Bad info-tainment begets low information voters.

Ever since the right-wing entertainment bubble began expanding back in the early 1990s, I’ve wondered what it would take to pop it. Despite sharp, specific criticism from apostates like David Frum and others, I doubt this year’s ass-kicking will flush the misbegotten authority of self-interested hucksters from modern conservatives’ primary information conduits. The world outside the bubble of crazy-assed nonsense doesn’t have enough martial conflict.

The phenomena of “the conservative entertainment complex” has fascinated/obsessed me for years. Locally, I covered, got to know (and on some levels enjoyed) people like Jason Lewis and Bob Davis. And hell, “RINO” Sarah Janecek and I were, briefly, placeholders at a Bain Capital-owned Clear Channel station while it tried to lure Lewis back to town. (Officially we were there to offer a “new balance in political talk radio”, unofficially it was understood from the get-go we were toast as soon as Lewis signed.)

I’ve been face to face with national consultants explaining how the talk radio game works, ratings-wise. (Essentially; feed your average 40-something male just enough to let them have an opinion in an argument at work.) I’ve listened to station managers encouraging me to, “play back” and “let them win”, in terms of an ideal commercial model for a left v. right radio “debate”. I fielded hundreds of calls from obsessive, low-information listeners absolutely convinced of everything Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the usual characters had told them — about WMDs in Iraq, about “overtopped” levees in New Orleans, about … well, you get the idea.

Point being, I get the knucklehead factor. There are plenty of people out there who either don’t know much, or who desperately want people around them to believe they know a lot more than they actually do. Those people — predominantly white, male and middle-age to elderly  — are a highly exploitable demographic. By themselves they are enough to keep the hosts — the entertainers — in a nice living, even if, they add up to barely 10% of the population. More to the point, the hosts of these anger-stoking shows are actually in a better position in defeat, when they can level the full force of their invective at the opponents in the White House. Their message is founded on victimhood.

Post-election, what is astonishing — even to me — is that by all reports very highly paid operatives and consultants … and … the GOP’s two top candidates were also huffing the very thin air on “Bullshit Mountain”, as Jon Stewart calls it.

Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan claim to have been gobsmacked by the results. Are you kidding me?

The only way that happens is if they too dialed out “the reality based” world and invested their grandest ambitions and hundreds of millions in wealthy donor money in the alternate universe of conservative entertainment logic. That universe is a zone out beyond the Oort Cloud where among other things, Donald Trump was briefly a viable presidential contender, where anything Sarah Palin says is worth hearing, where women who want birth control through their health plans are “sluts”, where Barack Obama is still a Muslim, where Dick Morris has a regular audience, where “death panels” will decide Grandma’s fate, where Socialism is swamping capitalism in 21st century America, where climate change is a liberal hoax, where the simple math of poll aggregation matters less than anything cherry-picked off Rasmussen or phoned in to Laura Ingraham’s radio show and where the attack on the consulate Benghazi has spawned a cover-up as big as Watergate.

It’s a message that appeals most to an aging, anachronistic slice of the population … that happens to sustain a small class of entertainers (and their corporate shareholders).

At the moment it appears the conventional wisdom among the modern GOP’s intelligentsia is that every office seeker in the next election cycle must wear a sombrero and mutter a few lines of Spanish. Never mind creating substantially improved policies instead of vague verbiage. Such a revolution — which is what is needed —  would require risking the wrath of the lords of the entertainment complex. Almost no one has shown the guts to do that. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, currently refuting Romney’s claim that “gifts” to minorities swayed the election, will be an interesting test case for whether any Republican can maintain viability while out of step with Rush Limbaugh.

I meant to post a couple of post-election appearances — by yours truly —  before this.

Here’s your fourth-favorite Rowdy on Fox 9. And here’s the same seer on Christopher Gabriel’s show on WDAY radio up in Fargo. Bon appetit.

I’m not sure what went on with the Tea Party this campaign season. I think I’ve said before that if that “movement” had any true ideological fervor beyond beating the illegitimate black guy in the White House it would have parted ways with the GOP establishment the minute Rick Santorum conceded the last primary. Lovers of good conspiracy theories would like to know if any SuperPAC money was sprinkled around to the myriad Tea Party insurgencies to shut up and play along with Romney’s adventure? How else do they explain not exploiting their moment in the (pale) sunlight and running their own candidate?

