Conservatives Get Glum

A look around the web today makes clear that the crisis of American conservatism in general, and conservatives' relationship to the media in particular, is clearly our topic. First, none other than William Kristol, the very axis about whom the Republican establishment spins, is extremely worried about what has become of his movement:

And the conservative movement​—​a bulwark of American strength for the last several decades​—​is in deep disarray. Reading about some conservative organizations and Republican campaigns these days, one is reminded of Eric Hoffer’s remark, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” It may be that major parts of American conservatism have become such a racket that a kind of refounding of the movement as a cause is necessary. A reinvigoration of the Republican party also seems desirable, based on a new generation of leaders, perhaps coming​—​as did Ike and Reagan​—​from outside the normal channels.

There are elements of that racket on both sides of the aisle, but conservatives are particularly adept at fleecing their own people. Part of the problem the conservative movement faces now is that they've given so much power to media figures like Rush Limbaugh and the crew at Fox News, but those people's primary interest is in making money, not in helping the GOP. Which is why Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins finds a bunch of Republican operatives who are very worried about whether their party can break out of its Fox bubble, both as a psychological and practical matter. Here's my favorite part:

One Republican official recalled working earlier this year to get a potentially damaging story about a Democratic candidate into The New York Times — only to have an impatient colleague leak the scoop to a conservative website. The story shot through the online right, but failed to gain mainstream traction.

"I was like, great, we made the people who were already voting for us even angrier," the official snarked to BuzzFeed. "Mission accomplished."

Obviously, the politicians can start speaking more through non-conservative media outlets on their own initiative; John Boehner can just decide that he'll do Meet the Press and Face the Nation, not just Fox News Sunday (and the idea that he'd get impossibly difficult questions on the first two is laughable). But might the conservative media themselves ask whether they can do anything to broaden their audience's perspective so they don't create such a reality-denying bubble? Harold Pollack, hoping against hope that there are people on the right as reasonable and fair-minded as he is, urges them to come up with their own version of MSNBC's Up With Chris Hayes, a program that would feature lengthy, substantive, interesting discussions between people who actually know things, as opposed to just "strategists" trading talking points:

What strikes me is the dearth of conservative-leaning shows built on the same model. Most FOX discussion shows are virtually unwatchable—not because they’re conservative, but because they offer so little intellectual nutrition to their core audience. Sticking to our home topic of health policy, legitimate conservative experts such as James Capretta and Tevi Troy are drowned out by less honest or reputable figures such as Betsy McCaughey and Dick Morris. The typical conservative FOX viewer is thus fed Pravda-style misleading information about what the Affordable Care Act really entails. The typical non-conservative FOX viewer—to the extent non-conservatives tune in at all—have no way of knowing what reputable Republican or conservative policy analysts are really thinking, or, indeed, who these experts really are.

The first thing you'd need for such a program to be created is an audience that would watch it. After all, MSNBC doesn't air Hayes' show as a public service. The people who produce the show are trying to create the best program they can, but the network's bottom line is its bottom line. If it wasn't making money, it would get cancelled (the show's ratings are pretty good if not spectacular).

That doesn't mean, however, that every potentially lucrative market niche is exploited. There might well be an audience waiting for more intelligent conservative programming, but as long as Fox is still the number-one cable news network (which they are) and is making money hand over fist (ditto), there's little reason for them to go looking to change what is for them an extremely successful formula. And don't forget that a Democratic president is great for their business; it gives them an endless supply of things to get mad about, which means more viewers.

Since the conservative media is unlikely to change, maybe there's little people on the right can do but wait around, as Kristol says, for a new generation of leadership to come along and change things.

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