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The problem with conservative echo chambers

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Add the coffee shop to an ever-growing list of places ghettoized by conservatives. Conservatives can attend ideologically friendly colleges like Hillsdale or Bob Jones University to avoid the influence of liberal professors. They can tune into conservative radio stations and marinate in hours of right-wing chatter. They can even consult Conservapedia, the right-wing encyclopedia site embracing "a conservative approach to education." (A taste: the first header under the entry Barack Hussein Obama reads "Obama is likely the first Muslim President.")

The proliferation of conservative-only institutions isn't new. In the 1960s and 1970s, leaders of the newly formed conservative movement perceived a need for alternatives to institutions they believed were riddled with liberal bias. To some extent, they were right. By the 1960s, the majority of Americans were liberal, supporting unions, civil rights, and government programs for the middle-class and poor. Media, universities, and government agencies tended to reflect this.

But conservatives have transformed a solid argument about liberal bias into something else entirely. They argued that institutional liberalism was not a reflection of the zeitgeist but rather a result of a liberal elite forcing everyone in its reach to march in ideological lockstep. Based on this argument, the right built an ever-growing network of conservative media, foundations, universities, and organizations – what liberal commentator Sidney Blumenthal called the counter-establishment.

The counter-establishment's foundation on the idea of an entrenched liberal elite colors the mission of today's conservative enterprises, which tend to assume anything not labeled conservative is liberal by default. Conservapedia, which proclaims itself "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia" warns that the founders "do not allow liberal bias to deceive and distort here," implying all other encyclopedias do.

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