The Great Unraveling of Media

In 1964, William Buckley led a rebellion of the conservative intelligentsia against the John Birch Society and its hoopleheaded paranoia. In 2009, the same JBS hooplehead paranoia is in charge of the conservative movement — and the intelligentsia is now abandoning the movement itself.

Witness Charles Johnson, among the right’s best bloggers, who posted a farewell letter yesterday. Denouncing the raging hatefest that is the wingnutosphere, Johnson calls out several bloggers by name, including Michelle Malkin, Robert Stacy McCain, and Lew Rockwell. Inspired, Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan has listed the reasons he can no longer call himself a conservative. Paraphrasing Reagan, he concludes: “I didn’t leave the conservative movement. It left me. And increasingly, I’m not alone.”

But even as the conservative movement implodes, your “liberal” media seems intent on promoting the wingnut view as “populist.” As Eric Boehlert explains in a post at Media Matters,

During the 1990s, the black helicopter/militia crowd spread all kinds of similar hate smears and anti-government conspiracy theories about the Clinton administration (i.e. the New World Order). But the Beltway press didn’t anoint those crazies as “populists.” So why should today’s right-wing radicals, and their media rabble-rousers, get to bask in the feel-good “populist” glow?

They get to because the press keeps making the phony claim. For instance, Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib recently assured readers that Tea Party activists — whom he described as tapping into a “populist vein” — were just like the independent voters who rallied around folksy billionaire Ross Perot during the 1990s.

Really? Perot supporters in 1996 spent an entire summer month forming wide-eyed mini-mobs in order to make sure that Americans could not discuss the day’s important topics at town hall forums? They showed up at rallies with loaded handguns? They routinely compared the president to Adolf Hitler and paraded around with swastika posters? They formed angry crowds around members of Congress and followed them to their cars in parking lots, and hung politicians in effigy? They cheered media personalities who denigrated the president as a communist, and a socialist and a fascist, and attacked the president as a “dangerous” man? The Perot movement was built around incessant and hateful name-calling?

The shift is general. Just look at the POLITICO post “7 Stories Obama Doesn’t Want Told” from yesterday, in which all seven “stories” are not reports, but caricatures drawn directly from the wingnutosphere. Moreover, these seven “stories” often contradict each other: Obama is “a pushover,” but then he “engages in brass-knuckle politics.” Both things cannot possibly be true in the same universe.

Which is true? Neither — but the Beltway has been desperately looking for a damaging narrative since before his 100 days were up, so they’ve turned to Charles Johnson’s old compatriots for inspiration.

Even today, as Obama prepares to give a momentous speech at West Point, the MSM has suddenly decided to take up questions about America’s role in Afghanistan: a two-month period of “dithering” propaganda has ended and a new era of “withering” has begun.

Media cannot help itself. There must be drama, controversy, and debate at all times. Nothing can ever be “settled” — stories simply get dropped whenever a new Balloon Boy comes around.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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