In this 2014 book from Oxford University Press, academics Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj note:
* Outrage discourse involves efforts to provoke emotional responses (e.g., anger, fear, moral indignation) from the audience through the use of overgeneralizations, sensationalism, misleading or patently inaccurate information, ad hominem attacks, and belittling ridicule of opponents. Outrage sidesteps the messy nuances of complex political issues in favor of melodrama, misrepresentative exaggeration, mockery, and hyperbolic forecasts of impending doom…
[The outrage genre] it is generally personality centered, with a given program, column, or blog defined by a dominant charismatic voice. We can think of liberal columnist Maureen Dowd, conservative television host Bill O’Reilly, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, or liberal radio and television host Ed Schultz as examples of these distinctive personalities. While many of these programs and blogs include other voices such as those of guests, callers, and commenters, these voices take a backseat to the host,
whose charm, emotional sensibilities, and worldview define the content. Unlike a conventional news program, in which the news itself is central and anchors are often replaced, there would be no Rachel Maddow Show without Rachel Maddow.
The genre is also recognizably reactive. Its point of entry into the political world is through response. The episodes, blog posts, and columns rarely introduce breaking news or political information. Instead they reinterpret, reframe, and unpack news from the headlines, political speeches, or claims made by other outrage hosts. Th is reactivity is closely linked to another attribute, ideological selectivity. Like news programs, producers in the realm of opinion are not expected to address all major political developments but can instead choose to explore what they see as most compelling. However, while conventional commentary might focus on what issues of the day seem most pressing, of particular interest to their audience, or in greatest need of in-depth examination, outrage commentary filters content selections through the lens of ideological coherence and superiority. The preferred focus is stories in which hosts can position themselves or their political compatriots in the role of the hero or can taint enemies, opponents, or policies they dislike as dangerous, inept, or immoral. This often means the emerging content provides additional space for the discussion of issues that concern their audiences. However, because of the approach used in outrage venues, the ensuing attention offers something more akin to the captivating distortions of a funhouse mirror than to the discriminating insights of a microscope. In this arena, issues of import to fans are used for maximum emotional impact, such that tiny niche issues are reshaped into scandals and significant developments that are less ideologically resonant are dismissed as trivial or ignored.
Outrage is also engaging. It is easy see why audiences might find their favorite columnists, bloggers, or hosts more entertaining than a conventional commentator. In outrage there is performance. There are jokes. There is drama. There is conflict. There is fervor. There is even comfort, as audiences find their worldviews honored. Adding to this level of engagement is the sense of inclusion offered to those in the viewing, listening, and reading… [O]utrage venues serve as political churches. The faithful attend, hear their values rearticulated in compelling ways, and leave feeling validated and virtuous for having participated. For those seeking to understand the genre, recognizing the various writers and speakers as part of a densely connected web is vital, as outrage is marked by internal intertextuality, with personalities from outrage venues
constantly referring to one another…
* Conservative voices in the Outrage Industry are even more apt to condemn conventional news media… all outrage hosts—left or right—need their audience to accept their view of current affairs as valuable. Discrediting other accounts helps privilege their own. Thus, hosts’ genuine frustration with conventional reporting merges with a need for loyal fans to make critique of mainstream news a mainstay of the genre.
* Another highly valued attribute of the talk radio audience is that regular listeners have great trust in the personality hosting the program. Seventy two percent of listeners talk to their friends about their favorite radio personality and 70 percent follow the hosts they like via social media.
* “Be self-deprecating, be polarizing.”
* Being analytical, being thorough, being thoughtful all play poorly on these cable and radio shows. Shows rarely mix in anything more than superficial analysis, leaning heavily
instead on venting, caustic criticism, and laying into the other side. A few hosts, like liberal Th om Hartmann and conservative Hugh Hewitt make a conspicuous effort to demonstrate more intellect than the competition, but their failure to crack the top echelon of radio may be interpreted as a warning rather than a strategy to emulate. Despite all the compliments that Hewitt, a law professor, gets for being a thinking-man’s conservative, he’s heard on only 120 stations. By comparison, Sean Hannity is heard on
500. The highest ranked hosts are harsh in their rhetoric and uncompromising in their contempt for those who don’t agree with them.
Hosts and bloggers try to gain a competitive advantage through the volume and unique expression of outrage. It is the way that principals try to stand out. As Holland Cooke puts it, cable and talk radio is all about “Notice me! Notice me!” Cooke adds, “Th ere is an outsized, deliberate overstating to rise above the competitive cacophony.”
* “As with real-life friends, one feels bound to the [media friend] not simply because of what they can do, but based on a more personal set of feelings about who they are—and how their “presence” makes one feel.”
