by Conor Friedersdorf
A reader writes:
Conor, I wish I had the same confidence you do that the conservative media elite are ironically detached from Limbaugh. I think it's likely that some of them are more detached than they let on, and are constrained about saying so because staying resolutely pro-Limbaugh (and pro-Hannity, pro-Levin, etc.) is perceived by them as necessary for business -- whether that business is electing Republicans, or keeping conservative opinion magazines viable (you know opinion magazines are not gold mines).
I can vouch for the fact that some of these people are far more skeptical about talk radio hosts in private. But the reader is right that others are writing in earnest:
I can think of at least two people on that list who are bona fide true believers -- this I know from personal experience -- and are not being the least bit cynical. It really is hard to overstate the extent to which even intelligent members of the conservative elite have bought into the basic right-wing ideological narrative. If the only reasons for the failure of the Right's ideas are a) media bias, b) liberal evil, and c) a failure of Republicans to be sufficiently conservative (with "conservative" defined in a narrow, rigid, archaic way), then there is no need to re-examine oneself or movement conservatism's priorities. Conservatism cannot fail; conservatism can only be failed.
The reader goes on to raise an interesting tangent:
You can't forget how much more conservatives prize loyalty than liberals. Check out social psychologist Jonathan Haidt's discussion of the moral roots of liberal vs. conservative values. He points out that conservatives value in-group loyalty significantly more than liberals do. He's not saying this is wrong or right per se, only that it exists. I have seen this to be true. I have lived it myself.
Part of what I'm trying to persuade conservatives in journalism is that by being loyal to talk radio hosts, they're by necessity being disloyal to the rank and file; to any moral code that prizes truth over utility; to their professional obligation to be forthright with their audience; and ultimately to themselves. It is precisely the conservative who prizes the virture of loyalty, rightly understood, who should criticize Rush Limbaugh when it is warranted. It is a perversion of that virtue to do otherwise. The reader concludes, "I just wanted to say that all of those conservative media figures are intelligent, worldly men, but some of them really do strongly believe in the value of in-group loyalty -- and this distorts their ability to think clearly about the world." What I see are people being loyal to the elites at the expense of the group (see Limbaugh's lies, the sketchy Human Events advertisements that prey on elderly readers, and the Glenn Beck gold business, to cite three examples).