The Cocoon

Back in the mists of time, conservatives used to mount an argument about liberal groupthink that went something like this: liberals, they said, are in a cocoon because they never really have to face conservative arguments. They go to college and they’re surrounded by liberal students and liberal professors. They turn on the TV and they get Murphy Brown or Friends. When they want the news, they bask in the warm liberal glow of the New York Times or Dan Rather.

Conservatives don’t have this luxury. In college they have to fight for their beliefs and that teaches them about how liberals think. They might read National Review for their politics, but they don’t have much choice except to read the New York Times too if they want to know what’s going on. Liberals can ignore conservative culture if they want to — and mostly they do want to — but conservatives can’t do the same. They’re exposed constantly to the liberal worldview.

That was the argument, anyway. Like most arguments of this kind, there was maybe a grain of truth in it if nothing more. But if Bruce Bartlett can be believed, even that grain is pretty much gone these days. Here he is explaining what happened a few years ago after the New York Times magazine published a big article that quoted him extensively criticizing the Bush administration:

A few days after the article appeared I was at some big conservative event in Washington. I assumed that my conservative friends would give me a lot of crap for what I said. But in fact no one said anything to me — and not in that embarrassed/averting-one’s-eyes sort of way. They appeared to know nothing about it.

After about half an hour I decided to start asking people what they thought of the article. Every single one gave me the same identical answer: I don’t read the New York Times. Moreover, the answers were all delivered in a tone that suggested I was either stupid for asking or that I thought they were stupid for thinking they read the Times.

I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. After all, the people I was questioning weren’t activists from the heartland, but people who worked on Capitol Hill, at federal agencies, in think tanks and so on. They represented the intelligentsia of the conservative movement. Even if they felt they had no need for the information content of the nation’s best newspaper, one would have thought they would at least need to know what their enemies were thinking.

For at least a part of the conservative movement, the Times is apparently no longer a news source. It’s just a prop in the culture wars. For these people, news comes solely from overtly friendly sources like Fox and talk radio and the Washington Times. These are Sarah Palin’s people, and they live in a parallel universe.

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