by Doctor Science
The last time we discussed the way conservatives tend to get all their news from Right-Wing Media (RWM), people mostly used the word "bubble" or "cocoon".
For me, both metaphors don't quite hit the nail on the head. The point about a bubble is that it's fragile, it inevitably pops. The point about a cocoon is that it's temporary, a place to be safe while you grow up. The teenagers I know call our town "The Bubble", because it's so sheltered compared to the wide world -- but they all know they're going to be leaving The Bubble very soon, breaking out of this cocoon to flutter free.
I'm still fumbling for the right metaphor, but for right now I think of the RWM ecosystem (noösystem?) as a hall of mirrors, where everywhere you look you see a reflection of yourself.
Julian Sanchez, in his original post about epistemic closure, described the problem really well:
Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.The advantages of this system for the RWM are obvious, but what does the conservative audience get out of it? And why are similar efforts from the Left Wing Media less popular and more leaky?
The scientific literature indicates that people who ID as conservative are more fearful[pdf] and wary of strangeness than liberals. They are almost much more likely to be authoritarian, and to be happier when they feel that hierarchies are firm and established, with the people on top in control.
Conservatives also value loyalty to individuals, leaders, and one's in-group [pdf] (aka "tribe") much more than liberals do. Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill is a great examination of how this can play out in real life.
What I see is a positive-feedback cycle. "Stimulate anxiety, then offer a way to soothe it" is a marketing formula with a proven track record. Conservatives are prone to fear or anxiety, and they tend to reward anyone who relieves their anxiety with loyalty. They are in fact more brand-loyal than liberals, which is another way of saying that they're advertisers' gold.
So RWM can be expected to make more money from ads than truly left-wing media, and they do. They don't just make money from ads, either: the formula of "stimulate, then soothe" structures their content, too. Fox News, for instance, doesn't just report "the world is a scary place", they do it while saying "but you can trust us! we understand you, we care about the things you do, we'll explain it to you. Unlike those other guys, don't trust them."
With this formula, Fox News and everyone associated with it makes money, and they ramp up the fear-uncertainty-and-doubt, and they make MORE money. There doesn't need to be any Giant Right-Wing Conspiracy driving the RWM toward insular exaggeration, they can all just be following the money.
And since each element of the RWM is following the same money in more or less the same way, they reflect each other as well as their viewers. All the reflections make a seamless world where "real Americans" are basically in agreement and basically the same, part of the same tribe.
One of the great things about Obsidian Wings is that we can have a mostly-civil conversation between commenters from different parts of the political spectrum. At least some of the time. So, those of you who spend more time in the RWM zone than I do, does my analysis strike you as at all accurate? As fair? What am I leaving out?
I'm essentially saying that the reason there's more of a RWM reality, why the left-wing version is less popular and more leaky, is because conservatives are more fearful than liberals, but also because they value loyalty, discipline, and purity more than liberals do. This makes conservatives better targets for advertising, and thus a more lucrative audience which will naturally be pursued and cultivated.