In the early days of “the new media”—talk radio, cable TV, and the Web—liberal media critics used to warn about the “right-wing conveyor belt,” a means by which conservatives, feeling disenfranchised from the mainstream press, could smuggle a story onto the network airwaves or the front pages of national newspapers. A report in an explicitly ideological venue—the American Spectator, maybe—might be picked up by, say, the Drudge Report and then become a favorite topic on talk radio, provoking a mention by a mainstream-media reporter in a story about the story, and before you knew it, the original story had itself breached the battlements, landed on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, and gone kaboom. In such a way could the ideologues manipulate the agenda of supposedly neutral journalism. President Clinton’s Troopergate scandal, boycotted by the press at first, was the best example of the conveyor belt in motion.
Our present-day leftists apparently hope to construct a conveyor belt of their own. (Why they should feel disenfranchised from the establishment press is a good question, but they do.) ThinkProgress’s reports on the Kochs were repeated on the more heavily trafficked and slightly more mainstream Huffington Post, drawing the notice of the MSNBC talk-show host Rachel Maddow, who pointed out to her viewers that while Americans for Prosperity had a “really innocuous sounding name,” it was a sock puppet of the Kochs. When Maddow speaks, the White House listens, and by August, the president himself was at a Texas fundraiser warning an audience that had paid at least $5,000 a person about the dangers that rich people posed to politics. Obama didn’t mention the Kochs, just their organization. Despite an “innocent-sounding name,” he said, “they don’t want you to know who theAmericans for Prosperity are.” It’s not clear from the president’s remarks who “they” are, but they can’t be good.