Opinion

David Frum’s passive-aggressive predictability

Photo of Jeff Poor
Jeff Poor
Media Reporter

David Frum has a new book out. It’s short, not particularly interesting and completely predictable. But if you have $4.99 to waste, you can read Frum’s “Why Romney Lost” — his way of saying “I told you so” in three tedious chapters.

Frum has been on the outs with conservatives since his 2010 screed against Republicans for not being more willing to work across party lines on health care reform. In that piece, Frum wrote that the “conservative entertainment industry” was the real beneficiary of the passage of President Barack Obama’s landmark health care legislation. The conservative media, Frum wrote, would benefit from listeners and viewers feeling “enraged,” “frustrated” and “disappointed.”

Frum’s diatribe reportedly cost him his job at the American Enterprise Institute. But two-and-a-half years later, Frum is still hung up on the “conservative entertainment industry.”

The targets of Frum’s indignation include some of the usual suspects — CNN’s Mary Matalin, “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy, documentary filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, conservative talker Rush Limbaugh, author Ann Coulter and National Review’s Mark Steyn. But his jab at his former boss, AEI president Arthur Brooks, in which he takes a passage from Brooks’ 2010 book “The Battle” and accuses him of settling “apocalyptic doom” upon conservatives, is a hint that the book is more about Frum scoring points against his critics than it is about the well-being of the Republican Party.

He doesn’t leave out Fox News either. But that seems to have been part of Frum’s promotional strategy, which landed him plenty of appearances on MSNBC as well as CNN, where he’s a paid contributor.

“Let me start with that dramatic fact,” Frum said last week on CNN’s “The Situation Room.” “There is a college in New Jersey that does these surveys. People that watch Fox News end up knowing less about the world around them [than] the people who watch no news at all. If you start with a basic question like, ‘Did taxes go up or down in the Obama years?’ — they are going to go up later, but for now they are going down. Did we spend a trillion dollars a year on welfare? No, we don’t, but if you watch a lot of these networks, you get the idea that we do. That you can’t begin to think intelligently about [the] world around you because you don’t even have the basic factual wherewithal.”

The study Frum cited comes from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which, as a Fox News spokesperson pointed out after the study was released, has its own academic issues. And while that’s a good sound bite for Frum to use to impress CNN and MSNBC hosts, the same study concludes that viewers of solely CNN and MSNBC have their own difficulties with current events.

According to the study, MSNBC’s viewers are less informed about international issues than those who get no news. But you won’t hear that from Frum, at least not while he’s on this book tour.

In fact, Frum completely disregards that part of the study in his explanation of why MSNBC is a lesser evil than Fox News. He also seems to have ignored the populist message of Ed Schultz’s primetime program in declaring that MSNBC’s partisan tones are excusable because the liberal network isn’t attempting to convince its audience that the liberal viewpoint is in line with the views of most Americans.

“The liberal system presents liberalism as the creed of a beset and beleaguered minority,” Frum writes. “The liberal system may be smug, but at least it also teaches its participants the need for political caution. Nobody watches MSNBC and comes away congratulating themselves with ‘I’ve heard the great and good American people in their multitudes, and they agree with me!’”