Patterico's Pontifications


What closing of the conservative mind?

Filed under: General — Karl @ 12:38 pm

[Posted by Karl]

Libertarian-ish blogger Julian Sanchez recently wrote a post about the supposed closing of the conservative mind that got a lot of blog buzz. The ensuing back-and-forth discussed the conservative base, conservative policy wonks, and conservative political leaders. However, the most quoted part of Sanchez’s piece was holistic:

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile.

As Power Line’s Scott Johnson notes, in this discussion, the claim is assumed and the focus is on explaining it. But what evidence is there to support it?

Republicans tend to be more informed about the news than Democrats, even after adjusting for demographics. The regular audience of Fox News is about as informed as the regular audience of CNN or network news generally. The regular audience of Rush Limbaugh is more informed than all of the above, as well as the audiences of cable news, online news, news magazines, C-SPAN and the PBS NewsHour.

The reason why Limbaugh listeners rank that high can be demonstrated by looking at his broadcast from Monday (the day I started writing this). Limbaugh did commentary on fmr. Pres. Clinton’s exploitation of the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing to paint Tea Partiers and other Obama critics as a potentially violent fringe that endangers the country. His sources included: an Associated Press story on Clinton’s comments; an ABC News story reporting Clinton’s reply to Limbaugh’s earlier response; an Associated Press story on a Pew poll showing 80% of Americans lack trust in the federal government; and a WSJ op-ed by Debra Burlingame.

Limbaugh also did commentary on the claims made by TIME Magazine columnist Joe Klein and New York Magazine columnist John Heilemann, that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Limbaugh were “rub[bing] right up close to being seditious.” Limbaugh aired: audio of their accusations; audio of Hillary Clinton defending the right to dissent (when practiced by the Left); and a piece by Byron York documenting that while Heilemann claimed that referring to the Obama “regime” has connotations of tyranny, Heilemann had himself used the term on various occasions, as had Chris Matthews (the host of the show on which Heilemann was appearing).

Limbaugh also did a piece on the Obama administration’s coincidentally-timed suit against Goldman Sachs, based on articles from the Los Angeles Times and the New York Post, along with a blog post from Sweetness & Light, which in turn was based on a Bloomberg report and a Washington Examiner column. Limbaugh’s “stack of stuff” for the day included: a Rasmussen poll; two stories from the Los Angeles Times; one from the New York Times; one from the Associated Press; and two pieces from the UK’s unabashedly left-leaning Guardian. If Limbaugh is trying to keep his listeners from being exposed to a diversity of reporting and opinion, he is failing miserably.

With the exception of Fox News (a big fish in the small pond of cable news viewership), the same general pattern can be found across right-leaning media, which lack the resources and institutions to produce original reporting. The notion that conservative outlets and audiences dismiss the left-leaning establishment media is absurd. To the contrary, conservatives arguably are too focused on dissecting establishment journalism, at the expense of developing their own resources, institutions and stories.

Of course, right-leaning media break some stories, like the outrageous behavior of Pres. Obama’s allies at ACORN, or that Pres. Obama’s “green jobs” czar was a 9/11 Truther. When they do, the reaction of outlets like the New York Times is so pathetic that ombudsman Clark Hoyt warned the paper risked looking “clueless or, worse, partisan itself.” (Too late, Clark.) Relatedly, the NYT has become interested in reporting on the likely pitfalls of ObamaCare — heavily covered by right-leaning media — only after it was signed into law. Some might call these disconnects evidence of epistemic closure on the Left — suppressing stories until they either cannot be ignored or cannot harm the political agenda of the NYT’s editorial board. But do not look for those spilling crocodile tears over the closed-mindedness of the Right to notice it.

Indeed, Sanchez, Jonathan Chait and others addressing this topic apparently operate from the assumption that (with the possible exception of parts of the MSNBC schedule) that the establishment media does not lean Left. There is a wealth of data, from sources spanning the ideological spectrum, showing that the national press corps overwhelmingly favors Democrats and that the public views the national press corps as favoring Democrats. Public opinion is not always correct, even on questions like media bias, which are to some degree in the eye of the beholder. However, the fact that people like Chait do not seriously consider the point says as much about epistemic closure on the Left as such people have to say about the phenomenon on the Right.

