2012/06/11

Not so sure about that


An alleged liberal wrote in the New York Times Magazine an update to the decade-old argument that liberals should ignore right-wing talkers like Rush Limbaugh. His logic runs that by paying attention to him, we're giving him the oxygen of publicity and thereby strengthening his public influence. Of course, it might have been an interesting piece (or a true update) had the author acknowledged that the argument was pretty much decided in 2004 when Media Matters was founded, specifically to shine a light on and to thereby combat right-wing misinformation by bringing that misinformation to wider public attention. Is ignoring right-wingers likely to be an effective tactic? Balloon Juice thinks that's a pretty dumb and cowardly idea. Digby points out that liberals started out by ignoring right-wingers and that they grew in power and influence anyway. Media Matters itself notes that:

If liberals are going to pay no attention [to] Fox News, they may as well ignore the entire Republican Party because there's no functional daylight between the two.

And earlier asked how the whole “ignore them” tactic works:

Ask John Kerry how initially ignoring the right-wing media's meticulously planned-out Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear campaign worked for him and Democrats in 2004.  Ask the same question to former ACORN leaders who saw Congress move to defund the group based on the dishonest attacks waged by the right-wing media. Or ask National Public Radio's former CEO, Vivian Schiller, who was forced to resign in the wake of a bogus right-wing smear campaign.  

And sorry, but Almond's whole argument here just strikes me as a fairy dust argument built on wishes and good intentions:

Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.

Okay. I agree with that.

Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate.

Okay, this is an accurate, realistic description. Yes, a serious conversation got turned into a circus. But then Almond's piece goes seriously off the rails with his description of liberal reactions/proposed solution:

The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.

See, my problem here is with the whole Hollywood notion of there being no such thing as bad publicity. Of course there is. Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his thirteen-year old cousin was not something that urban audiences were going to ignore, even though it may have made sense where Lewis came from. His musical career never truly recovered from that. Limbaugh didn't just get some more uncritical, admiring viewers. Yes, he sold his trash to more unquestioning people who became fans, but he also attracted a lot of critical attention, people who were disgusted by his statements and who, if Limbaugh were a bug that they stepped on, would quickly scrub him off of the bottoms of their shoes.

[Almond] says Limbaugh’s ratings are up, which seems to be wrong (no link, so I can’t check his numbers), but he also lost advertisers in unprecedented numbers. Backlash from the Heartland Institute’s climate denier billboard campaign featuring Ted Kaczynski crippled the organization. Komen’s attempt to cut funding to Planned Parenthood was a massive failure and has badly tarnished their brand and their donations, probably irreversibly.

There just doesn't appear to be much evidence that backlash doesn't work. It seems to work just fine, even if talkers like Limbaugh get a, perhaps temporary, boost in viewership.

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