Political Animal


June 09, 2012 12:07 PM Concern Trolling in the Times

By Ryan Cooper

On Twitter Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, flagged a piece by Steve Almond titled “Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One,” saying it was “Must-read liberal introspection.” Boy, I thought to myself, I bet this is going to be terrible.


This, to be blunt, is the tragic flaw of the modern liberal. We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment…
Of course, not all right-wing pundits spew hate. But the ones who do are the ones we liberals dependably aggrandize. Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.
Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate. The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.

So, liberals are entirely to blame for the popularity and influence of conservative hate-mongers. Check. Anything else?

Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.
Even programs that seek to inject some levity into our rancorous political theater run on the same noxious fuel. What would “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” be without the fulminations of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing hysterics?

Got it. And the cure, of course, is for liberals to simply ignore the likes of Limbaugh, so they’ll be locked into the echo chamber. Problem solved.

Let’s set aside the fact that the premise here is stale. This argument has been hashed and re-hashed in the blogosphere for the last ten years—are we hurting the cause by giving attention to the demagogues, or helping it by drawing attention to their craziness?—the consensus being: well, it depends. Let’s also set aside that blaming liberals for the influence of Limbaugh totally ignores the agency of conservatives, who have been paying fealty to him and his ilk for years, and is barely a whisker shy of blaming the firefighter instead of the arsonist.

Nope, the most interesting part is that it’s just straight-up wrong. Almond is so invested in his narcissistic victim-blaming that he didn’t seem to consider the idea that the very project of drawing attention to The Crazy is working out quite well recently. He says Limbaugh’s ratings are up, which seems to be wrong (no link, so I can’t check his numbers), but he also lost advertisers in unprecedented numbers. Backlash from the Heartland Institute’s climate denier billboard campaign featuring Ted Kaczynski crippled the organization. Komen’s attempt to cut funding to Planned Parenthood was a massive failure and has badly tarnished their brand and their donations, probably irreversibly. The shadowy conservative group ALEC took a major hit from being the author of the “stand your ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere, also losing lots of corporate support. And so forth.

In short, giving conservative hatemongers a little push onto their own swords seems to be working like magic. Might have been something to consider in the piece, or at least address, but apparently not.

(Image via)

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Hedda Peraz on June 09, 2012 1:08 PM:

    When I was an innocent lass- yes, gulag, there was a time!-we had a saying, "Never trust anyone over thirty."
    Today we need to update that to, "Never trust anyone with access to a printing press."

  • c u n d gulag on June 09, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Ah, I love when another faux Liberal speaks for us!

    "You know who's fault it is that the Conservatives are going crazy, and have a lock on talk radio, and have their own 24 propaganda channel posing as "news," and has more Op-ed columnists than Centrists (real ones, not the faux ones like Brookes) and Liberals combined?

    It's the fault of US Liberals- that's who!

    If we paid no attention to the crazies - didn't listen to them, didn't watch them, didn't read them, they'd be less crazy, I tell's ya!

    What do you mean, "What Liberals listen, watch, and read them?"
    Why, I do!
    Don't you?

    And what do you mean by asking, "How do I know, and why?" about if we watched them less, they'd be less crazy?

    Because... because... because SHUT UP! SHUT UP!! SHUT UP!!!
    THAT'S WHY!!!!!!

    And what do you mean, that if there wasn't some pressure from Liberals groups after they DID learn of these outrages, and decided to take action, "That they'd be even CRAZIER?"

    That's the problem with YOU Liberals!
    Too many questions, and NO answers!!!"

    What a dope! WHAT A MAROON!!!

  • c u n d gulag on June 09, 2012 1:24 PM:

    I remember that phrase too - though I was never any too innocent.

    And it ain't the access to a printing presses nuts and bolts that you can't trust.

    You just need to look carefully at who's running that printing press. And if it's a nut, you'd best BOLT!

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 09, 2012 1:28 PM:

    Looks like yet another instance of the stereotypical liberal unwilling to take his own side in a fight.

    Sometimes I just hate the side I'm fated to be on.

  • TCinLA on June 09, 2012 1:35 PM:

    This guy needs to go back to swilling Chardonnay and chomping his cucumber sandwiches. I'd suggest he go buy another Volvo, but they're out of production now - not enough of his kind of idiot bought them.

    When I meet idiots like this, my first thought is, "why is there never a cliff nearby when you really need one?"

  • Rick B on June 09, 2012 1:48 PM:

    No doubt Steve Keller would have advised the Poles to ignore those nasty Germans with their tanks coming across the border into Poland. Talking about the Germans just encouraged them.

    Ignoring the Germans had worked so very well for the Czechs a few weeks earlier.