Megan McArdle, even while arguing that epistemic closure is more of a problem on the Right, suggests that the marginalization of conservatives by the cultural elite fuels it:

The point is that when one group has privilege, and the other doesn’t, the response isn’t symmetrical, a fact that the dominant group tends to spend a lot of time remarking upon. The out-group is angrier and prizes its group identity–”conservative”–over weaker affiliations like “journalist” or “sociologist.” The angrier the out-group gets, the more uncomfortable and hostile the dominant group gets … which, of course, makes the out-group even angrier.

The dominant majority further reinforces the effect because membership of “journalist” or “sociologist” comes to be defined by “not having a strong allegiance to groups such as ‘conservative.’” Which further weakens conservative ties to those professional identities.

That’s why you have black newspapers, and Jewish magazines, and Irish arts centers, but no “Bland: The Magazine of the American White Middle Class.” The dominant group doesn’t enforce its group identity the way the out-group does. It doesn’t have to. It gets to decide what constitute the acceptable modes of behavior, sources of authority, and ways of knowing. The privileged group doesn’t need its own institution specifically devoted to advancing its interests. All it needs is a sigh, and a sneer.

It will come as no surprise that the response to McArdle from people like Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Bernstein was, in essence, a sigh and a sneer — making no attempt to engage the sociological point McArdle argues. Conor Friedersdorf was more polite, though by restricting himself to opinion journalism, he fails to address the structural problems with the core, news-gathering side of journalism.

To put this all in context, consider some recent history. In 2004, the New York Times assigned a reporter to cover “conservative forces in religion, politics, law, business and the media.” This year, the Washington Post hired Dave Weigel to do the same. By their own actions, the nation’s two most-influential newspapers tacitly admit that to them, conservatives are The Others. The Sullivans and Bernsteins of the world apparently do not grasp it, because they are so, er, open-minded. Such people may lack the perspective to judge whose minds are more closed.

Update: Sanchez responds by e-mail:

Apologies for not directing this straight to the author, but you might note to your writer Karl that I go out of my way to acknowledge, for several paragraphs, that mainstream journalists are mostly leftists, that this inevitably exerts some influence on coverage, and that the attempt to build conservative news outlets is (in principle) a reasonable strategy for introducing a corrective. I think the effort has misfired in important ways, but it’s a little odd to read a position I’ve explicitly (& almost tediously) disavowed ascribed to me. I’m happy to spar over things I actually believe, though.

Sanchez’s original blog post is the first link in this piece. I recommend that people read the whole thing. But you will not find the “several paragraphs” about establishment media bias, which is why his snark (“How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!”) struck me as dismissive of the issue of establishment media bias. Sanchez may have stated such beliefs elsewhere, in which case I am glad to correct the record.

Taking him at his word, I merely note that his e-mail does not substantively address my main objection to his thesis, which is that — contrary to his bare assertion — conservative media spends a great deal of time presenting and responding substantively to establishment journalism. Although I used a day of Limbaugh to demonstrate the point, I could have as easily sucked up and used HotAir as an example. Allahpundit and Ed do a tremendous amount of substantive response to establishment news reporting and opinion journalism every day, under tight deadlines. Alternately touted and mocked as RINO candy-asses, these two were originally hired by no less than Michelle Malkin, and were retained as valuable assets by Salem Communications. Just another non-example of the epistemic closure on the Right.


24 Responses to “What closing of the conservative mind?”

  1. And you should see some of the people I allow in my twitter feed.

    SarahW (af7312)

  2. “But what evidence is there to support it?”

    If only there was an article at the New York Times I could link to on this point…

    “The notion that conservative outlets and audiences dismiss the left-leaning establishment media is absurd”

    Maybe they just have a hard time understanding. For example, Sanchez doesn’t say that conservative outlets simply ‘dismiss’ the establishment media. His point is about what ‘conflicts’ with conservative reality. It’s unsurprising that establishment media sources are used to construct that reality.

    imdw (c70387)

  3. I read his piece and I think his claim that he addresses media bias must be based on another post somewhere. Another point he seems to make toward the end of his post is that the conservative bona fides of the Washington DC contingent are bogus and a pose for the proletariate in fly over country.

