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Fascinating Piece Substantiates My Theory About How Low-Information Voters Get Their News

BEGIN TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: I have just come across a fascinating piece, and I have not had a chance to read it. It prints out to four pages, and I had a chance to just briefly race through this thing. But at first perusal it appears to totally substantiate a theory of mine that I've held for a long time. It is about the American public, the population, and where it really does get hold of what it thinks it knows. 

Where are low-information people hanging out in the media? 

This paper is by a professor at Princeton named Markus Prior, and he has produced an academic paper that attempts to dispel the notion that Fox News is responsible for all the partisanship in the country.  The Democrats, the rest of the media, the president of the United States all blame Fox (and, of course, me) for the partisanship, for the divide that exists in this country, for the fact that the culture and the society are rankled.  And this guy said, how can that be?  The professor, again his name is Markus Prior at Princeton.

It's in The Economist, Economist.com magazine, and they've written about his paper, and they talked to him. They say he's been chewing on this for the longest time because it dawned on him that there aren't enough people watching cable news.  If you add them all up, there aren't enough people watching cable news to divide the country.  So where are they?  Here's the basis, as I understand it -- and I'm gonna dig deeper into this, of course, as the program unfolds.  But his theory is that back in the days prior to 1988...

If you go back to 1988 and prior -- 20 years prior, 30 years prior -- there wasn't cable news.  Go back to the pre-cable news days, and what was there?  There were three networks: ABC, CBS, NBC. Maybe throw PBS in there for the fun of it.  But there were no cable networks of any kind.  The first cable network of any substance other than Channel 17 out of Atlanta (which was for Braves games) was CNN, likewise a Turner network, as was Channel 17, TBS. 

But even then there was no entertainment cable television.  It was just CNN and 17, the Braves essentially, and whatever other programming that Turner put on that station.  So even people who didn't care about news had no choice but than to be exposed to it because they didn't have anything else to watch.  You had the three networks and their nightly newscasts, and you had the Sunday morning shows, and then you had three to four hours of primetime -- and, you know, the usual soap operas and things in the daytime -- and that was it.

And then it all exploded starting in 1988; CNN starts, and then the explosion of... Forget politics for a second. We had the explosion of cable television.  We had ESPN, which was on radio first, and now look at it.  Now look at the cable television universe.  It is massive.  The combined audience for all cable programming dwarfs now the over-the-air, traditional, Big Three networks.  In many cases, individual and single programs on cable rate higher than network programs do, now and then. 

Like The Walking Dead, for example, will rate higher than your average primetime offering on one of the Big Three.  Not all do of course, but there are some that do. Mad Men doesn't, but it's close.  But you could name the ones that do.  Anyway, now, so goes the theory, people can avoid news all they want.  They never have to watch it.  They don't have to watch the Nightly News. They don't have to watch Fox. 

Now you add to it Netflix and the coming fracturization (if I can make that word up) with Web television, things that you can pick and choose and watch on your mobile devices.  So it's a vastly different landscape than it was just 25 years ago.  In these 25 years, people the professor calls "moderates," are those people who really didn't care ever about politics but they had no choice but than to watch it.  There was nothing else to watch.  The Nightly News was it. 

In fact, if you go back and look at the numbers for nightly newscasts back in their heyday -- if you add the three up -- they were close to 100% of people watching television.  Now what are they?  I mean, they're minuscule compared to what they were. They're still sizeable within their universe, but compared to the entire universe, they're infinitesimal.  His point is CNN and MSNBC's audiences are so small that you can barely measure them in the entire TV universe, and Fox is not much better. 

Now, to the 10% of the population that really cares about all this, which includes all of you, Fox has the lion's share. But you still can't say (this is the guy's theory) that Fox or talk radio are the primary causal agents for the partisanship.  So he asks, "Where these people getting what it is that they know?"  It's what we've always said here: The pop culture.  He includes, in addition to all of these entertainment networks, ESPN as a place where people are being subtly blanketed with a political point of view.

In fact, the audience is unaware that it's happening to them. They are being politicized in a particular direction, and the partisan divide is occurring.  In fact, folks, if you take the time... We've mentioned this, too. I don't care what website it is. I don't care what subject. It could be one of my favorite tech blogs, it could be an ESPN blog, it could be an NBC Sports blog. Go to any website that offers comments. It could be the E! Entertainment website. It could be One-Armed Amputees on 4th Street website.

It could be any website. 

You look at the comments, and you will find the most vile, disgusting examples of humanity. You look at it and say, "What has happened to our country?"  I know this has happened to those of you, if you're gathering information on website and you do take time to scroll through the comments. Some of the stuff that people say there is just embarrassing, and it's banal, and it's disgusting.  It occurs because these people are anonymous, and they can say and do whatever they want, and nobody's gonna know who they are.

