Sunday, April 24, 2005

Et tu, Broder?

The liberal blogosphere is chattering today over David Broder’s column suggesting the Dems compromise on judicial nominations. Josh Marshall has been teasing out the various subtexts all day. Of course he is correct – Broder’s point of view represents the reflexive subservience of Washington’s pundit class to power, political muscle, and “change” as sure-fire formula for popularity, no matter how bone-headed the content of the change.

I was skeptical at first – I always thought the conventional wisdom of the David Gergen stripe was, if trite, often correct. But over the past year or so I have come around to the idea that the MSM can't grapple honestly with the right-wing media machine. In the process, it is slowly eroding its already weakened position as an honest broker.

Conservatives have political power, organization, message discipline, money, and – this is the real problem – ratings. They put on a good show. Watching Sean Hannity, jowls puffed out, self-righteously flay a guest, or Bill O’Reilly dismiss his detractors, clicking off topics one-by-one – is pure entertainment for some, and even for me provokes a kind of weird fascination that Larry King could never match. To get a little Freudian, it’s the id of the nation bubbling up to the surface – a mixture of anger, paranoia, triumphalism and hormones. Basically, the perspective of an adolescent. It's the OC for ideologues!

There is nothing else out there to compare with it – certainly not earnestness or irony, the liberals' stock in trade. This is why everyone from CNN to Tim Russert to David Broder is drifting righwards, and the TV pundit ratios skew so heavily conservative. They see where the public’s attention and the drama lies and that’s where they are headed. It's basic market economics. In a fragmenting media environment, the market is what matters most.