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“Wallowing In Ignorance”: Epistemic Closure Comes Back To Haunt The GOP

Five years ago Julian Sanchez did us the favor of defining a pattern among conservatives that he called “epistemic closure.”

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile…If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely…And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

The entire basis for the existence of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is the belief that the “mainstream media” cannot be trusted to tell the truth because they are all “liberals.” This fed something that we as human beings already tend to do anyway – reject information that doesn’t conform to our already-established beliefs. It feels good to not have to grapple with the cognitive dissonance that comes with consideration of conflicting facts. But the end result is that it kills curiosity and we wallow in ignorance.

The disastrous results of epistemic closure for conservatives have been on display for some time now. It explains how they continue to deny the science of climate change, assume that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is “cooking the books” on unemployment data and led to a whole movement during the 2012 election to unskew the polls. But for everyone from Murdoch to GOP leaders, it worked to keep the base angry and engaged.

And then…it got out of control. Take a look at the results of Frank Lunz’s focus group with Trump supporters.

“They’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,'” Luntz said. “And (Trump) personifies it: Each sees in him what they want for the country. They want him to fix what makes them mad, and they believe he will.”

It is Trump’s ability to reflect back to voters their most fervent wishes for the nation, Luntz said, that makes the political outsider so dangerous to the rest of the 16 other GOP 2016 hopefuls. The main reason for this, Luntz found, was what he termed a willingness of Trump supporters to live in “an alternative universe” in which any attempt by the media to point out inconsistencies in Trump’s record or position was seen as a politically motivated conspiracy.

“When the media challenges the veracity of his statements, you take his side,” Luntz asked of his focus group. Only one person sat quietly, her hands in her lap, as 28 other arms shot up in agreement.

For these participants, the Republican establishment (and perhaps even Fox News itself) have now joined the liberal New York Times in peddling a politically motivated conspiracy when they challenge Donald Trump. That should come as no surprise when these same people have been told for years that they can pick and chose their facts based on how they make you feel. Stephen Colbert was positively prophetic when he coined the term “truthiness.” And now it’s all coming back to haunt the GOP.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Getting By On Fumes”: Has Rush Limbaugh Finally Reached The End Of The Road?

Like him or hate him, there is no disputing that Rush Limbaugh’s very special brand of mixing right-wing politics with his flare for entertainment has produced one of the most successful radio programs in the medium’s long history.

Whatever the burning political question of the day, millions of Americans have relished the opportunity to tune into Rush’s program, knowing that he would quickly take that hot potato, throw a few gallons of verbal kerosene into the mix and elevate the matter into a five alarm fire with a just a few well-chosen words spoken in the style only Rush Limbaugh could produce.

Until now…

At long last, it appears that Rush Limbaugh has run out of steam.

I have to acknowledge that I have sensed Rush getting by on fumes for some time now (yes, I tune into his show from time to time to enjoy his broadcasting skills if not his message). However, it was only recently that the world of Limbaugh crossed that thin red line from partially serious to total self-parody and audience deception—a line crossed from which there is often no return.

It happened on the occasion of Stephen Colbert’s appointment to fill David Letterman’s soon to be vacated chair on the CBS  (CBS +0.65%) late-night set.

By using this occasion to create a political narrative designed to stir up his listeners, Limbaugh telegraphed to his loyal followers that he is now dependent upon feeding fully faux political nonsense that his audience instinctively—or explicitly—knows is a bunch of baloney.

To be sure, this is hardly the first time Limbaugh has fed his audience a diet of twisted information and bizarre, conspiratorial memes. However, it may well be the first time that he attempted to shove a diet down the throats of any semi-rational listeners still living in the real world made up of nonsense that even his most loyal listener could not possibly swallow.

That’s a problem for Rush.

A show like Limbaugh’s is wholly reliant on his listeners’ willingness to believe—or suspend belief—no matter how ‘out there’ their guru’s arguments may be. While it is one thing for me to sneer at much of what Limbaugh may present, it is quite another when he attempts to sell his loyal audience on stuff they already know, through personal experience, to be false and fraudulent hokum.

Upon hearing the news of Colbert’s new gig, Limbaugh pronounced— as only Limbaugh can pronounce—

“CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America. No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservatism. Now it’s just wide out in the open. What this hire means is a redefinition of what is funny, and a redefinition of what is comedy. They’re blowing up the 11:30 format… they hired a partisan, so-called comedian, to run a comedy show.”

