The Conservative Media Bubble

The Conservative Media Bubble November 11, 2012

In the run up to the election, conservatives and the conservative media rejected the dominant narrative regarding who would win the presidential election. While New York Times blogger Nate Silver analyzed polls and consistently predicted an Obama win, Fox News and the rest of the conservative media insisted that Silver and the polls were skewed and predicted that Romney would win handily. And then Obama won. What happened, exactly?

Barack Obama just trounced a Republican opponent for the second time. But unlike four years ago, when most conservatives saw it coming, Tuesday’s result was, for them, an unpleasant surprise. So many on the right had predicted a Mitt Romney victory, or even a blowout — Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone all predicted the GOP would break 300 electoral votes. Joe Scarborough scoffed at the notion that the election was anything other than a toss-up. Peggy Noonan insisted that those predicting an Obama victory were ignoring the world around them. Even Karl Rove, supposed political genius, missed the bulls-eye. These voices drove the coverage on Fox News, talk radio, the Drudge Report, and conservative blogs.

Those audiences were misinformed.

It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you’re a rank-and-file conservative, you’re probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn’t accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.

On the biggest political story of the year, the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media. And movement conservatives, who believe the MSM is more biased and less rigorous than their alternatives, have no way to explain how their trusted outlets got it wrong, while the New York Times got it right. Hint: The Times hired the most rigorous forecaster it could find.

It ought to be an eye-opening moment.

I grew up hearing that Fox News was the closest there was to an objective and unbiased news channel. Every other channel, in contrast, was liberal, biased, and untrustworthy. There were similar suspicions in my evangelical community of the New York Times and other similar newspapers. The idea was that our conservative news sources got things right, and the others twisted facts and made things up. This election reveals otherwise.

Southern Baptist Convention pollster Ed Stetzer describes how conservatives responded when he, in the weeks leading up to the election, rejected the conservative media narrative and reported accurately what the polls showed:

As a pollster and an evangelical Christian, several people have asked me to weigh in on polls and this election. … On a couple of occasions, I pointed out that it was statistically unlikely for Governor Romney to pull off an upset. Also, when I simply listed the poll numbers indicating President Obama “won” the second and third debates, some screamed “no way” (among other things).

Each time, some folks went crazy, explaining how the stats are all biased, particularly the ones from “those bad people at CNN.” People questioned MY judgment and called me naive– some said I was GLAD President Obama was winning (though I did not support the President’s reelection). Yet, now that everything is over, it appears that my judgment was not the issue– but there are issues of judgment to consider here.

Some said that Romney would win in a “landslide” and others said he would win “handily.” Many wanted to believe it, particularly when it was widely reported and discussed on Fox News. Now that the dust has settled, the question naturally comes: How could this have happened when the statistics said something else?

It appears that some have confused their faith with Fox News– for some, to question the judgment of Fox News cannot be tolerated if you are an evangelical Christian. However, some on Fox News did not serve their viewers well by promoting the myth that polls were biased. I am not saying they are evil, but they were wrong– and some are admitting it now.

Another writer tackling this same question said that conservative political junkies disbelieved the polls because they operated under “the assumption that it is simply not possible to comprehend how anyone would vote to reelect Obama.” I think this is worth emphasizing, because it’s something I’ve seen in the facebook status updates of conservative friends and relatives. They cannot understand why anyone would vote for Obama. They cannot understand why anyone would support Obama. They cannot understand how anyone could be inspired by Obama. Their explanations for the election results run from blaming divine intervention to accusing Obama voters of just being in it for the “handouts” to blaming the election loss on “the slut vote.”

The point worth emphasizing here is that conservatives have created a bubble for themselves, and they have difficulty understanding anything outside of that bubble. How could anyone possibly support Obamacare? How could anyone approve of his support for gay marriage? And on and on. I said before the election that it didn’t bother me that I disagreed with those on the other side of the aisle, but what did bother me is that we seemed to exist in two different realities. Two completely different realities.

Now it is true that perfect objectivity is a standard oft sought but never fully realized. However, I think this election is a reminder that when two people disagree on a matter that involves fact and not subjective opinion, only one of them can be right. This election also reveals the problem of isolating oneself from anyone who disagrees, and the problem with simply rejecting out of hand everything said by those on the other side (I personally try to avoid both of these). I think, also, that conservatives’ tendency to buy into conspiracy theories and distrust experts plays against them (think of young earth creationism).

The thing is, conservatives don’t seem to be learning from this experience. Remember the predictions some conservatives made about what would happen if Obama was elected back in 2008? Yeah, that didn’t turn out so well. Well, in the wake of Obama’s second election, conservatives are at it again, busy making predictions of doom. And honestly? Their predictions make everything they predicted back in 2008 look like a walk in the park. So no, honestly, I’m not sure they’ve learned a thing.

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