The Corner

U.S.

How Clickbaiting and Ratings Mongering Cuts against Liberal Media Bias

One of the admittedly minor complaints about liberal media bias has long been how the MSM elevates extremely marginal Republican or right-wing politicians in order to tar conservatism and the GOP as a whole. Whether it’s the now forgotten W. Cleon Skousen, David Duke — briefly an actual Republican politician — or more recently, figures like Dana Rohrabacher, the ploy was as annoying as it was effective.

Controversy has always sold newspapers and driven ratings, but in the era of media balkanization and specialization, the need to fuel the outrage machine has never been stronger. And as a result, it can run against the grain of the imperatives of ideological or partisan bias.

Newly elected Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib are getting an enormous amount of media coverage. For some, this might seem like proof of liberal media bias itself. And to some extent it might be, particularly in the case of AOC. But even there, having the Democratic party defined by a socialism-promoting ingenue who literally wants to abolish the existing energy infrastructure in the United States in a decade, is not necessarily in the national party’s electoral interests. The Democrats took back the House by winning over Republican or Republican-friendly districts, not AOC’s comfortably Democratic district.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of two anti-Israel fanatics talking themselves into knots trying to defend themselves against charges of anti-Semitism or terrorist sympathies can’t be the messaging Nancy Pelosi craves in her first month as speaker. But it’s great for ratings, graded on the curve of what counts for good ratings in cable news. The journalists interviewing these women may not be as tough as many of us would like, but the result for the average voter may be the same.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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