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As Sean Hannity hyped a conspiracy theory about the murder of a Democratic National Committee staffer last week, touting it with the zeal of a true believer without citing evidence that justified that belief, the combative Fox News host declared himself under fire and in need of backup.Lashing out at what he called “Twitter snowflakes” and “the liberal effort to silence me,” he took particular umbrage at a campaign by the progressive group Media Matters for America to pressure his advertisers, an effort he called liberal fascism. “Rush, O'Reilly, Beck, Imus, & now me.”He may succeed in rallying his fans.For decades, most movement conservatives either liked Fox News and right-wing talk radio, or persuaded themselves that their excesses and pathologies didn’t matter.
The misinformation that he spread was occasionally worth refuting, even as there always seemed to be more malign personalities to take on directly. Most obviously, Hannity’s coverage of the DNC staffer’s murder has been prominent and appalling.But even as the Tea Party rebelled, its members all but forget that talk-radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh were as complicit in Bush administration failures as anyone.Back in 2000, Limbaugh helped make the case for a legacy-admissions president.At the time, the few voices who spoke up against his behavior were told to relax by well-meaning beneficiaries of the status quo like Jonah Goldberg, who wrote: Many conservatives believe Beck is undermining conservatism with his often goofy style and his sometimes outlandish and paranoia-tinged diatribes. Buckley, my friend Charles Murray writes, “Don't tell me that we have to put up with the Glenn Becks of the world to be successful. The right changed the country for the better—through good arguments made by fine men.” Murray is nostalgic for conservative leaders who were, like Murray himself, soft-spoken intellectuals. First, there has always been a populist front on the right, even during the "glory days" when Buckley was saying he'd rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phonebook than the faculty at Harvard.
Moreover, whatever Beck or Limbaugh's faults, they are more cheerful––and more responsible—warriors than the populist right-wingers of yesteryear.Not only is it a toxic workplace where the harassment of women is rampant; it is also a no-fact zone. Others on the right just started taking aim at right-wing misinformation as never before, perhaps having seen that it can have consequences, like a man with a gun demanding to search the non-existent basement of a much harassed Washington, D. pizzeria that was falsely accused of running a pedophilia ring for Democratic Party bigwigs out of its basement; or the elevation of a corrupt, serial liar to the presidency of the United States. In a recent article on cable news pundits, James Poulos traced their rise alongside the 24-hour-news-cycle, where “reporters could be trusted to supply the raw data, but only the daily pundits could slap on a filter and supply ever more sorely needed context.”But now, he argued, the Internet is “flooded with takes of varying temperatures,” and it is less and less necessary to have a Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck, or Bill O'Reilly “to tell us What It All Means every night at 8.” True, O’Reilly would still be drawing millions of nightly viewers but for the sexual harassment allegations against him.