To Sean Hannity, there is no difference - none - between a Chick-fil-A magnate who devotes serious time and money towards preventing gays from getting married and a Democratic president who for conservative, prudential and - yes - political reasons takes a go-slow approach before coming out earlier this year for equal rights.
To any fair-minded observer, the two positions could not be more different. One was fundamentally reactionary and anti-gay. The other was progressive and pro-gay rights.
Yet, Hannity's false equivalence was critical to the absurd point he hoped to make that "the far left" was both partisan and hypocritical in its attacks against Chick-fil-A because it was employing double standards to make conservatives look like anti-gay bigots when liberals were just as bad. I suppose it's proof of the perversity of our times that so many gullible Fox News watchers believed him.
Though Sean Hannity may be an especially stupid man, I refuse to believe he's so stupid that he cannot see - or more importantly, that his producers cannot see -- the cynical absurdity of conflating President Obama's measured position on gay marriage with the reactionary one of Chick-fil-A's president, Dan Cathy.
And so, the question that for non-Fox News watchers answers itself is: Why? Why did Hannity do it? Why did Hannity's editors allow him to do it? And what, then, does that say about Fox News as a "news" organization that Fox pretended both Cathy and Obama's positions were one and the same?
As we know, the whole justification for the creation of Fox News and the conservative media generally is that the mainstream media was so hopelessly one-sided in its coverage of events that conservatives in self-defense needed a media of their own that was "fair and balanced" toward their peculiar institutions and point of view.
In an interview on Buzzfeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was happy "there isn't media domination like there was in the days of NBC, ABC, CBS the New York Times and the Washington Post -- particularly since most people on my side of the aisle feel they had a pretty obvious bias."
Those days are now done, said McConnell, adding: "I kind of like this new environment. I think it's much more competitive, much more balanced. From a conservative point of view we have a better chance of competing in the marketplace of ideas."
The Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore said he felt "chilled" by what seemed to be McConnell's rather "cheerful approbation" of the opportunities media fragmentation had given to the Republican Party to engage in McConnell's particular brand "of vicious partisanship."
You almost get the feeling, says Kilgore, that if McConnell was a Democrat or if the "old media" was reliably Republican, McConnell would have taken the exact opposite side, unclouded "by any concerns about -- you know -- objective truth, facts, or the public's right to know."
The media is not about communicating better with constituents or better informing the electorate, says Kilgore summarizing McConnell's views. It's "simply a matter of the superior ability (if you've got the money) to get to voters first with the greatest throw-weight of propaganda."
But what exactly does McConnell mean when says that three major networks, along with the Times and the Post, had it "in" for conservatives and refused to cover their worldview fairly, which then compelled conservatives to construct a media apparatus all their own?
Did he mean that the press was especially hostile to the Republican Party? That would seem odd given that so many publishers or network corporate owners lean Republican. Did he mean the press went out of its way to be hostile to capitalism and big business? Again, that would appear unlikely given the media's reliance on business advertising.
No, I think McConnell is getting at something deeper and potentially more unsettling with his charges of media bias against the right wing -- a difference between liberalism and conservatism that is far more fundamental and extreme than just competing ideas about the appropriate bottom line for the federal budget or the optimal tax rate on capital gains.
Real philosophical differences separate the two media, which plays out in the way these media do their job.
The so called "liberal" press sees America as fundamentally diverse, multi-cultured - and democratic. And so, the assumptions it makes on what is news and how that news ought to be covered is colored by the idea that the press exists as a "Fourth Estate" to guard the public from the predations of the other three. In this view, the press is also a "watch dog" that alerts the public whenever other institutions in society threaten to exploit it, whether it's the banks, corporations or established churches.
The function of the free press in the liberal view, in other words, is the same one we J-students learned from reading Joseph Pulitzer (quoting Finley Peter Dunne), who told us it was our job as reporters to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
It's different with conservatives. Conservatives may take advantage of the rights and privileges afforded them by a democratic society. But their worldview is fundamentally elitist, hierarchical - even authoritarian.
And so this very different view of the way societies ought to be organized colors the way a self-consciously "conservative" news organization, like Fox, thinks it ought to cover the news.
The conservative media is there to support the conservative movement and the leaders and institutions that direct it. That means any reporting which compromises the standing of big business, or the established churches or other approved conservative elites, is instantly labeled "biased," however accurate the actual reporting might be.
