Matt Yglesias writes of Breitbart and the Daily Caller:
At some point conservatives need to ask themselves about the larger meaning of this kind of conduct—and Andrew Breitbart’s—for their movement. Beyond the ethics of lying and smear one’s opponents, I would think conservatives would worry about the fact that a large portion of conservative media is dedicated to lying to conservatives. They regard their audience as marks to be misled and exploited, not as customers to be served with useful information.
I used to believe this sort of thing, that it was shameful, for example, that Fox provided such a low level of journalism to its captive conservative audience. My thinking was that conservatives watched Fox and listened to crazy conservative talk radio not because they enjoyed being lied to, but because they enjoyed overtly conservative media and Fox/Rush/etc. was what they had to choose from; the lying and low level of discourse, I reasoned, might very well be bugs rather than features.
Well, I was wrong, they’re features. Compare the ratings of Shep Smith with the ratings for Glenn Beck. Compare the traffic numbers for Hot Air, Drudge, and Instapundit with those of FrumForum, The American Scene, and Eunomia. And note that the Daily Caller traffic went way up with when they started in with the JournoList silliness (whatever one thinks of JournoList, the way that Daily Caller is presenting the story is extremely dishonest).
Given the choice, conservatives as a group will go for the dumber, more dishonest, more insane option. There’s a market for good-faith conservative media, but that market is liberals. Who watches/reads the faux-good faith propaganda of David Brooks? Totebaggers. Who reads The American Scene and Eunomia? People like me.
Conservatives, by and large, have no interest in what you or I or actual journalists consider journalism. It’s telling that when Clark Hoyt and Andy Alexander muse about pleasing conservative readers, they don’t talk about covering legitimate stories that conservative readers are interested in, they talk (exclusively) about following ginned-up Breitbart controversies.
Yglesias has it backwards: the problem isn’t that conservative media lies to conservatives, it’s that conservatives seek out media that tells lies. There is no way for media to appeal to conservatives without lowering your journalistic standards.
I give Jim VandeHei and John Harris credit for realizing this. If you want to construct an optimal amoral pageview machine, you better be willing to debase yourself.