The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility (Studies in Postwar American Political Development)
Jeffrey M. Berry, Sarah Sobieraj
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In early 2012, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who advocated for insurance coverage of contraceptives, "wants to be paid to have sex." Over the next few days, Limbaugh attacked Fluke personally, often in crude terms, while a powerful backlash grew, led by organizations such as the National Organization for Women. But perhaps what was most notable about the incident was that it wasn't unusual. From Limbaugh's venomous attacks on Fluke to liberal radio host Mike Malloy's suggestion that Bill O'Reilly "drink a vat of poison... and choke to death," over-the-top discourse in today's political opinion media is pervasive.
Anyone who observes the skyrocketing number of incendiary political opinion shows on television and radio might conclude that political vitriol on the airwaves is fueled by the increasingly partisan American political system. But in The Outrage Industry Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj show how the proliferation of outrage-the provocative, hyperbolic style of commentary delivered by hosts like Ed Schultz, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity- says more about regulatory, technological, and cultural changes, than it does about our political inclinations.
Berry and Sobieraj tackle the mechanics of outrage rhetoric, exploring its various forms such as mockery, emotional display, fear mongering, audience flattery, and conspiracy theories. They then investigate the impact of outrage rhetoric-which stigmatizes cooperation and brands collaboration and compromise as weak-on a contemporary political landscape that features frequent straight-party voting in Congress. Outrage tactics have also facilitated the growth of the Tea Party, a movement which appeals to older, white conservatives and has dragged the GOP farther away from the demographically significant moderates whose favor it should be courting. Finally, The Outrage Industry examines how these shows sour our own political lives, exacerbating anxieties about political talk and collaboration in our own communities. Drawing from a rich base of evidence, this book forces all of us to consider the negative consequences that flow from our increasingly hyper-partisan political media.
Republicans. Independents actually form the largest “party” in America, with four in ten identifying this way.2 If moderates are underrepresented in both parties, the structure of our decentralized party system with its open primaries makes it easier for ideologues to control nominations. The Push for Orthodoxy If we look at party-line voting—the measure typically used to assess polarization in Congress—we see that there has always been a substantial level of division in Congress, though
to cooperate with federal agencies working on illegal immigration, and requirements for police to ask those they interact with who somehow appear suspicious (or who are arrested) for proof of citizenship or legal residence. The proposals were also controversial. We found considerable debate within the states, and substantial opposition to the bills typically emerged. Of the ten states with the largest Hispanic populations, only Arizona actually enacted legislation. In eight of the other states,
about principle that we heard from both sides, immigration remains at its core an issue about race, and this is only thinly veiled in outrage venues, as well illustrated by the discourse about “anchor babies.” Glenn Beck explained the concept of anchor babies to a TV audience this way: people “come over the border, have a baby here, and then you got a foot in the door.”64 The argument by Beck and others is that children who are born here but whose parents are illegal should not be granted
uncovered. But it does seem that there is a threshold for the level of controversy with which advertisers are willing to be associated. “Pop” to break through the clutter is invaluable in a sea of alternatives, but when escalated to an explosion, judicious marketers begin to retreat, some to return but others to opt for hosts who offer more predictability: when in doubt, Bill O’Reilly might contain risk in a way Glenn Beck proved he could not. We also expect to see a continued hybridization of
correctly.34 Validated Instead of Challenged Outrage-based programs reassure and embolden the audience members rather than leaving them fearful. They do this in a variety of ways, but most notably by valorizing their audience, celebrating their strong character, and allowing the audience to position themselves in the role of the victor—capable of handily dominating naysayers in imaginary political jousts. The hosts function as supportive cheerleaders for and defenders of the values that