President Obama's reelection has prompted more than a few conservative pundits and journalists to look inward and contemplate the weaknesses of the right-wing media model that obsesses over partisan minutia, eagerly chases phantom scandals, nosedives down ideological rabbit holes, and excludes dissenting voices. It's an interesting discussion, but it's hampered by the fact that the same people calling for change are themselves backsliding into the behaviors they want to correct.
Commentary editor and columnist John Podhoretz offers a pure distillation of this recidivist phenomenon. "Time To Get Serious," writes Podhoretz for the April issue of Commentary, arguing that after 6 years of treating Obama as alternately a "lightweight" political incompetent and a power-mad would-be dictator, and with nothing but two electoral drubbings to show for it, conservatives have to "come to grips" with Obama's political skill:
It's not just the comforting delusion that he's a golf-mad dilettante, but also the reverse-negative image of that delusion--that Obama is a not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power. That caricature makes it far too easy for Obama to laugh off the legitimate criticisms of the kind of political leader he really is: a conventional post-1960s left-liberal with limited interest in the private sector and the gut sense that government must and should do more, whatever "more" might mean at any given moment.
Podhoretz's very next paragraph, however, shows that he's not quite ready to take his own advice, as he casts the Obama presidency as a vehicle for "disaster" at home and "nihilistic chaos" globally -- precisely the sort of extremist caricature he says isn't helpful for conservatives:
The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment -- making the case that Obama's social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.
Daniel Larison of the American Conservative observes:
Of course, warning about global "nihilistic chaos" being unleashed by an "anti-exceptionalist foreign policy" is just another example of excessive alarmism that produces the same effects as the attacks Podhoretz wants conservatives to reject. No one outside the bubble of movement conservatives and hard-liners believes that Obama's foreign policy is "anti-exceptionalist" in any sense, much less in the tendentious way that it is being applied here.
Despite widespread recent criticism of the role conservative media outlets played in the 2012 election and its aftermath, most attendees at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference had a positive view of the current state of right-wing journalism.
The calls for reform of conservative media are unconvincing to journalists who have found that the current model has given them a large audience.
Mike Opelka, editor-at-large for Glenn Beck's The Blaze, said the popularity of conservative media proves that they are doing good work.
"Fox dominates the conservative cable media," he said. "We [The Blaze] are averaging 10 million uniques a month. I think it is on target for what we like. We are a center-right source and we think they like what we give them."
Dana Loesch, the conservative radio talk show host whose past work for the Breitbart family of conservative news websites helped generate appearances on CNN, Fox News and ABC News, also gave high marks to conservative outlets.
"I think they are doing a really good job," she said of her fellow right-wing media outlets. "It's a good market, I always think there is an appetite for conservative media because there are a lot of people, myself included, who think you don't get that perspective when you turn it on, CBS, NBC, the channels like that."
Their optimism comes at a time when numerous media voices, including several prominent conservatives, have raised questions about the state of conservative media following a 2012 election in which right-wing media outlets convinced their readers, viewers, and listeners that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a comfortable win over a villainous President Obama. Last week, American Conservative published an extensive piece critical of "groupthink" among "several conservative publications."
Similarly, in a February post at his influential Red State website, new Fox News contributor Erick Erickson criticized the conservative "echo chamber" for "trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial" at the expense of basic reporting.
But these concerns, alongside a recent flurry of embarrassments (like the Breitbart.com "Friends of Hamas" debacle), were not shared by most at CPAC, who were quick to paint a rosy picture of their work in interviews with Media Matters.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
When Dana Loesch appeared on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight to discuss efforts to strengthen gun laws, Piers Morgan introduced her as a "conservative radio talk-show host," but didn't identify her as a CNN contributor. CNN hired Loesch as a political contributor in early 2011, but has been absent from the network in recent months.
