When Beck suggested on his show in June that an Obama administration drilling decision helped liberal billionaire George Soros, two Republican Members repeated the claim using similar language on the House floor. Limbaugh called the BP oil spill fund set up last year a “slush fund,” a term repeated by Members in television appearances and during floor debates.
With the addition of the tea party movement to the national conversation, the spin cycle has added a setting that could be labeled “outrage.” Ideas that hosts use to gin up their base go from television to the House floor to the cardboard signs displayed by tea partyers on the National Mall.
“The ecosystem of each ideological movement within the political parties is much bigger than just the elected officials,” said Simon Rosenberg, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s White House who now leads the progressive group New Democrat Network.
Rosenberg identified religious groups, community organizations, labor unions and activist outlets such as MoveOn.org as holding more influence over the agenda. On the left, he sees MSNBC, progressive blogs and Stewart’s Comedy Central as dramatically changing the conversation in Washington, and he said their influence has increased in recent years.
Late last year, Stewart used “The Daily Show” to advocate the passage of the 9/11 responders bill. It was going nowhere but somehow was resurrected in the eleventh hour of the lame-duck session after his show highlighted first responders in a highly rated segment.
Several Republicans privately admitted Members carefully monitor what’s being said on conservative airwaves to make sure they aren’t contradicting it or enraging talkers.
Democrats needled the GOP in early 2009 over whether Limbaugh was actually the leader of the Republican Party. When then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele said Limbaugh was an “entertainer” and not one of the party’s leaders, he was forced to apologize after days of negative headlines and backlash on Limbaugh’s show. Steele relented: “There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”
When the rest of the Republican establishment was chastising Rep. Joe Wilson for his “You lie!” outburst in September 2009 as Obama addressed a joint session of Congress, Limbaugh hailed him and said he was “irritated” party leaders didn’t support Wilson.
In the days following the Arizona shootings, political talkers found themselves at the end of pointed fingers. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) went on the defensive after Internet activists suggested she played a role in inciting anger during the elections. A few on the left promised to tone it down, and Beck mocked Media Matters for asking Fox to hold his show accountable. But little changed and hosts on both ends of the political spectrum cranked coverage back up to detail Palin’s reaction and to analyze whether political Washington was being too politically correct.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow told Roll Call she believes the right “has long had a wider-reaching, more fully-formed messaging apparatus than the left.”
“It may be that there’s more rightwing media echo in their politics simply because the right’s echo-chamber works better,” Maddow said in an e-mail. “Comparatively speaking, messaging on the left is much more ad hoc, much less disciplined and repetitive, and much less wide-reaching.”