Reddit in a fund raiser for DonorsChoose by agreeing to do an interview out of his television character if $500,000 was raised. I’ve reprinted some of the questions here beginning  with his comments on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (text of his legendary talk here).

To this day I’m convinced that your appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was because the Bush Administration didn’t understand your show.

Did they? What happened behind the scenes there? Was it more “non-alcoholic beer in the Roosevelt Room” or “Dick Cheney peppering your limo with bird-shot as you beat a hasty retreat?”

I was as surprised as the next guy that I was invited to roast the President and the press corps that spring.

Here’s how it works. The White House Press Association (or some name close to that) actually does the inviting, not the President or White House. The president of the press association that year was a man named, I believe, Mark Smith, I think from the AP. He invited me. When all was said and done, I wrote to thank him and said I hoped I hadn’t made trouble for him. He said there was zero fallout.

As for the backstage aspects of the night, the President has a nice, small gathering in a room near the banquet hall. The presidential seal is etched into the granite on the floor. A few news anchors, football greats, cabinet members and advisors (I remember Rove and Chertoff, there were others I think), Rich Dahm, Allison Silverman, my brothers and sisters and mom, my wife Evie, and the President and Mrs. Bush. Let me say that the President could not have been nicer, especially to my mother. I have some lovely pictures of her with him. The President and I had a brief conversation before we went on stage. There were in total maybe 60 people at the party, many of whom I should remember more about, but I was pretty focused on my job that night. There was no backstage event after the dinner, but several parties around town.

I had my family up to our room for a drink then hit a party, don’t remember which one. We all had a great time. but I had no sense of public reaction until Monday at work.

On the complications of doing all interviews in character:

Do you sometimes wish you could not be in character for some interviews? Being in character, do you feel that it prevents some people from coming on the show?

Well these questions are really related. I’ll say that from my end of the interview, I often have a guest whose subject I happen to know a thing or two about, and I want to engage them intelligently, but I am an aggressively ignorant character. That is frustrating. Of course knowing their subject lets me make the dumbest possible characterizations of their position or idea. If you ever see me truly being vigorously dense with a guest, I probably know something of his or her subject. And as I said, yes, the character aspect may give some people pause.

In response to another question, Colbert also stated that, “No one doesn’t know I’m in character. I tell everyone first.” Of course it could also be said that the anchors on Fox and MSNBC’s opinion shows are also playing a character:

Jon Stewart’s interview on Rachel Maddow highlighted Jon’s philosophy on the difference between his role and the role of news people like Rachel Maddow.

What, in your mind, is the difference between your responsibility or job and the responsibility or job of a news anchor or 24 hour news host / personality? Do you feel you’re fulfilling your role? Do you feel they’re fulfilling theirs?

Thanks for doing what you do. You’re a funny, funny man.

I think Jon’s appearance on Rachel highlighted his ability to be pretty sharp after vomiting for eight hours.

As for the 24 cable hosts / personalities fulfilling their roles, you bet they do — as those roles are defined by their companies. If not, they are fired. The fact that the roles they fulfill are hard to recognize anymore, and have little to do with informing us, but are instead used to emotionally “engage” us with their brand personas, means I have a steady stream of material.

I too would be fired if I wasn’t fulfilling my role as defined by my company. Happily they define that as comedy, and I agree. I have no real responsibility beyond working hard on jokes.

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Name Change Possible at MSNBC

Media Decoder reports that NBC is thinking of separating the MSNBC web site from NBC News. In the long run this might be a good idea. The liberal bias of the evening shows on MSNBC have been a source of irritation to the news division at NBC, fearing that it taints their objectivity. MSNBC would also like to be able to use the web site to promote their own shows as opposed to being a straight news site.

It think it makes sense to have an MSNBC.com web site to promote MSNBC personalities such as Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann and a separate NBCNews.com to take over the news. The one downside to this from a business perspective is that the network might not want to give away the already established web site to their smaller division. Perhaps a better solution would be to continue MSNBC as the network news web site and come up with an entirely new name for the MSNBC cable network. This would allow them to establish a new web site to accompany the cable channel.

Fox does have it much easier, not caring if they have an objective news site at all as they don’t have a legitimate news division. Fox’s ability to distort the news comes from the manner in which their fake news shows reinforce the same ideas promoted by their openly labeled opinion shows. If Rachel Maddow devotes time to a story, such as C Street, only a portion of the MSNBC audience which is watching her show will see it. However Fox will coordinate their shows so that many of the “news” as well as opinion shows are talking about the same topics day after day. That way even trivial stories such as Obama’s birthplace or the new Black Panther Party are discussed endlessly until they move from Fox to the legitimate news media. Fox, unlike NBC, certainly has no need for separate web sites to differentiate their opinion shows from their news division.

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