But, bottom line, I fail to see how the GOP — truly, a “Mad Men” party in a “Modern Family” world — reestablishes broad-based appeal to minorities of any kind and women under the age of 65, not to mention people young enough to regard Jay-Z as a role model and not Ted Nugent or Pat Boone.

For those groups and everyone who has come to regard the party’s supplicant status to the “entertainment complex” as a kind of pathetic, sick joke there simply is no “there” to the much-parroted modern conservative message.

What does “limited government” mean in, you know, the real world?

What are you actually talking about when you campaign on “economic freedom” Who doesn’t want that?

Ditto “respect for social institutions” like the family. Does anyone believe the average Democrat is trying to undermine Mom, Dad and Thanksgiving dinner?

And “respect for national defense and law enforcement”? Just because your average wild-eyed liberal thinks the Pentagon is a sacred cow never to be challenged on waste, fraud and cronyism doesn’t mean we’re in favor of letting terrorists take over the New York Stock Exchange. (Hell, most of the worst economic terrorists are already working a couple blocks away.)

This election tore back the curtain on the buffoonery of the modern conservative information machine. But until the movement’s high priests on radio and TV — the crowd motivating their caucus and primary-goers —  are cancelled for lousy ratings, I don’t see any way the party can change.

Not that I’m complaining, you understand.

48 Responses

  1. If you missed last night’s The Daily Show, you really should watch at least the first eight minutes where Jon Stewart explains that the most American thing about America is the fact new Americans come here and change our country forever – or at least until the next new Americans come. Stewart particularly has fun with a clip of Bill O’Reilly and Bernie Goldberg complaining this isn’t Leave It To Beaver anymore, pointing out that both an Irishman and a Jew were parts of groups blamed for the ending of the America someone else once loved. (From about 4 to 8 minutes.)

    “Unless your name is Sitting ‘Bill,’ you’ve got nothing to complain about.”

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/thu-november-15-2012-andrew-napolitano

    • This was one of the best examples of Stewart taking out Fox News i have ever seen. It was magnificent!

      • You know what’s sad. When a fake news – an entertainment show – like The Daily Show REGULARLY does a better job of explaining the day’s news than more than a thousand journalists – both print and broadcast – with absolutely no ethics or concern for fairness.

        One of the basic tenets of journalism is to entertain, but not at the cost of facts or fairness, the entire industry has all but abandoned that for some matter of he said/she said, tit-for-tat exchanges of barbs.

        Further, where journalism has failed stems from where most of American business has failed – the people running it are no longer slightly better paid members of the great unwashed. Now the editors live in 5,000-square-foot pedigreed homes and have “drivers.” As soon as the people running news stopped caring about everyday people in favor of seeing if they get invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner, it has – to no surprise – failed everyday Americans.

  2. I agree with you, Brian–the infotainment crowd have sold the GOP down the river. They are more concerned with making $$ than with governing. I am not certain if or when the GOP operatives will see and fix this. After all, Fox news serves as a sort of 401K program for over the hill GOP party operatives.

    Conor Friedersdorf has an excellent piece on this as well: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/how-conservative-media-lost-to-the-msm-and-failed-the-rank-and-file/264855/

    I don’t expect Rush or Hannity or O’Reilly to get it, but I would love to see a follow up interview with Jack Welch, to see what he has to say now.

    • PM: In our — or their — post-literate world, I have a hard time imagining an effective conservative thought leader coming from anywhere other than infotainment media. Did you see the astonishing disparity of white male voting patterns from South compared to the rest of the country? The modern GOP is, by its own design, a Southern male party. Much of that message has resonance with men elsewhere and some women, but no one else to speak of. Point being, do you think those Southern males ever read William Buckley, or give a damn what some yob at the New York Times (Brooks, Douthat) thinks? My guess is talk radio and FoxNews (and their church) are 90%-plus of their information sources.

    • There it is, as if on cue: the Lambo obsession with rednecks.

    • Oh, PM…..I don’t watch Fox news for O’Reilly, Hannity, Rove or Morris, the over-the-hill gang. I do sometimes watch for the entertainment. Hey, to each his own on entertainment. I don’t much care for Stewart…Kristen, yes. Jon, no.

