“It’s safe to say conservative professional pundits have defeated their liberal counterparts,” Eliana Johnson writes triumphantly in a fund-raising plea in National Review, citing the undoubted ratings success enjoyed by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck as her evidence.
I admit: Gauged by that standard, Johnson does have a point. Right-wing media have nurtured a quite-profitable conservative audience of at least several million Americans that avidly consumes conservative narratives and avidly seeks confirmation of its conservative perspective. Within that world, conservative professional pundits have done quite well for themselves. They become rich, they become famous, they become influential … at least within that world.
However, isn’t the true test of the effectiveness of conservative punditry its impact on the world outside the bubble, changing the hearts and minds of those not already fully convinced? Even while proclaiming victory, Johnson acknowledges that larger problem:
“… where has it all gotten us?,” she asks. “Conservatives, by and large, are devastated by the state of the country.”
The problem, Johnson suggests, is that while the market is awash in conservative-oriented punditry, what’s lacking is conservative-oriented reporting. I agree. I think actual, factual reporting from the conservative media would benefit conservative media, conservative audiences and the tone of the national political debate as well. In the absence of such fact-based reporting, most of these “highly successful” conservative pundits peddle invented myths and legends to their audiences instead. If conservative reporting can change that, I’m all for it. And no, I’m not talking about the antics of people like James O’Keefe, and I doubt Johnson is either.
To the contrary, Johnson, the Washington editor of National Review, goes on to laud her own publication for its work in filling that vacuum of conservative news reporting:
“Take, for example, Jillian Kay Melchior’s report on the substantial tax debts owed by four MSNBC hosts — hosts who routinely call, on the air, for increasing taxes. Or our recent revelation that Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who rose to prominence denouncing real-estate speculators, herself flipped several homes for profit. This is reporting both about the people at hand but also about political identity, because it calls into question the subjects’ self-proclaimed status as ideological purists.”
In one of those pieces, David Harsanyi writes that the Times’ coverage is likely to prove an asset for Rubio rather than a liability because it depicts the Florida senator as another striving middle-class American, just like the rest of us. He argues that it makes Rubio more sympathetic than Hillary Clinton, and I can see how that might be true.
Then again, I’m not sure that the average American had his or her own personal Miami billionaire as a sugar daddy to employ his spouse or endow a college teaching job, as does Rubio. Nor does the average American have a credit card from the Florida Republican Party that they could use for things such as paving their driveway and flying the whole family out of state on vacation.**
“The problem with the New York Times investigation is not so much that it’s a transparent attempt to paint Rubio as an unfit candidate but that the paper exhibits an ugly double standard in coverage,” Harsanyi writes. “Listen, some folks make $100,000 trading cattle futures their first time out of the gate, and others have to take on mortgages and wait years for any profit.”
For those who may have forgotten or were too young at the time, “$100,000 trading cattle futures” is a reference to a semi-scandal involving investments back in the ’70s by Hillary Clinton, when she was the First Lady of Arkansas.
And how did we come to learn about Hillary’s dabbling in cattle futures?
Why, from the very same New York Times that Harsanyi accuses of a double standard in now writing a similar story on Rubio. The Times’ initial story, published way back in March 1994, was a major front-page article that dominated the news for weeks. (The Times has also played an aggressive role, dating back to at least 2013, in covering the very legitimate questions about the finances and conflicts of interest involved in the Clinton Foundation.)
In time, the cattle-futures story morphed into another semi-scandal called Whitewater, which in time morphed into the very real Monica Lewinsky scandal, which in time led to President Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives. In short, that cattle-futures story and all that followed was the likely genesis of a deep loathing among both Clintons for the media in general and the Times in particular.
I know that doesn’t jibe with the world as viewed from the conservative bubble, in which the Clintons remain the darlings of the elite media while Republicans are their victims. I know it doesn’t matter that almost every single legitimate count in the conservatives’ anti-Clinton indictment has come from reporting conducted by that very same “elite media.”
In fact, the ability to pretend that none of that record exists is another gauge by which conservative professional pundits can be said to be successful.
** The Times article was interesting and informative, part of the necessary vetting of any candidate. But nothing in it is likely to do any serious damage to Rubio’s candidacy or career.