They say things in the comments they would never say face-to-face to anybody. 

But what they say and how they say it certainly does betray the partisan divide.  I mean, even on an E! Entertainment or a sports blog, the comments from people are just as partisan and just as vicious as you'll find in a political blog.  So I am fascinated by this.  I think the guy at Princeton is on to something, and the reason that this may attract mainstream media attention is his premise that it cannot be Fox News that is causing "the partisan divide," as the president says, and as any Democrat says, and as the rest of the media is saying. 

The rest of the media constantly is hand-wringing and lamenting, "What has happened to our culture? We're so divided!"  One of the premises of Obama's election 2008 was he was gonna unite everybody, if you recall.  Obviously that hasn't happened.  But they are of the belief that a news business, an alternative media such as this show and others like it... Well, there are no others like it, but, they believe conservative talk radio and Fox News, the alternative media, the conservative blogs, have to be the culprits. 

Because prior to our existence, everything was hunky-dory.  Everybody loved Democrats; an occasional Republican won, but that was an aberration.  Everything was happy.  Everybody was happy. There were nobody was upset. There was no mean spiritedness anywhere.  And to them, it all happened with the advent of the New Media.  So this guy says, "Nope, not possible.  We're not talking about enough people here." 

Now, it ain't gonna make people like Ted Baxter happy to find out he's so insignificant, or any of the others at cable TV, but it's nevertheless a fascinating premise.  Again, this guy says that the majority of people are bored by politics. They don't care about it; they don't understand it. It doesn't make any sense to 'em.; It's as foreign to them as reading economic news written by economic elites for other economic elites.  You need a translator for it. 

He says that's how most people understand political news. It's just foreign. It doesn't make any sense. There's no logic to politics.  They're raised with Citizenship 101, and politics isn't Citizenship 101.  It's who's got the most money, who can lie the best, who can run the most negative ads. People say, "To hell with that! I want to watch Walking Dead. If I want to watch see get eaten, I'll do it for real.  If I want to see blood and guts, I'll see it for real. To hell with this political stuff. I don't understand it anyway." 

So they're not there, folks. He calls 'em the moderates, and he says back in the old days, they had no choice.  In the course of their television sets being on, they could not avoid the news.  Now they can, and they're choosing to.  But they all still show up and vote.  Well, not all.  A decent percentage of them show up and vote.  What do we have here?  Voila!  We have the low-information voter, in part.  Now, there are some highly educated, stupid people that are low-information people. 

But I will be interested to see if this piece in The Economist gets any traction out there, because the headline, "Why Fox News is Less to Blame for Polarised Politics Than You Think," is a blog post.  It's a blog post, but, nevertheless, it's a blog post from The Economist, which is a highly regarded/respected English magazine.

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: Markus Prior at Princeton in this piece on media and the way it's fractured. You know, the same thing is happening on the print side in news.  Nobody reads newspapers anymore.  Well, I'm gonna say "nobody," but the numbers are way down.  Everybody, though, used to.  Everybody had no choice.  There were the nightly newscasts and newspapers and the magazines, and that was it.  Do you know how many people get their news solely, solely on Twitter now?  You would be, I think, stunned. 

Let me give you a little tech story here.  There are a lot of people (well, I am one of them) who use something called RSS for news gathering.  Websites make their sites available via RSS, Real Simple Syndication.  There are sites that will just constantly search the Internet for the websites you want the latest posts on, and they aggregate them on what are called news readers, and most of them sink to a Google program called Google Reader. 

I have a bunch of different RSS programs, one for the desktop computer, one for my iPad, another for the phone. They all differ.  I have a favorite, Mr. Reader, that I have on the iPad. In my opinion, it's the best one.  But for the most part, they all sync to Google Reader.  Nobody uses Google Reader (it's a Web app), but they do link to it, all these other RSS readers do link to it.  Well, Google just announced that they're going out of business. They're gonna close Google Reader. 

It's got a everybody that uses RSS a little worried.  They're gonna shut it down in July. So the market is in the process of filling what's gonna be a giant hole.  All these apps that link to Google Reader for their RSS syndication are gonna have to find something else -- or do it themselves, which is tough job. Google Reader does a big job.  Well, one of the things that is being talked about as replacing Google Reader is Twitter.  Now, what is Twitter?  Twitter is just people. 

I mean, journalists are there but so are just average, ordinary people. They read something they think is true and like, and then they tweet it out to everybody else. This is massive amounts of stuff, and some people, particularly young people, get everything they know from Twitter.  Just as an aside, I have been going back and forth on whether or not we need to up our presence on Twitter for that reason alone. Not to send out tweets, but to have our stuff in that universe.  I'm still undecided on it.  But the point is, on Twitter, a real, accredited, knows-his-stuff journalist is no better than Anastas Mikoyan (who has no idea what he's doing) writing things. 

