Media and Ideology

Quick-name a newspaper. Now quick-name a radio personality. Now an opinion blog.

I would guess that you named the New York Times for the newspaper. If you chose a different one, I expect it is likewise liberal. (If you are a liberal, read that as ‘centrist’.) Radio personalties are not as predictable, but likely someone conservative, maybe Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. For the opinion blog, there is no predictable quick-name candidate, and I don’t think there ever will be.

While each medium hosts the full range of ideologies, they still seem to each appeal to a specific ideology. Newspapers have a strong representation of liberal ideologies, while conservative commentators do well on the radio. Libertarians are at home in the internet, far more than either liberals or conservatives.

I left television out since it is not a medium for the dissemination of serious ideas. Television does have a strong liberal bias, but not because it is catering to a liberal audience which is looking for liberal ideas. Television is a vacuous entertainment media, not a platform for in-depth analysis.

This pairing of medium and ideology would obviously be explained depending on the ideology of whoever offers the explanation. A liberal would patiently explain that reading opinion columns requires significant intellectual skill, so they cater to a more sophisticated audience, which is liberal, as expected given their intelligence. Radio allows the presenter to rant without having to carefully formulate his ideas, while his audience absorbs it mindlessly, making it a perfect medium for conservatives. The internet is for crackpots. Every guy can spread his consiparacy theories far and wide to the three people who read their blog, which attracts all the libertarians.

A good theory to be sure, but I am not a liberal, so I don’t buy it.

The conservative would respond that few people actually read full opinion columns, and fewer still reflect on the ideas they read. People skim the columns, just reading the headlines and glancing at the rest. Newspapers provide a sense of sophistication rather than any real intellectual stimulation. Talk shows are indeed simpler, but they are also more direct and easier to absorb. People understand and connect to the ideas they are hearing. The spoken medium forces clearer ideas and simpler truths, while writers can fudge their ideas with big words and feel-good phrases. The internet is for crackpots.

Better, but not there yet. I am libertarian.

Newspaper and radio are both one-to-many communication. The internet is many-to-many. It is the ultimate free market of ideas. The internet combines learning and teaching. It actually allows ideas to develop through open discussion, instead of expecting fully developed ideas. The internet is for people who are willing to change what they believe, and also prepared to defend their ideas until they are convinced to change them.

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