NYT's Jackie Calmes Smears Talk Radio, 'College Dropouts' Like Rush Pushing GOP to 'Far Right' With 'Red Meat'

In the first tranche of her 16,000-word Harvard report on the "conservative media," New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes warned of talk radio and Fox News pushing the Republican Party to the "far right...extreme."

In the second half of the report, Calmes offered a skewed history of talk radio, and saw the dark shadow of right-wing hate hovering over its birth, and lamented that "However frustrated Republican leaders are by this piling on from the far right, they have little choice but to pay heed." And popular radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Steve Deace? Why, they're both "college dropouts." And when did Geraldo Rivera become a "conservative" radio host? 

That is not, of course, how those in conservative media see it. Especially in talk radio, they argue – as their media predecessors did in the first decades after World War II – that Republicans win the White House when their message and their messenger are truly conservative, “a choice, not an echo” of Democrats, as Phyllis Schlafly famously wrote in 1964. To this day, conservatives’ certainty of that is undimmed by the fact that in the year of Schlafly’s book, right wing media and activists finally had prevailed in seeing their choice, Barry Goldwater, nominated, only to have him lose in a landslide and drag other Republicans with him. That defeat, conservative media insisted at the time, was the failure of the party establishment, which did not rally behind Goldwater and in some cases joined the liberal media and Democrats in labeling him an extremist. Looking toward 2016, once again the search for a true conservative animates the Republican right, but with an increased intensity that reflects the proliferation and combativeness of conservative media....

Calmes made a historically ignorant smear of modern-day talk radio (Father Charles Coughlin was actually a left-wing populist who originally supported FDR's New Deal):

Fewer than half of Americans had radios when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, but his rural electrification program spurred ownership. Eleanor Roosevelt also took early to radio. So did some of the Roosevelts’ political enemies, including populist Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana and the reactionary “radio priest” Father Charles E. Coughlin, who was something of a precursor of today’s conservative talkers....

After shedding crocodile tears about the lost civility of National Review founder William F. Buckley and his legendary PBS chat show Firing Line, Calmes lamented Limbaugh:

Making such distinctions between responsible and irresponsible in conservative media is all but unknown these days. In 2012, Limbaugh railed against law student Sandra Fluke after she complained when House Republicans in a congressional hearing barred her from testifying in favor of a mandate that insurance plans cover contraceptives. Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and “a prostitute,” adding, “She’s having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.” Amid the ensuing national furor, few conservatives and no Republicans seeking the 2012 presidential nomination criticized the talk-show king.

Calmes is awfully fond of mocking wildly successful talk show hosts as "college dropouts." After referring to Steve Deace that way, she then planted the appellation on  Rush Limbaugh, which I'm sure really hurts his feelings.

.... Limbaugh, the former D.J. and college dropout, began airing his caustic conservatism nationally in 1988.....

Calmes found a sitting Republican willing to bash the right on the record.

Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoman in the House Republican leadership and a former politics professor, said, “There’s a big difference between intellectual conservatism and what exists out there now. It’s much more populist in its orientation and much wider in its reach. This is not an elite opinion, a Bill Buckley sort of thing.” ....And playing to the prejudice of their audiences or reinforcing them – as opposed to engaging in enlightened and intellectual debate – is pretty widespread.”


On other issues as well -- gay rights, insurance for contraceptives, climate change and budget policy, for examples -- many Republican insiders say conservative media is on the wrong side of history, working with activist groups to hold the party to positions at odds with changing attitudes in society and, polls show, among a significant share of Republicans.

She quoted Mann and Ornstein again: "The old conservative GOP has been transformed into a party beholden to ideological zealots."

Whether conservative media is reflecting or driving opinion among hard-right Republicans comprising the party base, it has become increasingly antagonistic toward the Republican Party establishment in the 20 years since Limbaugh was made an honorary House Republican for his close party ties.....


