As everyone knows, conservatives stay on message while progressives quarrel over everything. Then again, often what “everyone knows” is wrong…. (More)

This week Morning Feature bounces around several topics. Yesterday we bounced around the Republican Tower of Babble. Today we’ll bounce across the media and messaging. Tomorrow we’ll bounce somewhere else. Pogo sticks are available in the lobby.

Conservatives on message … stay for pay

Think tanks are among the organizational foundations of the conservative movement. They churn out talking points that right wing pundits and politicians push into the mainstream narrative. If you want to know where Republicans are headed and what arguments they’ll make, read articles at the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and their appendages in almost every state.

How do these organizations get their ideas into the media? In part it’s simply cognitive bias; they say the things conservative pundits and politicians want to be true. But only in part. Turns out they also rely on a more pragmatic method. They buy air time. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity may already agree with whatever the Heritage Foundation say. Still, $2 million for Limbaugh and $1.3 for Hannity helps ensure loyalty.

Or maybe it’s just about reaching a target audience. That’s what Heritage Foundation marketing vice president Genevieve Wood told Politico:

We approach it the way anyone approaches advertising: where is our audience that wants to buy what you sell? And their audiences obviously fit that model for us. They promote conservative ideas and that’s what we do.

Color me skeptical. It’s not just the Heritage Foundation, and it’s not just Limbaugh and Hannity. Other think tanks sponsor other hosts.

And it’s not just explicit advertisements. These contracts also include “embedded ads.” That’s media-speak for paying the host for a mention during commentary or a discussion with a guest or caller. It sounds spontaneous; the host cites a think tank report as if the host found it while researching the topic. In fact these mentions are often scripted, and the host was just looking for an opportunity to read the endorsement.

Color David Frum skeptical as well:

Just imagine if the CBS Evening News were to accept $2 million from a pharmaceutical company, and then run news spots about the excellent benefits from taking that company’s medication. Imagine if the Los Angeles Times accepted $2 million from a company promoting a natural gas pipeline, and then published editorials advocating government approval of the pipeline route. Imagine if columnists at the Financial Times accepted money to tout British bonds or German stocks.

Shocking, right? Yet for millions of Americans, conservative talk radio is a news source much more trusted than CBS or the Los Angeles Times or the Financial Times.

And that’s the point. Conservative talk radio presents itself as news, and Republican politicians and even other media often treat talk radio as if it were news. But it’s easier to stay on message when the messengers get paid.

Conservatives on message … or not

Of course it doesn’t always work. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Tea Party Republicans are in a tiff over the debt ceiling. On Monday, Chamber CEO Tom Donahue told the Rotary Club of Atlanta that of course the debt ceiling will be raised, because the country can’t default on its bills. And he had a message for House GOP freshmen who want to shut down the government rather than raise the debt ceiling: “We’ll get rid of you.”

Illinois Republican Joe Walsh fired back:

I found Tom Donahue’s comments outrageous, tone-deaf, totally establishment, and doesn’t understand at all where we’re at right now…. If Tom Donahue is more comfortable having Nancy Pelosi as Speaker next year because he wants to get rid of all of us tea party, fiscally-conservative freshman who came here on a mission to save our kids from the debt we’re placing on their backs, then fine. He can have Nancy Pelosi as his Speaker.

Ideologia, meet Realworldia. Pass the popcorn.

If you’d like a second bowl, there’s the emerging spat between Grover Norquist and Senate Republicans. Yesterday the Senate voted 73-27 to end tax breaks and protective tariffs for corn-based ethanol producers. With extreme weather driving a bleak forecast for this year corn harvest, that decision seems so sensible I’m astonished the Senate considered it. Apparently they recognized the political consequences of another 7% jump in food prices, on top of the 8% jump since last year. Or maybe some want more subsidies for oil, coal, and natural gas.

Regardless, Grover Norquist is outraged. Not because he’s a big fan of ethanol. Because he hates taxes, and ending tax breaks for ethanol producers is a tax increase. Norquist described the vote in high school locker room terms, telling the National Review:

[Coburn] said, “Ha ha, popped your cherry, lost your virginity. Now give me $2 trillion in tax increases,” As soon as they voted, he turned around and called them sluts. Guys like that didn’t get second dates in high school.

Okay then.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn (OK) seems to agree the issue is sexual:

He’s trying to screw the rest of the Republican party because he is so mad at the world. He didn’t want to get rid of the ethanol tax credit without raising taxes. The important thing in his life was raising taxes.

I like my popcorn with extra butter.

Progressives on message … and cut off

So of course the big stories are former DNC chair Howard Dean and former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold feuding with President Obama. Sort of. Maybe.

Dean told the Netroots Nation convention he agrees with President Obama’s decision to support the NATO mission in Libya, but that President Obama should get congressional approval. He has a point, though I think House Republicans would have refused had President Obama sought their approval for last month’s Bin Laden mission. Regardless, Dean’s point is procedural rather than substantive.

Feingold said Democratic Super PACs like Priorities USA Action are “dancing with the devil.” He added:

We’ll gut our message! I don’t just think it’s wrong, I think it’s a dumb strategy. We can raise that money with people power. [We can] raise it without selling our soul.

Setting aside the obvious rejoinder – Feingold lost his election last year – it’s a position Feingold has held for a while. He’s the other half of McCain-Feingold, the 2002 campaign finance reform law. And I agree that in an ideal world, it would be better to reduce the impact of money in our political process. But in Realworldia you have to get your message out, and for progressives that can be maddeningly difficult.

Just ask House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Usually her weekly press conferences go without a notice. But yesterday’s came just minutes after word leaked that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) would resign, so of course all the cable news channels switched to cover it live. Until she said she was there to discuss jobs.

Then they cut back to discussing Anthony Weiner’s pending resignation.

Maybe she needs a think tank sponsor.


Happy Friday!