What's Eating the Left's Media?

The liberal media may be in a funk. MSNBC is getting some of its worst ratings in years, and Digby tells us that liberal blogs have experienced serious declines in traffic since the election as well. So why might this be happening?

There are two answers, neither of which would give you much solace if your job depended on raising TV ratings or bringing in more ad revenue for your web site. The first is that outside events, in the form of the natural ebb and flow of the political world, have conspired against the liberal media. The second is that the model—liberals talking about politics—is affected by that ebb and flow in a way conservative media aren't.

Let's take a quick look at the last decade or so in the life of liberalism. If we go back to the early stages of the Bush administration, we see liberals getting riled up just at a time when the Internet as a source of news and political engagement began to come of age. George Bush started an insane war in 2003, then there was an election in 2004. Then there was an extraordinary amount of ferment on the left as the direction of the Democratic party and progressivism itself was being argued over. Then there was an economic crisis and another election. Then in the first couple of years of the Obama administration, there were hugely consequential policy battles over economic stimulus and health-care reform. Then you had the rise of a political movement made up of fascinatingly, terrifyingly crazy people, and then another presidential election. All that happened without much pause, ten solid years of important political events that had liberals alternately excited and angered. When people are excited and angered, they read more and watch more. And so liberal media thrived across many platforms, and MSNBC, which had once given shows to the likes of Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchanan, Michael Savage, and Alan Keyes, made a decision that stepping in the direction of becoming a left version of Fox News could be good business.

But look where we are now. The policy arguments we're having don't seem as earthshaking. Enough has happened that liberals' ideas about President Obama are complex and ambivalent. The next election seems a long way off. Republicans have succeeded in ginning up some faux-scandals, but none of them seems a real threat to the president, so they don't look worth getting too worked up over. So is it any surprise that liberals don't feel the need to read 20 blogs a day and watch five hours of cable news?

Furthermore, liberal media just aren't built to be sustainable through any political environment the way conservative media are. Look at Fox News, which continues to lead its competitors in the ratings, and probably always will. The reason is that there is a symbiosis between the network's perspective and its viewers' predilections. If you watch Fox (or listen to conservative talk radio, for that matter) you'll hear each and every day that the grand battle is going on right now, no matter what may actually be happening. You thought the election was the critical moment, my friend? Nay. The crisis has only grown since then. The fate of everything you hold dear is about to be decided. The crisis is at hand. Catastrophe is upon us if we don't stop the liberals. Thus it is today, just as it was yesterday, and just as it will be tomorrow. Every liberal proposal is the End of Freedom, every liberal politician the most terrifying villain America has ever seen.

Fox's continued success is a testament to the fact that anger is what keeps their audience coming back. As Palpatine says to Anakin, "I can feel your anger. It gives you focus. Makes you stronger." If anger wasn't attractive to them, they wouldn't keep watching. Liberals look at shows like Bill O'Reilly's or Sean Hannity's and wonder how a person could possibly enjoy all that rage and contempt, night after night after night. But they do. As Alex Pareene says, "do you know who watches cable news all day? And at prime time? When there's not an election on, or a war, or some terrorism? Older conservative people." For them, it's always the eleventh hour.

But what is the grand battle in which liberals are now engaged? For the first time in a decade, there isn't one. Sure, you can make a reasonable case that the next three years are going to be decisive for the liberal project. But it doesn't feel that urgent to liberals. They may find a thoughtful discussion of economic inequality moderated by Chris Hayes to be interesting, but if they miss it, it won't seem like that big a deal. So at least some of them are tuning out.

Comments

"But what is the grand battle in which liberals are now engaged? For the first time in a decade, there isn't one."

This sums up the pathetic state of liberalism. I strongly disagree with your statement that "it doesn't feel that urgent to liberals."

Many of the liberals I speak to tell me, "Something feels wrong. I don't quite know what it is. Things are supposed to be getting better, but I can't seem to feel sure that they are."

One told me, "It's as if I feel like I need to walk with a limp even though I don't know if anything is wrong with my leg. But I feel like I need to limp just in case."

The reason they feel this way is because things are NOT really getting better. We are in an anemically weak recovery phase of the short-term business cycle. But this short-term business cycle is taking place within a LONG-TERM DEPRESSION (which is one reason the recovery is so weak). And when the business cycle heads downward again, as business cycles always eventually do, things will be even worse.

As always there are some liberals who are so wealthy that they are not all that bothered by this, but there are many, many others who are. And for many of them it is subconscious because they aren't sure what's going on. The cheerleading Obamatons in the liberal sectors of the media keep telling them the recovery is accerating. "All is well! All is well!"

