Good Matt Yglesias post yesterday about Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the GOP presidential nomination process.
However: if there's one thing that I would say is really important to American politics and that we absolutely don't have a handle on, it would be the extent to which Rush, Beck, Hannity, and the rest of them are really independent operators, and to what extent they are not.
That is, to what extent is the partisan Republican press free to take whatever opinions they want, and to what extent are they constrained to follow, not lead?
Now, I don't mean this in a conspiratorial way. Of course, no one is ordering Rush Limbaugh what to say every day. On the other hand, it's certainly true that both parties publish talking points, and both parties have communications shops (the RNC/DNC, at the White House, in the Congressional leadership offices, and, when we near elections, in the campaigns of party nominees) dedicated to pushing those talking points -- especially to sympathetic voices. And one could track how quickly and how completely, say, Sean Hannity picks up on those talking points.
That's only the start of it, though. We also know that it works in the other direction, too: if I recall correctly, the 10/6 myth started out on a talk show or a conservative blog, and wound up being adopted by Republican pols.
The truth is that we really don't know what kinds of constraints apply to the things that talk radio hosts and Fox News say. Of course, they are free to say whatever they want in a narrow sense. But to what extent can they lose their status within the GOP -- to what extent do they risk losing their status as "conservatives" -- if they go off the reservation? Do they care? To what extent can they, themselves, define what counts as conservative? As Yglesias's post suggests, this we would want to know this at the level of the individual host, and also at the corporate level (if Rupert Murdoch decided to be pro-immigration tomorrow, could he in fact order everyone at Fox News to go along, or would he risk losing either his hosts or his audience?).