But by the next day it was clear this evasion wouldn’t fly. At a rally in Virginia, Romney abjectly apologized for straying from his partisan marching orders. “I’m sorry if I created any confusion in that regard,” he said. “I fully support Gov. Kasich, I think it’s called Question 2, in Ohio. Fully support that.” Limbaugh boasted, with reason, that he and his friends were responsible for this turn of events. “Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece about Romney and said the jury’s still out,” said Limbaugh. “He said Romney is going to have to be pushed via competition, outside pressure, what have you, is going to have to be pushed to the right, and this I think is an example of what Henninger meant. Romney being pushed to the right. We’re always happy here at the EIB Network to help clear up any confusion in political candidates’ minds.”

The conservative media message discipline raises two questions: Is it good for conservatives, and is it good for journalism? The first point is debatable; liberals often wish they had a mechanism for whipping dissident Democrats into line akin to the Fox effect. But it is undoubtedly bad for journalism, even opinion journalism. There’s nothing wrong with journalism conducted through an ideological prism, but at its best such reporting and commentary upholds the same values of mainstream journalism. It pursues truth, offers both sides of an argument (albeit before reaching a conclusion), and expands the realm of discourse. Rigid partisanship, by contrast, places truth below political ends, ignores inconvenient facts or analysis, and constricts the parameters of debate. To the extent that conservatives want to keep Republicans in line, the conservative media serves them well. But insofar as conservatives want an ideological media that informs and expands their understanding of the world, it does not.

Ben Adler covers climate-change policy for Grist and is a contributing editor for CJR