Eric Cantor's political obituary was read by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and by Sean Hannity on FOX. A precise autopsy will take some time, although that didn't prevent commentators from immediately speculating about the cause of death. This is America. We don't have time to wait for actual data or thoughtful consideration.
While pundits may argue about why Cantor lost, they are in agreement that no one could have seen this coming. Democrats weren't paying attention to a Republican primary in a Republican safe district. Establishment Republicans, notoriously bad at collecting and interpreting data, just knew that Cantor would win. They also just knew Mitt Romney would win and were shocked when that didn't happen.
Those of us who reject funneled media and read a variety of websites were not surprised by this shift, although we may not have predicted the results of this specific primary vote. As editor of NewsPrism.com, part of my job is to evaluate websites and place them on a continuum from left to right, progressive to conservative. This is an ongoing process. The most popular websites are arranged in a "V"-shaped configuration at the top of the page. Extreme websites that should appeal only to the most extreme groups have always been at the top of the V. More moderate sites are towards the center. This hierarchy is helpful to readers who want to know the perspective or bias of different news sources.
The V is in trouble these days, at least on one side. On the left, there is a relatively gradual progression from middle to more extreme. That is not true of websites on the right. The line ascends fairly smoothly from Real Clear Politics -- which used to be more moderate but has drifted to the right in recent years -- to Fox News. That straight line breaks down and shifts dramatically to the right after Fox News. The sites on the top right side of the V are more to the right than the sites on the corresponding left side are to the left.
That's right: We now live in a world in which Fox News is considered "moderate."
The break has become so severe that I have considered replacing the "V" design with something that might more clearly represent the state of today's media, something like a square root sign:
But I'm afraid the square root might be too radical.
People have asked why I include sites like AlterNet and WND (formerly World Net Daily) on NewsPrism. Why promote extreme sites with questionable credibility? Credible or not, the case of Eric Cantor is an example of why these sites are important. Fox News commentators may not have loved Eric Cantor, but they apparently did not realize the extent of his vulnerability. WND readers, on the other hand, knew Cantor was in trouble. In fact, WND ran an editorial on May 29 with the headline "Don't Toss Out Eric Cantor."
Stop. Think: We now live in a world in which WND, home of conspiracy theories and virulent rage, is a voice of reason. Consider the implications of that for several moments.
News websites simultaneously shape and reflect the culture in which they are produced. The reshaping of right wing media has forced a similar reconfiguration of Republican politics. At the same time, Republican Tea Party politics keep pushing media to the right in a seemingly perpetual game of leapfrog. What was at one time right wing extremism has become the Republican middle. At the same time, the extremes continue to become more extreme. Sociologists and political scientists have noted that Republicans place a great deal of emphasis on "sanctity" and "purity." Republican voters expect ideological purity, unstained by even the hint of compromise or cooperation. Punishment for the impure is swift and severe.
Just ask Eric Cantor.