Thanks, Trump — Republicans’ victim mentality intensifies, despite reality
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) says he’s being “muzzled” by the media. I know he said that because his concerns were published as a blaring front-page op-ed in the New York Post, one of America’s most-read news outlets.
In case I missed it there, I would’ve heard about it consistently on Fox News, the country’s most-watched cable news channel, or from many other journalism organizations that picked up the story — including prominent conservative news websites.
The senator’s column is part of a newfangled right-wing crusade against “censorship” that isn’t solely the byproduct of some genuine anguish over the First Amendment. More than anything, this push is yet another sign of how Donald Trump’s rough character and unforgiving nature have overtaken the conservative movement.
One of Trump’s signature schemes was to frame himself and his followers as “victims” of vague and powerful forces arrayed against them. He was especially outspoken about that at a Dec. 5 rally in Georgia, leading up to the special Senate election there. “We are all victims,” he said plainly. “Everybody here. All these thousands of people tonight. They’re all victims. Every one of you.”
When it comes to media, conservatives have long felt discriminated against by establishment outlets. But a couple of generations ago, they decided to stop complaining and do something about it. The result is today’s vastly altered media landscape where — if anything — conservative points of view may now dominate the national conversation.
The shift began with a move away from the Federal Communication Commission’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987. That doctrine required that TV and radio stations, licensed by the FCC, present all sides of an issue to the communities they serve. But many conservatives saw that doctrine as cementing a status quo stacked against them. As soon as it was repealed, right-wing media began to emerge. Its earliest star was Rush Limbaugh — but more than 30 years later, he is far from alone.
Now, nine of the top 20 radio programs are “conservative talk” — only one is listed as “progressive talk.” Limbaugh’s program reaches more than 15 million listeners a week; Sean Hannity’s about the same.
That dominance goes far beyond radio, of course. In television, Fox News is a dependable cable ratings champion, and the Trump years delivered growth to alternative right-wing outlets like Newsmax and OAN. The right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group — the nation’s second largest — owns nearly 200 TV stations across America, and has faced controversy over the years for inserting conservative commentary and programming into typically apolitical local newscasts.
In print journalism, this is a time of severe cutbacks for most local news organizations. Right-wing entrepreneur Brian Timpone stepped into that void, launching nearly 1,300 small town websites. These outlets often feature content commissioned by conservative think-tanks and political groups, along with articles about, say, the nearest Kiwanis Club.
On a national level, readers can turn to — and politicians can write for — the reliably conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, one of the largest news organizations in the country and one of the most influential in the world.
The Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch, as is Fox News and the New York Post. Murdoch also owns the Times and the Sun in London, several Australian newspapers, and Sky News Australia. His impact is unrivaled; in the mold of press barons from long ago, he rarely hesitates to use these platforms to express a political point of view.
There is something to (very) reluctantly admire here: Conservatives who built this formidable architecture of influence did not retreat into a cocoon of victimhood and grievance. They changed things.
But those changes make cries of media victimization today sound either cynical or adolescent. Hawley’s complaints focus on restrictions enacted by Big Tech, like Twitter and Facebook, ignoring a larger reality that no longer backs up this persecution complex.
That is, however, one of the gloomy heirlooms Trump leaves the Republican party: a victimhood identity that appeals to raw emotions, divorced from what’s honestly going on.
Each TV program, radio hour, and opinion column drives home the reality of a brash, outspoken conservative media environment that is the opposite of Josh Hawley’s “muzzled.”
But admitting that would place the senator very much out of step with the mood and design of the Trump movement he so anxiously hopes to inherit.
Fortunately for him, there are all those news outlets available to make sure he doesn’t stray far from the party line.
Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.