At the Economist blog, Will Wilkinson has a useful amplification — and correction — on my piece about talk radio pay-for-play.
He perceives the construction of a whole new system of reality creation.
What we’re seeing is a set of once disparate pieces coming together into a powerfully unified persuasion machine. Rich and not-so-rich people give to think tanks and advocacy groups because they believe, mostly correctly, that these organisations can do more with their money to promote their political values than they can do on their own. But the influence of these organisations is limited both by their budgets and their ability to get their messages out. Conservative talk radio has proven itself an incredibly popular and powerful persuasive force. They offer Washington politics and policy shops both a huge potential donor base and a megaphone. It helps Heritage immensely to have Mr Limbaugh citing their studies on air. But the persuasive force of their message is even greater when Mr Limbaugh’s listeners choose to literally “buy in” to the Heritage Foundation by becoming donors. Over time, Heritage’s financial support subtly and not-so-subtly shapes Mr Limbaugh’s message. He, and thus his audience, comes to think ever more like Heritage. And his audience, who become ever more personally invested in Heritage, become correspondingly more receptive to his Heritage-influenced messages. The partisan public has its independent general policy instincts, but it tends to adopt its more specific policy opinions from trusted partisan elites. Traditionally, these elite opinion-leaders have been politicians. But I think we’re witnessing a process through which professional “movement” elites in Washington, DC political non-profits are actively shaping public opinion via sympathetic mass-media intermediaries. Conflict between the Republican “establishment” and the tea-party movement may well reflect this shift in the balance of elite persuasive power.
And one might add: unlike the politicians, this new opinion elite is not very concerned for the functioning of the American political system as a system. They are willing to do more radical things, and run bigger risks (e.g. debt default), in pursuit of more aggressive ideological goals.