Political framing can find yourself keeping strange company. Progressives might find themselves agreeing with Newt Gingrich this week, here’s a quote from Reuters by Newt,
I am astonished at the desperation of the elite media to avoid rising gas prices, to avoid the president’s apology to religious fanatics in Afghanistan, to avoid a trillion-dollar deficit, to avoid the longest period of unemployment since the Great Depression and to suddenly decide that Rush Limbaugh is the great national crisis of this week
You would think there were no news worthy events last week because coverage focused on Rush Limbaugh and what he does best – get attention via bombastic statements. He successfully dominated at least one news cycle, if not the better part of a week’s cycle. Rush would not work as a guest blogger here because he uses uncivilized language and tone. A boycott of his advertisers must have had some effect because Saturday he apologized for his crude choice of language – not for the sentiment behind them. Many on the right and left feel that this apology was extracted and strictly about responding to advertisers. When questioned about the language choice before Saturday, he simply added more insulting words and scenarios to his previous assault – he doubled down.
Rush and his handlers may have overstepped even the mainstream media’s standards of decency, but they certainly did a great job getting attention. Since Rush is effectively positioned in front of one of the biggest megaphones in the country – his site claims to be the most listened to show in America in over 600 stations – he can and does set the frame for some political discourse. Like a right wing Howard Stern, he uses shock to get himself attention and cut through the clutter. It works; because of Rush, we are no longer discussing health care and how contraception fits into it, we are discussing the morality of women in college. All of a sudden it is up for public discussion to speculate how many times a day particular people are having sex (once again Republicans go against what they say they hate – government involvement in personal decisions).
Rush frames it as “she wants to be paid to have sex”.
Rush, and his conservative advisers know how to push buttons. They know that stating things in such a way will get their own conservative audience members indignant about supporting contraception, and that inflamatory statements will also get progressives hoppin’ mad. So mad and defending Sandra Fluke so passionately – that we forget we are talking about a blanket policy about providing equal health care coverage across the board – which is much more important in the big picture than dissecting one case study. Everyone knows that there could have been a parade of women millions strong to support the side of Sandra Fluke, the side that considers birth control as a necessary health care issue for women.
Democrats repeatedly act as if they are blind sided by this sort of media strategy, perhaps they are. They don’t have the structure and strategic underpinnings in place like the Republicans do. Progressives relish the democratic process and are very diverse, they don’t have the think tanks and strategists that refine and unite a message at their disposal. In many ways, this constantly fresh perspective from individuals is great, in another way, it simply makes their messaging less effective to distribute to the masses. Here is an incomplete list of conservative organizations that impact political strategy:
American Enterprise Institute
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Progress and Freedom Foundation
Competitive Enterprise Institute
International Institute for Strategic Studies
Family Research Council
National Center for Policy Analysis
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Is it really a surprise that a party that favors corporate domination would have a slew of well funded think tanks? The Democrats and their “herding cats” style of diversification and acceptance of all, means that in our culture of mainstream media domination, progressive start their messages from the grassroots while Republicans can feed a steady stream of focus group tested slogans into the MSM machine. The effect is that Republicans can all hop on board when Rush pushes the envelope (they know that even if he looks bad, it will push the conversation to the right). Meanwhile, Democrats decide whether or not to tag along with campaigns like Occupy and a “We are the 99%” shout outs like this one . I love a good grassroots campaign, but it simply cannot compete with Rush Limbaugh getting piped into how many thousands of people’s radios how many times a day?
Media matters…a lot. When it is the first and/or loudest story around, it will get lots of attention and effectively set the frame. Democrats still have a lot of work on knowing how to get out there ahead of the pack of spin and misinformation.
Rush might just seem like a bully to some – someone to be ignored to make them go away, but the reality is that media matters for more than just a political debate. In Rwanda, three media executives were convicted of inciting violence that began the Hutus killing the Tutsis – the genocide of 1994. This BBC article describes how a direct correlation was found between the hate on the radio and the violence in the streets. Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines was known for its anti-Tutsi hate speech and had a plan in place to take advantage of a destabilization by encouraging its listeners to have a “final war” to “exterminate the cockroaches”.
It bears repeating, media matters a lot. We learn from it, get excited by it, invite it into our personal lives. We can be heavily influenced by it and feel as if we are joining the ranks of ideological brethren when it is being broadcast. None of us is on our best behavior in a mob mentality situation whether we are in cheerleader or reactionary mode. The best defense for the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world is having a better offense where you are on your game, putting out a strong frame as soon as the issue is getting focus.
After the fact – that is the frame being already set – the best bet is to call attention to the incorrect frame and restate the issue in its new frame. This is what Gingrich is doing and what progressives should also do. Remember, Gingrich is being advised by Luntz, the master of words for the Republican side. Keep this issue focused on what business entities – I’m not familiar with any restrictions on churches – provide as comprehensive health coverage.