      Then there is my favorite “liberal” on Fox, the stunning Kirsten Powers. I find her totally captivating. In fact, I find myself nodding my head in agreement with her…..no matter what she says.

      I know you all like to take pot shots at Fox, but if they keep putting people like Kirsten on the air…..I’m all eyes……I mean ears. Oh, whatever.

  3. There’s no desire to undermine Thanksgiving dinner… You’d just like to see God removed from it, right Lambo?

  4. Policies schmolicies. They’ll buy Telemundo, spotlight Jeb’s wife, and Luntzy will dial up some sweet empathetic phrases. They’ll be back in no time.

    • Joe: It isn’t just the cynic in me that believes that, it’s the realist. The “sombrero” move is the easiest. But the list of issues on which they’d have to do a 90 if not a complete 180 is so long “the base” couldn’t possibly tolerate it. The gamble the party leaders (whoever they are) have to make is deciding “if the base won’t follow us as we put this thing back on the rails” we’ll have to live without them. Having lost five Senate seats, having watched their only bona fide presidential candidate (Romney) debase himself through the primary season and having watched their “brand” become toxic to everyone other than poorly informed white males I would think this would be an easy choice.

  5. I doubt that a Republican presidential candidate has won on Republicanism since prior to FDR’s time anyway.

    Eisenhower was an apolitical hero. Nixon’s victory was a no confidence vote on Johnson / Humphrey. Reagan’s victory was a really really really really big no confidence vote. GHWB didn’t face a big league candidate. W really didn’t ‘win’ for Republicanism in any meaningful way (or, ‘win’ in any meaningful way).

    So there will be future Republican presidents, as there has been in the past. But I would grant we’re as far as ever from conservatism being a mainstream /governing ideology.

  6. You might want to rethink the modern conservative movement to consider it as essentially a criminal enterprise. Rick Perlstein, who knows more about the origins of modern conservatism than any sane person should, just did a long piece for The Baffler (#21), “The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism” (http://www..thebaffler.com/past/the_long_con/print), going back to Richard Viguerie’s discovery that he could mine movement conservatives for all sorts of lucrative purposes. He brings the story forward to point out how various conservative organs aid in a wide variety of swindles.

    Sheldon Adelson is asking Karl Rove to open his books so Adelson could find out where his money went. As the media was wondering what super sophisticated strategy Romney/Rove were pursuing when they started advertising in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota just before the election. Josh Marshall’s explanation had an elegant simplicity: They had a ton of rich-guy money in the bank which they weren’t going to give back, so they spent it where they could because Rove et.al. were connected to the firms making money on production and placement of ads.

    If a movement believes greed is to the social universe what gravity is to the physical universe, it’s not surprising it produces crooks.

    • Uh huh. This is your proof? That media buyers / strategists / PR hacks spend every dollar they are allocated so to be sure they get their pts? And only Republicans do this? Lets have Loveland and Austin weigh in.

      • Dem consultants also spend every cent of campaign donations, including in ways and places that, in retrospect, seem like a reach. Irrational exuberance is at pitch fever at the end of campaigns, and it drives dumb decisions, by Dems too.

        Rove undoubtedly did make a boatload this cycle, but my best guess is that his top priority was winning, with profiting a close second.

        Of course, the two priorities are closely linked. That is, you wont maximize profits in the next cycle if you don’t win in the current cycle.

        Just guessing about motives though. Turd Blossom and I are not tight.

      • Well, I’m neither Loveland nor Austin. But I used to work for a significant GOP political consultant, so i do have some experience with this–and, yes, you do spend it all. Why? because if you don’t, then there is always the chance that your guy lost because you didn’t spend it all. The best outcome, of course, is to win–everybody gets to take the credit. When there is a loss, you absolutely need to avoid the blame–and if there was something you could have done, and didn’t that is bad. If you chose to do something else instead, you can always argue the point. But not spending $$ that you have is really inexcusable, because maybe it might have made the difference.

        Of course, you also get your cut by spending it, which is important. But avoiding the blame of not having done enough is much more important.

        I doubt that there is a significant difference between GOP and Dem political consultants in this issue. I think that there is more $$$ flowing to political consultants on the GOP side (who I think are making more $$), but this is simply a difference of degree in my opinion. If Dem political consultants had a bunch of lazy billionaires shoving $$$$$$ at them, probably more of them would behave like Rove and Dick Morriss.