Young people are getting a lot of stuff from Twitter. 

So it's fracturing like crazy -- and, for people in media, it's a challenge here to establish your niche in it. 

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH:  Markus Prior, Princeton University.  Essentially when you read his abstract here, he's saying that it is easier than ever to become a low-information voter. It's easier than ever. No question about it.  I just checked something.  There is a Twitter feed that anybody can subscribe to called Breaking News, and that's what it is.  But who posts it?  Who knows?  It has about six million followers, which means that everything on that Twitter feed is automatically sent to those people. 

They don't have to go get it.  It shows up.  They have to go to Twitter to see it. They still have to fire it up and use it, but it's sent to them.  Now, CNN has an audience of maybe 800,000 people, if you get my drift here.  Just one Twitter feed has almost six million. Now, who is it that's putting information on Twitter?  Well, half the people on Twitter, at least, folks (don't doubt me on this) who are posting political news are political hacks paid by Democrats and their front groups. 

They know exactly what they're doing. 

The left, the Democrat Party has made themselves present everywhere.  I mean, the dominant media culture in entertainment, books, movies, television shows, sports networks, is leftism/liberalism.  So even the people who don't care about politics, who couldn't care less about it are exposed to it, while thinking that they are avoiding it.  Mr. Prior here makes the point that it is often the low-information people who end up being the most partisan, and it's rooted in what they think they know that isn't so.

Let me give you a couple passages from his paper. 

"This article examines if the emergence of more partisan media has contributed to political polarization and led Americans to support more partisan policies and candidates. Congress and some newer media outlets have added more partisan messages to a continuing supply of mostly centrist news. Although political attitudes of most Americans have remained fairly moderate," and by that he means they just ambivalent, "evidence points to some polarization among the politically involved.

"Proliferation of media choices lowered the share of less-interested, less-partisan voters and thereby made elections more partisan. But evidence for a causal link between more partisan messages and changing attitudes or behaviors is mixed at best. ... Ideologically, one-sided news exposure may be largely confined to a small, but highly involved and influential, segment of the population. There is no firm evidence that partisan media are making ordinary Americans more partisan."

That's the thesis. 

That is the point. 

That cuts right at everything that the Democrats and Obama are saying about talk radio and Fox News.  "There is no firm evidence that partisan media are making ordinary Americans more partisan," 'cause they're not there.  Mr. Prior is also saying that now that everybody no longer has the news forced on them, only political junkies really follow it -- and only partisans are political junkies.  So the universe of the truly partisan is pretty small.  The cable networks are not causing it. They're not creating it. 

Because they're not reaching enough people.  The Pew Center for People and the Press says that one-third of adults under 30 get all of their news on social networks. That would be Facebook and Twitter for the most part.  One-third of people under 30!  That's like getting your news from the insane asylum.  I'm not trying to put anybody down or be accusatory, but what I mean by that is you've got people who don't know what they think they know putting it all out there, being absorbed by a bunch of other people who just accept it 'cause it's there.

It's "printed," so to speak.  "It's published; it must true; I see it right there."  It's just like people say, "I saw it on TV. It's true."  "I saw it on TV; it must be happening."  Wag the Dog, the movie: Create a war on TV that is not happening, but people could be made to believe is because it's on TV.  But the thought that so many people get their news from social media really is scary. By the way, I should point out that this is how the Drive-Bys convince themselves that they're on the right side of history.

Because they live in the Twitter/social media bubble -- and they come to believe that the crazies posting there represent middle America.  I am convinced that that's what's happening.  The media is a like any other group of people.  Their universe is all that matters.  You know, we make jokes about the media that live in New York and Washington and would need a visa to actually get into Oklahoma and would need a map to show them where it is.  You know, life outside of their universe insignificant and doesn't matter.

Only where they are does it really matter. Only where they are is it really hip. Only where they are and live and work is life real.  Well, if they happen to be on Twitter or Facebook and they're posting back and forth to one another and they're getting comments from these low-information people, that's what they're gonna end up thinking is important and matters and what's dominant.  So this cycle of creating and embedding and then exalting low-information status is happening full-speed ahead, folks. 

Low-information status, among those who hold it, is not what is considered... They're not aware that they are that.  Just the opposite.  They think they know things nobody else does.  As such, there's an arrogance about them -- and, on occasion, a condescension to other people.  Now, this Breaking News Twitter account that I cited, @BreakingNews, that has 5-1/2 to six million followers, is owned by MSNBC.  So NBC is reaching an audience, just not with cable TV. They're finding a way to do it. 

This is how, for example, if I can use an illustration, the Drive-Bys have convinced themselves that same-sex marriage is suddenly the only thing that matters to people. In their universe, at Twitter and Facebook, that's all that's talked about, and that's all that matters. That means everybody to them.  If same-sex marriage is a big subject of the day on Twitter/Facebook, then that must be America. It's all oriented toward what everybody thinks is hot and hip, the latest that attracts people and focuses their attention. 

