With all the delusional conservative hysteria proclaiming that the media is dominated by liberals, that’s certainly not close to reality in Alabama. In fact, conservatives have a stranglehold on talk radio, print, and political television programming. For years, they’ve heavily invested in creating an almost inescapable media echo chamber. That’s how they’ve controlled political narrative in the state and how they feed all that vitriolic and vile red meat to their base. If Alabama Democrats and liberals want to win in Alabama, they must start investing in media to get their message to the people.
It’s not enough to begin messaging a few months prior to an election. Promoting and discussing progressive policies should be a priority year-round. It needs to be engaging and visceral. In past attempts, it’s failed because liberals tend to like wonky, detailed analysis; which is about as exciting as watching paint dry. In the media, Democrats keep trying to play chess while their opposition is engaged in a blood-sport cage match. It’s time for liberals to realize that political wins occur emotionally, not intellectually.
Having said this, it doesn’t mean that liberals need to engage in the same type of fear-mongering or fact-free tactics that are the hallmark of conservative media and its bombastic personalities. Instead, it means to be willing to engage in the fight passionately, but to keep things simple and relevant. Voters want exciting rallying cries, not lengthy lectures or extended explanations.
If Alabama Democrats would invest in creating regular media outlets, it would also give them the ability to be pro-active in defining political conversations. Right now, the party seems to be stuck in a reactive mode. The Republicans continue to frame and advance a regressive, extreme agenda and the Democrats respond with regular disapproval and outrage. The Republicans control the agenda because they control the media narrative. It’s a constant, relentless drumbeat.
In Alabama, conservative political indoctrination occurs every day on the airwaves and it significantly shapes public opinion. Republican talking points are echoed between radio, television, and newspaper opinion pieces. It’s extremely effective and will remain so until AL Democrats give the people a viable alternative.
Sadly, many Democrats think that liberal media projects aren’t commercially viable, especially in a deep red state. That’s simply not true. They can be successful, but only if they’re sincere and energetic. Too often, liberals moderate their positions to try to appeal to imaginary centrists. Or, they find themselves deep in the weeds by over-explaining policy details. Instead, liberals need to be strong, articulate, and intrepid in debate. Republicans understand this and it’s why they dominate media in Alabama. Also, they’ve invested in creating shows and platforms. It’s past time for Democrats to do the same.
It’s not enough to have great ideas, if no one knows anything about them. It’s sophomoric to believe that communicating a political message is somehow a bi-annual endeavor that precedes an election. It’s foolish to believe that issuing responses is more important than choosing the topic. No one is going to hear the message if the microphone isn’t plugged in.
The only way to combat the power of the conservative echo chamber is for liberals to level the playing field. It means taking risks and investing in creative and inspirational media projects. It means getting on the same page with simple messaging that resonates. Republicans are focused because they hear the same message day in and day out.
Don’t believe the myth that the media is controlled by liberals. It’s conservatives who dominate the media, especially in Alabama, and they are the ones that keep echoing and spreading that ridiculous lie. If AL Democrats hope to win again, then they need to invest in media and plug in the mic. They need to do it now.
Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.