Media Deference to the Extreme Right


Paul Krugman asks a good question. Why did the media treat America’s extreme right-wing so gingerly, as benign as a corner ice cream shop, as nothing unusual? It’s not a new phenomenon. The extremists have had control of the GOP stage for a long time. The media just refused to acknowledge it.

Somehow…the radicalism of Texas Republicans wasn’t a story in 2000, an election year in which George W. Bush of Texas, soon to become president, was widely portrayed as a moderate.

There is something mesmerizing and cobra-like about physically or rhetorically violent right-wing extremists. I think they benefit from the same kind of public fascination with violent revenge movies.

There’s a common cultural myth that America is a right-leaning country, and that makes extremists on the right more acceptable than extremists on the left. I’m sure there must be some Trotskyites or Marxist dreamers somewhere in America. But they aren’t getting invited to CNN. Ann Coulter, as hateful as any pre-World War II political thug, gets her pick of the camera and the chair.

Without media support the extremists would be nowhere. FoxNews, of course, joined a few other corporate nutjobs and paid for the creation of the Tea Party. The media, of course, ignored this bought-and-paid-for aspect so it could legitimize what it wanted to legitimize: public outrage at… what?

Hardly matters what. The more circus-like, the better, and content can and is dismissed as easily as the two-headed baby in the carnival sideshow. It’s the crowd that counts.

Remember when hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest President Bush’s invasion of Iraq? The media focused on Bush’s dismissal of the movement as nothing but a focus group. But let a few thousand tea partiers misspell a few signs and walk around with their suspenders at their knees and the media tells us a serious new movement is alive and well.

Perhaps the most irksome habit of the media is to create a phenom — the Tea Party, or Sarah Palin, for instance — and then claim they are just covering that happened without them, while they were away. It’s total horseshit, of course. The media create the carnival and sell the tickets.

Maybe the media has a secret wish for explosive rhetorical or physical violence. I knew journalists who longed for terrible storms and other natural catastrophes. Such things make careers. They juice their adrenaline highs. They are actually disappointed when a threatened storm fails to develop. So maybe this has something to do with it.

Whatever the source, I wish journalists would wake up to the fact that there is no place in a democracy for the kind of right-wing extremism they legitimize.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

12 thoughts on “Media Deference to the Extreme Right”

  1. You can almost hear the chanting of the crowd, smell the blood in the sand and feel the sun baking down on the arena. Americans don't want to think or question. They want action and gore. And when democracy stumbles and corporate greed raises its blade for the killing blow, all eyes turn to Fox Newz and cheer when the thumb dips and the blade drops.

  2. I think the biggest cause is that elite Republicans rally behind these people, while elite Democrats get the vapors over anyone more than two steps to the left of Ben Nelson. Republicans support these people, while plenty of Dems legitimate them. If we want to see the media portray these dynamics differently, we need to demand that Democrats behave differently.

  3. Inventing, covering and legitimizing right-wing rage serves a useful function for the corporate media. They portray themselves as the "safe" alternative and their very conservative, pro-corporate agenda as the only rational alternative. The purpose is to frighten middle class sorts away from ANY criticism of the status quo, and thus away from any prospects for liberal reform, which are thoroughly ignored. Alas, the time is long past when one could still read or hear from journalists who were themselves hungry.

  4. Racism can never be supported. I have many black friends and I coinsider them family and they are welcome at any time. I am sure that there are many like that. It is the authorities who try to instill such thoughts by their provoking support to a particular group. It is against the morality of the public service.

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