      • It’s Sheldon Adelson that doesn’t get it then. You could say he should have bet on black. Get it? He’s a casino magnate, and President Obama is black….. BWAHAHAHA.

        But really, I’m glad we can sort of find easy agreement on this. Here’s the thing though. Josh Marshall and TPM isn’t journalism. He’s trafficking in tropes – either Republicans are dumb or Republicans are evil – take your pick – that will get readers to his site, which is a commercial enterprise. Josh Marshall uses big words, but his bogus insights is just Bill Maher done a little less obnoxious as he markets to a higher brow of snobbery.

        But its [bad] infotainment nonetheless. Just like on the right.

      • No, not the same. The difference is facts–as the old saying goes, your are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Fox and company on the right tried to create their own facts this election cycle, and it bit them on the ass. TPM did not do that–in fact, their proprietary poll aggregator was extremely accurate as a predictor of the election results.

        You may think of Josh Marshall as a douchebag, based on his opinions, but you can’t argue with the facts he presented–they were solid.

        That is the entire point of Lambert’s article–Fox and others tried to twist/warp the “facts” to fit their desired outcome.

        Now, maybe TPM has not been adequately tested–maybe in the 2016 election they will try to twist polls, etc., to show a Dem win when in fact there is a strong GOP surge. Should that come to pass, then your analysis will be accurate, and Lambert’s (and mine) will be shown to be false. But so far there is no evidence that says they are the same. It is a false equivalence you are trying to assert.

      • It’s true I don’t what the ethical relationship is between a donor and, for example, a pac; in fact after this campaign, I not sure that campaigns and ethics exist in the same universes. Presumably there isn’t a Charities Review Board to tell who drank ten gallons of donations and pissed out a quarter cup of results.

        What I do know is that Perlstein describes a long history of conservative fund raisers who were much better at raising funds for the fund raisers than the nominal beneficiaries, and Adelson apparently thinks he got ripped off, though this may be rich guy pique. Still, one of the interesting stories of the next election may be what the guys who wrote the million dollar checks decide to do.

        The Sunlight Foundation did a return on investment study of the various campaign organizations using the not very good information currently available (http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/2012/return_on_investment). American Crossroads had a 1.29% return on investment and the American Chamber of Commerce had 6.9%. By contrast The Service Employees International Union’s Council on Political Education had 74.94% roi. Or compare the NRA’s 0.82% with the Planned Parenthood Votes’ 98.59%.

        It’s hard to tell whether the conservatives had an inferior product, weren’t as competent or were sticking the donations in their pockets.

    • John: Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew” is a great look at the formative years of the Karl Rove/Jack Abramoff machine. Even as Young Republicans those guys and their buddies understood the profit margins in selling class warfare and wedge issues to rubes — especially well-endowed rubes. At every turn making a handsome living for themselves took priority over “winning” on the causes they professed to be committed to.

      • Also … Rove (and his big money contributors’) role in both choosing the candidates AND spending money to advance them is a bit different than your average media operation. The specifics of his contract with his SuperPACS would be good reading.

  7. Brian – you were fired from KTLK because your ratings sucked. Tough medicine, but there isn’t an audience for the shit that you peddle, outside of that micro-wattage 950 AM station with its 1,213 listeners.

    • I don’t think Lambo is out of line here (like say, calling himself an ex “Senate advisor”, having worked for Sen. Mark Dayton’s office for two weeks). As a longtime listener, I do recall Lambert and Janecek as mere stand-ins while Lewis fulfilled his contract in NC. There weren’t expectations much greater than that, so no, it would be a stretch to say Lambert was “fired for cause” at KTLK. Maybe you’re thinking of Lambo at the Pioneer Press.

      That said, the weak link of Lambert and Janecek was definitely the Lambert half. Inasmuch as I’m rightfully questioned about my impartiality here, I’ll just say this: my wife is a Democrat and listens to Chick Talk 107. She couldn’t keep the radio on when Lambert would join for an afternoon segment, as inevitably the talk would turn to gauche chortling about rednecks and trailer trash. INEVITABLY.

      It would seem kinda obvious that AM950 is a perfect match for Lambo’s perspective and comedy stylings. What’s kept that from happening Lambo? It can’t be the pay.

