How the conservative media harm democracy

Stalemate. Partisanship. The absence of any middle ground. If politicians actually try to govern, these are the challenges that often block effective action. In their book, "Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment," recently released in paperback by Oxford University Press, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella look at one side of the equation: the rabble rousers on the right. They find that an integrated conservative media machine has created a cocoon-like environment around people who hold similar views and has severely limited genuine debate of issues. Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Joseph N. Cappella holds the Gerald R. Miller Chair at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

GUEST BLOGGERS: Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella

In our book, we draw on survey research and content analysis to argue that Rush Limbaugh's talk radio program, Fox News, and the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal create a self-protective enclave hospitable to conservative beliefs. The safe haven provided by the country's most popular political talk show, its most watched cable network, and the second most read paper in the country, reinforces the views of like-minded audience members, helps them maintain conservative values and dispositions, holds Republican candidates and leaders accountable to conservative ideals, tightens their audience's ties to the Republican Party, and distances listeners, readers, and viewers from liberals, in general, and Democrats, in particular. It also enwraps them in a world in which facts supportive of Democratic claims are discredited and those consistent with conservative ones championed. When one systematically misperceives the positions of those of a supposedly different ideology, one may decide to oppose legislation or vote against a candidate with whom, on some issues of importance, one actually agrees.

In such a polarized political world everyone is entitled to his or her own facts, the evidentiary grounds for political discussion are lost, and there is as a result no point in attempting to deliberate across ideological lines. In such an enclave, each side simply asserts its ideology. Neither is open to any good that may reside in the opposition's point of view. Compromise may become a lost art. And the forms of community that are created when those of divergent views find ways to meet on higher ground become the stuff of utopian novels.

When hosts such as Limbaugh or commentators on Fox use ridicule and assaults on patriotism or character as vehicles to marginalize leaders of the other side, media figures such as Limbaugh also sow enmity and create enemies. These rhetorical moves undermine the assumption that it is possible to disagree while granting that the other is a person of good will and integrity. Philosophical differences become personal ones. Ad hominem attack is legitimized as a mode of argument. Ridicule invites ridicule, ad hominem, a rhetorical response in kind. When these rhetorical moves are harnessed to strong emotion, the result may be a sort of engagement that in the short term produces votes for one side but in the long term cultivates a political climate in which those who are elected find it difficult to effectively govern.

A model deliberative democracy presupposes a world composed of people of good will and integrity who want the best for the country but differ in philosophy. When partisan difference becomes hyper partisan disdain, audiences are invited to condemn those with whom they disagree. When this attitude is writ large into the legislative arena, it ensures election of those unwilling to compromise who will stalemate a legislative debate rather than incorporate the best from the alternatives being offered.

By Steven E. Levingston |  February 18, 2010; 5:30 AM ET Politics , Steven Levingston
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Everything the author claims the conservative media does to its opponents is exactly what the rest of the media has done to liberal opponents for decades. The major newspaper in every city, the ABC, CBS, and NBC network news, the AP, and later on CNN have always and still are dominated by liberals and liberal views. This happens not just in opinion pieces, but in supposed "news" stories, where important facts are left out or buried in the story (usually ones that don't support the liberal journalist's view). It also shows up in the editorial decisions of what stories are pursued and placed in prominent positions in the telecast/newspaper. This book is nothing more than a partisan hack job by liberals that completely ignores the role of the mainstream media played in fostering the rise of the conservative media outlets. Some of the charges the author makes are true, but they are also true of mainstream sources. By igoring this and laying the blame squarely on one side of the asile, the author has lost all credibility on this subject.

Posted by: octopi213 | February 18, 2010 12:37 PM

To compare what Limbaugh and Beck do to what Anderson Cooper does is nonsense.

Posted by: maurban | February 18, 2010 12:43 PM

All that's happening is that the media has broken into submarkets.
Three TV network news shows and a couple of national weekly magazines no longer dominate. They hasve been supplemented by dozens of other news and opinion choices.
People can choose from many sources. Some people sample a variety of sources. Some a few. Others seem to ignore them all.
What happened to the concept of diversity being a good thing?

Posted by: jfv123 | February 18, 2010 12:48 PM

This is the most lopsided blog I have ever read. Really, I am supposed to see this headline and think the Washington comPOST isn't harming democracy, by only previewing a book on how Conservative Media is harmful?? Please, shove it. MSNBC, CNN, etc are harmful to America. Where is that written? The crucifixion of Sarah Palin & George W. Bush, Where is that written to be harmful to America? Someone please write a book about how a waste of space this website is.

