Words are the first battleground in what used to be called the “culture war” between groups and individuals on opposite sides of the ideological aisle. Those who oppose abortion want to be called “pro-life”; those who wish it to remain legal want to be called “pro-choice.” But each other, wisely so in the battle for hearts and minds in their public-policy face-offs, instead label each other “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion.”
In most cases, conservatives and liberals alike do a good job of not acquiescing to the branding preferences of the other guy. Except, and it’s a big “except,” when it comes to the way those on the right refer to the media they believe lean too far to the left.
They call them the “mainstream media.”
You would be hard-pressed to find a more neon-lit example of war-of-words failure in contemporary political discourse. By calling the media they criticize “mainstream,” conservatives are voluntarily conveying that they, in fact, are outside of that mainstream. They are branding themselves as fringe — all the more unpardonable because they came up with the word themselves. The media never calls itself “mainstream.”
Some Christian conservatives, whether it’s because they realize the above or not, prefer instead to refer to the “secular media” — but that’s only marginally better. Most people have no idea what “secular” means. Don’t believe me? Go out in the street and ask the first 10 people you see to define it for you. And even those who do get it may not think it’s a bad thing that the media is not “religious.”
So, what — to borrow a phrase from Frank Luntz — are words that work in this case? Both “elite media” and “big media” are winners. The first suggests smug prigs like Frasier Crane looking down their noses at the little people, and the latter … well, nobody likes anything “big” — from Big Brother to big oil to big government — because it carries a whiff of insidiousness.
Those are the terms conservatives ought to be making mainstream.