My favorite thing about this story, a solemn warning about the perils of cocooning yourself in hyperpartisan media, is that they’re rolling it out 24 hours after the NYT’s splashy piece about the rise of MSNBC. “Many progressives (and conservatives) now view the channel as a megaphone for liberal politicians, ideas and attacks against those who disagree,” notes the Times. According to a recent Pew study, MSNBC’s coverage of Romney this fall was significantly more negative than Fox’s coverage of Obama (which was highly negative in its own right). If you find yourself being lectured this week about Fox News and the ills of epistemic closure, make sure your lecturer wasn’t part of the audience that helped a liberal propaganda outfit win the demo three nights in a row last week for the first time since 2001.
Anyway. It’s a weird news cycle when this is the topic du jour today while the topic du jour yesterday was a conservative pundit calling for tax hikes on the rich on Fox News and the topic du jour a few days before that was Sean Hannity “evolving” on comprehensive immigration reform. But okay. Meme on:
GOP officials have chalked up their electoral thumping to everything from the country’s changing demographics to an ill-timed hurricane and failed voter turn-out system, but a cadre of Republicans under 50 believes the party’s problem is even more fundamental.
The party is suffering from Pauline Kaelism.
Kael was The New Yorker movie critic who famously said in the wake of Richard M. Nixon’s 49-state landslide in 1972 that she knew only one person who voted for Nixon.
Now, many young Republicans worry, they are the ones in the hermetically sealed bubble — except it’s not confined to geography but rather a self-selected media universe in which only their own views are reinforced and an alternate reality is reflected…
In this reassuring conservative pocket universe, Rasmussen polls are gospel, the Benghazi controversy is worse than Watergate, “Fair and Balanced” isn’t just marketing and Dick Morris is a political seer.
Is it true? Are Republicans subsisting exclusively on a diet of Rush, Hannity, and Fox? Well, we do okay traffic-wise and a quick check of our own Headlines section as I’m writing this reveals links to righties like Legal Insurrection, The Right Scoop, and Michael Medved, but also to the Times, Thomas Ricks, lefty political journalist Thomas Edsall and, yes, Politico. Regular readers know that sample isn’t unrepresentative; it’s not unusual to see stuff there from HuffPo, Reason, or TNR either. But forget the anecdotal evidence. What about studies of news consumers? Via Legal Insurrection and our former Greenroom contributor Karl, here’s one:
[T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News.
But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web…
This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal.
Want more? Go look at the graph political scientist John Sides posted on his blog The Monkey Cage back in April. The quick and dirty result:
To summarize, most individuals do not refuse to hear the other side. In fact, most people consume predominately non-partisan local TV newscasts, while tuning out news from partisan sources altogether. Of those who do turn to partisan sources, most Republicans and Democrats have virtually indistinguishable news diets. Contrary to recent claims, there is little evidence that the electorate is self-sorting into “ideologically like-minded information cocoons” at the level being described by scholars and political commentators.
On the graph’s Republican line, you’ll notice a mini-spike on the right side indicating that some subsection of the GOP does consume a lot of conservative media each day. There’s no similar mini-spike on the left for Democrats but bear in mind that the data was compiled in 2006, just as Olbermann was starting to push MSNBC onto the media map. I’d like to see what that graph looks like today. The larger point, though, is that most Republican news consumption is well balanced, not partisan, which is what you’d expect across a huge population like the GOP electorate. Most people don’t follow politics closely day to day; Rush may have an audience of 20 million but McCain got 60 million votes in ’08 and Romney will approach that number this year. That’s how we ended up with the two of them as nominees despite opposition to both from conservative talk radio and grassroots righties. So on the one hand, the prevalence of Republican “cocooning” is overstated. On the other hand, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem. Are people in the mini-spike group cocooned — if they’re cocooned — because they refuse to consume media that exposes them to contrary arguments or is it that they’re ideologues of their own making, with many counterparts on the left, who are supremely confident in their political beliefs and who enjoy media that articulates those beliefs consistently? In other words, is MSNBC turning casual progressives hyper-liberal or do hyper-liberals simply enjoy watching MSNBC because Lawrence O’Donnell can make the case better than they can? It’s not an either/or proposition, but in my experience the passage from the Brooks op-ed quoted above is correct — it’s not that ideologues from either side can’t bear listening to contrary arguments, it’s that they think they’ve found the answer and that their chosen belief system can (more or less) answer every potential policy problem. My odds of convincing a liberal person of faith that he/she should become either conservative or atheist are roughly equal, I’d bet. He/she will happily hear me out, but I’ll get nowhere. That’s just how it is with someone who’s very committed to their ideology.
But anyway. Yes, cocooning is bad; that’s why Thomas Edsall and HuffPo are in Headlines. (In fact, the latest item up there at the moment is a piece from David Frum (gasp!).) Even if a few of our more ideological readers rule them out as not worth engaging, most won’t. That’s what Sides’s graph is all about. Two things, though, to wrap up this topic. One: The basic hook for Politico’s piece, I take it, is the fact that so many conservatives discounted the state polling in October and assumed Romney would win. But … Romney thought he would win too, not because he was listening to talk radio but because his internal pollsters were using a faulty model of the electorate to gauge expected turnout. He had a data problem and an ORCA problem, not a “Rush Limbaugh problem.” There’s no one I can recall offhand arguing that Romney would win simply because the alternative was too terrible to contemplate. The argument was that enthusiasm for Obama had faded too far from 2008 levels to replicate D+7 turnout, and that appeared to be supported by both Gallup’s and Rasmussen’s national polling. They both had Romney ahead by a point on the eve of election. I missed Gallup’s initiation into the vast right-wing cocooning conspiracy. Two: Since we’re talking cocooning, which lefty blogs/news sites routinely feature right-wing op-eds or analyses the way, say, we feature liberal or centrist ones in Headlines? Virtually every critique I read of Democratic pols from grassroots Dems online is from the left. Which liberals are complementing their demand for tax hikes on the rich by pounding the table for deficit reduction and entitlement reform before the cherished welfare state collapses on itself? Does either of these pieces qualify as cocooning or, as usual, is it only a Republican vice? What sort of smart, sober, reality-based analysis on the subject of fiscal reform do you expect from MSNBC over the next four years?
Via Mediaite, the latest from Fox News.