Tilting to the Right
When the media cater to the far right, everything gets off-kilter
This morning Paul Krugman joined the chorus on the Internet reminding us of how the right wing reacted to a perfectly sensible internal report from the department of Homeland Security a couple of months ago, which warned of an upsurge of right-wing violence. Conservative commentators were outraged then, of course, so what are they saying now, in the wake of the assassination of a doctor by an anti-abortion fanatic and the killing of a guard at the Holcaust Memorial Museum by a white supremacist?
It’s all the fault of the left.
Rush Limbaugh quickly established the right-wing party-line by declaring that the white supremacist in question was really a leftist—partly because a Fox News location was supposedly one of his potential targets.
Keith Olbermann led the counter-attack to this lunacy on MSNBC. Appearing on Olbermann’s show, Countdown, last night, Mark Potok, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, offered this cogent summary of the facts:
The answer is—yes, it is precisely what [the Department of Homeland Security] talked about. They talked about a resurgence of the radical right. They had a great deal of evidence to support that conclusion. It very much mirrored the conclusions of the Southern Poverty Law Center earlier. And, as you well know, DHS was pilloried by political opportunists on the right [for] supposedly attacking all conservatives and all war veterans…
I think that the groups are definitely growing. They have been trying very hard to recruit around the idea of a black man being in the White House, sort of “horror of horrors.” And there has been quite a lot of criminal violence as well. In addition to the cases you‘ve mentioned, in just the last couple of months, five law enforcement officers have been murdered by right-wing extremists in two different incidents….
The day after Obama was inaugurated, a man in Brockton, Massachusetts, stormed out of his house and started murdering black people. When he was finally apprehended after murdering two and nearly killing a third, he told the police that he was going on that evening to murder as many Jews as possible in an Orthodox synagogue. His complaint was that the white race was suffering a genocide at the hands of others.
The idea, though, that, somehow, this shooting at the Holocaust Museum was in any remote way an artifact of the left or Obama‘s fault somehow—I mean, it‘s vile beyond words and just has no basis at all in fact of any kind.
Krugman’s column also restored some of the honor of The New York Times by counter-balancing the absurd, page-one story about Glenn Beck which appeared last March, in which Brian Stelter and Bill Carter gushed that Beck was “suddenly one of the most powerful media voices for the nation’s conservative populist anger” and that “barely two months into his job at Fox, his program is a phenomenon.”
(For the very latest example of this kind of “journalism,” see this repellently rhapsodic preview of John Stossel’s upcoming 20/20 profile of Beck.)
Krugman pointed out that, for the most part, Fox News and the RNC haven’t directly incited violence, “but they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.”
And there’s the problem. The profitability of Fox is rooted in people like Beck and Bill O’Reilly, whose entire raison d’etre is to keep their viewers in a perpetual state of fear by harping on a largely imaginary set of demons, thereby creating the perfect breeding ground for the gun-toting extremists they supposedly abhor. And yet the Times too often treats these pariahs as amusing clowns instead of portraying them as what they really are: permanent purveyors of hatred.
This week, Rush Limbaugh—the subject of a nauseatingly affectionate portrait in The New York Times Magazine last summer—continued to pretend that the one thing Obama has in common with God is that neither of them has a birth certificate—well, “not that we’ve seen.” The fact that the Obama campaign released the candidate’s birth certificate last summer, and that you can see it in dozens of locations on the Internet has had no impact at all on this permanent campaign to raise false doubts about the president’s citizenship.
In a splendid column last week, E.J. Dionne identified another problem with the reflex attention the mainstream media gives to every utterance of Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich: “A media environment that tilts to the right is obscuring what President Obama stands for and closing off political options that should be part of the public discussion.”
Dionne was describing a problem which FCP has repeatedly pointed to on every Washington chat show, from NBC’s Meet the Press to Gwen Ifill’s Washington Week: on almost every issue, the debate rages—from the center to the extreme right. Here’s the way Dionne dissected the problem:
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.
So while “the right wing’s rants get wall-to-wall airtime,” you almost never hear from progressive members of Congress like Representatives Jared Polis of Colorado, Donna Edwards of Maryland, and Raul Grijalva of Arizona—all three of whom are “passionately opposed to [the president’s] military approach to Afghanistan and want a serious debate over the implications of Obama’s strategy.”
Partly because of the gigantic right-wing investment in conservative Washington think tanks over the last forty years, right-wing pundits are much more deeply embedded within the Washington media establishment than their liberal counterparts. As a result, the utterly discredited positions of the right, on everything from terrorism to immigration, continue to attract a disproportionate amount of attention on every important television network—except, of course, for MSNBC.