Howard Kurtz wants Al Gore and the president to stop whining about right-wing media. Maybe he just doesn’t like the sound of their voices, but his analysis is ridiculous. Take a look at the logic in this paragraph.
Now it’s true that Fox or Limbaugh can boost or batter any lawmaker, and that they can help drive a controversy into the broader mainstream media. But we’re talking here about the president of the United States. He has an army, a navy and a bunch of nuclear weapons, not to mention an ability to command the airwaves at a moment’s notice. And he’s complaining about a cable channel and a radio talk-show host?
Well, it’s true that the president can command the airwaves at a moment’s notice, but he can’t command the air waves twenty-four hours a day like Fox News, and he can’t spend three hours a day, five days a week, hosting a highly rated radio program like Rush Limbaugh. Moreover, of what use is the army, the navy, and our nuclear arsenal in shaping public opinion on immigration or guns or climate change or the economy? I might as well argue that Rush Limbaugh has an advantage over the president because he owns a riding lawnmower.
More to the point, there was a time before right-wing mass media. We still had lunatics in this country, like the members of the John Birch Society. Our racial problems were significantly worse back then, with reactionary assholes at first promoting an apartheid society, and then converting the Republican Party into a revanchist party dedicated to standing athwart history yelling ‘stop!’ But, there were no outlets where people could steep and saturate themselves in that kind of hatred during all their waking hours. There were no feedback loops where the rankest bullshit could be circulated and amplified until a significant portion of the country became convinced that climate change is a myth because Al Gore is fat, or that ACORN is fixing elections, or that the New Black Panthers are more menacing than three dudes with too much spare time.
The problem with right-wing mass media is not only that they trade in hate and fear, but that they actively misinform. They are making people angry and stupid in a way that you just cannot say about NPR or the New York Times or MSNBC. I know it is fashionable to argue that MSNBC is just the flip-side of Fox News, but that only appears to be the case if you focus on partisanship. If you focus on whether or not viewers are better or worse informed after watching The Rachel Maddow Show versus The O’Reilly Factor the difference between the two networks is obvious. Maddow explains how things work. O’Reilly inflames people’s passions. Maddow presents things that ought to scare her audience, like the way corporations are using Republicans to write legislation verbatim per their instructions, while O’Reilly is telling his audience that liberals want to ruin their Christmas celebration.
What Howard Kurtz is ignoring is that one of the main reasons it is difficult to bridge the partisan divide in Congress and get anything done is because the right wing is living in a bubble made of 90 proof bullshit that is created by right-wing mass media. Yes, they are very powerful. They are very destructive. And, no, the president can’t unleash the armed forces on talk radio hosts or order a nuclear attack on Fox News.