There are plenty of reasons for liberals to be just as angry as the right wing, in fact more. Not the kind of anger warped for the evil puposes of the Dark Side, but the kind of righteous anger social movements have always needed for people to unite in positive social action. While the agenda of the Repulican right must continue to be vilified, people also need to be informed of the lack of decisive action by Obama and the top Democratic leadership to bring about the kind of progressive economic restructuring called for by Prospect editors Kuttner and Reich, as well as Wake Forest's David Coates, CEPR's Dean Baker and others. We are in the throes of depression resulting from decline of the neoliberal economics of the past generation. We will not come out of this depression until we consolidate a new structure, hopefully one much more favorable to the interests of working people than the structure that gained ascendancy at the end of the 1970s.

The American people, including America's liberals, need to hear what we need and they need to hear that it's not happening yet. If the "liberal media" won't tell them due to fear of sustained criticism of "our" president and "our" party, it make sense that uneasy liberals would start to tune that media out.

The problem with the "liberal media" is that it's too often close to "lame stream media" in ways that Sarah Palin can't comprehend. On MSNBC for example, it's not "liberal media", but "conventional wisdom Beltway media", a major difference. They accepted the idea of deficit reduction, etc., talking of "compromise" with the Republicans without ever challenging what that would mean. They will NEVER say that for the Republican Party, "compromise" is reduced to "you give in to us". They never sufficiently challenge the other side, vainly hoping that somehow the better angels will appeal to them for the good of the country. No chance of that. They're not interested.

MSNBC among others is championing the rise in the stock market far more than they are pounding the lecture on behalf of employment and to castigate the Republican Party for essentially performing dereliction of duty in refusing to govern.

I draw a line between liberals and progressives, liberals evaluating all aspects of the situation which make absolute black/white pronouncements impossible, while progressives are the counterpoint to conservatives with one's white being the other's black.

To a liberal, corporations are merely creatures of the individuals they represent operating within the laws of society - We the People. To the progressives, the corporations are simply evil.

To a liberal, We the People create the laws. To the progressives, nearly all laws are created by evil people because every law has some flaw. Of course, conservatives consider all laws that apply to themselves evil, but object to the lack of laws dictating behavior to liberals and progressives who are evil.

Conservatives will devote everything to winning the legislatures to control the laws, engaging in the perpetual campaign to shape the candidates to hew a rigid idolatry.

Progressive seek to elect a benevolent dictator, and when that fails, they proclaim voting never works because corporation bought the elections, the politicians, or stole the elections. The result is tens of millions of people never voting while the conservatives are getting out every vote they can in every election, even for dog catcher because a liberal dog catcher might enforce the law uniformly instead of just against liberals.

No Democrat in Congress pays attention to the left media because they are on the side of conservatives, attacking everything Democrats manage to accomplish and advocating voting for anybody but Democrats.

After all, when voters elect Republicans, progressives consider that a mandate for progressive policies, ignoring the total reversal of policy stances from the Republicans of the 19th century to their current policies.

The only message that the "liberal media" can offer than makes sense is that it is critical to vote in every election and get everyone you know to vote as well, because only by We the People voting over and over in every election for a few decades can we get a liberal government that serves all of We the People.

So much straw in this comment it should be declared a fire hazard. I don't even know where to begin with it so I'll just remind you that 10 years ago most of the "sensible liberals" supported the Iraq invasion while the people you label "progressive" derisively did not. 'Nuff said.

Waldman would do well to be a bit more empirical in his methodology, and less impressionistic. Let's look at TPM's front page for some data. Friday morning, May 31, 2013: There are pictures of Rob Ford, Bush, Romney, Erickson, Schlafly, Beck, Cuccinelli, and (let's be fair) Obama (2) along with a Fox News clip featuring one of their blonde newsreaders. This provides a lovely panorama of the content of the liberal media: the antics of the right. Now why would anyone get tired of that?

People have tired of the liberal media because liberalism barely exists. There is one prominent, forceful liberal columnist pushing liberal ideas in the major corporate media. Obama cannot point to a single truly liberal accomplishment and looks to Republicans (upstanding, of course) or to former Republicans ("independents") like Geithner for major positions. He and his fellow Democrats have blocked liberal access to power more effectively than any of his Republican counterparts possibly could.

"Nothing will come of nothing," someone once remarked, rather inaccurately. But it will take a big bang to put content back into the American 'left'.

Obama has merely followed the voters to the right because the president is the president of ALL of We the People.

When conservatives reject their own policies because Obama gets Democrats to vote for them and make them law, it is clear voters do not care anything about principles of any stripe, but are simply rejecting Obama, Democrats, and even traditional Republicans like Bob Dole, Olympia Snowe, Ronald Reagan, and even Newt Gingrich. Who needs to be liberal or conservatives when voters have made it all about being anti-Obama. Not even progressives will support Obama getting anything done, but only demand nothing be done because nothing that can possibly pass will ever satisfy them, and they will boycott the next election.

