Beltway Spin Podcasts

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When The Extreme Becomes Mainstream

Over the last several years our political discourse in the United States has become very toxic.  As a political junkie I have noticed that certain extreme viewpoints and those who espouse them have  now become mainstream in corporate media. How did this happen?

This is what I think explains this. First,  Fox News has larger ratings shares than other cable news networks and it would appear their strategy of fear mongering and far right extremism  gets more viewers to tune in. So as a result, other television news outlets are perceiving "right wing extremism" as a recipe for higher ratings.

Cable news networks like CNN and MSNBC (several years ago) have decided to emulate this strategy by hiring extremist as hosts and paid contributors. CNN has hired Bill Bennett as a paid contributor. In 2005 Bennett made this horrendous statement on his syndicated radio talk show " If it were your sole purpose to reduce crime, Bennett said, "You could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. "That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down," he added.

CNN also hired Glenn Beck in 2006 to host his own talk show on their sister network Headline News. Beck's said to then newly elected U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn), a Muslim: "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."  Beck called Hurricane Katrina victims "refugees."

Michael Savage was hired by MSNBC to host his own show after making such offensive statements on his radio show like "What will it take to wake you up to the fact that you are being erased from the future of America? And why are you being erased? If you're a person of European descent, why do they want your child to be a minority in America? And when your little girl is a minority in America, what will happen to her? Tell me what will happen to her? Do you think that the minorities, when they take over the country, will be quite as benevolent and as enlightened as the European-Americans are today? Or do you sense that just perhaps, just maybe, they will not bring the learnings of the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, to their new power?" 

The cable news network executives apparently never once thought about what they were going to be doing to our political environment in the US by hiring these merchants of extremism and hate and bringing them to mainstream national television audiences. CNN's head at the time, Kenneth Jautz, was quoted as saying in an interview "the network did not take Beck's politics into account when it hired him. We did not set out to have anyone from any particular view fronting these shows." But how could the network executive not have known about his outrageous commentary? Individuals who are applying for even minimum wage jobs are subjected to various background checks and verifications and I find it very difficult to be believe that CNN would hire an individual to host a program on their national cable television network without a full vetting of that individual's background?

What these cable news networks were merely trying to do is emulate Fox News's formula and it has not worked. It would appear MSNBC has learned but CNN seems to have not learned that lesson? They seem content with still trying to be Fox-lite and their ratings have suffered immensely. The more CNN ratings sink, the more rightward they continue to turn. They are now consistently third place among the three cable news networks. In the process of the bad "experiment" that both CNN and MSNBC engaged in, they unfortunately helped to open the door for this extremism to become more mainstream and to have a seat at the table. 

Now in the wake of the Arizona tragedy, cable news networks and their anchors are anxious to quickly down play that there could be any correlation between extreme rage rhetoric and other people's actions.

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