Political Animal


May 03, 2013 11:36 AM MSM’s Stockholm Syndrome

By Ed Kilgore

In a follow-up to my last post on a poll indicating that nearly a half of self-identified Republicans think it may soon be time to take up the shootin’ irons and overthrow the United States government, I will venture a guess that this subject will not get a great deal of attention in the MSM. It’s just some small-sample poll, some will say, if they even notice it. People will say all sorts of crazy things to pollsters, others will intone before switching to meditations on Barack Obama’s poor leadership skills. It’s just a sign of polarization, still others will tell themselves. That this data point arises after several years of revolutionary rhetoric on the Right, not only from Second Amendment Absolutists, but from the entire “constitutional conservative” movement, with its ideas of a fixed, divinely-ordained set of public policies that no Congress, no Court, no President, and no election, should be able to modify, will largely escape notice as well.

We’re getting to the point where the media habit of “false equivalency” is inadequate to describe or explain the wilful blindness of so much of the paid political commentariat to the historically unusual (if not unique) extremism of the contemporary Right. So I’m happy to recommend an essay by my TDS colleague James Vega, who suggests many journalists are suffering from a version of the “Stockholm Syndrome” whereby they have become so traumatized by conservative extremism that they will lift heaven and earth to deny its existence and assign responsibility for polarization elsewhere (e.g., to Obama’s “leadership failure”).

Whether you buy the psychological theory or not, it sure explains a lot, particularly the acceptance as routine of phenomena ranging from the Permanent Filibuster, to the regular description of venerable center-left policy prescriptions as totalitarian, to the quite literal hostage-taking now central to budget negotiations, and to polls showing large numbers of rank-and-file Republicans considering armed revolution as a legitimate form of political action.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • howard on May 03, 2013 11:41 AM:

    stockholm syndrome is not an excuse.

  • TK421 on May 03, 2013 11:48 AM:

    Wow, the president asserts a right to have any of his citizens liquidated without a trial and people get all revolution-y.

  • Mimikatz on May 03, 2013 12:00 PM:

    That, and the desire to prove to themselves and their peers that they are the Kool Kidz who are above political attachments, and have nothing in common with those uncouth DFHs. Too cool by half to actually take sides, care what happens.

    And they also live in their NY-DC cocoon where they don't actually come into contact with the yahoos and yo-bobs who are actually carrying guns in public and buying ammo by the truckload at gun shows. They do see scruffy Occupy folks, but a few ought to go out to Methland and AZ and anywhere in the South besides Atlanta proper.

  • c u n d gulag on May 03, 2013 12:01 PM:

    I beg to differ.

    I used to think the MSM was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, too.

    But it's NOT.
    In some senses, the MSM is still being held "hostage."
    They've never been free(d).
    Or, at least not in decades.

    What's the statistic?
    Almost 90% of ALL MSM sources, not including the internet (yet), are owned by the same 5 or 6 corporations and their owners and CEO's.

    The Republican Party had done well by them - media consolidation started under Reagan - and has continued since then, unabated; the "Equal Time Rule" was also eliminated under Reagan - with no real efforts to revive it.
    And it's not like the Democrats were putting up much of a fight.
    Clinton allowed people like Murdoch, a foreigner, to own MSM sources here - and since then, more than one in each geographic location.

    The FCC is mostly a rubberstamp, and has been for years.
    It serves mostly to enforce some sort of varient of The Code of Conduct, from the earl-mid-20th Century Hays Office - which was nothing more than an agency willing to respond to fundamentalist Catholic and Protestant protests of some sort of moral outrage. And it remains so, to some extent today. Let one "nip, slip," and the FCC freaks out, because the fundamentalist Christians get their tit's in an uproar!

    So, what's not to love, if you're one of the owners or CEO's?

    And the MSM reporters and pundits are all behooven to their corporate masters, for their not insignificant paychecks.

    The MSM isn't suffering from any Stockholm Syndrome - they are the worlds most highly paid indentured servants - polishing shoes, mirrors, and silver, and kissing asses.

    And if you still consider them to be hostages, where do I sign-up to be kidnapped, and held, while they pay me, the ransom?

  • Peter C on May 03, 2013 12:02 PM:

    ... or maybe they're just bought and paid for.

  • esaud on May 03, 2013 12:04 PM:

    Most of the media serves money, power, privilege (i.e. the right wing) to the detriment of justice, truth fairness (left wing).

    If there is a psycological element to it, then Altemeyer's description of the RW Authoritarian serves well: Besides being politically conservative, they tend to blindly accept whatever their own perceived leaders say, but react with reflexive hostility nd even violence to all perceived other.

  • Daryl McCullough on May 03, 2013 12:05 PM:

    Ed, your link to James Vega's article is incorrect. I think you mean:

  • Daryl McCullough on May 03, 2013 12:07 PM:

    TK421 writes:

    "Wow, the president asserts a right to have any of his citizens liquidated without a trial and people get all revolution-y."

    Um, it seems to me that Obamacare and background checks for assault weapons are the bigger issues to these revolutionaries.