When CNN hired Loesch, it said she would "appear across the network's prime time programs, as well as other dayparts and platforms" as part of election season coverage. But in the summer of 2012, when election season was in full swing, Loesch disappeared from CNN. She was on three times in June, twice in July, and did not appear again until her interview with Piers Morgan on Wednesday, according to a search of the Nexis database.
Without any official announcement, CNN reportedly suspended Loesch soon after she defended U.S. Marines accused of urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban forces, saying, "I'd drop trou and do it too." Her comment was widely condemned, including by CNN journalists. (By coincidence, one of the Marines involved in the incident pleaded guilty at a court-martial on Wednesday.)
In December, Loesch reportedly filed a lawsuit against Breitbart.com claiming that the site refuses to publish her work or allow it to be published elsewhere. Loesch was formerly identified as editor-in-chief of Breitbart's Big Journalism site.
CNN contributor Dana Loesch's particular brand of vitriol has been absent from the network's airwaves since July 25. While CNN announced her hiring last year by saying it was "gearing up for the election season," the network has not called on the inflammatory right-wing radio host to comment on political events including the Democratic and Republican national conventions or the presidential or vice presidential debates.
In the first seven months of this year Loesch appeared on CNN dozens of times, sometimes making several appearances a day. But she was on CNN only three times in June and twice in July, and has not appeared since, according to a search of the Nexis database that was confirmed through a search of transcripts in our own database.
Loesch's three-month absence from CNN follows what a CNN executive described as her effective but unannounced suspension earlier this year. The suspension came after Loesch responded to news that U.S. Marines had allegedly urinated on the dead bodies of Taliban forces by saying of the incident, "I'd drop trou and do it too."
The Breitbart.com contributor has a long history of inflammatory comments, both preceding and following her February 2011 hiring by CNN. At the time, the network announced her hiring as part of their effort to "gear up for the election season with the addition of political contributors from across the ideological spectrum," and said she would "appear across the network's prime time programs, as well as other dayparts and platforms."
CNN has not responded to repeated requests from Media Matters regarding Loesch's absence from their airwaves and whether or not she remains employed by the network.
After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted responsibility for the security of diplomats in the wake of the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya, members of the right-wing media launched a series of sexist attacks, calling her a "doormat" and a "battered woman."
Conservative media are mocking President Obama for countering Mitt Romney's misleading claim that gasoline prices have doubled during his tenure by accurately noting that prices were unusually low in January 2009 "because the economy was on the verge of collapse." But experts including a former American Petroleum Institute economist agree that the economic crisis drove gas prices to artificial lows.
Fox News' Charles Krauthammer didn't like Bill Clinton's convention speech. At all.
While so many commentators, including Republicans, praised the address as perhaps the best Clinton had ever given, the conservative columnist reassured Fox News viewers that not only had former president's "self-indulgent" speech failed to soar, it had actually flopped "beyond the hall."
According to Krauthammer, Clinton made his speech extra long just to annoy Obama; just to get back at him for defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.
It was that kind of week in the right-wing media. As Democrats gathered in Charlotte to officially nominate Obama, the conservative press tapped into its bottomless reservoir of resentment and slowly came undone, while all the time insisting the Charlotte production was a big failure.
Packed with strange public pronouncements about "slave blood," imprisoning the president, vaginas, aborting people, as well as rancid race-baiting, the right-wing Week in Review captured the unhinged element that powers the conservative movement on the eve of the final election push. And oh yeah, Fox's Dick Morris said Bill Clinton actually wants Obama defeated but won't say so because his "wife is a hostage" and "they'll kill her" if Obama loses.
The reason the meltdown matters is because of the conservative media's outsized influence within the GOP. Since Obama's inauguration, the conservative movement has become, first and foremost, a media-based one. The Republican Party and its presidential campaign now take commands from the far-right press. And don't forget, in May, Romney met for two hours with conspiracy-minded GOP bloggers to map out how the group could help his campaign.
This week, those conservative guiding lights couldn't contain their visceral contempt for all things Democratic. And they didn't even try. Rather than provide analysis (even the sharp-elbowed variety), commentators routinely stooped to embarrassing lows in an effort to tout their hatred.
