One of our editor-in-chief’s repeated contentions is that the Establishment no longer enjoys the confidence of the People. That includes the media. A significant portion of Donald Trump’s supporters believe that CNN and the New York Times lie every day. Trump's coinage “fake news” immediately caught the popular mood, and it's not going to disappear any time soon. The old days of Walter Cronkite, who exerted an authority over contemporary reality that people under 50 years of age can't even imagine, will never return. Back in 1970, you had only a few news sources, a daily paper and a nightly news broadcast on CBS, NBC, and ABC.
Those venues have no credibility with a growing part of the population. That raises a question, though. Many Americans disaffected from mainstream news still want to follow current events. Where do they go?
The numbers tell.
Of course, we know of the longstanding audiences of Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, Bill Bennett, and other conservative personages who made AM radio their platform and built massive national audiences. But there are many more now, and they're using the digital explosion to spread the word.
Adam Carolla, the Southern California libertarian (who seems to have developed a bit of social conservatism more recently), may have been the first to realize the power of podcasts. He made the Guinness Book of World Records for downloads way back in 2011.
Heather Mac Donald, who joined us for a podcast last month, popped up on YouTube a few weeks ago. She was part of a panel at Kenyon College, and the YouTube clip shows her speaking off the cuff about free speech and victimology on campus. Here's the key point: in only a few weeks, the clip has received more than 290,000 views.
Take a look, too, at this conversation on YouTube between Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson, which was posted last October. They spoke for nearly two hours on postmodernism, gender theory, academia, and social psychology. Not, one would think, the most accessible stuff, but so far the page views stand at 920,000.
Peterson's notorious interview with Cathy Newman several days ago, which has become in the eyes of conservatives a set piece of feminist dishonesty, at this point exceeds 4.1 million views!
Paul Joseph Watson, co-founder of InfoWars, is another popular alternative source, his recent video commenting on Oprah piling up more than 600,000 views in two weeks. His commentary on Trump's “sh—” remark has run up nearly 700,000 views.
Mark Dice does regular commentaries on liberal politics and culture and enjoys an audience well into the hundreds of thousands, too. The one he posted two days ago (Jan. 24) already has more than 300,000 views.
We can add Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, and other controversial opinion figures who've bypassed the mainstream organs and built up a loyal following in the hundreds of thousands.
This is not to mention Breitbart News, which now gets 300 million page views per month and Drudge Report, which now collects more than 1 billion (!) views per month.
The mainstream media casts these more or less conservative figures as fringe characters with bilious and bigoted notions, or at least they try to do so, though the accusations seem to be having little effect. I'm not making any judgment here about whether the Establishment criticisms are right or wrong, and sometimes one winces at the language these anti-Establishment individuals use.
But we should understand the hostility the mainstream media feel toward them in other terms than political or ideological ones, though they try to frame their judgment as sound and responsible—a shaky veneer that was fully exposed in the Cathy Newman interview with Professor Peterson.
The numbers show that the most important fact is a capitalist one. Peterson and other conservative voices are not, first of all, ideological opponents of Don Lemon, Stephen Colbert, and The View. They are market competitors, and they're getting stronger.
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.
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Photo by Fronteiras do Pensamento via Creative Commons. Image cropped.