Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Power to Create a Competing Narrative

Paul Waldman comments on the ideological conformity demanded by the modern Republican Party:
What the right has -- as Gingrich discovered last week to his chagrin -- is a ruthless identity border patrol, with agents spread throughout the political system. Step over any one of a number of lines, even lines that didn't exist just weeks ago, and those agents will inform you, with all the subtlety of a truncheon to the kneecaps, that you are no longer within the conservative nation. "For Republicans running for president in 2012, there's a new political reality: Support Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan -- or else," wrote the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza....

As much as liberals like to imagine the right as a hierarchically organized, smoothly humming machine, the truth is that their system is diffuse, much more like a school of fish than one giant shark. A variety of players influence the school's course: politicians, media figures, activists, and advocates. It isn't a conspiracy in which orders are delivered from above. If there really were a conspiracy, it would be headed by someone with enough sense to say, "This Medicare plan is really risky. Let's not make it a litmus test."
Except that there are powerful right-wing players who can easily create a counter-narrative that will reduce the impact or even reduce the momentum of ideological conformity. There are people who can issue orders from above. One such person is Roger Ailes.

No, Ailes is not an all-powerful media figure who heads a conspiracy, dictating right-wing opinion. But he is the head of one of the most influential news entertainment operations in the world. Had he issued a memo instructing his news entertainers to do so, they would have backed off the "Newt is over" messaging. They could even have pushed back with a, "Ryan's plan is right-wing social engineering" message, or "Even if you disagree, Newt is the most brilliant Republican on the planet so we have to at least hear him out." Instead he unleashed the hounds. Safe to say, Ailes doesn't want Newt to win the nomination or to heavily influence the debate leading up to the nomination.

Let's not forget the "Attack of the 50' Eyesores" effect - recently seen with Donald Trump's flash-in-the-pan flirt with running for the Republican nomination. When international events pushed him out of the headlines the public lost interest - and the President's gentle but public humiliation of Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner left the media with little incentive to again pick up his cause. Is it a coincidence that when Palin irked Ailes by ignoring his advice to keep her mouth shut over the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, his network stopped taking a "damn the facts, liberals hate her" philosophy toward her various gaffes and personality quirks?

As long as people like Ailes have disproportionate power over who can obtain and maintain sustained media attention, they will have disproportionate power as kingmakers and in defining the public debate. Whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing, it's reality.

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