Conservative Media’s Propaganda Problem
I second what Dan McCarthy says here:
That spirit of fair play is missing from the reporting that one finds among many well-funded right-wing websites. I’d have a degree of respect for the Washington Free Beacon if its opposition to Hagel had been couched in well-written polemical essays of the sort once produced by Norman Podhoretz. Those kinds of essay can also be dishonest in the particulars, but the genre itself indicates some degree of good-faith self-awareness—awareness of the difference between playing the role of a prosecutor and that of a judge, juror, or bailiff.
The problem with right-wing journalism today isn’t that it features too much opinion but that its reporting is all slant.
This seems to be a problem that happens regardless of the party in power. When there is a Republican administration, many conservative media outlets seem to consider it their responsibility to act as its boosters, almost regardless of what it does, instead of working to hold it accountable. If that means redefining conservatism or spinning bad news to suit the temporary needs of the administration, then that is what often happens. When there is a Democratic administration, the same outlets may want to hold it accountable, but they also often feel obliged to endorse a fantasy, alarmist version of administration actions that make it much more difficult for non-partisans to take their objections and criticism seriously. The anti-Hagel campaign promoted a lot of nonsensical, alarmist claims in the name of transparency and oversight, but in doing so it was just continuing a pattern of bad-faith attacks that have been going on for over four years. It’s a bad habit based partly in the need to outrage and horrify the audience in order to boost their numbers, but it’s also based on the assumption that the other “side” is so biased that they are released from their obligations to be accurate and fair as well. The belief seems to be that “all’s fair in propaganda,” which is exactly what conservative media outlets should not be trying to produce in the first place.
There is a difference between strenuously objecting to a particular policy or appointment and completely distorting the content of that policy or the views of the appointee. If most movement conservatives genuinely hate the idea of improved relations with Russia, for example, that’s their choice, and they can protest against efforts to improve those relations. What they can’t do, if they still want their arguments on policy to be taken seriously by others, is to impose absurd, impossible standards for judging the policy or simply lie about what that policy is. It became an article of faith at most conservative media outlets that the “reset” involved “betraying” or “abandoning” Poland and the Czech Republic, and they repeated this utterly bogus claim ad nauseam. During the New START debate in 2010, conservative media uncritically reported the nonsense arguments that treaty opponents made and treated them as important, substantive objections. This not only badly misinformed their audience, but it also made it impossible to trust the rest of their analysis. Likewise, movement conservatives don’t have to support Hagel’s nomination, but that doesn’t give their media outlets license to invent a fantasy record that makes Hagel into the embodiment of everything they hate in the world. There is no guarantee that movement conservatives could have prevailed in any of these fights if they had made sound arguments grounded in evidence, but as it turned out they lost the fights and their credibility at the same time.