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
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