Further, since sowing discord among the population in order to get the masses fighting among themselves is also a time-honored tactic of reactionary ruling classes trying to maintain their power and position, we should not be surprised when the conservative media turns out to be divisive, perhaps ruthlessly so, as of course it so frequently is.
The nature of "truth" also becomes elastic for media institutions like Fox News, which advocate a conservative worldview in which an educated, well-informed and empowered populace ranks far lower as a priority than securing the upper classes in their station with whatever propaganda is necessary - in exactly the same way that Plato's Guardians told their Noble Lies in order to have the individual citizen accept "the status due to his nature."
As far to the right as America has drifted in recent decades, the country hasn't become so extreme that it is likely to sit by idly to the practical ramifications of the starkly different portraits of liberal and conservative media which I have briefly sketched out here. And so, to blur these distinctions, right wing conservatives go to extraordinary lengths to find similarities between themselves and liberals, however tenuous and absurd those connections might be, which can then be exploited to show that conservatives are not so alien after all -- it's just that liberals are hypocrites who employ double standards to make conservatives seem extreme.
As Kathleen Hall Jamison and Joseph Cappella report in Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, the repeated charge that the mainstream media covers politics in a way that employs double standards which overlook Democratic foibles while magnifying Republican ones, is the "universally applicable rebuttal strategy" among conservatives.
Identifying double standards is a strategy, they say, which the right wing media uses constantly in an effort to discredit the mainstream press and to convince conservative audiences they must always discount anything they see or hear in the regular press as fatally flawed and "biased."
The search for "double standards" that can help deflect criticism of conservatives often goes to absurd lengths, as Jamison and Cappella uncover.
One example was the strategy used by Fox News to extricate Republicans from the politically perilous corner former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had backed the party into when he announced the country would have been far better off had Dixiecrat racist Strom Thurmond been elected president in 1948 instead of Harry Truman.
Lott was praising an individual, we must remember, who ran on a States' Rights Party platform that supported "the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race" while at the same time defending a "constitutional right to choose one's associates and to accept private employment without governmental interference."
And so, defending Lott directly was out of the question. At a time when the Republican Party's opponents were ready to ascribe Southern ascension within the GOP to the rise of old fashioned-white supremacist bigotry, the Lott imbroglio threatened to turn off moderate and independent voters who wanted nothing to do with a party "they deemed intolerant," wrote Jamison and Cappella.
Yet, it was equally perilous to abandon Lott since Southern conservatives might see that as an insult to their region or "political correctness run wild" and might retaliate by rallying to Lott and against anyone who did not.
To help the Republican Party execute this delicate strategic retreat Fox News provided the necessary political covering fire.
In a clever two-part strategy, Fox News first distanced Lott from the GOP by arguing the Senate Leader had broken with conservative orthodoxy when he tacitly supported the segregationist platform. Therefore, he should step down from his leadership post. As Jamison and Cappella note, this served to undercut accusations the Republican Party opposed civil rights or was racist.
At the same time, Fox gave conservatives ammunition they could use to fire back at Democrats -- as they did, charging that if any party had reason for soul-searching it was the Democrats.
Fox dredged up Senator Robert Byrd's past history as a Ku Klux Klansman. The network noted that Al Gore's father had voted against the 1964 civil rights act when he was senator of Tennessee. It also reported the half-truth that Bill Clinton had once praised fellow Arkansan, and "known segregationist," Senator J. William Fulbright, carefully omitting Clinton's criticisms of Fulbright's checkered past.
Fox News (and Sean Hannity in particular) also played up the Solid Democratic South's long history of racism and segregation, never mentioning of course that it was the region's opposition to civil rights which caused this Democratic region to vote solidly Republican in 1964 and to become the target of Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" four years later -- an idea planted in 1968 that progressively bore bitter fruit over the succeeding 20 years as Southern racism eventually found its natural home in what is today the Solid Republican South.
And so, the next time a rabid right wing mob gathers threateningly (metaphorically speaking) outside a meeting hall where a gay wedding is taking place so that it can shout along with Dan Cathy that America is "inviting God's judgment" when it "shakes its fist at Him" and says we know better "what constitutes marriage," watch and learn how Fox insinuates itself into its audience as it moves to win over the mob to the idea that they are the innocent victims of vilification here, martyrs made to suffer at the hands of an "angry left" that wants nothing less than to strip them of their free speech rights, which is the logical consequence of a secular, progressive, and anti-Christian bigotry that would persecute decent, God-fearing believers whose only offense is standing tall for traditional family values.