Posted by: listentothemonkeys | February 18, 2010 1:02 PM

If I accept the premise of the author's logic, could I not simply modify the title and still be correct? "How the Liberal (Mainstream) Media Harm Democracy" would also apply. A minor adjustment to commentator's names would also cut both ways; "When hosts such as Olbermann or commentators on MSNBC use ridicule and assaults on patriotism or character as vehicles to marginalize leaders of the other side, media figures such as Olbermann, Maddow, or Maher also sow enmity and create enemies."

I'm not saying I disagree with the author... both sides contribute the current level of vitriole and rancor. The media in general today is far more concerned about its own bottom line than their sacred role as the fourth estate. In the end, the authors have stated the obvious. Well, half of it, anyway.

Posted by: outsider6 | February 18, 2010 1:14 PM

The people posting responses saying 'the liberal media is just as bad as the conservative media' are completely missing the point. 'Infotainment' (what a ridiculous word they have penned) represented by constant bloviating replaced substantive news and reporting about 15 years ago. There is no weight, no gravitas, no intellectual vigor in the debate. This has happened due to the degregulation pertaining to media outlet ownership. Now not only is it possible, it is pervasive that ALL news outlets in entire regions of this country have one slant - right wing corporatist media masquerading as 'everyman' populists. I for one have long since grown tired of talk radio only playing Hannity and Limbaugh (who are THEY to tell ME what to think?) and owned by the likes of Rupert Murdock (a radical corporatist who isn't even American...) There is no 'right-center' majority... There is a center, moderate, pro-people, pro effective government center that is taking back this country. Quit being such syncophants already and think for yourself. Read a book! (perhaps)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

■Our analysis in the spring of 2007 of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners reveals that 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.
■Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk—10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.
■A separate analysis of all of the news/talk stations in the top 10 radio markets reveals that 76 percent of the programming in these markets is conservative and 24 percent is progressive, although programming is more balanced in markets such as New York and Chicago.

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/06/talk_radio.html

Posted by: erudite1 | February 18, 2010 1:30 PM

octopi213 saqys, "Everything the author claims the conservative media does to its opponents is exactly what the rest of the media has done to liberal opponents for decades."

Please describe these liberal newspapers. There are no liberal national media moutlets.

Conservatives are narrow-minded and refuse to accept any view other than their own. Closed-minded usually indicates issues like racism, inequality, and other views that put the majority above the minority, just as this article describes.

This poster actually validates the authors article by participating in the appropriate conservative manner, just as described above.

thank-you octopi213 for helping the rest of us understand just hgow accurate thie author is.

Patrick

Posted by: patmatthews | February 18, 2010 1:45 PM

"Liberal Media" is another one of those myths that right wingers cling to to justify their myopic, echo-chamber of feel good pablum. Jameson gets it exactly right which is why so many here attack the report. The truth hurts. One cannot accept reality when you are insulated from it and are being spoon-fed your politics from people who have NO interest in your own welfare, just theirs.

Posted by: atroncale1 | February 18, 2010 1:52 PM

As stated by others, you can spin this completely the opposite way:

"Mainstream broadcast news, NSNBC and CNN, and the opinion pages of the New York Times and Washington Post create a self-protective enclave hospitable to liberal beliefs. The safe haven provided by National Public Radio, the majority of cable news networks, and the most read paper in the country, reinforces the views of like-minded audience members, helps them maintain liberal values and dispositions, holds Democratic candidates and leaders accountable to progressive ideals, tightens their audience's ties to the Democratic Party, and distances listeners, readers, and viewers from conservatives, in general, and Republicans, in particular. It also enwraps them in a world in which facts supportive of Republican or conservative claims are discredited and those consistent with liberal ones championed. When one systematically misperceives the positions of those of a supposedly different ideology, one may decide to oppose legislation or vote against a candidate with whom, on some issues of importance, one actually agrees. . .

When hosts such as Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart or commentators on MSNBC use ridicule and assaults on humanity or character as vehicles to marginalize leaders of the other side, media figures such as Olbermann also sow enmity and create enemies. These rhetorical moves undermine the assumption that it is possible to disagree while granting that the other is a person of good will and integrity. Philosophical differences become personal ones. Ad hominem attack is legitimized as a mode of argument. Ridicule invites ridicule, ad hominem, a rhetorical response in kind. When these rhetorical moves are harnessed to strong emotion, the result may be a sort of engagement that in the short term produces votes for one side but in the long term cultivates a political climate in which those who are elected find it difficult to effectively govern."

