I have to run this afternoon and probably won't be around much, but I want you to read two things. First, Rick Perlstein's excellent history of right-wing paranoids, how they've basically been around antagonizing liberals for decades, and how the difference this time is that they are being given a large megaphone in the media:
It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to "debunk" claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president's program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist" -- out of bounds.
The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America's flora. Only now, it's being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills -- the one hysterics turned into the "death panel" canard -- is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of "complaints over the provision."
As a counterpart, Peter Daou writes about the unraveling of the health care debate as a triumph of "old media," which is setting the terms, message and narrative. Fortunately, that's changing, as the town halls have actually been drowned out this week by the fight over the public option. But the traditional media, still wired for conservatives, can still rig the game for the status quo.