The blame-the-conservative-media fallacy

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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Only in the delusional world of online journalism, a world saturated with narcissists fueled by Twitter followers and TV appearances, could one come to the following conclusion: The “conservative” media lost Mitt Romney the election.

That’s the new theory being advanced by one of this bubble’s occupants, BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins.

Coppins isn’t the only one with this theory. It’s become quite popular with The Daily Beast’s writers and MSNBC’s primetime anchors and guests, among others.

The problem is that it’s hard to believe that the people championing the blame-the-conservative-media mantra, who happen to have formed a cozy new coalition with the long-time detractors of conservative media outlets, really have the Republican Party’s best interests at heart.

Unfortunately, this has become a cottage industry that operates in predictable cycles.

Rush Limbaugh notes that these “wizards of smart” (as Limbaugh refers to them) perceive, or perhaps would lead you to believe they perceive, the conservative media as a threat to American democracy in Republican years and a dying fad headed toward irrelevancy in Democratic years. But somehow, 24 years after he first became a nationally syndicated talk show host, Limbaugh continues to draw a large audience, while newer conservative outlets like The Drudge Report and Fox News are stronger and more profitable than ever.

Now the conservative media finds itself in the wake of an unexpectedly bad election for Republicans, and darn it, someone must be held accountable.

It’s funny how this logic only seems to apply to the right side of the aisle.

In the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections, when Democrats lost 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate, you didn’t hear complaints about the out-of-control, openly partisan liberal media (not to be confused with covertly partisan liberal media). No one was writing three-chapter exposés on “why Pelosi lost,” blaming MSNBC, Chris Matthews and The Huffington Post.

That’s because no one seriously blamed the histrionics of Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann for the Republican landslide. So why are so many people blaming conservative outlets, from Rush Limbaugh all the way down to right-wing bottom-feeding bloggers, for Romney’s loss?

Romney lost for many reasons, none of which had anything to do with the conservative media. If anything, the Romney campaign was oftentimes distant from the conservative media. Even during the primary campaign, Romney was hesitant to appear on or give interviews to the friendliest of conservative outlets.

Even if the conservative media was an impediment to Romney’s campaign, the conservative media is just one part of the entire media landscape. And as Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, acknowledged in a Sept. 30 appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” most media outlets lean to the left.

“I think it kind of goes without saying that there is definitely a media bias,” Ryan said. “Look, I’m a conservative, Chris. I’m used to media bias. We expected media bias going into this. That’s why we’re trying to cut through and go straight to people. That’s why when in Washington you hear people complain about media bias, come out into these states with us and attend our town hall meetings.”

Yet, there are no books blaming NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams for Romney’s loss, nor any BuzzFeed hit pieces headlined “How the media lost Romney the election.” Given the choice, the Romney campaign would have much preferred Fox News over the mainstream media.

Of course, most journalists would argue accusations of bias come with the job — at least that’s their reasoning for being tough on a candidate whose views are different from theirs. That’s part of our American system. But why is the conservative media expecting the GOP presidential candidate to have a conservative position on immigration any different from the liberal media expecting the Democratic candidate to have a liberal position on immigration?

The reason is simple: To the sort of reporter who says things like “there’s a 40 percent chance that [Mitt Romney] says something stupid” while covering a campaign rally, the very idea of a conservative media is repulsive.

If anything, this phenomenon is instructive. At least we now are aware of what some see as the role of the media: winning elections.

Jeff Poor covers the media for The Daily Caller. Follow Jeff on Twitter.