in Kulturkampf

How The Left Loses At Kulturkampf

By ceding the cultural ground instead of seeding it:

Ever since the early days of Rush Limbaugh, liberals/progressives have been playing a defensive game in the media.  They ceded the AM radio dial, while corporate conservatives bought up companies and radio stations by the plentiful, allowing for a multitude of conservative hosts to dominate the airwaves.  Meanwhile, the liberals argued that the only way to combat such was to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine; they did not buy radio clusters, or even cultivate hosts, until the early-to-mid-2000s, and by then, conservatives had a hierarchy of voices. Even by the time MSNBC—a network that started operations at around the same time as Fox News Channel in 1996—truly began pushing a more liberal viewpoint in late 2007, Fox News had cornered the conservative market—and by extension, the political media narrative—for 11 years.

Meanwhile, several progressive publications and radio networks went underfunded, or had a less-than-ideal business plan, and folded in the same period.  Nevertheless, while all this was going on, where were all these donors, who Mr. Soros claims are all disaffected, and tired of politicians not fighting “losing battles”?  Wherever they were, it was not helping to build a counterbalance to a Fox News, or a Wall Street Journal, while Rupert Murdoch took control of that paper; lending a hand, or even a couple hundred million dollars, to create a venue for the progressive message.  They were doing little of anything and remaining silent, as the conservatives pilloried and did their dirt right out in the open.

To some extent, liberal media has circumvented the media gap via podcasting. But as Nicole Sandler and Bob Kincaid can testify, no one gets rich podcasting either. Here, as with the internet,  one basic problem is that bloggers are not rewarded for centrism. My traffic is abysmal for a “major site.” Not only does the left need to stop whining about a president who isn’t on the ballot, the movement must organically grow some simple causes, and must do so by supporting alternative media while alt media pushes causes. We forgot the “roots” in netroots.

I mean, where are Van Jones and “GREEN JOBS NOW”? I talk about these things here, but they don’t make me rich, either. I heard at Netroots Nation that some 20,000 Americans are blogging full time at an average of $22,000 a year, and I’ve had about $1500 in fundraising for the entire year.  Even a progressive rock goddess like Shannyn Moore is not rich. She has no book deal, and if she did have one the left has no direct mail infrastructure to give away copies for a dollar or put her on a national tour. There is no path to fame through the more liberal end of cable, either, as it spends most of its time just dissecting the smoke coming from the fear factory.

Bob Kincaid has estimated that for every hour a liberal spends on the air, there are one thousand hours of Radio Rwanda. Until that changes, liberalism is a dirty word and progressive causes will have wasted their greatest opportunity in a generation. They must stop ceding the ground and start seeding it.

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  • DjS

    I completely agree, but where I think the disconnect is that the “left” can’t agree on ANYTHING. Including what to have for lunch on any particular day. Much less come up with a cohesive media plan that strives to rival the Right’s. Think about the right. As soon as a “meme” is uttered, it’s been disseminated through talk radio, Fox, congress, blogs, etc and they all utter the exact same thing. This is how the right succeeds in communication where the left fails. If a “meme” is utter by the President for example, you get 500 different reactions from each corner of the liberal world. By the time is gets to any audio or visual medium, it’s been lost, or a least distorted beyond recognition. Some say this is great because it shows that we don’t “follow the leader” but it has also contributed to a LOT of lies and misinformation. Some of it dangerously so. – @DJShay12

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  • It’s not so much what liberals aren’t as what right-wingers ARE: authoritarian. It is in their nature down to sub-cellular levels to do as they are told, think as they are told, BE as they are told.

    Secondarily to this, the central messaging hasn’t been as good as it should’ve been for the last two years. Liberals and progressives were quite adept at messaging through the long night of Bush. It was actually pretty easy, since the Loyal Bushies made it that way. Opposition IS easy. On the other hand, if one wants media cooperation, it must, to expand upon Matt’s metaphor, be cultivated.

    Let’s look at how NOT to do that: immediately after Innauguration, you, a Democrat, have a nice sit-down, multi-course dinner with a veritable rogue’s gallery of right-wing opinionistos, all of whom HATE YOUR FREAKING GUTS. Then you go back to the White House and invite some of those liberal blogger people over for a 30 minute set-to replete with beans and kool-aid in styrofoam cups. That sends a pretty clear message, and not a good one.

    Structurally, one cannot overstate the importance that having the messaging machine in place provides. The reason that right-wing lies fly around the globe before the Truth can get is pants (let alone shoes) on is because the right wing, starting with the Powell Memo in 1972 WORKED to build that machine. They put the time, the energy and, most importantly THE MONEY into having what they recognized is critically necessary.

    When Rush Limbaugh first got a foothold in radio, I remember a lot of libs/progs/Dems saying “Well, he’s just so . . . gauche! We wouldn’t want to be like HIM!” It displayed a level of cluelessness and disconnect with everyday working America that is stunning to contemplate even today. Robert Parry has probably done a better job than anyone else laying out the history of the Right’s conquest of the media landscape:

    In point of fact, the groups that should most easily “get” the need for liberal media are the ones least likely to support it. After all, we’re talking about LIBERAL media, right? Why buy the cow when you’re gonna get the milk for free, eh? The only problem with that analysis is that the COW EVENTUALLY STARVES TO DEATH. It ain’t about buying milk. It’s about making sure the cow keeps eating so it can make more milk. Obvious, one might think, but not to the folks who have the wherewithal to help build the desperately needed liberal infrastructure.

    Sorry, I get worked up on this topic. I’ve seen a lot of good talent fall by the wayside for want of not wealth, but basic Maslovian hierarchy of needs stuff: food, clothing, shelter. Meanwhile, Leonard and Muffy Liberal roll past in their limos, wondering why we keep getting our asses kicked in the media.

  • We need a progressive Powell Memo and the same machine, but we must build it from the bottom. Seed money. Microloans. Pirate stations. Fucking shortwave. All of it podcast. The left needs to sow before it can reap.

    The time is now.

  • I’ve chronicled all this before: how One Nation took forever. How it took 114 people getting arrested in front of the White House to get the attention of a progressive cause with just shy of 2,000 people. @BobKincaid was a part of that.

    Against Bob, weigh Jon Stewart, who kept 200,000 people from doing GOTV in the weekend before an election.

    For all the great work even Maddow and Olbermann did, they didn’t change the story. Now that rumors of a progressive tea party are floating around, I’d like to submit two ideas:


    Which word is hard to understand?

  • Oddly enough, Matt, I’ve written that “liberal Powell Memo” a number of times. I just laid out a big part of it on the air tonight.

    It has two prongs: (a) grow/support the talent and (b) buy the radio stations. Me, I don’t care much about terrestrial radio, but it IS what people stuck in their cars in traffic jams listen to. Captive audiences are receptive audiences.

    As for Green Jobs Now, the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference will be coming up once again in DC in a couple of months. I’ve been getting pitches for months; but, having been there, I’ll likely not go back. It’s another D.C. back-patting seminar that, as far as I can tell from my vantage point, doesn’t do much beyond being good for the D.C. hospitality industry (which, IMO, is important, but doesn’t address the issues you raise.

    If I was going to look to anything in the near term to set the tone and establish the dialogue, I’d look instead to PowerShift ’11 in DC in April. Made up largely of younger people, there is a tremendous energy there.