How many times does "liberals sat out the 2010 election" have to be debunked for you guys to stop repeating it and using it to preemptively blame us for possible 2014 losses? If you actually bothered to look at exit polls from 2006 to 2010 you will see that self-identified liberal turnout remained constant while conservatives increased and moderates dropped substantially. It was the moderates who screwed us in 2010, after the Dems went to all that trouble to be all bipartisan for them.

I spent over a decade working DC in the liberal media , and let me tell you the real problem is stupidity. It was amazingly stupid for twits like this who attacked the Clinton's and their supporters so visually in 2007 and 2008 and demand that we choose a incredibly unqualified and inexperienced nominee over the Clinton's simply because it was a cooler choice

I stopped reading this article when this kook dismissed Obama's latest troubles as faux scandals. Can one even be more moronic than the author of this piece?

Yep, and Clintoncare has been a real success at providing health care access to just about every US resident for the past two decades, and the Clinton consumer protection agency ensured not home owners have been defraud by any banks for two decade, and student loans have not been a growing burden for the past two decades because Clinton addressed the crisis in college costs and affordability,...

I guess competency is defined by a perfect record of no legislation the liberal media objects to. Bill and Hillary, the two for one, have a perfect record of no legacy of compromised progressive legislation by getting nothing done that last more than two years - the 8 years of pain the Clinton's endured to balance the budget were wiped away in two years by the fiscal conservatives in the Bush administration.

Clearly, the Clinton's needed to be inexperienced and incompetent to have left a mark beyond memories of how much better it was in the 90s.

Liberals have already won! Our nation has been reduced to the level of Gulliver being totally hamstrung on the DC beach by regulatory Lilliputians. I mean, seriously, is there any aspect of our lives for which someone in Washington has not yet written a regulation? And is there any prospect whatsoever that any of the gazzilion Federal Regulations will ever be rescinded. TS Elliot was wrong... we shall not go out with a whimper... because we are strangling ourselves to death.

Faux scandals? Why can't this country quit being so partisan that when there guy clearly does wrong it's wrong. What if a Republican comes in next and does the same -or even worse- with the IRS and media? There would be howls and gnashing of teeth from the left -and rightfully so!

What the IRS did is downright scary! Why did the IRS Chief visit the White House more than ANY cabinet member? Seriously, what was he doing there??? This isn't about if you like the Tea Party or not. This is about the US not being a third world despot of a country.

If you repeat a lie long enough it becomes truth.

"Liberals look at shows like Bill O'Reilly's or Sean Hannity's and wonder how a person could possibly enjoy all that rage and contempt, night after night after night. But they do."

How have you succeeded in your business without ever hearing of Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow?

Faux Scandals. What an idiot! I stopped reading. In time this Kool-Aid drinker will realize that all of these scandals are real in significant. The IRS scandal has profound implications ... Anyway maybe he is a faux journalist.

Wow, you are beyond delusional. MSNBC's ratings are in the toilet, because no one buys their lies. Fox News ratings are through the roof, because they are the only news organization that will tell the truth about this administration. It's not rocket science.

Liberals are too busy working and making things to spend time like the Republican base of takers who depend on their Social Security and Medicare to pay their cable bill, heat and cool their houses, and let them sit all day watching Fox News.

Google employees are too busy inventing new things, and in their spare time help the Obama campaign, to watch any TV, whether Fox or MSNBC. But Google makes more money from the conservative bloggers and angry conservative readers in ad revenues than the conservative bloggers, so liberals are happy to keep them angry and spending their big government liberal entitlements.

Mr Waldman - I liked your early paragraphs on the rise of liberal media but I would argue that the failure of Air America does not fit your narrative. It rose during a period where it should have excelled and it did not while the reconstituted "Move Forward" MSNBC, HuffPo and other organs did.

But that is not why I am writing, I would like to offer another reason, one that may not have occurred to you OR one you "get" but choose to ignore. What if liberal media is suffering because its base in starting to understand some of what the "Dark Side" has said for years has indeed been correct - that the Media has been carrying water (and flour and salt) for the President, his Administration and the Democrats and ignoring narrative-jarring information?

What if, the average liberal media consumer has known this, even at a sub-conscious level, and is now feeling some sort of intellectual guilt about being complicit in this? By supporting such venues, they have participated in this skewing of the facts and events which was fun for awhile, but now it shown for what it is?

What if the emerging details of Obamacare are starting to worry or even scare liberals as much as it has those to the right of center? Who has been more correct in their pre-Obamacare rhetoric, the right or the left? Maybe, viewers are starting to realize that they were played as dupes and regularly lied to by those pushing Obamacare. Seriously, who has been more correct on the ACA, Maddow or Beck? O'Donnell or Malkin? Even the private sector unions are waking up to the fact that they were played as useful idiots.