* In addition to offering social connections through pseudo-friendships with charismatic hosts, outrage-based programs also dissolve the fear of social isolation by connecting fans to like-minded others in an imagined community. In this social space, fans fit in, are valued, and understood… Some hosts build a sense of community more concretely through the construction of special events, online spaces, and meet-up groups. Virtual connections play a particularly big role… The [Sean Hannity] concert… is not about the performances but about sharing a group experience undergirded by common conservative values.
* So, while political conversations with neighbors, friends, and colleagues are fraught with the risk of social rejection, the comfort zones provided by the shows we studied present no such risk, and in fact, off er imagined and in some cases tangible social connections. Communities build around many “media friends,” but being part of the group in the outrage context is unique. Participants have not only shared affinities but also shared aversions, and unlike video gaming communities, Justin Bieber’s “beliebers,” or
sports fans, these loyalties are actively constructed as a reflection of personal attributes such as morality, intelligence, and character rather than more idiosyncratic tastes and preferences.
* In the world of the show, fans are more intelligent than the idiotic others who don’t “get it.” Those whose views differ from the norms of the group are routinely vilified (e.g., political opponents, journalists, people at the other end of the ideological spectrum), elevating insiders in contrast. Fans want to become informed, prepared in the event they fi nd themselves in political conversations, and hosts position their programs as trustworthy sources of information—the place to get the real story—casting doubt on the reliability of the “mainstream” media, which is described as awash in liberal (or corporate) bias, depending on their political view. In an impressive sleight of hand, the hosts regularly present opinion media as the place to come for news and dismiss the news media as manipulative opinion-mongers with hidden agendas. Only in the outrage cocoon can respondents be safe from bias.
* Outrage-based programs reassure and embolden the audience members rather than leaving them fearful. They do this in a variety of ways, but most notably by valorizing their audience, celebrating their strong character, and allowing the audience to position themselves in the role of the victor—capable of handily dominating naysayers in imaginary political jousts.
The hosts function as supportive cheerleaders for and defenders of the values that fans hold dear. Our respondents sound almost elated as they describe how it feels to hear their favorite host talk about the issues they care about in ways that are consistent with their own perspectives and beliefs.
* Hosts not only affirm the political views held by members of the audience but they also tell them in many subtle and not so subtle ways that they themselves are valued.
* Fans tune in to hear the charismatic hosts articulate the very things they feel most strongly about in ways they find persuasive. Some respondents seem to live vicariously through the host—imagining that they are as witty, clever, and confident as their favorite personality.
* By identifying with the host, fans imagine themselves deploying the same skills, defending their views against critics with a magical combination of intellectual acumen, fervor, humor, and dismissiveness.
* Taken as a whole, we find that outrage programs create a comfortable space that offers the fans something more akin to collusion than conflict. They are empowerment zones that bolster viewers’ and listeners’ selfassuredness rather than challenging their beliefs. Fans can tune in without fear of being uncomfortable. They need not fear confrontation, nor do the guests on the shows. Although these programs have a reputation for hostility, conflict on set is quite low… The tough questions, insults, and accusations are generally made at a safe distance from their targets.
* Recognizing these shows as safe havens leads us to wonder if this comfort is part of the reason that conservative outrage programming is so much more prevalent and successful than liberal outrage. While it certainly is not the only reason, differential levels of cultural anxiety around political discussion may be an important part of this story. We suspect this is relevant because our research suggests that conservatives take a greater social risk (or perceive that they do) when engaging in public political discussion than moderates or progressives.
* The experience of being perceived as racist loomed large in the minds of conservative fans… What makes accusations of racism so upsetting for respondents is that
racism is socially stigmatized, but also that they feel powerless to defend themselves once the specter is raised.
* We have shown that outrage-based opinion is abundant because it has proven to lucrative in a cluttered, competitive, and largely unregulated media space. Virulent, distorted, and demeaning political analysis appears with remarkable regularity… The genre is successful not only because its dramatic content and charismatic hosts draw us in but also because the dominant format resonates with our contemporary popular and political culture by capitalizing on our interest in celebrities, cynicism, familiarity with reality television, and fear of discussing political issues openly in our communities… On the demand side, we find conservative audiences hungrier for such programming as they are more distrustful of the news media and perceive the world as hostile to their political views, increasing the value of these like-minded spaces.
* [O]utrage is a genre with recognizable attributes. It is formulaic from the opening monologue and the segment structure to the forms of critique and limited presence of guests on TV and callers on radio. They are nothing if not predictable… The playfulness, sense of intimacy between viewer and host, colorful antics, snark, and intensity are engaging in unprecedented ways.
* The outrage personalities take themselves very seriously. This isn’t to say there isn’t laughter—most hosts and bloggers love a good laugh at the expense of their nemeses—but at the end of the day these personalities present themselves as valiant patriots for “truth,” easily disgusted by those who might trample on the Constitution, civil rights, or the people who are the heart of this great nation…