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The conservative outrage machine

I've not written much about Dinesh D'Souza's latest cry for attention and book sales because, well, who wants to reward that kind of behavior? Though I do like imagining the pitch meeting:

"So, Dinesh, having accused liberals of causing 9/11, what's your next book going to be about?"

"I was thinking of accusing them of being fascists."

"Um, Jonah Goldberg already did that."

"Fine, then. What if I call them the 'Party of Death'?"

"Sorry, that's taken, too."


"Too hot."

"I've got it! Kenyan anti-colonialists."

"Your genius makes me cry."

But I do want to talk about Dave Weigel's review of D'Souza's book, which makes some sharp meta-observations about how this business strategy works. "It should be obvious by now that there is literally no conservative argument too 'crazy' to be obsessed over by liberals," he writes. "Every time a new one surfaces, they try to run it out of the mainstream by drawing extra attention to it."

I'd rephrase that just slightly: It's not that there is no argument too crazy to be obsessed over by liberals, but that there's no crazy argument liberals won't obsess over. They'll totally ignore plenty of arguments that aren't that crazy. And so too will conservatives. But the crazy stuff is fun to write about, or put on television. It makes for great Jon Stewart interviews. Blog readers love it. Ratings go higher. Liberals like to know the other side is nuts, and the other side likes to know that liberals are fascist Kenyan anti-colonialists who party with the reaper. But all the coverage serves to publicize the crazy book that's being covered, jacking up its sales and increasing the likelihood that the author will write another.

I try to hew to a simple rule when it comes to crazy books or, similarly, crazy scandals: Could I easily imagine a world in which no one cared about this? For Dinesh, the answer is obviously yes. For the Cordoba House, the answer is also yes. And if the answer is yes, then the reality is that this story probably has no actual implications, and the only thing I'm doing by writing about it is helping it survive for one more day.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 14, 2010; 11:27 AM ET
Categories:  Books  
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TNC did a nice job with the commenter who pointed out what colonialism really was in Kenya. Otherwise I feel sorry to have wasted any brain cells on this and blame memeorandum.

Posted by: 4jkb4ia | September 14, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Huzzah. Since the early days of Anne Coulter and the blonde bimbos, I've argued to stop paying attention. They kept upping the outrage factor because they knew it was great bait and keeps us distracted. It's an intentional strategy of the right. Years later, I gave up on watching Keith Olbermann, because he was devoting waaaay too much time to the right-wing crazies.

There is so much we could be talking about. Our so-called liberal media just doesn't seem to get this.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | September 14, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I agree that, in theory, ignoring it is best, but when Newt Gingrich is spouting this nonsense publicly, things change a bit in my mind.

Plus, it gives an excuse to link to this great piece in the Economist:

Posted by: Nylund154 | September 14, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad you've brought further attention to this important issue. The dire economic situation at home may result in our losing control over our colonies in Kenya. We can't let Obama and his band of rebels go through with plans to have Kenya break away from the United States. It is the jewel in our crown and we must hold it. I have to go now, I need a diaper change.

Posted by: Candressuhmoose | September 14, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

You're blaming the victim, here. Liberals aren't bringing this on themselves--Forbes isn't some obscure publication. It's a magazine that a lot of people read.

The issue isn't that liberals react, it's that this this stuff gets catapulted into the mainstream by big conservative money behind conservative news stations, radio, magazines, and think tanks. You seriously think the black Panther nonsense was liberals' fault? Or the birther crap? Or the "death panel" nonsense? Liberals ignored Betsy McCoughey until Sarah Palin, former VP candidate, launched her argument into orbit via the conservative outrage generator.

This is blaming the victim. Liberals would LOVE to ignore this BS. You really think Jon Stewart doesn't understand that there are loonies our there? The guy isn't shooting ducks in a barrel. He responds to this crap not because it's outrageous, but because it's outrageous and people are treating it like it's newsworthy!

Seriously, this is the "why are you hitting yourself" post of media critique.

