When the Outrage Runs Out

The Atlantic Wire

Erick Erickson is all outraged out. The founder of the popular conservative blog RedState, a brand-new Fox News pundit, and the creator of a piece of outrage that inadvertently hobbled Mitt Romney's campaign, the "We Are the 53%" meme, writes today, "We do our cause more harm than good if we get outrageously outraged over every slight and grievance." It's a stunning admission from one of the architects of the conservative outrage machine. "I think conservative media is failing to advance ideas and stories," Erickson writes. Sure, you can blame the liberal media for some of that. But, he says, conservative media has forgotten the most important thing in reporting: finding facts. "There are scandals to uncover and there are outrageous stories to be outraged over, but I would submit conservatives are spending a lot more time trying to find things to be outraged over than reporting the news and basic facts online from a conservative perspective." We wish him luck, he will need it.

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Erickson's prime example is the Obamaphone story -- a video, hyped by the Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh during the presidential campaign, in which a woman yelled that Obama was buying her a cell phone. Erickson writes:

"What many conservatives missed was that the program was a pre-existing program. In fact, the 'Obamaphone' idea goes back to the Reagan Administration, but the present program was implemented in 2008 when George W. Bush was President. Government funds are not even used directly."

The Atlantic Wire did not miss this! At the time, Erickson and his site did not like The Atlantic Wire's Obamaphone coverage very much at all. He was outraged by our presenting basic facts about his outrage. He even titled his post, "Elspeth Reeve Manufactures More Moral Outrage." But now is the time for a new, less outraged age. Erickson writes:

I just do not see the need to get outraged over things without first having all the facts at hand. Further, I do not see the need to get outraged over everything, when better targeting of stories that truly resonate would serve conservatives well. We do our cause more harm than good if we get outrageously outraged over every slight and grievance. Yes there is an institutional media bias against the right, but we must also honestly acknowledge that conservatives have also screamed 'Wolf' a these past few years more often than there was one.

Erickson says he'd like to hire a couple reporters to do the basics -- who, what, when, where, why, and how. "Conservatives must start telling stories, not just producing white papers and peddling daily outrage," he says. This is a fantastic development. More facts being reported by more reporters is a good thing! But Erickson should note that some of those outrage-peddlers doing more harm than good started with the very same noble ambitions before hitting the wall of audience demand.

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Tucker Carlson floated the idea of what would become The Daily Caller in a 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference speech. Conservative news sites have failed when they "refused to put accuracy first -- this is the hard truth," Carlson said. Sure, The New York Times is liberal, he said, but it cares about accuracy. "Conservatives need to build institutions that mirror those institutions," he said. Tellingly, he was booed. As Salon's Alex Pareene explained, The Daily Caller's traffic was bad, so it started doing stunts. Some were funny at first, like buying KeithOlbermann.com. Now it's not that funny anymore. Here are some things The Daily Caller did in the past year: publish the tweets of Trayvon Martin to show he really was a scary teen, hype a 2007 Obama speech as shocking because it "appeals to racial solidarity" and Obama uses a "phony" black accent, and publish the claims of alleged hookers who allegedly slept with New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez. The last of these reports appear to have had the effect of slowing the media response to the senator's ethically troubling actions involving a wealthy doctor-donor. That story is less sexy and outrageous, but it's the one supported by facts.

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(Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.)

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