Unfortunately, the mainstream media still tends to treat figures like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter as “conservative commentators,” as if they were nothing more than slightly rabid versions of William Safire, or right-wing counterparts to Nicholas Kristof and Maureen Dowd. The term suggests a tidy equivalence between left and right, in which each side has its own flock of columnists, radio hosts, and television personalities. But Limbaugh and company are not “commentators,” who might have an ideological slant, but who can also be expected to think through each issue they tackle on its own terms, with due attention to verifiable facts. They are ideologues, who concoct their broadcasts and columns with the sole goal of advancing the fortunes of their own ideological camp in what they openly describe as an apocalyptic conflict to save America. They make no pretense of thoughtfully weighing the pros and cons of the issues they discuss, and never—ever—acknowledge that the other side could have a point.
It is long past time that the mainstream media acknowledge that whatever equivalency once existed in American political life between liberals and conservatives has long since disappeared. The point is not so much that the conservative movement has turned extreme, although of course it has. The point is that the conservative media machine, and a majority of Republican officeholders, up to and including the president-elect, now form part of a coherent, united ideological apparatus that has fought with enormous success to capture the principal levers of power in this country, and that attempts systematically to discredit and demonize anyone who opposes it. It has become an illiberal (in every sense of the word) political party of a sort the United States has never before known, one that bears striking similarities to fascist and communist parties that operated within democratic societies in the 20th century. And the members of it who work in broadcast studios and so-called newsrooms are not journalists. They are the party’s media arm, full stop. They should be treated as such.