Conservative talk radio loves to condemn the bias of the mainstream media. The hosts have persuaded their audience to ignore and discount any information coming from the MSM. The result is, the media has been delegitimized, the normal guideposts are down, the referees are discredited.
Of course I'd believe that, disliking conservative talk radio as much as I do. Naturally I'd blame them for harming our national discourse by demonizing the media. But I didn't say it. My first paragraph is a paraphrase from a column written by Charlie Sykes
, a well known conservative talk show host from Wisconsin. Here it is in his words.
One staple of every radio talk show was, of course, the bias of the mainstream media. This was, indeed, a target-rich environment. But as we learned this year, we had succeeded in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media. Over time, we’d succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether — all the normal guideposts were down, the referees discredited.
It's a fascinating column from a guy like Sykes whose conservative credentials are impeccable. "I helped advance the careers of conservatives like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan; Gov. Scott Walker; Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Senator Ron Johnson," he wrote in the column. He dislikes collective bargaining and is a staunch supporter of school choice. He and I have nearly nothing in common politically or ideologically. The only thing we share is a dislike of Donald Trump. And that's where his trouble began.
He lost listeners because he wouldn't back Trump, and he fell victim to the social media hatred the right generally reserves for Democrats and the "liberal media."
Unless you have experienced it, it’s difficult to describe the virulence of the Twitter storms that were unleashed on Trump skeptics. In my timelines, I found myself called a “cuckservative,” a favorite gibe of white nationalists; and someone Photoshopped my face into a gas chamber. Under the withering fire of the trolls, one conservative commentator and Republican political leader after another fell in line.
Sykes doesn't like Hillary Clinton either, but he's disturbed by the way she's perceived by many of his listeners.
For many listeners, nothing was worse than Hillary Clinton. Two decades of vilification had taken their toll: Listeners whom I knew to be decent, thoughtful individuals began forwarding stories with conspiracy theories about President Obama and Mrs. Clinton — that he was a secret Muslim, that she ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor. When I tried to point out that such stories were demonstrably false, they generally refused to accept evidence that came from outside their bubble. The echo chamber had morphed into a full-blown alternate reality silo of conspiracy theories, fake news and propaganda.
He blames thoughtful conservatives for the current state of affairs because they condoned the views of the right wing crazies by not criticizing them.
For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers and other conspiracy theorists who indulged fantasies of Mr. Obama’s secret Muslim plot to subvert Christendom, or who peddled baseless tales of Mrs. Clinton’s murder victims. Rather than confront the purveyors of such disinformation, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our allies, whose quirks could be allowed or at least ignored.
Sykes calls this a "moral failure" on his part and others who knew better. (Glenn Beck, by the way, said almost the same thing and blamed himself, among others, for the current state of the Republican Party.) Sykes is quitting his talk show, a decision he made well before election season, but he's breathing a sigh of relief about his decision.
I’m only glad I’m not going to be a part of it anymore.
All this is far more powerful coming from Charlie Sykes than from me.
A Small-Light-For-Me-In-The-Midst-Of-A-Dark-Election-Season Note
: I learned something this election season which I kinda knew but also kinda ignored. Many conservatives who I disagree with vehemently are thoughtful, intelligent, principled people. I was able to better understand that listening to the NeverTrump-ers on MSNBC and CNN. When they discussed their concerns about Trump, I could listen to what they had to say without my defenses up, meaning I could hear the quality of their thought and the depth of their analyses. It was more than just hearing them agree with me. I hear plenty of progressives on TV who bore the hell out of me because they have nothing original to say. After hearing a few words, I think "You've got nothing" and tune them out. But the quality of what many of the conservatives said impressed me, and I had to abandon my tendency to think they were just self-serving pundits giving their audiences what they want, especially these folks who were risking their conservative audiences by going against Trump.
So that presents me with a new challenge. When principled conservatives attack ideas I hold dear, I shouldn't dismiss them as partisan hacks. True, many of them deserve the "hack" label, along with most politicians, but not all of them. I have to try and keep my ears and mind open to what they have to say. They may begin with a different set of assumptions than mine, but their intelligence, logic and sincerity can be equal to what I hear from the best analysts on my side of the political spectrum, so they deserve a fair hearing, if for no other reason than they can help me understand some of the flaws in my own thinking.