Gitmo anyone? Drones?

How about Benghazi and the wag the dog nature of "that video"?

Listen, while you seem to question the intelligence of the consumers of Fox and right-leaning talk radio, I do not question the intelligence of most liberals. What I see happening is perfectly understandable = Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.

Mr. Walman, your own bias just might be preventing you from seeing that the liberal media's genetic embedded bias is what has poisoned its own waters and repelled those ideologically prediposed to prefer its taste.

BTW, you seem to fail to mention that Fox, CNN and CNN Headline News are all seeing gains in viewership, including among the key demos. Has it not occurred to you that the former MSNBC viewers are hitting a different channel combination on their remotes?

"...rise of a political movement made up of fascinatingly, terrifyingly crazy people..." -- The hatred and fear by the left of those that don't agree with them is irrational and self-defeating. It contributes mightily to the perception of a low information liberal mindset.

Reality - That is one of the scary things about Waldman's article - if the liberals are abandonning MSNBC and the left-of-center blogs, where are they getting their information? Have Jon Stewart, Colbert and Maher seen pops in their viewship? Scares me to think so but then again, if they are abandoning and not replacing, a good cleanse might be good for all......

Its very simple--Progressivism (aka Lib-tardism!) does'nt work. The Lib arguments on ANY issue DOES NOT HOLD UP TO SCRUTINY.

Why do you think Maddow never has ANY conservatives (REAL) on her show. Because , in a debate, she would LOSE!

You may want to note that Rush rarely invites anyone with an opposing view onto his program. This includes screening callers. No real debate going on there.

Since there is only the minutest difference between the Bush and the Obama admnistration, manifested most dramatically at once with his retention of the same national security and economic teams, and continuing in the same way in his second term, whatever American liberalism may be certainly does not have a hero in Obama. This unhappy truth gradually sinks in even to the most simple-minded - and takes the wind out of their false sails of hope. The internecine squabbles among the power factions, no matter what their denomination, is precisly for that - a bit more power.

MSNBC is getting poor ratings because they recycle the same stories in virtually every show, just like Fox News. If they want to keep viewers tuned to their channel, they will need to vary their content, so the audience does not get the idea that they are being talked to in a condescending repetitive way.

As for The American Prospect, it refuses to provide articles that are short enough to be reprinted in daily newspapers. Its daily bulletins, on the other hand, are not long enough to be reprinted as editorial commentaries. You need a happy medium so other people will reprint you.

It's all just that they don't dig Ram Dass. :-D You know what I mean. Rejecting the master saints results in bad shit. Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri by Swami Muktananda is my latest revelation of this truth. In it Muktananda tells us how a village rejected Nityananda and suffered for it. The right uses a passion for it's religious belief, it's morals and conventional culture. That has to be the aim where the liberal left has succeeded already in at least securing the White House and Senate. We don't claim the House of Representatives and what is that analogous to in the parliamentary system? Just looking for a word for us to relate to, the House of Commons. It's always hard for me to hear that a liberal left person doesn't meditate or have some alternative religious belief such as in a perfect master or other version of the life of Christ. The satellite is full of Christian right networks for right leaning politicos to lean on. Hell, with a satellite connection the right can just sit in front of its TV all week and never hear a dissenting word. Reinforced by the 2000 year old alleged version of Jesus Christ. Meditate, turn within. Bob Dylan sings, "strengthen the things that remain," and I think that applies. We could just be carnivored and prayed for into non-existence. One thing leads to another, doesn't it?

I think what's happening is that for the time-being, progressives have given up on convincing right-wingers of anything. The discussions and debates are just not worth the time or trouble, because we're dealing with wildly deceived/disoriented people on the right. They may as well be zombies.

What's happening is progressives joining causes to convince "the middle" with reason and facts on various troubling, REAL issues of the day. The middle is ultimately the ones who steer this country, and if you treat them with respect and useful knowledge about issues, they will gradually respond. Meanwhile, conservatives are increasingly giving up on this middle.

Democratic Party politicians have long been trying to "reach out to the middle". The problem is that they define "the middle" as "voters who were once moderates but have since been won over by the Reagan GOP", so they wind up "reaching out to the middle" by adopting conservative policies, not explaining why liberalism is better for moderates than conservatism. They (and lots of liberals, too) think they've somehow lost that argument permanently. Not very smart, but there you go.

Conservatives, OTOH, can afford to give up on the middle--they can just use their money and power and media machine.

the right wing advantage in media is obvious. their viewers are all retired and therefore at home. potential viewers of liberal media are all working their second or third jobs and therefore not at home.

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