After a Twitter exchange with Tod today, I decided to finally pull the trigger on a post I’ve been considering for a few days. Read on!
As nigh-on every denizen of the political blogosphere now knows, agenda-free stats heads like Nate Silver understand demographic and electoral reality far better than their conservative critics. This is killing frustrated Republicans. Just killing them. Indeed, when I pointed this out in a recent post—a post cautioning the Left about overestimating the election’s message, no less—conservative commenters complained that I was far too proud to have my side’s version of reality proven true.
That’s the rub, then. Conservatives are so raw that Dick Morris, et al, miscalled the election that they can’t (won’t?) face the factual bankruptcy notes piling up at their doorstep. Point out that their pre-election grandstanding was so much dross, and they’re suddenly gung-ho to focus on the issues and collaborate to solve the nation’s problems and etc.
(So am I, by the way. So is everyone. No one serious is arguing that we shouldn’t address our problems. C’mon. Get real.)
Their sensitivity is a bad sign. Now should be a time for right-wing grassroots concern. Scores of conservative media stateswomen and men (see Tod’s list here) confidently predicted a conclusive win for Candidate Romney. Surely it’s important to hold them to account. Surely it’s worth investigating why so many of them were so resoundingly wrong. This is less important for lefty-type academics like me than it is for the Republicans’ base. Check the comment thread on this RedState post. These conservatives, by contrast, are pretty ticked off—and they’re blaming FOX News. Seriously.
Because…what if FOX cooked the poll numbers for ratings? What if they knew that Romney was toast, but obscured it? Worse still, what if FOX didn’t know? What if conservative elites were just as deluded as their base? What if—as reports suggest—the epistemic closure problem went all the way up to Romney himself? This last bit seems to be the emerging story. The Right was, well, wrong from top-to-bottom.
But if FOX and RedState—and Beck, and Rush, and various other conservative media outlets—were badly deluded about the polling data, it’s certainly plausible to wonder whether they’re wrong on other major stories, isn’t it? As cozy as partisan media bubbles can be, election results (usually) are beyond their insulating power. No amount of spin will put Paul Ryan one heartbeat away from the presidency this time around. For the first time in a long time, then, conservative media consumers are wondering if they’ve been duped.
That’s where it gets really interesting. What else has FOX been spinning? Perhaps tax cuts don’t increase federal revenue. Perhaps the Islamophobia FOX peddles isn’t grounded in any honest facts. Perhaps their smears against climate science will wane. Perhaps their periodic racism against Latinos will stop entirely. Perhaps their insistence on writing the Left out of the American tradition will finally cease. Perhaps they’ll finally be bothered by Media Matters’ routine dismantling of their most embarrassingly fact-free claims. Perhaps the Right’s many weird and varied conspiracy theories are finally spinning through their final news cycles.
Perhaps their conservative viewers have enough ammunition to start doubting.
One closing clarification: this isn’t a crisp logical argument. FOX’s polls were misleading, but this doesn’t conclusively prove that they’ve invented or distorted everything they’ve ever reported. For an easy example, take the National Enquirer. While their report on Jon Edwards was accurate, this doesn’t mean that they usually report the truth. Discrete instances of past lying are not indicative of future mendacity.
Of course, FOX’s discrediting need not be logically comprehensive or obvious. Media outlets trade in credibility, and they’ve put theirs at severe risk. That’s why my argument can suitably rest upon questions of character. Is the Right’s polling fiasco evidence of steady, persistent manipulation of information? I think so. There’s plenty of evidence that FOX, et al have been engaged in a campaign to routinely mislead. They aren’t usually reliable media sources that were wrong once. They’re systematic liars—and last week’s election might simply be the first of a great many dominoes.
Conor P. Williams’ only remaining post on the election is a joke. It involves Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” and may never actually be published. For more analysis, find him on Facebook or Twitter. Here’s his email. Here are his credentials.