‘Can Conservative Journalism Survive?’

Conservative Conor Friedersdorf, now at the Atlantic, asks whether conservative journalism can survive. See, entitled just that wayCan Conservative Journalism Survive?

In truth, he’s writing about traditional conservatism (and not just journalists), and the generation of traditional conservatives that brought Reagan to office. I’d recommended the whole essay.

Friedersdorf asks:

….If conservatism is to survive as a constructive force for the moment when Trumpism ends in another bankruptcy, and the country needs a healthy left and right to recover, conservatives need not only to learn from the flaws that caused their countrymen to lose faith in their project; they must openly and explicitly break with populism [Adams: that is, Trumpism] and its excesses, bringing a conservative critique to bear upon them. “America needs a reminder of conservatism before vulgarians hijacked it,” George F. Will recently declared, “and a hint of how it became susceptible to hijacking.”

Who will point out populism’s flaws by drawing on conservatism’s best insights, attack its hucksters as much as the left, and fight for the right as if conservatism could win?

There’s an answer to Friedersdorf’s question: if traditional conservatism cannot see that Trumpism is now a greater threat than the left (rather than deserving of attack merely ‘as much as the left’), then traditional conservatism will continue to whither, declining from kindling to tinder to dust.

The local version of this is believing that hyper-local coverage, ignoring national forces that now reach into every town, will satisfactorily get one through this darker era. Indeed, it’s holding to hyper-localism as if that view were a political party, ideology, or faith. Paine was right, in his Epistle to the Quakers:

Ye appear to us to have mistaken party for conscience; because the general tenor of your actions wants uniformity: And it is exceedingly difficult for us to give credit to many of your pretended scruples; because we see them made by the same men, who, in the very instant that they are exclaiming against the mammon of this world, are nevertheless hunting after it with a step as steady as Time, and an appetite as keen as Death.

There will be a time after this time, of course, but some will come through it so poorly and so dishonorably that they’ll come to regret having come through it at all.

3 thoughts on “‘Can Conservative Journalism Survive?’

  1. I think the more pressing question is “Why should conservative journalism survive?”

    I’m not suggesting that conservatives should not write what they want to. I certainly do. I am suggesting that conservative journalism, including talk radio and the FOX empire, needs to get back to fact-based writing. J-School 101 tells us to present actual facts, with citations from real sources, and then draw conclusions based on those facts. That is not how the bubble works, these days. Epistemic closure is real.

    FOX, Sinclair, Breitbart, Drudge, the Daily Caller, and all of hate radio are not in the Journalism biz. They are agit-prop outlets dedicated to monetizing fear and hatred. It is a biz model that works very well, and quite successfully. Trump is president. Do I need to cite any more exemplars?

    Most of what passes for conservative commentary or journalism today is carefully crafted verifiable bullshit designed to appeal to the basest values of the conservative electorate. And it works! Rupert, and his disciples, have put together an empire of zombies that march in lock-step to do whatever they are told to do, even if it is not in their self-interest to do so. The driver of most of this is tribal white resentment, which is among the most powerful and most blinding emotions. Conservative journalism has devolved to using fear and loathing to sell gold-plated coins, Snapple and sleep-number beds. Actual, verifiable, facts are secondary to stoking fear to sell ads.

    Conservative media has built a fanatically loyal audience of very scared people who never get information from a non-conservative source. It’s a biz model that works exceptionally well. the difficulty with the model is that you need to keep the eyes on your ads, and that can be difficult to sustain. When conservative media runs out of actual red-meat to serve up, they resort to making shit up that is suitably inflammatory to keep the mesmerization in force. Obama is a Muslim. He’s coming for your guns. Black hoards of barbarians are coming over the state line to rape your daughters. All Mexicans are drug-runners and lazy lay-abouts that live high on the hog on your tax money. Fear and racial hatred are the economic drivers of conservative “journalism”. Facts are secondary, and a lot harder to make a buck with.

    Buckley would blanch at what has become of his baby. the National Review had a brief moment of glory, when they took on Trump during the election, but now they have returned to the fold with predictable enabling of him, and his Trumpies. A magazine has got to make a living, I guess.

    There are certainly great shining examples of conservative journalists who seem to still have a scintilla of ethics. Jennifer Rubin leads the pack. David Frum, Norm Ornstein, Ross Douthat, Bill Kristol , and even George Effing Will have come around to understand the monster that they have loosed on the country. Even Wisco-World’s own Charlie Sykes has had a deathbed-conversion and copped to being a huge part of the problem. It is good to see him admit to spending years stirring up the rubes with hate-radio bullshit, but it does not excuse him doing so.

    1. Yes, that’s true, isn’t it? Friedersdorf struggles with whether conservative journalism should survive, but it’s not conservative journalism that’s a key force of our time: it’s conservative media, agit-prop as you describe it. (I conflate, too, lumping conservative writers of all kinds, implicitly including ordinary voters: Friedersdorf writes of conservative writers – whether journalists or, truly, propagandists – but I end by saying that “traditional conservatism will continue to whither, declining from kindling to tinder to dust.”)

      Your distinction is nicer: between some kinds of writers & speakers and others. Most of these conservatives are surely lost forever, and most of them were never journalists in any event. There’s nutty and then there’s something far worse that we have now (‘FOX, Sinclair, Breitbart, Drudge, the Daily Caller, and all of hate radio’). They’ve no hope of a return to normal conversation – we’ve no reason to take them into a normal conversation when normal conversations are one day restored.

      You’ve listed a remnant that have been true to more than a reactionary mob’s appetite for a herrenvolk. There are so few, though. They’ve chosen well against the worst impulses of a bigoted movement, but how sad that anyone is commendable for what should be – and in a better time would be – an easy choice.

      1. The major problem facing this country, and one of the most intractable, is that half of the country is basing their decisions on how to govern, and how to get along, on bullshit.
        If I were David Brooks, I would blame this situation on both sides, but I’m not Brooks and it isn’t both sides. As we’ve been discussing, there is an entire industry out there on the right making shit up and passing it off as fact, even as they decry actual fact as “Fake News”. Trump is the pure distillate of this roiling cauldron of offal. There is no similar enterprise on the left.

        I hope your dream of this segment of our media ecosystem becoming marginalized, due to an outbreak of common sense, comes to pass. I will celebrate it when it happens, if I am still alive…

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