  • Neildsmith on June 09, 2012 2:04 PM:

    I have a little sympathy for Mr. Almond. Perhaps he finally realized that the entire media/political complex is hopelessly corrupt (Yes - you too Mr. Cooper).

    The job of all these entertainers (aka pundits) is to drive viewers to the TV and websites. It's to sell subscriptions to magazines and newspapers. Mostly, Mr. Cooper, you hope that by being clever, I'll stop by and read this. Then, you hope, I'll click on that link to the ads. For me, that means Orkin pest control, Amazon.com and some silliness about IT for healthcare.

    Fat chance,

    All the media has become a whore (sorry... is there another word?) for corporate America. No one cares what Mr. Cooper or any of the so-called pundits think. They just want to drive clicks, page views, and sales of whatever snake oil your advertisers are selling.

    So, Mr. Cooper, it is best you start realizing what and who you really are. You serve someone and it ain't civilized society or progressive politics. Oh... and shame on you.

  • Robert on June 09, 2012 2:08 PM:

    Hedda, I sort of went along with the 'don't trust anyone over 30' until I turned 31, and that was decades ago. I have tried to learn who to trust by judging the reliability and accuracy of what they say. In the case of the opinion in question, 'I would not trust Keller any further than I could throw him.' (Another old saying.)

  • Daniel Buck on June 09, 2012 2:22 PM:

    "This pattern of defensive grievance, writ large, has derailed the liberal agenda and crippled the nation’s moral progress."

    Crippled the nation's moral compass? Really? I fully understand that column titles are designed to grab attention, but liberals getting steamed over Rush Limbaugh is "ruining America"? Really?

    Jon Stewart is part of the problem? Really? By Almond's logic, America has been going to hell in a handbasket thanks to Mark Twain, Will Rogers, and Mort Sahl.

    The essay does start off with a hilarious, self-ignited pratfall. The writer actually resigned his post as "adjunct professor" (meaning, part-time) as a protest against Condoleezza Rice. Really? Why didn't he attend the speech wearing oversize earmuffs? That would have garnered more attention.

    The only thing more embarrassing than Almond's column is that Bill Keller tweeted it as a "must read." Really?

  • jjm on June 09, 2012 2:27 PM:

    I actually hate that so much of my news is taken up by their right wing crazies. But there are two reasons to pay attention to them:

    1) they are egregious SYMPTOMS, not of what the American psyche, but of what their puppet masters in the 1% BELIEVE will get American people on their side. They also flop quite as egregiously: recall Fox News stunned reaction to their own poll showing that the American people trust Obama more on foreign policy, terrorism, getting Americans to work together (remember how many times Fox called him the most polarizing figure in American politics), etc.

    2) when Limbaugh went after Clinton so successfully preceding the first midterms in Clinton's presidency, I was completely ignorant of right wing talks shows and their apparent power (then) to influence voters. I never even heard of Limbaugh until he was discussed in the NYT on the eve of the elections. I was completely aghast at the things the paper reported he said and which had mesmerized the masses.

    My lesson from that is that it is better to know your enemy, AND to make sure that you revile them just as publicly as you can.

    Keller was one of those both sides are equally to blame guys who was terrible for the NYT. The first editorial I read by him was so compromised and specious as to be virtually unreadable.

    For liberals to adopt the right wing's caricature of liberals is beyond stupid. I've never met any liberals of the sort this guy Steve Almond Keller cites.

  • thebewilderness on June 09, 2012 2:50 PM:

    "The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence."

    This is so blatantly absurd that it is difficult to believe that anyone with half a brain, or the most basic grasp of history, would say such a thing.
    Objecting to abuse does not promote abuse, no matter how many times that particular zombie lie is repeated it will never be true.

  • mudwall jackson on June 09, 2012 3:24 PM:


    you do understand that you help feed the (nonprofit) corporate beast known as the washington monthly merely by clicking to the site? and you further aided and abetted the vast conspiracy that is the corporately controlled media by clicking the link to post here.

    please sir or ma'am, i do implore ... keep yourself clean ... stay away from the evil that lurks here or your soul will be lost to the likes of charlie peters and paul glastris

  • PTate in MN on June 09, 2012 3:36 PM:

    The Republicans are a political party fueled by the unshakeable conviction that their actions are always justifiable; they feel no shame. And Karl Rove is their Master. He has taken meanness and lack of responsibility to new levels. Everyday we see some version of the bully's contradiction that Rove has disseminated through the conservative movement: "You think we did something bad? No, YOU did something bad. You made us do it, we were only defending ourselves." or "You think something is a strength or admirable? Ha, I'll tear it down."

    So, observe that the Right-wing cherishes hate-spewing bigots (a bad thing) and conservatives will respond with "No, you did something bad!" Thus, liberals are to blame for encouraging the bigots. Liberals are trying to make conservatives look bad. You think Fair play and Truth are virtues? Ha, that just the sort of thing that liberal sissies, those big losers, would think.