    Andrew is absolutely right about conservative elites, and it’s part of what makes this line of attack so silly. The New York– and D.C.-based conservatives who staff the movement’s think tanks, magazines, and advocacy shops don’t in fact inhabit a different universe from their liberal counterparts. They all read the New York Times and drink lattes and go to parties together. There’s some clustering, to be sure, but nobody acts like they really believe the folks on the other side are insidious hellspawn. The pose is for the benefit of the base, who—not because they’re conservative, but because they aren’t urban media professionals—are likely to draw on a narrower range of trusted news and opinion sources.

    The implication is that a well educated media elite couldn’t possibly believe that stuff so they are all liberals but the “conservative” contingent grind out nonsense for the readership.

    There is to some extent a divide in the party now. His remarks about epistemic closure might apply to the bulk of GOP politicians, not because they practice a group think but because they don’t think. They are the member of the enterprise who go to the House floor and slide the card to vote. How they vote is determined by staff members who may or may not be true conservatives.

    Next, what is a conservative ? I think we are seeing it in the tea parties. They have serious concerns about fiscal matters and budgets and deficits and spending. Somewhere along the range of issues, they share certain life style concerns but right now everything is about spending.

    Here the divide opens because there are many GOP politicians in office who don’t see this as the serious matter it is. They still see spending as something to do to entice the voters to push the button next to your name. They will have to learn better or be driven from office. The Democrats are hopeless so the GOP is the real concern. Vote out the spenders.

    You don’t have to read the NY Times to know that.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  4. There are three boxes they need to concern themselves with.
    When they ignore the product of the soap-box, and the winners at the ballot-box diverge from their promises, they will force the electorate to open that third box, and though it is not called Pandora’s, the result could be the same.

    AD - RtR/OS! (9562e0)

  5. If Sanchez is the face of the modern Libertarian movement, how do they distinguish between his characterizations and Leftist stereotypes of Conservatives?

    ropelight (e0e500)

  6. About the Pew poll:

    First off, it is difficult to extrapolate a poll of 1000 people to 300million people. That said, on average, neither Republicans nor Democrats got more than 50% of the questions right on a multiple choice poll. Pathetic! Not very informed.

    Chris Hooten (0e1f31)

  7. CH, I am not battling you here, but you do know that most polls work from a sample size not that different, right? Lots of information here:

    Scroll down and look at the “Sample Size” column. Now folks who are serious mathematician/statisticians claim to the extrapolate well from these sample sizes. But I only have a couple of years of calculus, and the statisticians usually have PhDs in the mathematical sciences. It does make me uncomfortable.

    If you want to reject all polls, I am fine with that. But that would mean rejecting all of them.

    Eric Blair (0b61b2)

  8. I did not reject the poll. I just pointed out that it had a rather small sample size, and that it shows just how uninformed EVERYBODY is. Those weren’t very sophisticated questions, either. It is not much to trumpet about. The republicans on average got one more question right than democrats, when nobody got more than %50 right.

    Chris Hooten (0e1f31)

  9. An approval rating is a much simpler thing to measure, and requires smaller samples. It is a yes/no question.

    Chris Hooten (0e1f31)

  10. I’m not mathematician or statistician enough to make those judgements, CH. You?

    That being said, I have seen polls used to influence political behavior.

    Eric Blair (0b61b2)

  11. Individuals like Sanchez actually tell us a good deal about the world and who’s in it: the lion’s share of people just make it up as they go. Truth is nothing more than either a malleable tool, a punchline, or both.

    John (7b9d12)

  12. Let’s see how long it takes Hootie to try to divert the conversation like he has done on the last several threads. Fox! Breitbart! O’Keefe! Wingnut teabaggers! But … Buuuuuuuuussssssssshhhhhhhhhh!

    JD (37e9a1)

  13. I’ve read where the mark of a truly brilliant person is that they are able to explain difficult things clearly and easily. One does not need terms auch as “epistemic closure” to do that, in fact, such terms get in the way.

