Fox News Largely to Blame for GOP's Bad Image, Conservative Commentators Too Scared to Say So
Add Commentary's John Podhoretz to the growing list of conservative writers who, in the wake of Obama's easy re-election win, are voicing concern about the Republican Party's approach and are worried that players within the conservative movement are damaging its chances to effectively counter the Democratic president. But also add John Podhoretz to the list of conservatives who refuse to type the phrase "Fox News" when detailing who's to blame for the GOP's tarnished reputation.
This has become something of a conservative formula in recent months: Bemoan the state of the GOP, denounce its messaging failures, and urge introspection and the courage to change course.
Missing from the equation? Singling out any of the culprits, any of the national media voices, to blame for Republican woes.
Podhoretz, for instance, claims that the contradictory caricature of the president created by Obama's critics, that he's a lightweight in over his head who's also a ruthless power-hunger pol, "has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment." By spending the last five years falsely portraying Obama, and often doing it an outlandish manner via "excessive alarmism," his most fevered opponents have made themselves appear "foolish" and easy to dismiss, Podhoretz wrote. It's time for "serious arguments," he counseled, even though they "may not sell gold coins as quickly."
But who's guilty of selling gold coins off alarmist attacks on Obama? Podhoretz never actually says, although its obvious Fox News has been central in promulgating the bizarre, cartoonish depiction of Obama that the writer claims has diminished conservatives in recent years.
Voter surveys confirm that point. From the New York Times Magazine's recent look at the GOP's troubled image among voters:
The voters in Kristen Soltis Anderson's focus groups condemned Republicans for their unchecked hatred of Obama and for threatening to take away financing for Planned Parenthood, ban abortion, outlaw gay marriage and wage war.
Those results wouldn't surprise executives at the Republican National Committee who last week released a lengthy report detailing the party's failings in 2012 and emphasizing just how damaged its reputation is among key groups of voters. The "autopsy" was at times startlingly frank in characterizing the hurdles the party faces in terms of being viewed as more inclusive ("On messaging, we must change our tone"), as well as acknowledging its many campaign failures last year.
Where the report was not forthright though, was conceding that the right-wing media, and specifically Fox News, bear a disproportionate amount of the blame for having defined the GOP in their image of intolerance, divisiveness, and paranoia.
Fox News speaks for the Republican Party. Period. It owns the party's messaging machine. So if there's an entrenched messaging problem within the GOP (which more and more conservatives seem to think there is), and if more and more voters view the party as out of touch and irrelevant, that's Fox News' fault. But apparently players within the movement aren't supposed to say so.
In January, conservative Erick Erickson beseeched his fellow partisans to ditch the phony outrage that's become so prevalent in right-wing circles and to address more substantial areas of debate. "We're off key and off message. We've become professional victims dialed up to 10 on the outrage meter," he wrote. "Who the hell wants to listen to conservatives whining and moaning all the time about the outrage du jour?"
He even specified that the right wing's endless conspiracies and Obama fantasies related to the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year had not been a productive use of the movement's time.
But Erickson, like so many others, refused to single Fox out by name even though the channel practically invented the phony outrage approach that Erickson thinks is damaging the GOP. Indeed, forced indignation represents the centerpiece of Fox's programming model during Obama's presidency. (Fox has mentioned "Benghazi" nearly two thousand times since last September, according to TVeyes.com)
Erickson's blatant omission did prove enlightening in one regard: Days after his column appeared he was hiredby Fox News. So by declining to criticize Fox, Erickson was likely able to advance his own career.
I suspect that's why lots of conservatives today refuse to state the obvious: Fox News is hurting the Republican Party.
Eric Boehlert is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, and a former senior writer for Salon.