Taco Bell Patron in the year 2032: "What would you say if I called you a brutish fossil, symbolic of a decayed era gratefully forgotten?"
John Spartan: "I don’t know…thanks?"
— Demolition Man
“Right wing builds its own echo chamber,” warns the headline from a short piece in Axios about conservatives creating their own media outlets and other institutions like publishers and cryptocurrencies and social networks. The headline is a play on a trope of the Big Tech age (provided you believe Axios is capable of such self-awareness).

“Build your own BLANK” is a meme that lampoons the argument...

Taco Bell Patron in the year 2032: “What would you say if I called you a brutish fossil, symbolic of a decayed era gratefully forgotten?”

John Spartan: “I don’t know…thanks?”

Demolition Man

Right wing builds its own echo chamber,” warns the headline from a short piece in Axios about conservatives creating their own media outlets and other institutions like publishers and cryptocurrencies and social networks. The headline is a play on a trope of the Big Tech age (provided you believe Axios is capable of such self-awareness).

“Build your own BLANK” is a meme that lampoons the argument from the left (and libertarians who want to preserve maximum latitude for corporations) that conservatives have no real recourse when they are not afforded equal treatment in today’s increasingly tech overlord-driven world. Private corporations, after all, aren’t beholden to your rights.

Unhappy that your views are not welcome on social media? “Build your own Twitter.” You’ve built your own version of Twitter only to find that web hosting services won’t have you? “Build your own servers.” You’re locked out of crowdsourced fundraising for your favorite cause? “Build your own crowdfunding app.” You’ve found a way to raise funds but you’ve been booted by your payment processor? “Build your own financial institutions.”

And on and on, outward through concentric circles of institutions, which, although you could technically survive without them, are realistically necessary to participate in contemporary life. We live under a form of soft techno-despotism in which those to the right of center are just as free as anyone else to engage in society, so long as they either keep their mouths shut or build their own communications apps, internet, banks, and media outlets.

And why shouldn’t people seek to build their own? Our existing institutions may be ubiquitous — try being a writer without promoting your work to the large audiences afforded by social and conventional media — but are they trustworthy?

The Axios piece first caught my eye when it was tweeted out by CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, who informed his followers that “the right’s echo chamber is so much bigger than merely TV and radio.” Stelter’s own network just handed walking papers to anchor Chris Cuomo, brother of disgraced former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, after it became undeniable that his fawning coverage of his brother also came with an unofficial role as crisis media strategist in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. (It has also come to light that Chris Cuomo was the subject of similar accusations of his own!)

Hot on the heels of that firing came court testimony that CNN anchor Don Lemon had warned actor Jussie Smollett that the Chicago Police Department did not buy Smollett’s likely bogus claim of being assaulted by Trump supporters. Lemon evidently used journalistic sources within the CPD to make the tipoff. (If this is not enough to make you question Lemon’s impartiality, he’d once said that he had to “get rid” of friends who supported President Trump, as they were “too far gone.”)

Perhaps most importantly, though, Stelter’s fellow CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy broke the news that the White House has been “quietly” meeting with mainstream media outlets to “reshape” economic coverage centered on President Biden’s economic policy. Who are you going to believe, America? Your own wallet, or our newly “improved” coverage?

All of that happened in just one week at one network! But the stories are endless and they are familiar to anyone who is paying attention. Who in their right mind wasn’t suspicious of the Facebook whistleblower’s claims that the social media giant is too chummy with the right in its content moderation strategy? (Tech media fell in line on that one, of course.) And more amusingly, who could forget Stelter’s attempt to parry with journalist Bari Weiss on his — perhaps optimistically named — program, Reliable Sources? Stelter challenged Weiss’s claims of mainstream media partisanship. Weiss provided example after example, reducing Stelter to an incredulous “hmm.”

Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review wrote a piece focused on the media’s mocking response to conservative efforts to shape their own institutions. “Is it too much to ask,” Cooke wonders, “if and when [conservatives do build their own], they aren’t mocked for it?”:

If conservatives are outnumbered on the existing services, and if they can’t use the government to force those services to be neutral, the only choice remaining is for them to create their own. One gets the impression from the piece that, for some at least, “if you don’t like what’s out there, build a new one” was more of a taunt than an earnest suggestion, and that now that it’s been taken literally, those who promulgated the advice so liberally aren’t quite sure what to do next.

Cooke gives too much credit. It is a given that those who inspired the “build your own” meme intend to taunt conservatives. It’s one thing that smirking figures like Stelter cannot be expected to give a fair shake to conservative points of view. It’s another that they decry conservative efforts to make their own spaces after pushing conservatives out. They warn against conservative echo chambers because they believe that only they should be allowed to construct them. When the other guys do it, it’s polarization, a threat to “our democracy.” The right should just shut their traps and be happy with morsels like the Atlantic’s recent hiring of David French and Tom Nichols — both sharp writers, but neither representative of conservatism these days.

These conservative efforts may well fail given that they are ersatz versions of already existing outlets. Maybe some of them are cynical cash grabs. But for today, it is enough that the gatekeepers feel threatened. Let the smug ones keep laughing through gritted teeth at announcements like the one that Congressman Devin Nunes, a Trump loyalist, is leaving Congress to head the former president’s fledgling media organization.

They built these chains, link by link. It’s all fun and games until someone else builds their own.

Bill Zeiser is editor of RealClearPolicy.