There was CNN contributor Erick Erickson's off the wall, anatomical convention comparison:
CNN's Dan Loesch, wondering whether Democratic activist Sandra Fluke had been "aborted" from the convention lineup (she was not):
Conservative media figures are defending and applauding Mitt Romney for invoking at a Michigan rally the false conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States.
From the August 24 edition of KFTK's The Dana Show:
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From the August 21 edition of KFTK's The Dana Show:
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CNN contributor Dana Loesch had a meltdown on Twitter after learning that Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) was scheduled to be a guest on CNN to discuss the controversy surrounding his claim that it is "really rare" for victims of "legitimate rape" to become pregnant from the assault, despite this being one of the top news stories of the day.
CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight had announced that Monday's program would be hosting Akin -- "the biggest name of the day" and "the man everyone is talking about" -- following the Missouri Senate candidate's inflammatory comments. Upon hearing that news, Loesch took to Twitter to criticize Rep. Akin's decision to appear on her own network:
Apparently, Loesch thinks it's out of bounds for a Senate candidate and incumbent congressman to appear on a news network to discuss one of the major political news stories of the day. Loesch has been working to dismiss the ostracized congressman's outrageous comments in order to try and save face for Missouri Republicans.
By the way, Akin ended up being a no-show on Piers Morgan Tonight.
From the August 20 edition of KFTK's The Dana Show:
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In the wake of the controversy that erupted when Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, claimed it was "really rare" for victims of "legitimate rape" to become pregnant from the assault, CNN earned an unfortunate media distinction: Among the very few pundits I've seen defending, or trying to excuse, Akin's outrageous comments are Dana Loesch and Erick Erickson.
Both work for CNN.
This is the price CNN continues to pay for wanting so badly to be connected with representative of the right-wing press. Perhaps in search of shields to protect itself from the incessant whines about "liberal media bias," CNN's decision to legitimize the strange views of Loesch and Erickson remains a deeply misguided one.
Akin's comments about women not really being in danger of becoming pregnant during a rape because their bodies instinctively "shut that whole thing down" were so outrageous that many conservative commentators quickly condemned him, even demanding Akin step down as the Republican candidate challenging Democrat Claire McCaskill.
But not Loesch and Erickson. The CNN bloggers defiantly came to Akin's side, with Loesch claiming he had simply "failed a soundbite" trying to express a "medical statement about rape." And besides, Erickson argued Democrats are guilty of far worse crimes, like passing health care reform.
From Erickson last night:
That kind of yeah-but spin is not only juvenile, but it's completely irrelevant and embarrassing to watch. (Erickson even tried reviving an old falsehood about Obama supporting "infanticide" in order to advance his Akin spin.)
CNN contributor Erick Erickson jumped to deflect criticism from Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) after Akin said that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancies. In his response, Erickson used a discredited criticism of President Obama.
Asked during a local television interview whether he would keep abortion legal in the case of rape, Akin said:
AKIN: First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.
Akin has subsequently said: "In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year."
Erickson responded to Akin's comments by writing:
Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee in Missouri, made an inarticulate and rather dumb statement about rape and abortion on television in Missouri. He subsequently clarified his remarks. Congressman Akin, like many devout Christians, does not believe in a rape exception for abortion.
Erickson later added that he'd "take Todd Akin's inarticulate remarks over an infanticide supporter any day of the week":
Todd Akin was inarticulate. Some are now accusing him of being pro-rape. The people horrid by Todd Akin's remarks are, I'm sure, thrilled to have a President who defended infanticide. I'll take Todd Akin's inarticulate remarks over an infanticide supporter any day of the week.
And no, this is not hyperbole. President Obama was the only member of the Illinois State Senate to speak in favor of the position that a child who survives an abortion and fully exits the womb can still be killed by the abortionist.
By using the term "infanticide supporter," Erickson was referencing a long-discredited claim that President Obama once took a pro-infanticide position.