In the wake of the election, maybe it's time for Republicans to start printing "Don't believe the conservative media" bumper stickers.
If you are one of the millions who were taken by surprise by the thumping that the GOP received on Nov. 6, I bet I know why.
If I had to guess, you unfortunately made the mistake of sealing yourself into the alternate reality, closed-loop information bubble created by conservative media (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Drudge Report, Breitbart, etc.).
The people who spun this bubble told you repeatedly that Mitt Romney was going to win 300 electoral votes and capture all the swing states. They told you that any news or polls that did not come from the bubble was liberal media trickery and not to be trusted. They told you that Nate Silver at that liberal rag called The New York Times was some voodoo high priest playing games with numbers to support the newspaper's Kenyan-born Muslim redistributionist Number One Guy.
But then came the Great Rude Awakening, the sound of baseball bat on cranium, on election night. Obama, not Romney, won 300 electoral votes and the swing states. As for Silver and his Five Thirty Eight blog? He batted 1.000 and successfully called all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
What happened to you was simply and eloquently explained after the election by conservative and former Bush speechwriter David Frum: You were "fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex."
If you feel like a fool, it's all right. It happens to all of us. That's exactly what good propaganda does – it makes otherwise educated and wise people believe the unbelievable.
In my line of work, nothing is more infuriating than catching someone trying to lie to you. When someone lies to me, they're telling me that they think I'm stupid. The first thing I ask myself from that point forward becomes, "If you lied to me about this, what else have you lied to me about?"
That's a question that all disappointed conservatives need to ask themselves about this new alternate "knowledge" system that failed them so badly and so spectacularly.
As a former infantry soldier, the first thing that popped into my head watching the Romney camp on election night was Sun Tzu.
Sun Tzu's classic treatise, "The Art of War", is just as relevant today as it was 2,500 years ago, and just as much so in the realms of politics, business or any kind of competition.
One of the most quoted passages of the book is that you will never be in peril in a hundred battles if you know your enemy and know yourself. But there's more to the quote, which is often overlooked. The last part of it clearly explains what the conservative media bubble did to the GOP this election year:
"If you do not know your enemies or yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."
Or perhaps a more appropriate translation would be, "It's not Benghazi, stupid."
Let's apply Sun Tzu's quote about not knowing yourself or your opponent to the 2012 election.
Conservative media inflated Romney's strengths (300 electoral votes, baby, mark my words!) and inflated Obama's weaknesses. They played down Obama's strengths (his 2008 supporters are going to sit this one out, we swear!) and Romney's weaknesses (during the primary, the only nice thing that many conservatives would say to me about Romney was that he isn't Obama).
Conservative media spent countless hours hyping up garbage and thoroughly-debunked non-issues that had no bearing whatsoever on what voters in the real world outside the bubble cared about (War on Christmas! Birth certificate! Libya, Libya, Libya, Libya, Libya, LIBYA!)
Add the conservative media's heaping helping of conspiracy theory that anything outside of the bubble is liberal media lies, and the stage was set for the perfect storm. I won't go so far as to say Fox News is a cult, but it is certainly cult-like to tell your followers that everyone else is lying to you.
The GOP, ensconced in a concrete ideological echo chamber, entered into this fight unprepared, with a completely unrealistic assessment of both sides' strengths and dispositions, and no knowledge of the terrain, or in this case, the electorate. In war and politics, that's how you lose.
There was no greater testament to reality bearing down on the GOP rank-and-file like Juggernaut's carriage than the incredulous/shocked/devastated looks on the faces of Romney's supporters as it became clear that Obama not only was winning, but also winning decisively. This wasn't supposed to happen. They were told by their trusted sources, over and over and over again, that this was in the bag.
Romney apparently even allowed himself to partake of the Kool-Aid, and had to hastily cobble together a concession speech because he was so sure of victory that he never bothered to write one.
In the months prior to the election, I tried in vain to convince a few of my Fox-watching, Drudge-reading, Rush-listening friends and relatives that Romney was in deep trouble.
Mathematics, appropriately and legitimately applied, is neither conservative nor liberal. If Johnny has five apples and his teacher takes three, how many does he have left? The answer is two. The answer is not, "None, because the liberal teacher's union and the school board that won't allow creationism in science class redistributed what Johnny had left."