One Republican, who would not be identified as criticizing the powerful media figures, recalled that during his election to Congress in 1995 as part of the Republican revolution led by soon-to-be Speaker Gingrich, Limbaugh’s radio punditry helpfully complemented his own campaign. But 20 years later, this Republican had a different view, reflecting the expansion of conservative media and its changed relationship with the party. “Conservative media is playing a larger and larger role, just by the mere fact that Fox is the number-one cable network and there are no liberal folks that appear on the channel for the most part..."

Actually, Fox News is more ideologically diverse than MSNBC, but Calmes, safely in her own news cocoon, doesn't realize that. Calmes kept tossing the "militant" slur (the same word the Times uses to describe Palestinian terrorists) at elected Republican politicians.

The problem that this media pressure creates for governance has been most evident among House Republicans, but it vexes those in the Senate, too – the Republican quoted above has served in both chambers – especially as the Senate has come to include more Tea Party members and former House militants....

Calmes' condescension continued, finding a GOP operative who compared conservatives to animals with a hunger for "red-meat."

“It’s a synergistic relationship,” said Cole, the congressman. Many Republicans despair of countering the impact of the constant red-meat diet on conservative voters. Said a Republican strategist who has worked for  congressional leaders and in presidential politics, but declined to be named criticizing conservative media or the party base, “Just like when you feed a tiger blood all day, it thirsts for more blood.”


However frustrated Republican leaders are by this piling on from the far right, they have little choice but to pay heed: Media and advocacy groups together reach what political scientists like to call “attentive voters” – the ones who actually vote, as well as volunteer, donate and influence others....

Under the heading "Messengers of the Left: Liberal Media Doesn’t Compare," Calmes assured that whatever liberal (or "progressive" media) was out there, the conservative wing was far more dominant. That is, if you ignore that liberals can get a news slant amendable to their world view from the three broadcast networks, CNN, MSNBC, and of course the New York Times.

....Our analysis of the top 100 talk radio programs -- the “Heavy Hundred,” as designated annually by trade publication Talkers magazine from among “thousands” of local, regional and national programs on the air -- showed that of those for which a political slant was evident, 84 percent were conservative and just over 10 percent were progressive.

But if one examines Appendix B of the report, which sorted out the top hosts by ideology, one would find Geraldo Rivera listed as a conservative, but Terry Gross of National Public Radio non-political. Those gaffes alone should throw those figures into disrepute. Harvard's bean-counters didn't even use the term "liberal" to designate the opposite of a conservative. Instead the three ideological choices provided were conservative, libertarian, and progressive -- which has been defined as a liberal who reads the polls.

And, [retired Republican Rep. Tom] Latham and other Republicans complain, many in that media – in their zeal for audience share – willfully ignore the realities of a legislative process designed by the Founders to require deliberation, checks and balances, and compromise....

Does he sometimes feel like Republicans helped create a monster?

“Oh, yeah. Are you kidding?”

Criticizing conservatives, libertarian Julian Sanchez coined the phrase "epistemic closure" to indicate a news cocooning among conservatives, while Calmes validated the "truthiness" of the phrase with a reference to that favorite liberal authority, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert.

“I actually do think there is something to it,” Hemmer said of Sanchez’ diagnosis of conservatives’ media cocoon and its attendant danger. “This closed media world is not allowing conservatives to see the world as it is.” In her book, she writes, “Nowhere was this more on display than in the Fox News studios on Election Night 2012.” David Frum, formerly a speechwriter for George W. Bush, also has written of conservatives’ “alternative knowledge system,” saying in one instance, “We used to say, ‘You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.’ Now we are all entitled to our own facts and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.” Even comedians have noted the phenomenon. Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” – now blessed by Merriam-Webster – to describe gut-level, fact-free political statements of the sort he uttered as the conservative blowhard character he played on cable TV.


The unanimity among establishment Republicans -- many of them conservatives by the definition of anyone but purists -- that rightwing media has become a big problem for the party, and their readiness to talk about it, was something of a surprise to this reporter of three decades’ experience in Washington. Of the establishment Republicans among several dozen conservatives interviewed, nearly all were flummoxed about how to moderate the party. Most expressed despair. The common hope was that the ultimate 2016 nominee could and would speak truth to power – the power, that is, of conservative media and their allies in the well-heeled advocacy groups....

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