So: Propose a viable alternative. Perhaps a cease-fire could be arranged. And if you believe that can happen, whatever you're smoking is illegal. If Jamieson and Cappella are apparently unwilling to recognize or acknowledge the role their apparent political allies are playing in this constant tit-for-tat, why in heck should conservatives be willing to pay any attention to them?

Posted by: LNER4472 | February 18, 2010 2:22 PM

I learned a long time ago that if a radio, tv or newspaper produced articles that were offensive to me I simply ignored them. I do not understand why people will continue to listen to, or read, articles that they do not agree wih. Certainly they must have more to do with their time. I listen to Fox because what I hear and see is what I believe in. This does not keep me from knowing what goes on in the world but insulates me from the garbage that spews from the mouths of the liberal media. Our nation has become so used to listening to lies from our political leaders that they no longer are offended by the lies. It becomes more and more apparent that the White House crowd have little respect for Americans and believe that only they have all the answers. Time will prove them not only wrong but ignorant as well.

Posted by: MALBENNET | February 18, 2010 2:23 PM

One can trace this back to when Murdoch invaded the American media and began spewing British-style yellow journalism all over newsprint (NY Post) and FoxTV. This cancer was introduced with Maury Povich and now the tumor has spread to other networks so desperate to keep their ratings that they have sold their own souls. Now all TV, radio and print sources are infected. All "news" is now skewed with lowest-common denominator stories degigned to appeal to the base, purient infotainment. The patient is comatose and will soon be dead. (A real news story: How did Robert Maxwell, Rupert's only rival for trash news, really die?) competitor, robert Maxwell.)

Posted by: atroncale1 | February 18, 2010 2:23 PM

The difference between liberal media and conservative media is that the liberals don't just make up stories to justify their beliefs. Like the death panels, or the birthers, etc. When they said that W couldn't speak correctly or use propper English, they had his speaches as proof. And comparing Cooper to Rush and Beck, where were they for the Haitians? Sitting on their backsides afraid of the black people and checking their bank accounts.

Posted by: msjn1 | February 18, 2010 2:33 PM

Why does it matter which talking head lies more often? The lying won't stop, and people won't walk into a book store and select a book by Ted Kennedy or Sarah Palin just to find out what the other guy thinks. Facts and rationality no longer have any place in the public discourse. I don't know the antidote, and I don't know what it will take to shock the country back to its senses. Fallows has a great article in the recent Atlantic, in which the smart people he interviews address this very question. Nader says an enlightened coup is needed. Fallows says another Sputnik moment is needed. What I am certain about is that the Supreme Court's recent decision about campaign financing was a giant leap backwards for anyone who was hoping for real discourse about serious issues by political candidates.

Posted by: bikes-everywhere | February 18, 2010 2:58 PM

"How the liberal media harms democracy"
and it did by not vetting obama...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 18, 2010 2:59 PM

The attacks in this space on the conservative mindset suggest that narrow-mindedness is not limited to conservatives...

Though I'm a conservative, I can't listen to Limbaugh (too extreme, too nasty) or Beck (the guy's a little crazy). And Fox News embarrasses me because they pander to the basest elements of the right. But the simple fact is people watch and people listen. The ill-named "erudite1" lists evidence above that this is, in fact, a center-right country. Otherwise there'd be far more liberal talk radio (remember Air America?) and O'Reilly and Beck wouldn't trounce Olbermann and Maddow every night.

Posted by: outsider6 | February 18, 2010 3:10 PM

As the saying goes, 'you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.'

The problem with much of what comes out of FOX and conservative talk radio is it not only has an obvious slant, but in many cases it's not factually correct.

The style is much different of course too. With the exception of Olbermann and Schultz on MSNBC, no other left-leaning personalities are as bombastic as pretty much every personality on every opinion show on FOX and talk radio. It's the same way you can't compare a relatively straight news unemotional albeit left-leaning broadcast like NPR to say Limbaugh or Beck.

How else to explain that Pew poll (I think it was Pew) from 4-5 years ago that showed viewers who got their news mainly from FOX vs the other networks were the most uninformed/misinformed of all viewers. By 4 or 5 times the number, they were more likely to believe Saddam Hussein masterminded 9/11, that WMD were found in Iraq, etc. When the networks can't even seem to agree on a basic set of facts on which to report and then offer opinion on, we are all in deep trouble.

Many of the people showing up at town hall meetings like in Lindsey Graham's case, did not even realize the GOP was the minority party. They were probably so insulated from reality, they just assumed the GOP position was the majority position.

The job of a "news" network is to enlighten and inform, not to tell you what you think is true or what you would like to believe is true.

