The way some people use the term “main-stream media,” you would think it has only four letters. The opposite of this MSM is, of course, the underground, iconoclastic, revolutionary side-stream media that is struggling to make its voice heard above the roar of the mighty river that is the main stream. The demonization of the main-stream media is a particularly cherished past-time of right-wing talking heads like Sean O’Limbeck. But who is really the main-stream?
What is the most listened-to radio show in America? Rush Limbaugh’s. Estimates range between 14 and 30 million listeners. In July of 2008 Limbaugh signed an eight-year, $400 million contract—hardly the kind of money a revolutionary gets for speaking truth to power.
What is the most-watched cable news channel? Fox News Channel, which regularly has 50% more than, and often twice as many, viewers as #2 CNN.
What is the most-watched cable news show? Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor, with its anything-but-journalistic host, regularly pulls in 3.5 to 4 million viewers. Granted, his viewers are about half of the number watching a broadcast evening news program, but broadcast news viewership has declined by about a million viewers a year since 1980, while FOX News continues to grow. Moreover, the broadcast channels feature 2-4 hours of news each day while the cable news channels broadcast “news” 24/7. And let’s not forget that Fox’s broadcast channel shares a lot of personnel and an obvious conservative bent with the cable Fox News Channel.
So they’re huge; so what?
In a recent Pew Research Center survey on perceptions about President Obama’s religious life, they found that seven percent more people in August 2010 (18%) think Obama is a Muslim than did in March of 2009 (11%). And not coincidentally “When asked how they learned about Obama’s religion in an open-ended question, 60% of those who say Obama is a Muslim cite the media.” This is why it’s important. People are outsourcing their thinking to ideologically driven pseudo-journalists—on both sides of the spectrum. Sean O’Limbeck is more heard than Keith Mahrtthews, but only more problematic because of the size of the audience.
The right-wing is also very adept at defining the language of the debate. Terms like “death tax,” “socialized medicine,” “death panels,” “welfare queens,” etc. have no counterpart from the left. The left-wing finds itself in the unappealing position of some of our founding fathers who were, by default, labeled the Anti-Federalists because they didn’t define the language of the debate first.
So why does the right-wing continue to claim oppression by the “main-stream” media? The right-wing obviously has a very large—and very malleable—audience. Whence the stance of victimhood? Because if you’re going to spur a revolution, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil” (Hoffer). The MSM is among many devils the right-wing uses to generate fear, anger, and dependency in their faithful listeners. The left-wing also sets up devils for the same purpose, but I can’t identify one that is as delusional and self-contradictory as the MSM when the right-wing is such a media juggernaut (comments to the contrary are welcome). It’s common knowledge that people tend to seek out media that reflect their own values; but the right-wing continues to claim both that 1) America is a center-right nation, and 2) the MSM has a liberal bias. This is a non-sequitur. Either the MSM doesn’t have a liberal bias or America is a center-left nation.
Why does the right-wing choose the MSM as a target? “[L]ike an ideal deity, the ideal devil is omnipotent and omnipresent” (Hoffer). The MSM is so large and omnipresent, with so much fallibility that it makes an easy target as a menace, and one that’s not going away soon. If one is looking for bias, the MSM is so huge that one can find bias of any kind—and vilify the whole for the bias of the part.
The right-wing–like the left wing–must be in revolution mode at all times for self-preservation. Once people become comfortable with the present, they stop listening to dogma, ideology, and fearmongering. If Limbaugh’s listeners think life’s OK, they’ll stop listening to him.
Americans love an underdog and a revolution. As long as the right-wing media juggernaut can convince enough people that they are indeed a revolutionary underdog, they will set much of the agenda in American politics.