New York Times Reviews Will Bunch’s Backlash

NEW YORK TIMES: By far the most compelling, if not terribly original, arguments in “The Backlash” concern the current media environment, which has amplified the loudest and most partisan voices, and helped spread fact-free theories about President Obama’s not being born in the United States or wanting to take away people’s guns. Mr. Bunch invokes Neil Postman — who argued in his seminal 1985 book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” that the entertainment values promoted by television are subverting public discourse — to explore the phenomenon of Mr. Beck and his shameless emotional appeals to his audience’s deepest fears about change and the threat of the Other (be it a black president, Mexican immigrants or East Coast liberals). Mr. Bunch also builds upon the insights of Cass Sunstein (the author of prescient books like “Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide”) to look at how the echo chamber of partisan Web sites can ratify radical, even dangerous, views, and how group polarization, especially at a time of high employment and economic anxiety, fuels anger and irrational rumors about government conspiracies (like FEMA-run concentration camps and black helicopters). Echoing other reporters and commentators before him, Mr. Bunch uses the writings of Richard Hofstadter — most notably “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” and “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” — to try to explicate the roots of populist rage that animate many Tea Party gatherings. MORE

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