Posted by: jetrain | February 18, 2010 3:15 PM

Patrick, you must not have comprehended my whole post. I did say that the author is indeed partially correct in their assessment of some conservative media outlets. The problem is that the author completely ignores the problems in the "mainstream" media that gave rise to the alternative media. For decades, the most prominent newspapers and television news networks supressed conservative voices and views. If a story or pundit did not fit with the worldview(which was overwhelmingly liberal) of the journalist and/or editor it either did not run, or was buried in the telecast/newspaper. This bias exists today, in these places that people like you call "centrist," because the things they publish fit your liberal worldview. It was blatant beyond belief in the 2008 election, and remains blatant in the coverage of the Global Warming Scandals. This newspaper has barely uttered a peep about these scandals, and when it has, the people who are interviewed have a vested interest in the outcome of the investigations. Yet, the U.K. media has covered this story aggressively, even though they are ideologically to the left of their American counterparts. You blame others for looking at this issue through their own ideological lens. Before you make a chage like that, perhaps you should remove yours.

Posted by: octopi213 | February 18, 2010 3:15 PM

The left wing doesn't like having their real political agenda exposed. The mainstream media won't do it! But that won't matter much longer since many of the mainstream media are going out of business.

Posted by: Jimbo77 | February 18, 2010 3:18 PM

What we have with Right Wing Media is this "All propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends to direct itself." This in a nut shell is the republican view of how to conduct conservative talk radio. Hate and fear are what they seek to stir in people. In advertising that is called "anxiety arousal" By twisting truth many times 180 degrees from reality in effect they are presenting themselves as the "anxiety reduction". They are snake oil salesman and until the next election the republican agenda is for America to fail. The commonality between right wing extremists is they all work toward one end, in this way the republican AM talk radio machine and everyone from Steele down are in fact doing exactly what the terrorists want.
They are spreading confusion hate fear anxiety and making government dysfunctional. The end game is their own form of corporate feudalism, to have a tax free zone for the wealthy with the American people stuck with the bill to pay rent on a government that the republicans want to privatize. Rush, Steele and the confederates and free market fascists who have all but destroyed the economy want to take down the union and the party of Jefferson and raise up their confederacy as for the quote, the mantra of the tea party and AM hate radio; "All propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends to direct itself." Hitler was the one who outlined how right wing ectremists do media and the republicans have adopted his business model to the tee. Wake up and smell the coffee America the last thing we need is more republicans, we have a war to win and an economy to fix.

Posted by: iseasygoing | February 18, 2010 3:28 PM

Jetrain,

I think both sides frequently make up their own facts. I often have the opportunity to see Fox, CNN, and MSNBC side-by-side in the mornings while in the gym. On the day the Senate voted on whether or not to debate the health care bill -- not to pass it, mind you, just DEBATE the bill -- the MSNBC reporters as well as CNN reported with great urgency and concern about whether the Dems could muster a 60-vote majority. In order to create artificial drama they breathlessly speculated and debated whether the Dems could pull off this "historic" vote. All about a vote that would not pass a bill nor create a law -- just one that would open debate about a possible bill!

Over on Fox the reporter simply pointed out that the vote was merely symbolic and procedural -- what Dem would possibly vote NO? Would any Dem really vote no about just talking about health care? Of course they would get the votes -- there was nothing at stake. And of course no GOPers would vote yes so they could establish a bargaining position. No drama... no urgency. Just a simple report on what would come next.

And the vote was, in fact, 60-40. The outcome was never in doubt.

On another day, Fox would have been the one falsely exaggerating an issue. Those people at the Lindsay Graham town hall are no less informed that those at a Charles Schumer town hall -- IF they're only getting their info from one place...

Posted by: outsider6 | February 18, 2010 3:38 PM

To see the extremes of both sides trade barbs here reminds me that there is a need for a third party in this country, a middle ground.

Right wing media populists survive in the media business because they make money. They're better at drawing viewers, and get better ratings than the "progressive" (I don't understand what's progressive about Olbermann, but okay) media populists. It's simple business.

To say that BECAUSE the people doing better business don't agree with you they're destroying democracy is disingenuous at best. It's just supporting the right wing argument that only the people who aren't good at doing business support the left.

To say that O'Reilly or Olbermann are parading opinion as news also shows how broken some peoples' sense of reality is. I've watched both, and both were _discussing_ events, not reporting on them. This very different than reporting from the scene and then perverting the facts.

