There is an imperfect symmetry between the Left and the Right in America today. Here's an image I would use to understand it:
Imagine the various political players (mainstream journalists, politicians, cranks, commentators) all lined up by job, half on the Left, half on the Right.
Then imagine running down the middle, between the Left and the Right, is a plate of glass that isn’t uniform and flat, but instead distorts what one sees across the aisle. It doesn’t merely make the other side look scarier, but it also bends the light so that when you look straight across to see your counterpart, you see somebody other than the person directly across from you. You see as your counterpart someone who is further up or down the line, playing a different role than you are.
Two effects of this distortion that I’ve noticed over the past 15 years:
1) The Right’s politicians look at their counterparts, and instead of seeing the Left’s politicians, they see the Left’s media.
2) The crankiest and nastiest and most conspiracy-theory dealing commentators on the Left dwell among their experts, mainstream commentators, and reporters, but their cranky counterparts on the Right are the fringe commentators.
How do these distortions manifest themselves? Former President Donald Trump is the clearest demonstration of Rule 1: He saw himself not primarily as taking on Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, but as taking on CNN and the New York Times. This wasn’t Trump’s little personal obsession; this was why he won.
Millions of people (at first the working-class whites in middle America and later all sorts of conservatives) saw that the major news media hated, mocked, or at best ignored them, and so they hired a guy to punch CNN in the face.
(Also, I think this rule might explain why conservatives feel like we are losing the culture war while we win in court and politics very often. The news media are unanimous that we all have to ‘Bake the Cake,’ and so our politicians try to make the Left ‘Bake the Cake,’ even though Hobby Lobby and the Colorado cakemaker won in court.)
Rule 2 is what I learned in the 2010s, when I noticed how nasty and partisan a New York Times columnist conducted himself. Instead, in his participation in the political scrum, Paul Krugman seemed to see himself as the counterpart of Rush Limbaugh. Name-calling was common, and debating with zero charity whatsoever was his game. He scoffed at the idea of comity or graciousness and imputed bad motives as a habit.
Conservative New York Times columnists Ross Douthat or David Brooks never behaved that way. Conservative or libertarian economists Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, or Tyler Cowen never behaved that way. But when Krugman looked across the aisle, through the fun-house lens, he didn't see other economists or top-tier columnists. He saw Rush Limbaugh, and so he behaved as if that was his counterpart.
Increasingly the liberal media has a similarly distorted idea of their role, and it could be based on this fun-house effect.
Two Washington Post columnists this week published completely ungrounded conspiracy theories on hot-button topics. On Tuesday night, contributing columnist Brian Broome argued that the pro-life movement and the Supreme Court majority were merely pretending to oppose abortion while secretly wanting only to boost white birthrates for the sake of perpetuating total dominance of the white race. That is literally his entire explanation for all opposition to abortion. It makes no sense at all, and it relies on demonizing millions of people and claiming to read their minds.
This sort of racist conspiracy theory appears in the dark corners of the American Right. But conservative columnists in major newspapers don’t write this sort of thing.
Next came Taylor Lorenz. Lorenz was a New York Times “tech reporter,” which is a beat dominated by liberals who hate conservatives and typically want them censored or at least deplatformed. She is now a liberal columnist at the Washington Post where she writes — you guessed it — partisan conspiracy theories aimed at convincing readers that the ordinary parts of the Right are very dangerous.
In her piece about the Biden administration folding its planned disinformation board, Lorenz repeatedly mentions a “coordinated” attack on the woman nominated to run it, Nina Jankowicz. Lorenz’s column offers zero evidence of “coordination,” which makes her claims, literally, a conspiracy theory. In order to leave the impression that it must have been a coordinated disinformation operation to bring down Jankowicz, Lorenz omitted all the relevant reasons that a disinformation board run by Jankowicz was considered a horrible idea. For starters, Jankowicz is a Democrat who regularly fell for Democratic disinformation and false Democratic claims of Republican disinformation.
Do conservatives peddle unfounded conspiracy theories to protect their guys? Yes! Lots of it. Sidney Powell, Alex Jones, and Gateway Pundit make a living off of that. It’s part of the asymmetry of our politics that their counterparts write columns for the Left’s leading opinion page.