Posted by: theorajones1 | September 14, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I thought the lesson of the Swift Boat campaign against Kerry was that inaccuracies, no matter how stupid, have to be named and contradicted. On a personal level I agree that it's better to ignore this stuff, but as a public media strategy I'm not convinced that's the way to go. Of course we are confronted with basically the spamming of crazy charges against Obama. But I also know from talking to relatives that some of this stuff sticks.

Posted by: martynsmith | September 14, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if we as a nation were having a debate about a jobs bill, or a labor bill, or even a Fed policy change, we would be having a useful debate. Instead Democrats think their best election argument isn't positive change, but ad hominem argument against Republicans; and of course, vice versa.

Myself, I think unemployed and tenuously employed folks like me would vote for politicians with a clear plan for the future, one that improved job prospects while guaranteeing basic rights. The Democratic leadership thinks demonizing Boehner will work -- no doubt as well as it did against Speaker Pelosi -- and frankly, they deserve a lesson or two.

Posted by: stonedone | September 14, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

FWIW, I don't think I've ever seen Stewart interview one of these crazy authors. Maybe an established politician who said something crazy, but no Ann Coulters on that show.

Posted by: DDAWD | September 14, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for not writing about all this for the mkost part. I thinbk it does just make it more accepttable for liberals to obsess over it--one of the real problems with your colleague Greg Sargent, who I otherwise generally like. It is so easy to write about this crazy stuff but it is really debasing our politics. Stick to the wonky stuff. Someday hopefully people will be more interested.

Posted by: Mimikatz | September 14, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

And the Weigel review is really worth reading. Let's hope D'Souza really has killed birtherism with his shoddy scholarship and nonsensical ideas. Jomo Kenyatta? Really?

Posted by: Mimikatz | September 14, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Mr. D'Souza is genuinely brilliant and wise, the later quality is missing too often from the journalistic output of the left.

If you haven't read Mr. D'Souza'a piece in Forbes, you should. Every adult American should. It explains what the left cannot explain, namely how Obama thinks.

Posted by: SameOldTiredThinking | September 14, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

"They'll totally ignore plenty of arguments that aren't that crazy. And so too will conservatives."

That's what I've been saying. ;)

"Liberals like to know the other side is nuts, and the other side likes to know that liberals are fascist Kenyan anti-colonialists who party with the reaper."

It's funny, because it's true. I've never met a liberal who wasn't, in their heart of hearts, a fascist Kenyan anti-colonialist reaper-partying, Mao-worshipping, terrorist-befriending socialist. You know it's true. Don't try to deny it. /snark

"and the only thing I'm doing by writing about it is helping it survive for one more day."

You have met the enemy, and he is Ezra. ;)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | September 14, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Aha, once again, the JournOlisters raise their ugly heads to write another totally biased article. It's quite interesting that, all of a sudden, the left is against hyperbole in name calling. And after only 3 generations of liberals doing so? Wow, you guys are right on top of this issue. Oh, wait, I forgot the metric. Name calling is only bad if it is done TO liberals, not BY liberals. You guys are such phony tools, pretending to be real journalists.

Posted by: PACIFICENV | September 14, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Ezra, D'Souza does an excellent job showing the source of 0bama's angst and hatred for America. Read-up, little one. You just might see what a clown you are and how badly you and your liberal clowns damage America. Outstanding reading:

Posted by: cruiszn | September 14, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

What would you call a blog that piggybacked on a review of a review of an article the thesis of which was that Obama's political views and inexplicable actions stem from anti-colonial doctrines espoused by his father and suggested that conservatives are pro-Kenyan colonialism?

The liberal outrage machine?

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 14, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

If you want to be consistent, then I think your policy on the likes of D'Souza ought really to apply to linking to Megan McArdle, whose idiotic ramblings are not malicious in the same way, but nevertheless deserve to be ignored, and definitely not rewarded in the currency of links to her posts.

If nobody linked to her, she probably wouldn't go away (she must have something juicy on the owner of The Atlantic--there's no other explanation possible for her long stint over there); but like the proverbial tree in the forest, we wouldn't any longer know that she's there. And what a pleasure that would be!

Posted by: KevinEgan | September 14, 2010 11:53 PM | Report abuse

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