  • hells littlest angel on June 09, 2012 3:49 PM:

    I'm not going to read the Times piece, so I don't know if this was part of the writer's point, but liberal pundits and bloggers do spend, it seems to me, more time and space being reactive against right-wingers than proactive about policies we support. If you asked me to name ten members of Congress off the top of my head, I'll bet six or more would be the names of jackoff idiot conservatives rather than liberals and progressives, and that's not because right-wingers outnumber lefties, it's because we give them more ink and pixels.

  • exlibra on June 09, 2012 4:42 PM:

    Right. Because "ignore the idiots, they're beneath contempt, and engaging with them only legitimizes them" school of thought worked ever so well for Kerry and Swift Boaters...

    "thoughts reaIti", indeed.

  • biggerbox on June 09, 2012 5:34 PM:

    It's really amazing how many people get to appear in the New York Times with columns or op-ed pieces in which they attempt to draw grand conclusions based on projection, and their own personal experience. Apparently, six years ago Almond pulled an overly dramatic and naive publicity stunt and amateurishly confronted Hannity on his own turf, and now that means that all liberals are clumsy, naive collaborators in their own debasement.


    Or it could just mean that Almond was a dope then, and hasn't learned anything about the media since. Because now he's, yet again, clumsily serving himself up as a prop for right-wing propaganda.

    (His former students at BC may deserve some kind of refund, I think.)

  • Neildsmith on June 09, 2012 5:35 PM:


    If my limited interaction here serves the advertisers in some small way, that is the price of protest. You skip past my contention that the mass media are invested in controversy and conflict. Fox, Limbaugh, MSNBC, The Daily Show, and other agitators serve advertisers, not conservative or progressive politics. Do you really dispute this? Has the explosion of 24/7 cable news and internet sites improved the political discourse or have they cheapened it? Have they elevated thoughtful and logical analysis or raised up demagogues?

    I think the answer is obvious so pundits ought to spend a moment pondering their role. You can't blame me. I have no effect on policy or politics. No one cares what I write here or what I think. But the hacks given visibility by advertising revenue do make a difference. It's all very sad and seedy.

  • Doug on June 09, 2012 7:04 PM:

    I rather think Neildsmith should learn a bit more about the logical fallacy known as "post hoc, ergo proper hoc". Is it that advertisers are pushing the right-wingers or are they trying to cash in on them?
    There IS a difference...

  • JEA on June 09, 2012 7:33 PM:

    Rush Limbaugh relies on the far left even more than he relies on his parroting dittoheads. Which, even if his overblown figure of 20 million is to believed, doesn't even constitute one-tenth of the US population.

    The left - Huff Po, DailyKos, MSNBC, and right here at WM, can all be depended upon for outrage every time some extremist absurdism leaves his lips.

    And he knows this, so he spews even more. You have worked very hard to give him far more credence than he ever deserved.

  • Neildsmith on June 09, 2012 7:45 PM:

    Whether left-wing, right-wing, or somewhere in the middle... what passes for political debate on TV and online is first and foremost a business. It's up to the business to decide which side to take depending on their ability to attract talent. Fox decided to be right wing. MSNBC decided to go left. Their parent companies have all sorts of entertainment properties. Is Family Guy or any of the raunchy cartoons on Fox conservative? Are NBC shows liberal? No. They are all part of media companies with profits as their goal.

  • smartalek on June 09, 2012 9:27 PM:

    Neildsmith, with respect, I think you've got only the elephant's ear there, if that much.
    There's plenty of evidence that there's something worth far, far more to the ownership of the mass-media than even "eyeballs" and/or the ad revenue that large numbers thereof entail:
    namely, a power-structure in general, and governments in particular (all levels from municipal / county, thru state to federal) that they now almost fully own and operate, to their great advantage.
    When Donahue was unceremoniously ditched at the time of the rampup to the Iraq invasion, he was, IIRC, the highest-rated of the newsmagazine shows. But he wasn't singing with the corporate choir -- poised to make megabux from war-profiteering and new oil supplies -- so he had to go.
    A compliant government that heeds the needs of the multinationals -- and the 400 or fewer families that own most of their shares -- is worth massive losses at the individual-firm level. That's why there's still a "Weekly Standard."
    When the propagandists also happen to make big bux from their ad revenue, that's just lagniappe for the owners.

  • Rabbler on June 09, 2012 9:51 PM:

    HuffPo covered Palin so much, for so long that it was seriously creepy. Up to the 2010 midterms maybe. Political Animal for years has spent more time cataloging the craziness and advising conservatives on what they should be doing, than anything else. To the extent that the Democrats are reactionary, I think that is the case because many Democrats don't believe in economic liberalism anymore. Many more are afraid to stand up for ideas that 40 years ago were bipartisan. The drama with the hardcore RW media provides cover for a party that exists as a tribute to the past and a foil against the alternatives.