Posted by: jwalter6 | February 18, 2010 3:48 PM

I've never understood what the so-called "liberal bias" is except for its failure to subscribe fully to what windbags like Limbaugh put out. Limbaugh is fully matched by many of his sycophants on this blog. If this is representative of America, if what we see here is what we get in the voting booth, there is no hope for this doomed country. More Cheney, Rumsfeld, Yoo, Kerik, Wolfowicz, Gonzales... oh God it makes the head and heart ache.

Posted by: frodot | February 18, 2010 3:55 PM

Frodo,

You forgot Ashcroft...

Posted by: outsider6 | February 18, 2010 3:59 PM


All I know is my real income level hasn't moved in over a decade, regardless of small raises, efforts to roll back my spending and paying cash whenever possible.

Chinese communists have their people in virtual slavery with a currency that is devalued on purpose so that China can, as we say in sales, "get the business first." It's a time-honored tactic. Undercut your competition, hope they go out of business, then raise prices.

I blame both Democrats and Republicans, but I have a special contempt set aside for so-called "conservatives" who claim to care about this country. They don't. They care about other conservatives, the corporations and the GOP. The comments here today prove that.

All I have to hear or read to change my opinion is ONE, just ONE so-called conservative who will say what needs to be said about our trade relationship with China.

It exploits Chinese and American workers at the same time.

Oh, and Democrats, maybe if any of you are reading this, grow a pair and try it out in a mirror. Might come in handy one day.

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | February 18, 2010 3:59 PM

The term liberal media seems to have been a catch phrase of the right because the media used to be interested in facts. CNN's attempts to be unbiased to a fault. They frequently put on guests from either the conservative or liberal opinion who spout lies without any challenge from the anchors.

MSNBC's nightime opinion shows are the only thing even close to Fox's 24/7 lie-a-palooza.

Posted by: cashink2003 | February 18, 2010 3:59 PM

Cash,

You're right... I suppose the opposite of Right Wing or Conservative Media would just be... media.

Posted by: outsider6 | February 18, 2010 4:05 PM

■Our analysis in the spring of 2007 of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners reveals that 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.

**this is not because these shows were higher rated since many times the conservative talk replaced higher rated progressive talkers - ownership of media means ownership of the message. The message of the right wing is corporatist to the point of fascism. We the people...
Corporations are not people and money does not equal free speech despite what the activist judges in the Supreme Court say!

Corporatists (i.e. a majority of the Republicant party and blue dog dems) care not for their country, they care only for their wallets - what else explains their love of 'free' (not fair) trade with the COMMUNIST Chinese? Because their corporate donors dictate there politicians views and that means we get to go where we want, when we want and make the cheapest crap possible without concern for the USA. Kick out the traitors!

Posted by: erudite1 | February 18, 2010 5:30 PM

Considering that only about 1/15 of the U.S. population *actually listen* to Rush Limbaugh yet well over 50% "know" they hate Rush, I think it's logical to conclude that a reasonable person should have no reason to consider the opinions of the majority nor give creedance to them.

I, for one, believe we need to go back to the basics we used to know before this communist/socialist so-called "progressive" agenda made us progressively forget basic common sense. We conservatives need to also accept the sad fact that the liberals in this country aren't going to simply sit back and just give up. It's time the kid gloves come off. I am sick of the namby-pamby wimy nature of the Republican party.

Wake up, conservatives! What do you propose we do when the liberal nutjobs start sending our own sons and daughters and husbands and wives back home to us in body bags, just throw our hands in the air and accept it?

Posted by: buckeye101 | February 19, 2010 6:40 PM

@Buckeye101 I think your tone and attitude are a bit harsh. Remember, not all of us who have issues with Democrats and that are republicans and conservatives.

But, I mean, c'mon, folks. You'd have to be blind or a little dishonest with yourself not to see the media did help to make the man. Everywhere you could turn the media kept giving him breaks when he was campaigning. The church I pray at doesn't have a preacher like he did, and where is any of that in the media? Black Liberation Theology? Please! We can get their on our own, "ain't no whitey holdin' me back" as I went to college, got my degree... anyhow, my point is the regular media just keeps on giving him cover.

Anyone here read about the Dalai Lama's visit to see President Obama? Anyone here read how he was escorted out of the White House?

Obama is bringing shame on himself, making the man leave by the back door and past the trash. By the trash?!? My God and I thought we and the NAACP got rid of segregation? And where in the mainstream media do you see this? Nowhere!

So I may not agree with a lot of what they say, but thank God the conservative media *is* there so we can see what's going on with our elected officials.

Posted by: elained | February 20, 2010 12:43 AM

I wish this sort of thing would appear in the politics section, not the books blog.

Posted by: Heron | February 20, 2010 12:58 PM

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