If there's one thing I've learned after five years of following right-wing money, it's that they aren't afraid to spend it building out a media infrastructure. From books to new media to television to online news, they spend, and they spend big. A recent Politico article holds up sites like the Daily Caller and Glenn Beck's The Blaze as shining examples of how they not only build their presence, but traction for their insane policy ideas.
Meanwhile, progressives do their level best to soldier on with pretty meager resources, especially in light of the way online advertising works these days. Colin Holtz's scathing commentary is worth some attention:
Read story after story about food-stamp freeloaders and the national debt? It will be no surprise if you end up thinking welfare spending is driving our deficit, and cutting back is more important than ending Wall Street tax loopholes and spending the money on job creation. We allow conservative media to define reality itself, then lamely issue contrarian reports and demand that Democratic politicians go out in a blaze of righteous glory, "leading" against the tide of public opinion.
Wow, he's reading my mind. It's way past time for some investment in left-side online media.
The investment won't just pay off, it is badly needed. We're already behind. And if progressive campaigns against Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck scare advertisers off of all "political" content, not just conservative, rich right-wing types will fill the gaps. The same should be true of progressive funders, but it doesn't appear to be.
The underlying truth is that change happens slowly. Conservatives build institutions to shape and promote Republican values. Progressives build infrastructure to get Democrats elected. Is it any wonder that sweeping Democratic electoral wins have, with a few exceptions, failed to translate into truly progressive policymaking? We need to be launching a dozen more ThinkProgress's and Upworthy's, funding the blogs and talk radio that already exist, and shifting our thinking about the best way to invest in long-term change.
"We have no right to be boring or irrelevant," Tucker Carlson said of his Daily Caller.
If progressives don't invest in media, we will be both.
They invest billions, and not just in the big sites. They buy ad space on blogs to advertise their books, they sponsor podcasts, they even pay to publish conservative bloggers who can't land legit publishing deals. They promote even the most bombastic and obnoxious of their lot, and they have no problem with this because yes, repeating the same message over and over again sinks into people to the point where they act against their own best interests.
They recruit from colleges and if they don't find enough recruits, they buy some with scholarships and other academic incentives. They've done well in keeping their commitment to build capacity and platforms in order to legitimize their insanity.
It works. I see things today that don't even make me blink. Five years ago, these things would have shocked me.
Here's something else conservatives understand that we don't, at least not as far as I can tell. There's always room for more. Always. Yes, Media Matters is a well-funded, left-leaning media criticism site that clips videos and critiques them. So do we, and we were doing it long before they were. There's room for both of us to co-exist and complement one another.
It would be good for progressive funders to place some investment into valuing voices that have been here raising the roof for years and bring them into the tent, rather than leaving them out to glean. Instead, we beg for donations and hope our traffic brings in enough ad revenue to pay for servers and bandwidth.
If progressives aren't willing to make an investment, we're not going to be able to counter the media juggernaut on the right. We're already years behind.