Monday, March 27, 2017

Conservatives Beginning to Think Truthtelling Might Be the Way to Go

Imagine a whole political movement so devoted to winning the messaging wars that it forgot that using the truth was the best way to do it. You'd be thinking of conservatism.

Never liked him, but never had reason to distrust him.

My dad, an LBJ liberal, watched Buckley all the time because he wanted to know what the other side was thinking. As a kid, I never liked Buckley because he seemed too glib and cynical. Of course it would be years before I knew what glib and cynical meant, but it turned out, in my view, I was right.

But I never thought he was outright lying to me. When he started the National Review, I'm sure it was a sincere attempt to counter the message of The Nation and The New Republic, which came over our transom at home. I was too busy listening to rock 'n' roll to read them. That was then, and this is now, when I eat, sleep, and breath politics and economics (Okay, I golf, play music, work out, cook, and live, of course).

Flash forward a few decades, and we live in a world where the right wing of American politics came to value their ability to control the message, something they do very well. It's become an art form for them. Frank Luntz is a great practitioner of it. As an example (he loves to offer this one up himself), Luntz said the best way to sell a bill or a regulation that lowers pollution standards is to call it the Healthy Skies Initiative. See how it's done?

That tendency to misinform, dissemble, and outright lie has grown among conservatives to the extent that there's no comparison with the other, liberal side, whose very liberalism actually curtails the abuse of the truth. We liberals still think that truth is our secret weapon. Yes, we're not always pure, but against the conservatives there's no fair comparison. Think Bill O'Reilly vs. Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity vs. Chris Hayes, and Rush Limbaugh vs. Michael Smerconish.

Now for the late lede: So, apparently, some on the right side of the media are beginning to agree that they've left the truth too far behind. The new editor of The Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes, has decided that bunk is bunk and no longer a handy cudgel to reach for. He thinks truth might be coming back into fashion.
Mr. Hayes shares the viewpoint of another prominent Wisconsin conservative, Charlie Sykes, the #NeverTrump talk radio host who declared last year that he and his fellow conservative media stalwarts had been too successful in delegitimizing the mainstream news media.
“We destroyed our own immunity to fake news while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right,” Mr. Sykes wrote in The Times last year.
Mr. Hayes said he put more of the onus for that on the mainstream news media than Mr. Sykes does (though Mr. Sykes certainly puts some there). It has undercut itself with conservative-leaning readers, he said, through “the questions that aren’t asked and aren’t covered” in a way that seems to favor liberal viewpoints.
Yet the effect remained: There are right-leaning voters who “don’t believe what they’re getting from the networks and the left-leaning cable outlets” and therefore may be open to false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information, he said.
At the "expense of true information" indeed. By the way, I've enjoyed seeing Charlie Sykes -- who's often on MSNBC now that he reformed -- because his candor is so refreshing among the stalwarts of right-wing radio from whence he's sprung.

The right, of course, has Donald Trump to blame for its predicament. That and the generalized epistemic closure that brought The Orange One to power.

Interesting factoid that I didn't know: The Weekly Standard was owned by Rupert Murdoch until he sold it in 2009. No wonder it was so right-wing and prone to disinformation, and no wonder it's ready to experiment with the truth. We wish it, and Stephen F. Hayes, luck.

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