Alas, my friends and relatives were stuck on "Romney by a landslide." Reality on election night delivered a good swift kick, a Thai kick, to millions of conservatives who decided that ideological validation – "you tell 'em, Fox" – was more comforting than facts.
So to my friends and loved ones, I get exactly one "I told you so," so here it comes. I told you so.
You were deceived. It's all right. But now, like the journalist who catches a source in a lie, you have to decide whether you're OK with it.
Don't just take my word for it that you were told what the conservative media entertainment complex wanted you to hear in order to sell you a product. Let's look at what other people are saying ...
• From Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, "How Conservative Media Lost to the [Mainstream Media] and Failed the Rank and File":
"Before rank-and-file conservatives ask, "What went wrong?", they should ask themselves a question every bit as important: "Why were we the last to realize that things were going wrong for us?"
"... If you're a rank-and-file conservative, you're probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn't accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.
But guess what?
You haven't just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven't tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they've done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.
Why do you keep putting up with it?"
• From Jonathan Martin in Politico, "The GOP's Media Cocoon":
""What Republicans did so successfully, starting with critiquing the media and then creating our own outlets, became a bubble onto itself,” said Ross Douthat, the 32-year-old New York Times columnist.
“The right is suffering from an era of on-demand reality,” is how 30-year-old old think tanker and writer Ben Domenech put it.
... one of the most prominent Republicans in the George W. Bush era complained: “We have become what the left was in the ’70s — insular.”
In this reassuring conservative pocket universe, Rasmussen polls are gospel, the Benghazi controversy is worse than Watergate, “Fair and Balanced” isn’t just marketing and Dick Morris is a political seer."
• From Dan Hodges, writing across the pond for The Telegraph, "Fox News Is Killing the Republican Party":
"Fox News, widely perceived to be one of the Republican party’s greatest assets, has actually become a liability to it ..."
"If I were one of Obama's officers I would have been offering up a silent prayer of thanks that Fox was devoting so much time and energy to the Benghazi story. Because that provided the Democrats with their best way of keeping the issue compartmentalised. “You’re a serious outlet,” I would have told any journalists following up. “You don’t honestly want to be seen to be picking up and running with something Fox is peddling do you?” And I’d have been right. They wouldn’t.
Fox, because of the nature of their political coverage, has become ghettoised in the eyes of the rest of the media. And as a result, it makes it much harder for Republican strategists to generate legs for stories or issues that Fox is leading with..."
But wait! There's more ...
"There is also one other significant way in which Fox works against those it seeks to serve. In effect, it provides a false comfort zone for conservative politicians and their supporters.
As we saw with Benghazi, rather than try to penetrate mainstream media outlets, there was a clear tendency for Romney advisers to do easy "hand-offs" to Fox on issues they wanted up and running. It reminded me of when we in the Labour Party used to just drop our best material in the laps of the Mirror; they would run it big, and we’d think we were talking to the whole country. In fact, we were talking almost entirely to our own supporters."
• At least some conservative voters are starting to see that they were taken for fools. The following comment appeared in response to an article posted to Red State, the conservative opinion blog:
"The simple fact is that in the run-up to this election, we were fed a steady diet of lies, from all our 'loyal' sources. We need to hold not only the Romney campaign accountable, but also the conservative press (specifically the Murdoch press - Fox was the worst of the bunch), and the establishment talking heads like Karl Rove and Peggy Noonan. We need to get clear about something: these people are selling us a product. They have been taking our money and telling us bedtime stories. We complain about the [mainstream media], but can we honestly say that the conservative press has been more honest?"
• And from Bruce Bartlett in The American Conservative, "Revenge of the Reality-Based Community":
"At least a few conservatives now recognize that Republicans suffer for epistemic closure. They were genuinely shocked at Romney’s loss because they ignored every poll not produced by a right-wing pollster such as Rasmussen or approved by right-wing pundits such as the perpetually wrong Dick Morris. Living in the Fox News cocoon, most Republicans had no clue that they were losing or that their ideas were both stupid and politically unpopular."
