comScore On the Increasing Joys of Watching Conservatives Bash ‘the Media’ When They Mean Fox News

On the Increasing Joys of Watching Conservatives Bash ‘the Media’ When They Mean Fox News

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The right’s anti-media talking point has gone rogue. Denouncing the media has long been part of the conservative arsenal, but recently the term has become synonymous with, if not a cynical substitution for, the GOP’s primary press outlet.

The trend began last month, when Liz Cheney and John Sununu critiqued “the media” for tripping up GOP candidates with a gotcha question about the Iraq War — a question asked first by Fox host Megyn Kelly, then by Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Chris Wallace.

At the time, this auto-critique seemed an awkward but limited phenomenon generated by Jeb Bush’s unexpected inability to field an inevitable question. But the past two days have seen recurrences, beginning with GOP candidate Rick Santorum, who appeared on Fox News Sunday this weekend and denounced “the media” for limiting the candidates in the first GOP debate — “the media” in this case being Fox News, which imposed the 10-candidate rule. (A CNN-hosted debate divides the candidates into two groups, as the lower-polling candidates like Santorum would prefer.) Thanks to “the media,” Santorum managed to get through an entire back-and-forth with Chris Wallace about the evils of the Fox debate without ever mentioning Fox.

Next came Sarah Palin, the Keith Richards of media complaints, who argued to Hannity last night that the media was victimizing the Duggar family:

“These girls are being re-victimized, for shame on the media for, under the guise of ‘Hey, gotta let them have their say anyway,’ let’s interview them and put them there, back into the fire, and let them explain. They’re innocent!”

That interview — several parts, released over several days for maximum dramatic effect — was conducted by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. (In the preceding hour, former Fox host Mike Huckabee distinguished between Kelly’s interview and the rest of the media’s “exploitation,” though it was unclear what his metric was.) Once again, a former Fox contributor managed to tag “the media” with her complaint about the network itself.

This is part of a delicate dance the network and its constellation of guests and contributors are playing as a disjointed primary season nears. Fox is at pains to moderate between multiple flanks of the GOP, and is trying to brandish its responsibility as a gatekeeper of the GOP, especially after a 2012 election cycle that ended with an on-air tantrum over unwelcome election results.

But those flanks have learned, in part from Fox, how valuable demagoguing the media can be. Through overuse, “the media” has grown into such an all-purpose rhetorical maneuver that it appears to have detached from even Fox’s original (and loose) definition to become a free-floating signifier meaning “any force imagined to be working against the person speaking.” Thus can former Fox contributors end up on Fox bashing Fox for something another Fox host did, all while hiding behind the code word of “the media.”

[Image via screengrab]

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