Just the Facts

It would be easy to mock Erick Erickson’s post today at RedState calling for–and even expressing a willingness to pay for–more fact-based reporting in conservative media. Famously a bully-boy of the Limbaugh school of political argumentation, Erickson cannot bring himself to name any of the conservative media types (hint: one of them starts with a “B”) who are sending “conservative activists down rabbit holes” with their interminable scandal-mongering and ax-grinding. Indeed, he stops every paragraph or so to express solidarity with them, and can barely make it through a sentence without repeating the mantra that “liberal media bias” is the fundamental problem, not a troubling (and oddly post-modern) conservative habit of refusing to let empirically verifiable facts get in the way of a good tirade.

Still, he’s trying to articulate uncomfortable truths, however timorously:

Conservatives are trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial, we have forgotten the basics of reporting: W5 + H as I learned in grade school, also known as who, what, where, when, why, and how. I think conservatives need to reset some of their reportorial resources to tell the stories that need to be told by focusing on the facts at hand in a world view of the right. We need to establish a baseline for integrity in reporting that then allows us to highlight the truly outrageous. That baseline must be the basics of who, what, where, when, why, and how and it must be set before taking the next step into analysis of motivation and its implications.

He cites the bizarre “Obamaphone” fracas of 2012–a specialty of the Washington Free Beacon and Newsmax (which is still flogging it)–as an example of a controversy where the failure of conservatives to get the facts straight led to general embarrassment.

To make it clear he’s not just chiding the ultra-right for aversion to facts, Erickson spends some time bashing (again, unnamed) conservative scribblers and gabbers for toadying to the Republican Establishment at the expense of the “conservative agenda.”

But in the end, his argument that actual facts would buttress the Right’s credibility is pretty straightforward:

I would like to see a reporter or two focusing on the W5+H of Capitol Hill and the White House with another who can go beyond the basics and provide the analysis of how those facts will impact conservatives, where conservatives stand, and how the ultimate policies and politics in play will affect the country. I just do not see the need to get outraged over things without first having all the facts at hand. Further, I do not see the need to get outraged over everything, when better targeting of stories that truly resonate would serve conservatives well. We do our cause more harm than good if we get outrageously outraged over every slight and grievance. Yes there is an institutional media bias against the right, but we must also honestly acknowledge that conservatives have also screamed “Wolf” a these past few years more often than there was one.

While everyone should welcome Erickson’s move in this direction, it should be remembered that we’ve heard it all before, most notably from Tucker Carlson, who made even more of the same noises about fact-based reporting when he launched the Daily Caller, which on occasion out-Breitbarts Breitbart in its fanning of conspiracy theories and pseudo-news. We’ll see how it all works out, and how other conservatives respond.

A interesting footnote is Erickson’s requirements for anyone wanting RedState money to join in this task:

If you are interested in being a part of this, send your resume to reporting@redstate.com. You’ll need to live in Washington. You’ll need to be self-directed. You’ll need to be pro-life.

Hmmm. Nothing about Austrian economics, constitutional originalism, or even “free markets” or “limited government.” The only disqualifying heresy, it seems, is being pro-choice. So that’s the top priority of one important conservative ideological commissar.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.