So the Breaking News feed on Twitter is owned by MSNBC, but nobody knows that.  Certainly not the people that are following it.  It's 5-1/2 million and growing.  So it's a fascinating premise this guy has, and I'm sure that we could discuss this all day and keep delving into it and come up with other realizations. Boy, I tell you, it's not a complicated premise.  In fact, it's one that, when you hear it, makes total sense. You ask yourself, "Why did it take an academic paper for me to realize this?"  It's actually true. 

The singular premise here is that in the old days, prior to 1988, people had no choice but than to absorb some news.  Now granted, it was news from a left-wing standpoint. There's no question about that. But they were at least exposed to it.  They had no choice.  The nightly news ratings combined, all three networks, was close to 100% of the viewing public.  Next, there was the explosion of cable, and people who never did like the news now don't have to watch it all. But they are still being influenced, indoctrinated. 

They're still being propagandized, because you will find a dominant media culture in all of these ancillary programming niches.  So here, let me boil it down to its essence.  What Obama and the Democrats want everybody to believe -- and, by the way, given all this that we've learned, we have to say that they've been pretty successful convincing people of this. They want people to believe that it is conservatism -- 'cause, after all, what is Fox News?  It's considered to be a conservative network. 

You can argue about whether it is or not, but that's what the perception is. Conservative talk radio, no question is conservative.  So the argument is that conservatism is what's dividing the country. Not really Fox. Not really talk radio. It's conservatism.  Because prior to the alternative media, there wasn't any.  Everybody was fine, and everybody was happy! The Republicans were very pleased to have 135 members of the House and be constant losers. 

Fascinating, isn't it, that the Republicans winning the House for the first time in 40 years happens at the same time that the media monopoly blows up.  So what they're telling all of these people on Twitter and all these people on Facebook (you wonder why the Republican brand is what it is?) is, "It's the Republicans! It's conservatives that have caused all this hatred.  It's the conservatives who are the bigots and the haters, and that's why the country's divided."  This guy's premise is, "No, it's not.  Sorry. 

"Nice try, but you're not talking about enough people here.  That cannot possibly be the explanation." Of course the truth is, the country has never been unified, folks.  There never has been a time where it's been idyllic and everybody loving everybody else and getting along with a dominant, vastly dominant, great majority point of view held by all the people the country.  That has never been the case since prior to our revolution and after it.  We've always been a roiled culture.  That's part of freedom. 

It's part of a constitutional republic. 

You're always gonna have political arguments, at war, doing battle with each other.  But back in those days, the left didn't have any opposition in the media. Now they do.  So they've gotta explain it away.  How many people know, for example... Let's talk about the Limbaugh Theorem and Obama and how a majority -- issue by issue, a majority -- do not approve of Obama's agenda. But at the same time those same people do not associate Obama's agenda with what's happening in the country. 

It's the most amazing thing. Obama's into his fifth year as president, and not yet do people associate his actions with what's happening in the country.  So by that token, how many people know that Obama's Twitter account is run by his campaign?  Organizing for Action, used to be Organizing for America, runs Obama's Twitter campaign.  I'd venture say that more than half the people on Twitter following it actually think it's Obama.  Well, is probably is, at the end of the day.  

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH:  Now, let it be said here: I don't know yet that I fully subscribe to Mr. Prior's theory of the overall insignificance of cable news.  Maybe he wouldn't describe it as insignificant, but his premise is that the partisan divide in the country cannot be solely because of cable news, because they just don't reach enough people.  Now, there is word-of-mouth. People who watch cable news tell other people what they saw.  But within the universe, he's got a point. 

Within the universe of people that admit to watching it, it's a paltry number compared to everything else out there added up.  There are lots of channels now, the vast majority of them entertainment and certainly not politics. Added together, the audiences for those programs dwarf the cable networks even combined.  But the point of where we are here, folks, is no matter what news source we're talking about -- I don't care if it's ESPN, or if it's some entertainment show or if it's WGN out of Chicago or whatever.

Whatever the outlet, the news source is Obama right now.  The news source is the Democrat Party.  The news source is liberalism.  The problem is that many people consuming it have no idea.  They're not look at it that way.  In fact, they think they're avoiding it by not watching "the news," by not watching cable news.  So if they happen to be reading an ESPN website or watching ESPN and the dominant culture there is what it is, they are gonna be influenced by it.

But they're not gonna think that they're engaging in politics. 

So they are being manipulated, they are being informed, they are being used, however you want to describe it. But in their minds they're not watching politics.  So what they are consuming and absorbing is not, in their own estimation, political. Even though it blatantly is.  It's just being hidden. 

END TRANSCRIPT

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