I guess the Q for me is: Does major-conservative-media fit into trad. party-influence model, or is it a new element?Good question! (And, seriously, he's a terrific reporter, but don't tell him I said so).
I'd say two things. First, the partisan media that has emerged over the last twenty years is yet another component of the expanded party (see earlier post). Thought of that way, we should expect the partisan media to have its own set of interests and preferences, and to fight for those interests and preferences in the nomination process. Presumably, those interests and preferences overlap with, but are somewhat different from, the interests of the old neutral/objective media (think Walter Cronkite or Peter Jennings).*
At the same time, however, the partisan media (and the old "objective" media) also plays an important role in transmitting information within the party network. In doing so, the partisan media can basically play the role that the old neutral media did; for example, they can take cues from party leaders as to which candidates should be taken seriously or which candidates are true conservatives (or, on the other side, liberals). **
And as with every other party component, they're not necessarily monolithic; just as not all activists agree, and not all consultants agree, it's possible that Rush could disagree with Beck, who could disagree with editorial decisions made by FNC producers.
Let me back up a bit...I think I said this sometime recently, but it bears repeating. There are two things going on in nomination battles, conflict and coordination. Just because "the party" is the thing making decisions doesn't mean that there isn't real, serious, intraparty conflict over real preferences and interests; on the other hand, unresolved nominations may well be that way because of coordination failures, not some sort of deeper conflict.
*As far as I know, we don't have a good exploration of this in the political science (or, for that matter, the communications) literature, but I don't always keep up with that stuff, so I may be wildly out of date.
** Same caveat. We know a fair amount about how this worked with the neutral/objective media, but as far as I know we don't know much about how the partisan media work as information transmitters -- but I may well be missing things I should read. Of course, if you know of something relevant, please drop a comment or an email.