Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment

Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment

Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment

Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment

Synopsis

Rupert Murdoch's multibillion-dollar purchase of the Wall Street Journal in 2007 was but one more chapter in an untold story: the rise of an integrated conservative media machine that all began with Rush Limbaugh in the 1980s. Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph Cappella - two of the nation's foremost experts on politics and communications - here offer a searching analysis of the conservative media establishment, from talk radio to Fox News to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, Echo Chamber is the first serious account of how the conservative media arose, what it consists of, and how it operates. Surprisingly, President Obama's election has only enhanced the influence of Limbaugh. As an unofficial leader of the Republican Party, he has issued marching orders to the rest of the conservative media bent on challenging President Obama's agenda. To show how this influential segment of the media works, the authors examine the uproar that followed when Senator Trent Lott seemed to endorse Strom Thurmond's segregationist past. Limbaugh called the remarks "utterly indefensible," but added that a "double standard" was in play. That signaled abroad counterattack by the conservative media establishment, charging the mainstream media with hypocrisy (yet using its reports when convenient), creating a set of facts - or allegations - for partisans to draw upon, and fostering an in-group identity. Jamieson and Cappella find that Limbaugh, FoxNews, and the Wall Street Journal opinion pages create a self-protective enclave for conservatives, shielding them from other information sources, and promoting strongly negative associations with political opponents. Limbaugh in particular, they write, fuses the roles of party leader and opinion leader in a fashion reminiscent of the nineteenth century's partisan newspaper editors.

Excerpt

As we were putting the finishing touches on this manuscript, political happenstance offered up a test of one of our central arguments. Our analysis of the conservative media establishment suggested that if Rush Limbaugh, the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, and key players on Fox News were confronted by a serious Republican presidential contender whose proposals and past deviated from Reagan doctrine, they would marshal against the candidacy.

After a year of speculation about the prospects of presidential candidates John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson, the emergence late in 2007 of Mike Huckabee, a telegenic former preacher and governor of Arkansas, as a serious Republican contender upended conventional wisdom. In conservative circles, surprise at Huckabee’s rise was overlaid with concern about the ideological inclinations of the charismatic former Baptist minister. Specifically, some worried that beneath his socially conservative, antiabortion, anti–gay marriage veneer beat the heart of a social liberal and foreign policy moderate. If so, Huckabee’s candidacy constituted a betrayal of Reagan conservatism.

As Huckabee surged in Iowa polls, the media voices on which we focus in this book, including Rush Limbaugh, Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Chris Wallace, and editorial page writers at the Wall Street Journal, moved to the fore to test the Arkansan’s adherence to the Reagan catechism. On his nationally syndicated radio show, Limbaugh concluded that there is “a lot of liberalism” and not “a lot of Reaganism” in Huckabee (December 21, 2007). Among Limbaugh’s issues with the telegenic former preacher was his embrace of the notion that the United States should strive to be well regarded in the world community, a seeming repudiation of the muscular foreign policy of presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. On the Journal’s website, OpinionJournal.com’s editor James Taranto raised concerns about the same article that riled the talk radio host and also attacked the governor’s social policies with the suggestion that Huckabee’s health care proposals smacked of nannyism. Rounding out the critique, on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial . . .

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