Republicans complain, with good reason, about the pernicious effect of the mainstream media being populated largely by liberals who allow their ideology to influence their coverage of political events. But a chat with a wise mind this morning reminded me that the media’s inclination to embrace the most provocative progressive or leftist idea that comes along creates problems for the Democrats as well.
No Democratic officeholder — certainly no member of the Senate, or governor — would ever write a book entitled “In Defense of Looting” or offer its author a sympathetic interview, as NPR just did. Democratic officeholders might have worries about the potential administration influence over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but few would come out and declare, as a New York Times op-ed headline urges, “Ignore the C.D.C.” (Isn’t that the sort of contradiction of official health experts that gets removed from social media these days?)
Few Democratic elected officials care much about Andrew Sullivan’s decision to publish an excerpt of The Bell Curve back in 1994. And while plenty of Democratic governors will express concerns about whether college football players can be adequately protected during this pandemic, it’s hard to see any of them outright call for college football to not happen in any way this fall, as the New York Times editorial board recently urged.
This illustrates how the incentives and objectives of Democratic officeholders and the incentives and objectives of liberal opinion leaders differ. Democratic officeholders thrive by getting as many people to vote for them as possible — which usually means avoiding controversy. Liberal opinion leaders thrive by getting people to pay attention to their ideas and discuss them — which usually means courting and cultivating controversy.
The monolithic views among Democratic-leaning members of the media can also leave people thinking the Democratic Party is a lot more unified and farther to the left than it really is. One-third of Democrats oppose the country “becoming more politically correct.” Twenty-nine percent of Democrats say they disagree with their own party’s views on abortion. Twenty five percent of Democrats do not support gay marriage. Self-identified liberals make up about half the party, but the other half identify as moderate, or either conservative (11 percent) or very conservative (3 percent). Not much discussion of the Democratic Party focuses on its more conservative-leaning wing — and when it is discussed, these voters are seen as a frustrating liability, or deadweight slowing down the pace of progress.
This is probably why Joe Biden — boring, familiar, old reliable Joe Biden — beat out a lot of other younger, fresher, and more media-hyped Democrats in the primary, and why his victory took so many professional journalists covering the race by surprise. Their idea of what the Democratic Party is, or ought to be, is quite different from what the party actually is.