• Last but not least, a solution is offered by David Firestone, editorial page editor for The New York Times, in a blog piece called "The Republican Bubble":
"The fatal confidence shows just how far Republican isolationism has spread. No external source can be trusted, particularly if it comes from the government and the news media (excluding Fox and other conservative sources). Unemployment reports are suspect, the Congressional Budget Office has an agenda, and pollsters with long and sterling records are actually in the tank for the Democrats.
The Romney campaign’s leaders, along with Mr. Rove, will have a difficult time explaining themselves in private to big donors feeling angry and betrayed. At least voters who lapped it all up have an easy pathway out of the bubble: they can just switch channels, try out a few new Web sites, and widen their circles of information."
You got fooled once. Shame on the conservative media bubble. But we all know where the shame gets assigned if it fools you twice.
The cure for the conservative media bubble, my friends, is simple: Pop it.
Allow me to help sharpen the pin with a reassurance – exploring alternative points of view does not make you an apostate. If you read articles in Mother Jones along with National Review, or read The New York Times editorial page along with The Wall Street Journal's, that makes you a well-rounded citizen, not a traitor or a heretic.
Also allow me to take a second to cut off at the pass any attempt at false equivalency, a la the predictable response, "Well, uh, the liberal media is a bubble, too!" I am not at all saying that the national media does not have a leftward tilt. But there is a huge difference between bias by nature – journalism attracts liberals the same way banking attracts conservatives – and bias by nurture, such as intentionally creating a conservative get-out-the-vote operation disguised as a news network.
Besides, how is the other side in a bubble if they got it right?
And yes, I'll say straight what I just implied – Fox News is not a legitimate news organization. Sorry. I give a pass to Limbaugh and Company – they are in the opinion business, and are very clear about it. But "Fair and Balanced"? If McDonald's ran ads saying that Big Macs lower cholesterol, or Marlboro put advisories on the pack stating that smoking reduces your risk of cancer, the people responsible would be facing charges by the end of the day.
If you were among the duped, you have two choices.
One choice is to keep tuning in and being deceived. If it would make you feel better to write a letter accusing me of being a commie pinko long-haired anti-American traitor, ad nauseam, go right ahead. I won't take it personally. One, I'm a veteran and gun nut who shaves his head, and two, you've had a bad month and a half.
But all the hate mail in the world does not change the fact that the conservative media, the one that was supposed to tell you "the truth" unlike the evil liberal media, led the GOP into this election cockier than a rooster, blind as a bat and ignorant as a box of rocks. It does not change the fact that Fox News all but ran the Republican Party's primary and created a system that put loser candidates in races that could have otherwise been won – the 0-for-2 Senate "rape slate" is just one example.
(And before you write that nasty letter, I actually went somewhat easy on you – I didn't even touch Angry Fox Geezer Syndrome.)
Your other choice is to start reading, watching and listening outside your comfort zone. If you conclude that you were taken for a ride by conservative media, it's time to change the channel on your television and radio to diversify your news diet. If you think this is yet another liberal media trick and you're busy trying to re-spin the popped bubble, don't come crying to me when Nancy Pelosi gets the speaker's gavel back two years from now.
Let's look at the fiscal cliff as a good example. I'm sure that the conservative media bubble is telling the GOP to hold its ground against Obama's insidious plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire on the top 1 percent. But as I wrote in a Sunday piece, the polls show that it will be the Republicans, not Obama, who will likely take the blame if we go over the cliff.
Remember the polls? The ones that the conservative media bubble said were fabricated tricks, except for the fact that they weren't? You might want to pay attention to them this time around.
Think of this second choice as helping take the party back. To again quote former Bush speechwriter Frum, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party."
The party – and we need a vibrant two-party system in this country – will go over the Fox cliff if the country goes over the fiscal one.
The conservative media bubble is the best thing that's happened to the Democrats in a long, long time. Just ask Democratic strategist James Carville, who said after the election (from The Daily Caller, another component of the right-wing media bubble), "We want [Republicans] losing elections. We want Rush out there. We want Fox."
But there are worse things about information bubbles than inadvertently helping out the other side. Sooner or later, the people and the party sealed inside eventually run out of air.
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.