The Maine Heritage Policy Center makes “news”

A conservative advocacy group active in Maine politics starts a “news service”

In a November 2011 piece on the Republican party’s condition today, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum writes:

Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. 

Frum explains how this version of reality is so different from, well, reality — and how much it has moved from conservative policy positions.

But this shift is even broader, as it marks a new understanding of knowledge itself. (Philosophers call this epistemology.) Says Frum:

We used to say “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.

Indeed, one recent study found that some news sources, particularly Fox News, leaves people knowing less.

But what does this have to do with Maine politics? 

The influential Maine Heritage Policy Center has announced that it will start a news service. This blog has chronicled just a bit of the problematic “research” from this conservative advocacy group.

With its firm stance of not revealing who funds them, the group’s director says that this is not problematic because everyone knows they operate from a particular ideological perspective.

“We wear our beliefs on our sleeve,” he says. “And so when people go to they’ll understand the ideology that’s behind it and that’s what people care about.”

My, how conservatism has changed. Instead of arguing against deconstructionism and other theories that cast doubt on the ability of reasoning people to discover facts, the MHPC appears to be endorsing the idea that they should deliver news from a particular ideological point of view.  

Beyond this stance on knowledge, this epistemological position, one wonders about this development’s civic and political effects.

One reason why Maine has operated so well as a political community is that, while people argue about issues and even about what figures show, we have not divided ourselves within the state as many citizens have when it comes to national politics and political information. 

If this “news service,” slated to include three full-time reporters, does wear its beliefs on its sleeves, it will be much more possible for Maine people to sort themselves out so that they encounter only the “facts” they desire. 

Scholars have shown that selective exposure to media, which involves people making the choice to pick media that share their already existing points of view, can have powerful effects on the individuals who use ideology to restrict their media options.

But while closed knowledge systems can build a tight-knit community and reinforce the views of those who are loyal to these points of view, they do little to attract others, something necessary to build lasting movements and coalitions. 

By the way: Does anyone happen to know of any other project like this — a statewide, secretly-financed “news” service, run by a political advocacy group? It’s possible that Maine is the test case for a larger national effort which would feature similar state operations elsewhere.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.