The proliferation of media fights (and why it’s good business)

Matt K. Lewis | Senior Contributor

There’s an old story about a man who sells a horse to his neighbor for $100. The neighbor puts on a new saddle, and sells it back for $120. The original owner gets the horse re-shoed and sells her back once again to the neighbor for $200. The next time the neighbor visits, the original owner enquires about the horse, only to discover she was sold to someone else. “Why’d you do that?,” the original owner asked incredulously, “We were both making a good living off that horse.”

And so it is with the world of political punditry, where the need for endless content contributes to the faux controversies that fuel content. The best of these political fights generate multiple hits and are mutually beneficial.

Let’s take a couple of recent examples, which happen to be internecine squabbles (the most entertaining?).

On This Week, Karl Rove said that Rep. Michele Bachmann “did nothing” as chair of the Congressional tea party caucus.

Rove had to know this would result in some pushback, and talk show host Laura Ingraham was all too happy to oblige. Ingraham also took a shot at former Bush speechwriter Pete Wehner, who had criticized conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.

This morning, Wehner shot back with a pretty vicious response, pointing out Ingraham’s hypocrisy. Later today, one can expect, Ingraham will respond to Wehner’s response. Maybe tomorrow Wehner can respond to that?

It’s hard to say who “won.” By appointing herself to the task of defending Bachmann and Schlafly, Ingraham succeeded in getting me (and a lot of other folks) to pay attention to her. It’s not enough to talk about the news. Today, you’ve got to be the news. That’s why she’s a pro.

Wehner got a second column out of it, too, and that’s assuming it ends here…

This is not to say the debate was lacking substance. In his rebuttal, Wehner pointed out that Ingraham has been in this business a long time, and if she had a problem with “Bushies” like he and Rove, she sure didn’t show it when they were in power. This is a nice point, but mostly irrelevant.

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Now let’s turn to another recent example. Fresh off controversial statements about female breadwinners (players here included Megyn Kelly, Lou Dobbs, Greta Van Susteren, et al.), RedState’s Erick Erickson is out with a post taking a shot at Business Insider’s Josh Barro.

I happen to think Erickson makes some valid points about DC/NY elites — and about how liberals prop-up “conservative reformers” who frankly aren’t all that conservative. It’s nice when there are substantive arguments behind the controversies. But this is also good for generating buzz and content. Already, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has weighed-in on Barro’s side, pointing out Erickson’s hypocrisy. Barro is defending himself, too.

And, of course, I’m now writing about it, so there’s that…

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This is all to say that I’m just as guilty as the next guy. We all need content, we all need publicity (if we are to stay relevant and continue to be paid for whatever this is), and so at least some of this is edutainment.

As of now, TheDC’s story, titled, “Ingraham blasts ‘classless’ Rove for stomping on ‘political grave of Michele Bachmann’” is the most read on the site. And here I am writing about it, so I’m contributing to the ugliness by milking this, too.

But maybe this isn’t all bad. The controversy over female breadwinners might have been ginned up (or, at least, it wouldn’t have been a big deal if some other pressing news had come along last Friday), but it did get us talking about gender and culture and a lot of other topics that are often ignored or avoided.

Similarly, as I noted, raises some valid points about so-called “conservative reformers” and coastal elites. These fights might have had a touch of WWE — or at least, TMZ in them — but they can also serve a larger purpose of raising issues. And, let’s be honest, more people are going to watch a fight than read a long and boring policy proposal.

It’s not like this is the first time opinion leaders have used media to become part of the story, or even to bash their adversaries. Come to think of it, is this really all that different from colonial newspapers or pamphlets?

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