Media Bias and Conservative Setbacks in the Federal Shutdown

Staunch support from major news organizations was a trump card held by Obama and the Democrats throughout the dispute with congressional Republicans. They recognized early on, if not before the fight began, they could completely refuse to negotiate.

Following a fortnight of partial federal government shutdown, as Washington returned to business as usual, media and political analysts took the news space and air time formerly ceded to reporting the situation to assessing winners and losers in the national confrontation. Few had little good to say about Republican leaders in Congress, and just as few judged their efforts successful. Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media opinion leaders, in particular, roundly condemned the agreement to reopen federal agencies and institutions without concessions from President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.

Many average conservative citizens around the nation echoed these beliefs and conclusions. The New York Times conducted man-in-the-street interviews of conservatives around the nation and reported a combination of anger, discouragement and bemusement over what had happened. One man in Cleveland, Tennessee, believed “the premise was good,” but found no payoff ultimately for the nation or supporters of the shutdown. A cabdriver in Colorado Springs and a homemaker in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, both bemoaned the impact of the shutdown on the military and local businesses. Fueling this sense of collective letdown were leaders who saw little benefit gained from the previous two weeks of fiscal battles. “Among commentators on the right,” the article noted, “the reaction has been less driven by despair than by anger. In heated language on talk radio and on conservative blogs, many spoke of a winning if difficult strategy sabotaged in the end by weak-willed leadership.”

Ironically, the pages of the Times provided their own compelling and direct explanation of why the shutdown failed to advance Republican aims. In assessing how and why the dispute ended with no substantive progress on debt reduction or limitations of Obamacare, one needed to look no further than the coverage and behavior of the dominant news media themselves to see why the deck was stacked so decisively against the forces of reform.

Read the rest of the article at the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

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