I live in a conservative part of the world. Fox news is often on the TVs in business lobbies. People refer to stories they hear on the right media in casual conversation. The people I interact with are very sympathetic to Tea Party stands. Not everyone; most people turn silent when politics comes up. However, conversation among acquaintances and colleagues is more often conservative than not.
I often wonder, how does the right media get any audience? I am convinced it is constantly spreading falsehood, twisted facts, and significantly selective about its coverage (and neglect of coverage as well). Who would choose to watch, read and listen to this stuff? My initial reaction is to hurl spite at these people as shallow and ignorant sycophants; lemmings. Why not listen to the facts, and respond rationally in a reasonable fashion to the real world? Furthermore, why does Fox news regularly beat CNN? And why do PBS and NPR have smaller audiences than Rush Limbaugh? Why does Sean Hannity succeed, in contrast with Air America?
I want to understand these people and the audience as a whole. I want to have empathy. I do know this: Religion and politics are linked very closely. In short, the Baptists and Evangelicals are very politically conservative. This brand of Christianity is, of course, very born-again, very practical, very advice-laden.
And that is a key difference. It may be cultural, or genetic, or linked with family or religion, but the difference is the need for an agenda. I think the right is far more in search of an agenda. The Right links things together like, “God has a plan for your life,” and, “If don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The right adheres to given moral codes. None of these fundamentals are bad or wrong in themselves.
My brand of Christianity is much more intellectual, more distant, less emotional. Some would say I am not a Christian for those reasons. I have a very low need for advice in my life. I have a high need to learn. I prefer media that explains things, is fact and experience-laden, and basically value-neutral.
The right media is first of all agenda-driven. To them, it follows that a media that is not agenda-driven is liberal. Any moderate, liberal or progressive is likely to instantly reject this label. We thoughtful moderates usually can’t stand getting boxed in like that. But what we don’t see is how they see the world. If you are not with us, then you are against us. G.W. Bush used that line about terrorism, and with it he pleased his fans, and pissed off everyone else.
The conservative seemingly adamant rejection of compromise is similarly linked to values. moderates and progressives agree with president Obama: “Ronald Reagan … could not get through a Republican primary today.” He compromised, he raised taxes. The conservatives instead look at a Reagan trajectory, what they see as his vision; what things would look like if he were still in office (this would be his eighth term, and he would be 102).
Statistics show (I am using value-neutral information here) that there are far more people who consider themselves moderates or politically indifferent than those on the left or right wing. These people are likely to show distaste for Fox and Michael Savage, but an equal disdain for Rachel Maddow and Al Sharpton. They prefer a mix of learning and values.
Recently, I was on a road trip with a very conservative colleague. When she drove, we heard conservative talk shows on the radio. She loved it, I couldn’t stand it. It just seemed like selective topics, complaining and hurling insults. When I drove, it was NPR. I loved it: what a wonderful variety of ideas I was exposed to. My friend did not like it, she thought it was going nowhere, purposeless, missing the goal.