[Posted by Karl]
National Review’s Jim Geraghty recently noted that some on the right are too quick to jump on the establishment media’s bias as “an excuse for when their preferred candidates and advocates just don’t get the job done and fail to win over persuadable voters.” After all, media bias is rarely the decisive factor between victory and defeat, the establishment media is not quite as powerful as it was in decades past, and complaints about media bias give off a whiff of victimhood unlikely to move voters in the mushy middle. It is a useful reminder, but it increasingly seems like it is the establishment media that needs a similar reminder.
If you are a news junkie, scarcely a week goes by without seeing those in the establishment media — in anything from an Andrew Sullivan screed to a tweet from Associated Press national politics and elections reporter Phil Elliott — suggesting that the yokels in flyover country are soaking up misinformation from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and conservative pundits generally. It would be a convenient excuse for the Democrats’ midterm losses, but it doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.
The reality is that the establishment media still reaches a much larger audience than conservative media does. Moreover, according to the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, Rush Limbaugh’s audience is among the most well-informed of any media outlet, and Fox News viewers are slightly better informed than those of its competitors on cable and broadcast television. However, it is notable that the same Pew data shows that the conservative media audience is overwhelmingly conservative. The establishment media’s audience is not only larger, but also much more politically diverse.
If conservative media had the influence many in the establishment media believe it does, how did Republicans lose Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008? Limbaugh and FNC were both on the air throughout the period. They would be considered a constant in the equation. Thus, the failing fortunes of the Obama administration and Congressional Dems must be largely attributable to other factors.
If a majority of Americans think Obama’s policies are moving the country toward socialism, it’s not just because Rush Limbaugh says so, let alone Jonah Goldberg or Stanley Kurtz. Indeed, columnists like Janet Daley and Anne Applebaum have recently noted that the Obama administration has been pushing this country in the direction of Euro-socialism (esp. on healthcare) at the same time that Europe is being forced away from it — but I doubt they are merely parroting Limbaugh and FNC, any more than the average bar patron in Ohio is regularly reading Daley or Applebaum. Rather, people in the mushy middle are still largely making their political decisions based on their personal observations of the world around them and the information they get from the establishment media.
The “Limbaugh effect,” if any, is not primarily observed among the benighted proles in the vast wasteland between the progresive meccas of America’s coasts. Instead, it can be seen in a fairly broad swath of the establishment media, which has leapt on claims of media bias with a sudden vengeance, despite the conservative media being less powerful and influential than the establishment media. As such, the whiff of victimhood from the establishment media proves even more malodorous.