What I Learned From a Scalia-Style Diet of Conservative Media

By Ben Terris
Reuters

A strict Scalia diet of exclusively right-leaning media consumption got off to an auspicious start. It began en route to the religious right's Values Voter Summit by flipping on Fox Radio and hearing an archived audio clip from Gore Vidal:

You're born into a society and you are shaped by it whether you know it of not, whether you like it or not. Each of us is born into a prison of received opinion, of superstition, and of prejudices. Now, one of the functions of art is to try and define the prison. The artist must know he's in it, and many of them don't, and those are the bad artists.

This writes itself, I thought. And in some ways, time listening to Rush Limbaugh and reading Erick Erickson on RedState.com did predictably feel like being inside a high-vaulted cell where the echoes of likeminded lifers drown out all other sounds.

"I have been making the point, trying to anyway, that the Republicans are winning," Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on Columbus Day. "That at least the Cruz and Lee faction is winning." Agreed, says the Daily Caller in a story headlined "How Cruz, Lee and Paul shut down Obama's agenda," in which author Christopher Bedford says: "One thing is undeniable: Their stand has lit a much-needed fire in D.C."

So yes, there certainly is a strain of believing only what you want to believe—known in technical terms as "epistemic closure"—happening in sections of the media. It's this type of groupthink that allows Senator Ted Cruz to head to a lunch with his colleagues last week to tell them according to his polls, things are going great.

But many of Cruz's colleagues didn't buy it. And neither does everyone in the conservative media.

"Look, this isn't working out that well for Republicans. I think the facts show that, so it's not that controversial to say that," Megyn Kelly said on her Fox News show last week.

"The Republicans are underwater by 30 points," Charles Krauthammer agreed. "That is a catastrophe."

Even Antonin Scalia, who recently told New York that he stopped reading "liberal" news outlets like The New York Times because it made him angry in the morning, probably has a sense of how poorly things are playing for Republicans. And yet, the battle rages on.

There's a vein of underdogism that runs from Fox News, to the Daily Caller, all the way to RedState that makes the fiscal fight understandable. Programming is filled with stories about WWII veterans who gave their "blood, sweat and tears" for this country only to be turned away at their own memorials. And making things worse, according to anchors like Kelly, is that channels "other than Fox" only want to cover the rally as a means to point out Confederate flag-toting protesters. "They want you to think it was all about the so-called fringe," she said.

It's no different, really than her segment with O'Reilly from just days earlier where they discussed a Wisconsin public school that proposed to limit the amount of Christmas songs sung by their choir. There's a war out there against the little guys, whether it's against Christmas or vets, and if Fox News won't stand up for them, no one will.

So sure, the majority of Americans may disapprove of how Republicans handled the shutdown and debt crisis—even they'll admit that—but it was about standing for what's right despite being in the face of it. The eventual deal is viewed by many in conservative media as a cave by the rest of the GOP. On Tuesday, Limbaugh was already saying that the "establishment Republicans are not conservative" and Erickson was calling on Republicans to "keep the fight on the continuing resolution about Obamacare."

Even the establishment conservative outlets, which admit Republicans are not faring well in the public-relations war, steadfastly stick to the conservative policy position on Obamacare—it's a terrible law that deserves to be repealed. Look at Bill O'Reilly, who for weeks said the defund-Obamacare effort was doomed to fail and then last week said: "If the president is really looking out for the folks, he has to know things are not working out well. And the country needs another year to better organize the health program and to see who is going to suffer because of it. That's just fair."

That Republicans are losing has become a truism, even in the conservative media. But the conclusions that the left and right come to based on those facts couldn't be farther apart. O'Reilly isn't saying there never should have been a fight over Obamacare; he's saying the fight should have been about delay, not defund. Erickson goes even farther, saying the real reason that Republicans are losing support is because they are being too wimpy on the matter (a recycled argument for why Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid).

"The RedState contact email is now getting one anti-GOP email for every one anti-Democrat email," Erickson wrote today. "That has never happened before. All these polls showing America hates the GOP are accurate. Even Republicans hate the GOP and the GOP might have to learn that the hard way in 2014 primaries."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/10/what-i-learned-from-a-scalia-style-diet-of-conservative-media/280669/