By Christopher B. Daly
In the wake of last week’s election, many Republicans seems to be facing not only a political problem but also an epistemological one. Epistemology is the term philosophers use for the study of knowledge itself. It is an inquiry that asks: How do we know what we know? (or, How do we know what we think we know?)
Two recent pieces raise the issue.
David Carr,in his column in the New York Times, emphasizes the crisis that overtook Fox News on election night, when some professionals at the conservative news network were forced to choose — live, on television — between Republican orthodoxy and journalistic empiricism. Carr rightly applauds Megyn Kelly for insisting on a fact-based approach while she was on-air with Republican Party strategist, fund-raiser, consultant (have I left any roles out?) Karl Rove, who doubles as a paid news “analyst” for Fox. As the Ohio vote was being counted last Tuesday night, it was becoming clear that Obama would win the state and, thus, the country. Rove insisted that Fox set aside the facts and hold off on placing Ohio in the president’s camp.
Inexplicably, though, Carr did not cite the definitive quote in the exchange. Kelly turned to Rove and asked:
“Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?”
(Jon Stewart rightly pounced on it as a moment of political/journalistic/epistemological crisis, and you can see the video.)
How about math we do as Americans to determine reality?
Many of the same issues are raised in a searching piece in Politico today about the “cocooning” of many Republicans. On election night, some Republicans found it difficult to believe that Obama was actually winning, largely because they only watch Fox News and only hear the views of analysts like Karl Rove. The piece, by Jonathan Martin, points in the direction of the book I am working on about the rise of conservative media after WWII, with the working title: Inside the Meme Factory: The Rise of Conservative Media and Think Tanks. Stay tuned for that. (If you think that an idea/slogan like “the rich are job-creators” arises spontaneously, you got another think coming!)