Before coming to Slate, I’d spent a number of years working at mission-driven ideological publications. It’s a genre of journalism that I think adds something invaluable to the media ecosystem, but there’s always a frustrating tension around it that Erick Erickson grasps brilliantly here while explicating what he thinks the conservative movement needs:
The “Obamaphone” is a great example of this. Conservatives laughed out loud at the video of the lady saying Barack Obama had given her a phone. Conservatives used it as an example of all that was wrong with the expansion of the welfare state under Barack Obama. What many conservatives missed was that the program was a pre-existing program. In fact, the “Obamaphone” idea goes back to the Reagan Administration, but the present program was implemented in 2008 when George W. Bush was President. Government funds are not even used directly.
Focus on the Obamaphone by conservatives missed a number of key points and, in not covering the basic facts, sent conservative activists down rabbit holes. It would have been helpful if conservative reporters spent more time laying out the basic who, what, where, when, why, and how of the issue before exploring the necessity of the program and the fact that there are Americans who credit Barack Obama with giving them that phone.
This is right on. With any kind of ideological niche media, you obviously hope to influence the broader dialogue. But realistically, the vast majority of the audience for ideological niche media consists of people who already agree with you. Committed ideological conservatives are exactly the people who don’t need random anecdotes about welfare state waste to be persuaded to adopt conservative ideas. What committed ideological conservatives do need is accurate information about American government and politics in order to think more clearly and accurately about their own activities. But what committed ideologues often want is stories that flatter their prejudices.
And I do think there tends to be an asymmetry here. Last night I read a great piece by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella about how prison guard unions often stand in the way of criminal justice reform and about how since the guards are often part of larger umbrella unions such as AFSME or AFGE they can punch above their weight. And I didn’t read it in a libertarian magazine where it would be a natural ideological fit; I read it in Mother Jones, whose readers’ instincts are going to be cross-pressured. And that’s good for Mother Jones, not just as a matter of integrity, but because it’s exactly the cross-pressured audience that needs to think about this subject. Progressive media doesn’t have as much Real Talk as it should, but precisely to Erickson’s point, conservative media has even less and it’s genuinely counterproductive.