Note to Conservatives: It’s the Media, Stupid!

If you are reading this blog post, you are in a minority of your fellow citizens in several ways. Firstly, you actually care about politics. Most Americans do not. Secondly, you care enough about being informed about political issues that you actually are interested in going out of your way to read up on conservative positions. Thirdly, if you are a conservative reading NewsBusters, you are further in the minority because you actually understand that media and culture actually control the political environment.

Unfortunately, most conservatives have failed to understand this. And it is the reason that conservatism or classical liberalism has not gained traction in this country or around the world despite being correct on the merits. In public relations and politics, however, perception is more real than reality.

Most people do not care about politics and never will. Because of this, they rely on snippets of news they happen to casually glean while reading or watching something else. This is why the left’s almost total domination of pop culture and news production is so insidious.

Despite all their ridiculous nonsense about “speaking truth to power,” left-wing journalists actually have no interest in pointing out the many failures and illogical positions of the politicians they adore. Provided a Democrat is in power, they have no interest in questioning the idea that government power is always the answer.

Contrary to what many believe, this dynamic is actually nothing new in American politics. It has existed long before an unqualified junior senator from Illinois came on the scene. The only time Democratic politicians get criticized by the American media elite is if they offend their fellow Democrats. It has happened occasionally such as when then-president Jimmy Carter and his chief of staff Hamilton Jordan swept into DC from Georgia and alienated huge swaths of the party establishment. He was rewarded with a primary challenge that helped Ronald Reagan defeat him in 1980. While Bill Clinton’s serial infidelities were not enough to lead Democrats to depose him, they definitely provoked resentment against him which led to many leaks that were often very detrimental to his ability to get things done.

In presidential campaigns, while Republicans will routinely criticize their Democratic opponents for being left-wing extremists, these arguments are rarely repeated for them by the media. But this dynamic exists beyond just presidential campaigns. In fact, it happens in every news cycle. And it is why the large domestic agenda items of conservatives have never really gotten much traction aside from tax cuts and now even that issue is not looking so strong.

During the tax debate that just ended, many conservatives have hammered congressional Republican leaders for capitulating or pursuing a faulty strategy in their dealings with President Obama. Now that the dust is settled, people are playing ‘what if’ and confidently insisting that things would have worked out better for the country if only the Republicans in Congress were not so stupid.

In reality, putting the hypotheticals aside, there is no strategy that the congressional GOP could have followed that would have created an outcome that most conservatives would have seen as ideal. Republican politicians are continually placed into such “Catch 22” situations.

The primary reason for this is that most voters actually have no idea what the conservative position on taxes and the deficit is. By and large, they have no idea what the conservative arguments on any issue are thanks to the fact that 90+ percent of the American media elite are hard-left partisan Democrats. There can be no message without a medium. Conservative position papers are only slightly more relevant to the average American than that tree falling in the forest that no one ever hears.

Under any possible scenario aside from complete surrender, the media elite would have painted the congressional GOP as heartless, evil monsters who want to throw children to the wolves. And even if they had completely surrendered, the media would still take great pains to tell the public that throwing kids to the wolves is really what conservatives are all about. Judging from the polls, the public believes the spin.

This point was perfectly illustrated yesterday during Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. A listener called in and discussed in great detail how out-of-control government is detrimental to the economy and that history has proven this to be true. Ordinarily, this would be just the sort of thing that Limbaugh would have taken to with gusto. Instead, the normally cheery El Rushbo wouldn’t take the bite.

“You are a dinosaur,” Limbaugh interjected. “You’re old-fashioned and you’re out of touch if you're talking about what should be.”

Limbaugh was exactly correct, even if he was being slightly facetious. It is impossible to reason with people who hold irrational beliefs about economics. People who believe things because they make them feel good or because they saw it on TV cannot be argued with. Instead, we must develop similar means of reaching low-information voters with our messages via channels which are far larger than conversations on Twitter or Facebook.

Glenn Beck understands this which is why Al Gore would not allow him to purchase his failed Current TV cable channel. It is also why the left mounts vicious hate campaigns against any conservative who starts to get a large following. As a reader of NewsBusters, you get this point. Unfortunately, many, perhaps most conservatives do not.

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered the attitude that the left-wing media elite is somehow “irrelevant” in the age of blogging and social media. This could not be further from the truth.

Many of the top-dollar donors on the right do not seem to understand it. Instead of spending money on mass-audience media which can serve as intermediating institutions for our ideas to the masses, the right’s most generous donors instead have spent their money on TV campaign ads, junk mail, and white papers that no one ever reads.

Too often, conservatives have viewed the idea of inspiring the masses as somehow beneath their intellectual gifts. This attitude must come to an end. So, too, must the notion that because technology or media are unfamiliar places for many on the right (particularly those over 45) that we must regard them with suspicion or reluctance.

I’m very glad that there is a vibrant center-right blogosphere and that there are some nice publications out there that cater to smart conservatives. But we need so much more than that in order to actually achieve something meaningful domestically. It is my belief that we can still save America from turning into a bigger version of Greece but in order to do that, we must first overhaul the conservative movement.

We must achieve more, we can achieve more. But will we?

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013