    I will repeat my opinion that the majority of what is said on television and on radio, especially by politicians, would rarely get a passing grade from my sophomore speech/rhetoric teacher, so one should not complain too loudly if they are part of the problem.

    I’ll assume that a desire to hear and read primary source materials rather than a columnist’s digestion of a journalist’s news story reflects a desire for “true” understanding and knowledge. The first time I heard Rush Limbaugh was when he was playing an extended clip of the interchange between Sen. Kennedy and David Kay of the Iraq Study Group at his (first, I believe) testimony before the Senate. The MSM had the short clip of Kay saying they had not found the quantity of WMD’s that they expected. The extended clip had Kay going on to say that in spite of that it was his opinion that Saddam posed a bigger threat than previously thought because of the multitude of treaty infractions they found, including their long range missile program. I could give similar experiences on Valerie Plame and multiple other issues.

    So, the “MSM’ers” can pontificate all they want about who has a closed mind, I mean “epistemic closure”. I do not know if it is psychological projection or Alinsky-ite accuse them first tactics, but I’ll let them try on the shoe first.

    MD in Philly (59a3ad)

  14. “Epistemic closure” is just a fancy way of saying “mindset.” It’s a pedantic device used by snake oil salesmen to bamboozle readers with the old polysyllabic fast shuffle.

    ropelight (e0e500)

  15. If you can’t convince them with facts,
    bamboozle them with bull$hit!

    …and post-modeernism is – if nothing – filled with BS.

    AD - RtR/OS! (9562e0)

  16. sanchez proved that he was literate but nothing about the conservative mind. i can not follow his analysis to to his bad i guess.

    clyde (cd6e69)

  17. Sanchez’ piece is nonsense, and he certainly does not speak for this MSM Libertarian.

    You want insular closed-mindedness, talk to your average lefty. I regularly hear distortions like “Limbaugh said he’ll move to Costa Rica if health care passes,” when he said nothing of the sort. They’re just mindlessly regurgitating the talking points.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  18. clyde,
    It’s easy to reach a conclusion if one started with it.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  19. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.

    And yet, people on the right who listen to Fox and Rush are better informed than the typical Democrat. There was a recent Pew poll testing how well informed Americans are about current political affairs. Republicans were found to be significantly more knowlegable than Democrats.

    Not bad for a bunch of blinkered ditto-heads.

    Subotai (20e157)

  20. FWIW, it was interesting to me that when I Googled “epistemic closure” I was lead to an entry in Wikipedia. There I found in the entry a reference to philosopher Fred Dreske, who I had for philos 101 in the spring of ’77.

    One thing I remember from his class (in addition to my introduction to Dostoyevsky) was a commentary he gave about a week or two into the class. Apparently some students were a little rattled with the possible implications of some aspects of epistemology, to the point it was causing confusion with daily life. So at the beginning of class one day he reassured us that, “You know, I go to the store to buy bread and milk like anybody else.”

    MD in Philly (59a3ad)

  21. How is this different from the DC-Kultrusmog of Liberal-Conventional-Wisdom? …. “Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting liberal blogs, Democrat interest groups, NPR/ABC/CBS/NBC/MSNBC TV/radio programs, ThinkProgress, liberal magazines like TNR and Atlantic, and of course, liberal journal of record, New York Times. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from outside the ‘establishment’ media, and is therefore ipso facto not reality. such a narrowing of vision has accelerated now that outlets like FoxNews are treated (unfairly) are partisan outlets and therefore not to be trusted. BINGO – liberals can live their whole lives without having their assumptions (false, phony and wrong) challenged.”

    What we have here is a simple case of liberal PROJECTION.

    Travis Monitor (9abf2a)

  22. MD:

    Apparently some students were a little rattled with the possible implications of some aspects of epistemology, to the point it was causing confusion with daily life. So at the beginning of class one day he reassured us that, “You know, I go to the store to buy bread and milk like anybody else.”

    We’d all be better off having a teacher like that at least once in our lives.

    DRJ (09fa6c)

  23. Always question the mind that strings “therefore” & “ipso facto” together, side-by-side.

    Icy Texan (e77df9)

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