  • Neildsmith on June 09, 2012 9:58 PM:

    smartalek - fair enough. Revenue from advertising and the ability to manipulate policy to maximize revenue both result from the conflict created by media companies. Mr. Cooper would have us believe he is doing God's work drawing attention to the craziness. That is the product he and his employer are selling to advertisers.

  • Patango on June 09, 2012 11:31 PM:

    hells littlest angel on June 09, 2012 3:49 PM:

    ""it seems to me, more time and space being reactive against right-wingers than proactive about policies we support. If you asked me to name ten members of Congress off the top of my head, I'll bet six or more would be the names of jackoff idiot conservatives rather than liberals and progressives, and that's not because right-wingers outnumber lefties, it's because we give them more ink and pixels.""

    Great point as usual hells littlest angel , this is what I came up with after I read that

    Gillibrand NY , Lee Tx, Walters Cal , Scott Va , Rush Ill , Giffords Az , Kucinich Oh , Loebsack , Braley , Boswell Iowa here

    I had to stop and think , but having 3 dems in iowa helped , unfortunately we are losing one after the last census , and tex or az are gaining 1 , where gop corruption will make sure they are red

    The hit pieces are easy to detect imo , selling copy , I have faith in my fellow dems , to the op , we did ignore the wingers for 10 years , then we got bush , then we started seeing what was going down ..

    When the rush fluke deal blew up , I ignored it at 1st , then I saw rush and the t bagger congress where trying to sell the same BS line , as Mr Cooper is pointing out , that is when we must pounce , when we see the lies tied to actual legislation , healthcare , climate change , women's health etc , then we start writing sponsors and joining our congress critters in hitting the DC gop , and their voters , over the head

  • TerryS on June 10, 2012 2:06 AM:

    “We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment….”

    I agree 100% with Ryan Cooper 's argument. And yet I also agree with the above quote. For example “24” was extremely effective right-wing entertainment propaganda that was embraced by Liberals as “intelligent TV”. Another example would be the endless movies that glorify guns and killing. Liberals complain about the NRA but have no problem with movies that are very effective product-placement commercials for guns. It is no wonder that Americans are in love with their guns, when they've spent their whole childhood watching shows and movies where whatever the problem, violence and guns are the solution.


  • H.H. McCool on June 10, 2012 8:56 AM:

    Of course, ryan cooper and the other left wing bloggers disagree with keller. they are in a symbiotic relationship with the rush limbaughs of the right. if it were not for rush, these guys would not have anything to write about. for his part, rush needs the lefties to shrilly decry his statements to give them legitimacy with his base, to help spread his comments more widely, and to provide fodder for more outrageous statements. he loves them and they love him. it is a very productive relationship for both.

    if i want to know what limbaugh, o'reilly, et al., are saying, i don't go to red state, the other right wing blogs or the mainstream media. one will not find much there. it is on the left wing blogs that rush gets the fullest, most complete coverage.

    my granddaddy used to say, when he saw his competition disparage his product by name in their ads, "just make sure they spell the name right." the bottom line is that keller is essentially correct. the best way to thwart an obnoxious, lying bully is to ignore him. but then what would kos, marshall, kilgore and the rest have to talk about?

  • square1 on June 10, 2012 9:08 AM:

    If liberals "serve as willing accomplices" to the rise in GOP fanaticism, it is only by placing their hopes in pseudo-liberals like Bill Keller and expecting them to aggressively confront the GOP.

    Too often liberals go to the polls, elect corporate-whore Centrists, and then cry into their beers when the Centrists turn on the liberal base.

    The only problem that I have with Keller is that he peddles his b.s. after self-identifying as a liberal. If he wants to spout idiocy, he can go right ahead. But liberals need to do a better job of policing their brand.

  • Teresa on June 10, 2012 11:52 AM:

    Shut up and take it is not an option any more. That seems to be the game plan with a lot of adults in this era. Never challenge the rich "serious ones".

    That is exactly why we have the likes of Limbaugh calling citizens sluts and prostitutes for exercising their rights.

    Keller is more than likely working on some deal hence his "used to be a liberal" piece. There have been others similar to him and there will be others. It's going to be interesting to see where his next paid gig is at. He reminds me of Lieberman and Zell Miller.

  • Teresa on June 10, 2012 11:53 AM:

    Almond not Keller is working a some deal.

  • Theodore Sporer on June 10, 2012 12:55 PM:

    Isn't it really just a plea for censorship from a stooge that is so opposed to discourse that he quit his job-as a professor no less-to protest his employer allowing someone to speak with whom he disagreed?