      • As usual, Erik and I are in full agreement. I’d love to hear Brian on local liberal talk radio. A couple of the national liberal jocks — Thom Hartman and Stephanie Miller — are worth an occassional listen, but the local voices are unlistenable. If Erik starts a petition, I’ll definitely sign.

      • Joe: 950 would actually have to pay gas money to get to the studio, and switch management to someone other than an anti-abortion zealot. But fundamentally, your average liberal just doesn’t have the affinity for the “guru speaks” radio format.

      • You’re not at risk of coming off as a guru, not with your deep well of knowledge. Anyway, that won’t play to your strengths. But your point is well taken. Most liberals think they know everything already, having seen a few topical monologues on the Daily Show or seen a celebrity write something on Huffpo. So it’s futile to try and speak to them with a tone that’s say temperamentally academic.

        In liberal media it’s douchebaggery that sells. Thing is, urbane prosperous liberals can’t very well go around calling Sarah Palin a cunt. They’ll lose the appearance of a moral high ground. But they think it, and Bill Maher makes a killing as their surrogate, saying the things they think but won’t say in polite company

        I’d bet a guy could make a very good living at this as sort of a regional Maher, and you can’t help but think that guy is you Lambo. I’d tell AM950 you don’t even want the couple hundred bucks a week, just give you the ad spots to sell.

        http://newmediajournal.us/indx.php/item/7289

        http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/332375/dumb-vote-kevin-d-williamson

      • Erik:

        What blinkered nonsense. Between the neo-cons and The Tea Party, satire and irony are both on death’s door.

      • Gimme a break. A refined man of letters (you), whether liberal or not, ought to be able to acknowledge that contemporary liberal discourse is over-the-top obnoxious. A cesspool.

        Red Dawn is out tomorrow Jim. I probably can’t swing it until Friday though. Waddya say.

      • Well, Erik, I would say that your very assertions about the quality of liberal infotainment, given the subject of Lambert’s post, would seem to be the height, or nadir, of self-parody, akin to Sen. McCain expecting to be taken seriously when assessing anyone’s suitability for a high government post. It leaves the poor kids at The Onion crestfallen, surely.

      • You have a border line fair point about McCain, but there is a difference that makes it in effect an apples to oranges comparison. McCain / Palin was running for election, and could be rejected by the voters. Which they were. His objection to Rice is that she’s a dupe or a liar, either of which disqualifies her from becoming SoS. To the extent McCain verbalizes that isn’t hypocrisy. It’s just an expression of leverage and fair warning.

      • BTW, speaking of Trailer Trash, I’ll be catching their show on December 15th at Lee’s Liquor Lounge….

        http://www.trailertrashmusic.com/gigs.html

      • You’re pretty hip for an old guy.

      • Erik:

        By my lights, that’s a distinction without much of a difference. Both strategies were informed by the same base emotions: fear of losing, desperation for power and cynicism toward performing the actual duties of the job.

    • Newt: Actually the ratings at KTLK were pretty miserable for everyone. Twos and threes. But Lewis, to his credit, did improve on ours by about 30%. You noticed Clear Channel converted it to an AM.

  8. Awwww, do the anonymous TSRC trolls need hugs? Is that why we’re seeing all the ad hominem lashing out?

  9. [Why even communist China gets it!]

    Tax cut to benefit over 900,000 enterprises

    NANJING, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) — China’s new round of structural tax cutting is likely to benefit more than 900,000 enterprises nationwide, according to a working conference held here on Monday to discuss the country’s piloting of replacing business tax with a value-added tax (VAT).

    About 710,000 enterprises have been covered by the tax-cutting program, and another 200,000 will be included starting from Dec.1 this year, according to the meeting jointly held by the Ministry of Finance and the State Administration of Taxation.

    Shanghai piloted the program on Jan. 1 this year in an effort to decrease the overall tax burden and boost the transportation and service sectors. The pilot was then expanded to provincial regions including Beijing, Guangdong and Zhejiang later this year.

    Tianjin, Hubei, Zhejiang and Ningbo will also join the program from next month, under previous plans.

    All the works are progressing in an orderly and effectively manner, and the performances of the launched pilot programs have exceeded previous expectations, said representatives at the conference.

    The reform has effectively promoted the growth of tertiary industry, especially the service sector, and encouraged the development of small and micro-sized enterprises, those present at the meeting agreed.

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