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Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany

Just Ignore What Doesn’t Fit

By Matthias Kolb

Conservative America's 'Parallel Universe'

Translated By Ron Argentati

19 November 2012

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard

Germany - Süddeutsche Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Is Fox News to blame for Mitt Romney's defeat? Critical conservatives accuse the Republicans of shutting out reality and hunkering down inside a “media bubble.” They say the Republican base was tricked into the notion that the majority of Americans were conservative and that the Republican elites were too cowardly to modernize the party.

David Frum is a well-known figure in the U.S. media world. As speechwriter for George W. Bush, he coined the phrase “the axis of evil” and worked as an adviser to Rudy Giuliani in 2008. Shortly after Obama's re-election, he appeared on the set of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and complained, “Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.”

Frum thinks he knows who's to blame for the defeat suffered by Republicans in the election — it's the conservative entertainment complex consisting of Fox News, conservative talk radio and various bloggers, according to Frum. His diagnosis: Too many Republicans live in a media bubble, ignoring everything they don't like or feel is a threat. Climate change is one of the most notable examples.

“Media Bubble,” “Parallel Universe,” “Fantasy World”

Since conservative mastermind Karl Rove refused to admit the Republican loss during his appearance on Fox News on election night, America has been discussing just what influence the conservative media had during this campaign. Satirist Jon Stewart wasn't alone in chortling when moderator Megyn Kelly asked Rove whether he didn't want to discuss the figures just so he would feel better about being a Republican.

Worse yet, Frum — a model conservative — is probing in the GOP's open wound just as it seeks a new direction. For Frum, it's not only about Romney's defeat but also about the fact that the Republicans have won the popular vote only once in the last six elections. He mercilessly lists the problems faced by the party: The party activists are too radical and the well-heeled donors obsessed with the idea that they're facing the apocalypse. And the party elite? Too cowardly to stand up them and the conservative infotainment complex.

A party that consciously ignores reality, exclusively woos whites and denies reality (the nation is suffering the effects of the worst economic crisis in 80 years) can't expect to be successful. Whoever watched Fox News, whether out of curiosity or political conviction, was treated to constant reports about Romney's inevitable landslide victory and about how New York Times statistician Nate Silver was clueless. Reality proved to be something else again.

At 52, David Frum is no spring chicken, but his criticism is shared by conservatives in their 30s. “We have become what the left was in the ’70s — insular,” said prominent Republican Jonathan Martin in his excellent article for “Politico” on the “Conservative Media Cocoon.” Insulated in that cocoon, one hears no differing opinions, one hears only those things that reinforce previously held ideas.

“The right is suffering from an era of on-demand reality,” says 30-year-old blogger Ben Domenech. Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for The New York Times explains, “What Republicans did so successfully, starting with critiquing the media and then creating our own outlets, became a bubble onto itself.”

America's conservatives lack a guiding light

The problem of the conservative parallel universe is magnified in this Internet age according to Trey Grayson. Websites like Newsmax or the Drudge Report collect only those reports compatible with their philosophies, and like-minded people pass them to one another via Twitter and Facebook. The 40-year-old Grayson ran for senator for Kentucky, lost to Rand Paul and is now head of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “My Facebook feed, which is full of mostly conservatives from Kentucky, contains very different links to articles or topics than what I see in Cambridge. It is sort of the reverse up here. They don't understand how anyone would eat Chick-fil-A, watch college sports or hold pro-life views,” Grayson said.

According to political writer Jonathan Martin, in this media bubble the Benghazi controversy is considered worse than Watergate, the Fox News slogan “fair and balanced” is taken as gospel, and Dick Morris, former adviser to Bill Clinton, is considered to be a political clairvoyant.

If one watches a clip in which all of Morris' prognostications about the 2012 election were wrong, Douthat would agree: “Dick Morris is a joke to every smart conservative in Washington and most every smart conservative under the age of 40 in America,” said Douthat. “The problem is that most of the people watching Dick Morris don’t know that.”

The New York Times columnist makes an important point here: FOX News' main audience is 50-plus years old, lives in the suburbs and hangs out with like-minded people. Fox News stars such as Bill O'Reilly, Greta Van Susteren and Sean Hannity are all paid seven-figure incomes and would probably not be inclined to soften their anti-Obama rhetoric because it's not in their own best financial interests.

It's not in their best interests to turn to intelligent conservatism; their aim is the biggest audience possible and increased sales of their books. That's best assured if they continue their rabid, mouth-foaming attacks. Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh's post-election analysis in which he likens Obama to Santa Claus is instructive: He claims Mitt Romney didn't stand a chance against the expensive giveaways handed out by Obama.

Their collective moral outrage was exemplified by a dialogue between Fox News hothead Sean Hannity and the ubiquitous Ann Coulter two days after the election.

The constant mention of threats from Obama-the-socialist is also reflected in Fox News advertising spots which repeat that the family's financial well being is best served by buying gold and silver, or their admonitions to stay alert to the possibility of identity theft.

David Frum also highlights another point: Since the end of 2006 at the latest, when Republicans had to swallow drastic midterm election losses and George W. Bush was losing popularity, there has been no guiding figure for America's conservatives. Neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney was able to fill that void, so the result was it was eventually filled by the protagonists of the conservative infotainment complex.

Many American liberals also live in a media bubble and never miss a single broadcast of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, America's liberal cable news outlet that is often just as politically biased as Fox. Nonetheless, Ross Douthat says there's a big difference because liberals don't suffer a leadership vacuum. “Being a Democrat means being identified with Barack Obama, not Ed Schultz and Martin Bashir," he says. In addition, political writer Jonathan Martin says the liberal media ecosystem is more comprehensive and diverse.

The powerful conservative infotainment complex proved to be disastrous for Republicans in 2012. People like entrepreneurs Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich were treated like serious candidates, although they were primarily looking to get free advertising for their books and videos. The upshot: To keep pace in the primary race, Mitt Romney was forced so far to the right of center that he became unelectable to many voters while opening up countless new targets for the Obama strategists.

In order to avoid a repeat, young conservative columnists, bloggers, strategists and think tank members have developed ideas shared by Republican governors like Louisiana's Bobby Jindal or Susana Martinez of New Mexico who feel it's no longer enough to simply be anti-Obama; they also have to be able to actively promote their own ideas. Jindal urges his party to make concrete and detailed suggestions rather than think up new slogans that fit on the bumper stickers so popular with Americans.

Jindal, currently spokesman for the Republican governors, is being remarkably open when he warns that the intelligence of the average American should neither be underestimated nor insulted. Whether his colleagues take his advice to “stop being the stupid party” and avoid saying stupid things when they're being interviewed by Fox News is, however, by no means certain.



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