Why We (You) Love Your Partisan Media Shows

calvin-limbaugh.jpg
Photo by Nicolas Shayko
A comforting voice...to some.
Rush Limbaugh is a popular, indeed transformative, character -- and I use that word intentionally -- for conservatives. Glen Beck has lost some of his luster, but his right-wing star still shines brightly enough. (Hannity, tho . . . Hannity is trending downward). That's the conservative side of the spectrum. But there's the liberal equivalents (though they remain less popular) such Keith Olbermann (well, at least he used to be) and Rachel Maddow.

Why do people gravitate toward this type of partisan, aggressive media?

Past research (by psychologists) has centered on the fact that people, to reduce their cognitive dissonance, readily accept facts and arguments that confirm their priors and reject out of hand facts and arguments that challenge their pre-existing beliefs. But a new paper (gated) by three Tufts sociologists sets forth a fuller, more satisfying explanation:

"The data suggests to us that outrage-based programming offers fans a satisfying political experience. . . . These venues offer flattering, reassuring environments that make audience members feel good. Fans experience them as safe havens from the tense exchanges that they associate with cross-cutting political talk they may encounter with neighbors, colleagues, and community members."

Here's how the researchers arrived at their results. During the summer of 2010 the sociologists listened to six weeks of these various programs -- both liberal and conservative -- and then followed up with in-depth interviews with fans of each program.

One nugget that I found most interesting (and supportive of the researchers' conclusion): all conservative subjects, without ever being asked, stated that they essentially viewed the programs as an "in-group" experience where, in comparison to a backyard barbecue, they would not have to contend with fears of being called a racist. Liberals on the other hand, feared being called out for being naive, or, in other words, not as smart as they think they are.

These findings support the researchers when they write:

"Whereas political conversation generates fear of social exclusion, outrage-based programs incorporate and even include viewers and listeners . . . . The host presents as a kindred spirit who 'gets you' even when other folks do not."

Papa Rush, I am a dittohead too. Daddy Keith, your dulcet tones and snarky outrage...you get me.

As with many things we like and/or gravitate to, it says far more about us than it does about the object of our affection. Also, stop watching/listening to this tripe. Read your news.


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