  • Russell A in L.A. on May 03, 2013 12:41 PM:

    Ed, great point. Honestly, this is why I've really started to despair. I have students who come to me -- at UCLA -- who are political science or global politics majors, and what they don't know is both astonishing and fear-inducing -- and I blame both the Stockholm Syndrome MSM and the media business model for it. I've had at least a half-dozen students in the past few years who "want to be journalists" and ask for guidance because they think it would be useful to get an M.A. in Middle East Studies or another major in Econ or something, and I have to tell them "no" -- reporters not only aren't expected to have substantive expertise, it's probably a net career negative.

    I used to be vaguely amused by the right-wing info bubble; then I was mildly irritated by it; then I was affirmatively offended by it. Now I'm starting to feel helpless. I'm not an especially brilliant political scientist or anything, and I'm perfectly happy to acknowledge my own biases -- and point them out in class -- but it seems to me something has got to give. Americans have a right to information.

    If the media wants to retain its privileged position as the "fourth branch of government," it needs to look itself in the mirror and remember that government is PUBLIC SERVICE. I was in the Army; I know that public service can be thankless and dangerous. But the way the MSM has allowed itself to be whipped into submission by the Right is ... well, disheartening, to say the least.

    And as much as I'd like to think that WaMo helps take up the slack, I know it doesn't. I guess the bottom line is that we just don't have REPORTERS any more. And that's really tragic.

  • Qalice on May 03, 2013 12:57 PM:

    I don't think they've been frightened into submission, I think they've been coddled into complacency. I think most of the MSM thinks what they do doesn't matter. What scares me is that most people I know think they nothing they could do politically -- even voting -- matters. We can't keep a democracy alive this way.

  • jjm on May 03, 2013 1:13 PM:

    @esaud said it above: Republicans and the MSM are exhibiting the classic authoritarian personality, totally subservient and obsequious to those in power, tyrants when the gain power.

    Maureen Dowd is the perfect example of such an authoritarian personality. She LONGS for Obama to act like Pope Alexander on the TV series "The Borgias" -- what kind of human being could long for such a regime?? Deep Republicans, 1%ers ... and those emo-progs who want him to crack heads, too.

    The hatred of democracy is running all too deep.

    Luckily the GOP 'half' of the country is actually way under half.

  • PTate in MN on May 03, 2013 1:37 PM:

    We’re getting to the point where the media habit of “false equivalency” is inadequate to describe or explain the wilful blindness of so much of the paid political commentariat to the historically unusual (if not unique) extremism of the contemporary Right."

    I think we passed this point many years ago. The mystery is why they persist. One explanation, as c u n d gulag points out, is conservative ownership of the media. But given how the media has been struggling, you'd think at least one MSM newspaper--the NYTimes, for example--would figure out that they could make more money and distinguish themselves as thought leaders by reporting the reality that a right wing cabal, uncoupled from reality has taken over the Republican party. And that hasn't happened.

    I think that we are in a situation where the gap between how we think about and represent the world (we live in a Democracy with two viable political parties that both care about the welfare of the nation) and the reality (Republicans doing their best to destroy the USA) is so great that it is produces cognitive dissonance.

    And, as researchers long ago demonstrated, in the face of cognitive dissonance, people tend to double down. It can be painful to change your beliefs to accommodate reality. And that pain is magnified exponentially when a 100-million slow-learners are involved.

  • Bokonon on May 03, 2013 2:00 PM:

    When you say that Constitutional Conservatives believe in " ... public policies that no Congress, no Court, no President, and no election, should be able to modify," you need to add an important qualification:


    Look at what went down during the term of the last Bush administration. I don't remember hearing a peep out of these Constitutional Conservatives for eight years about things like warrantless wiretaps. But what I do see now is lots of aggressive political action now, based on anxiety that a President from a different political party might use those expanded executive powers against them, to their detriment.

  • mrgavel on May 03, 2013 2:14 PM:

    Most people don't follow politics all that closely. This fact enables the GOP to win by getting the media to go along with their framing of the issues and by using clever attack lines that stress simplicity over complexity. I would suggest that progressives would do better by developing their own communication vehicles using the relative inexpensive facilities available on the web and on social media. Far better to develop your own than worry about changing the minds of a media that is owned by the wealthy.

  • gdb on May 03, 2013 2:17 PM:

    How about jointly assigning blame to BHO leadership failure AND Repub extremism/intractable oppsition. Like Adolph and Neville C., J. Buchanan and Jeff D., Lenin/Uncle Joe AND Karensky, Mao AND Chaing--- the list is pretty long. In the firsat two examples, a Churchill and a Lincoln were a big part of the solution taking years---- in the latter two cases, no politician provided a solution for decades, if ever to date.

    And no US politician has yet stepped forward to really proivide a solution to increasing Repub extremism. BHO or Clinton middle-way types don't solve the basic problem--- they simply slow the rightward drift.

  • Brownell on May 03, 2013 3:12 PM:

    I don't disagree with the diagnosing of the squishy mainstream media. They deserve our contempt. But we should also look psychologically at the right-wing crazies. The missing psychological element I see is malice. These guys are haters. They get a kick out of threats and insults. And the questions these pollsters put to them are open invitations for crazy talk: "Do you believe that the president of the United States was born in a foreign country? Do you see a holy war against communists and liberals coming?" Of course you do. You don't seriously think any of this stuff - but this is not about serious. It's about malice.