When we were chil­dren and encoun­tered oth­ers in the rough-​​and-​​tumble of the play­ground who con­stantly whined about how mean and unfair every­body was,  we had a sen­si­ble way of deal­ing with them. We taunted them by singing, “Nobody likes me, every­body hates me, I’m going to eat some worms…” These days it seems to me that our con­ser­v­a­tive friends could ben­e­fit from a bit of that same brac­ing grade-​​school rem­edy. Too many con­ser­v­a­tives have become polit­i­cal para­noids who search out, col­lect and brood over any kind of neg­a­tive press, how­ever triv­ial, and cat­a­log it in their minds as incon­tro­vert­ible proof that the whole mas­sive media indus­try is a bunch of big mean poopy­heads who are all totally biased against them.

In the recent Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion their whin­ing, griev­ance and delu­sions of per­se­cu­tion reached such a level that Repub­li­cans actu­ally did start to eat worms. They were so upset by masses of polls show­ing the national unpop­u­lar­ity of their cho­sen can­di­date, they went out into their own back gar­den and dug up a mess of fat, slimy “unskewed” polls, which they all pro­ceeded to chew and swal­low with gusto. Sad and painful belly­aches inevitably fol­lowed… because para­noia makes peo­ple do really irra­tional and dan­ger­ous things.

The meme of “anti-​​conservative media bias” started decades ago with Richard Nixon, the ulti­mate polit­i­cal para­noid. By now it is vir­tu­ally impos­si­ble to con­vince any con­ser­v­a­tive that lib­er­als do not have a death-​​grip on all kinds of media, which they have spent years infest­ing with inerad­i­ca­ble left-​​wing bias. They believe this in spite of much evi­dence to the con­trary includ­ing arti­cles like this one point­ing out var­i­ous con­ser­v­a­tive advan­tages in the media, includ­ing the fact that that the highest-​​circulating news­pa­per in the nation is the staunchly con­ser­v­a­tive Wall Street Jour­nal, the dom­i­nant cable net­work in the land is FOX News, and the top polit­i­cal talk radio pro­grams, Lim­baugh and Han­nity, out­draw the oppo­si­tion by prac­ti­cally an order of mag­ni­tude. But none of this is per­sua­sive to con­ser­v­a­tives, who per­ceive any neg­a­tive report about a Repub­li­can politi­cian (or any praise of a Demo­c­rat) as fur­ther evi­dence of ram­pant bias.

The Neiman Jour­nal­ism Lab has done some fas­ci­nat­ing work on the per­cep­tion of bias. They think much of it comes from our reac­tion to brand­ing, and they pro­vide an illus­tra­tion of how read­ers per­ceive bias dif­fer­ently when the same story is reported under a New York Times head­line and then a FOX News one. The final deter­mi­na­tion of the researchers, unsur­pris­ingly, is that the more strongly we iden­tify with a par­tic­u­lar group, the more likely we are to per­ceive a bias against that group. And since con­ser­v­a­tives not only bond together more strongly than Democ­rats, but also are more likely to share a para­noid view of a world that is always chang­ing too fast for their com­fort, it is unsur­pris­ing that they would per­ceive mas­sive sys­temic bias where it does not exist.

In fact, there are many media ana­lysts and crit­ics who feel that media in gen­eral, pum­meled by these con­stant attacks from the right, is being too zeal­ous with their efforts at “bal­anced jour­nal­ism,” wherein they not only try to por­tray the view from both sides, but to bal­ance a report of neg­a­tive behav­ior from one party by search­ing out some­thing equally damn­ing from the other side. This was evi­dent in the recent elec­tion when Repub­li­can Sen­ate can­di­dates Todd Aiken and Richard Mour­dock made extremely dam­ag­ing com­ments about rape. Con­ser­v­a­tives com­plained that sim­i­lar gaffes on the left were unfairly being ignored. In fact, there were no “sim­i­lar com­ments” from the left to report. What was the media expected to do…dig up and pub­lish unflat­ter­ing high school year­book pho­tos of Demo­c­ra­tic Sen­ate can­di­dates to pro­vide “balance?”

At last it appears a few sen­si­ble Repub­li­cans, stung by elec­tion losses and wor­ried about the image of their party, are finally show­ing signs of being ready to give up their fix­a­tion on “media bias” as the cause of all their trou­bles. Michael Potemra, right-​​wing com­men­ta­tor at the National Review, expresses the view that even some on the right are grow­ing tired of the “media bias” excuse so often trot­ted out by dis­grun­tled Repub­li­cans. Potemra ends his com­ments with this:

I once heard the con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal philoso­pher Hadley Arkes, in a speech, refer to media bias as akin to the “law of grav­ity.” There was much wis­dom in that com­par­i­son: To say that the law of grav­ity is the cause of plane crashes is not espe­cially help­ful, and if air­lines got in the habit of rely­ing on that expla­na­tion, we would have cause for worry.

The Repub­li­can air­craft may not yet be plum­met­ing to earth, but it is cer­tainly expe­ri­enc­ing some scary tur­bu­lence. If their once-​​mighty plane does even­tu­ally crash, grav­ity will be a fac­tor but it will not be the under­ly­ing cause. For that, Repub­li­cans will need to look else­where… not at “media bias” but at the ide­o­log­i­cal stances within their polit­i­cal move­ment that are cur­rently mak­ing it so unpalat­able to a major­ity of Amer­i­cans. And if they want to avoid becom­ing sub­ject to the down­ward pull of grav­ity and its inevitable result, they’ll need to work fast to fig­ure out what those fac­tors are.

And they really need to stop eat­ing worms. That’s just nasty.