Not quite satisfied with his initial declaration, Limbaugh returned to the subject in a later program, commenting further on CBS’s  decision to hire Colbert—

“It clearly indicates that the people making this decision have chosen to write off a portion of the country, that they don’t care if a portion of the country watches or not.”

Rush has it right on his last statement.

Indeed, the people who make decisions at television networks have chosen to write off a portion of the country—a decision that was made for them a very long time ago.

However, it has never had anything to do with making choices of audience based on anything even resembling politics and has always had everything to do with blowing off  anyone older than 49 years of age because these older folks are poison to advertisers. In other words, the networks are clearly writing off those in ‘the heartland’ if they’ve reached 50 years old—just as they’ve written off folks in this demo in every other nook and cranny of America.

What Limbaugh chose to ignore in his rant is that this is a choice based on what television advertisers want—and what television advertisers want is a young television viewing audience or, to be more specific, viewers that fall between the ages of 18-49. Despite Limbaugh’s truly lame efforts to pretend otherwise, if you fall within this age group, you are welcomed to the party whether you be a progressive, conservative, independent, communist, John Bircher, or whatever other political affiliation you can conjure up.

You see, car companies don’t really care about your politics when they are trying to sell you a car via a TV commercial—they care about whether you are in a position to buy that new car should they succeed in getting your attention. Purina really doesn’t give a damn about your politics or your dog’s politics when they are trying to sell you their brand of dog food.

For these reasons that would appear to be obvious to everyone but Rush Limbaugh—although we all know that they are obvious to him too—all viewers younger than 50 are coveted by the television networks.

And yet, Limbaugh—a guy who has spent his life in media—wants his audience to believe that there is some political agenda on the part of a network at work here. Never mind that early morning and late night are the two largest sources of revenue for every broadcast network. Limbaugh expects us to believe that CBS is willing to throw all that money out the window to make a political statement.

If you are a Limbaugh fan, how are you not asking yourself just how dumb this man thinks you are?

Even the right-wing Frontpagemag.com was able to properly discern the truth of the situation and provide an excellent explanation of reality:

The number of people who watch a TV show stopped mattering years ago. If it did, Murder She Wrote, a show that had an older audience and high ratings, wouldn’t have been canceled. Instead there’s talk of rebooting it with younger multicultural leads in a different setting.

Network television doesn’t just fail to count older viewers; it tries to drive them away. A show with an older viewership is dead air. Advertisers have been pushed by ad agencies into an obsession with associating their product with a youthful brand.

The demo rating, 18-49, is the only rating that matters. Viewers younger than that can still pay off. Just ask the CW. Older viewers however are unwanted.

A network show would rather have 5 million viewers in the demo than 15 million older viewers. A cable show would rather have 1 million viewers in the demo than 10 million viewers outside the demo.

Colbert and Stewart have the top late night talk shows in the demo. That means 1 million ‘young’ viewers. That’s barely what Letterman was pulling in on a top network.

Networks, which already have high median ages, are doing everything possible to bring them down. CBS has a median age of 58 and is the oldest network. Colbert is supposed to lower their average.

Letterman’s show had a median age of 56. Colbert’s show has a median age of 39. That a 49-year-old comedian with an audience whose median age is 39 is considered a draw for younger audiences reveals just how thoroughly younger viewers are abandoning television.”

As someone who spent the overwhelming majority of his career as a television producer and executive, I can state with absolutely certainty that Frontpagemag.com got it precisely right—and when was the last time you heard me say that a right-wing anything got it exactly right?

So, what does it say when a guy like Rush Limbaugh stoops to trying to build a political fire out of what is about as apolitical as chicken soup?

It says Rush is running on empty. It says he’s grown lazy. It says he’s probably trying to hold on to get though the next presidential election cycle before fading off into the sunset.

Rush’s audience knew that his anti-Colbert rant was nonsense the minute it left Limbaugh’s lips. How did they know?

While Limbaugh’s listeners may be inclined to believe the words of the great Rush Limbaugh, these aging listeners are the very people who can no longer find anything on TV to watch because everything is so skewed to the young viewer. They know all too well that it has nothing to do with their politics and everything to do with their age and being outside the desired demographic.

Rush Limbaugh ‘works’ when he can fire up his audience with red-hot ideology designed to bring out the anger of his listeners. But no entertainer succeeds when they try to stupidly pull the wool over the very listeners who have been loyal—and Limbaugh’s effort to politicize the Colbert hiring was just that.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, April 15, 2014

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Rush Limbaugh, Seniors | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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