Conservative media plays by its rules, and bends truth to back whatever argument they’ve decided to make that day
One key factor that has altered campaign coverage comes from the corporate right in the form of “conservative” media. If there has been a vacuum created by the downsizing of newsrooms, conservative media have filled it with an insistent partisanship unseen in commercial news media for nearly a century. The conservative media program has been a cornerstone of the Dollarocracy’s — the big money and corporate media election complex — political program since at least Lewis Powell’s 1971 memo. Initially, the work was largely about criticizing the news media for being unfair to conservative Republicans and having a liberal Democratic bias. Although the actual research to support these claims was, to be generous, thin—one major book edited by Brent Bozell actually claimed corporations such as General Electric were “liberal” companies with an interest in anti-business journalism because they had made small donations to groups like the NAACP and the Audubon Society—the point was not to win academic arguments. The point of bashing the “liberal media,” as Republican National Committee chairman Rich Bond conceded in 1992, was to “work the refs” like a basketball coach does so that “maybe the ref will cut you a little slack” on the next play.
The ultimate aim of Dollarocracy was, as James Brian McPherson put it, “to destroy the professionalism that has defined journalism since the mid-twentieth century.” The core problem was that professional journalism, to the extent it allowed editors and reporters some autonomy from the political and commercial values of owners, opened space for the legitimate presentation of news and perspectives beyond the range preferred by conservatives. That professional journalism basically conveyed the debates and consensus of official sources and remained steadfastly within the ideological range of the leadership of the two main political parties—it never was sympathetic to the political left—was of no concern. It still gave coverage to policy positions on issues such as unions, public education, civil rights, progressive taxation, social security, and the environment that were thoroughly mainstream but anathema to the right. Key to moving the political center of gravity to the right was getting the news media on the train, and that meant getting them to have a worldview more decidedly sympathetic to the needs of society’s owners. Newt Gingrich was blunt when he told media owners in 1995 that they needed to crack the whip on their newsrooms and have the news support the corporation’s politics. “Get your children to behave,” he demanded in a private meeting with media CEOs.
In the late 1980s, conservatives moved from criticism to participation with the aggressive creation of right-wing partisan media. The first decisive move came with AM talk radio. The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine (which required that a broadcaster provide two sides to controversial political issues) and the relaxation of ownership rules such that a handful of companies established vast empires opened the door to a tidal wave of hard-core right-wing talk-show hosts. By the first decade of the century, the 257 talk stations owned by the five largest companies were airing over 2,500 hours of political talk weekly and well over 90 percent was decidedly right wing.
The undisputed heavyweight champion was and is Rush Limbaugh, who emerged as a national radio force by 1990 and who by 1993 was already recognized by the bible of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review magazine, as an unmatched political power in Republican circles; the Review dubbed him the “Leader of the Opposition.” Limbaugh and his cohorts have the power to make or break Republican politicians, and all who wish successful national careers have to pray at his far-right altar or suffer the consequences. As Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph Cappella put it, in many respects Limbaugh came to play the role party leaders had played in earlier times.
- More evidence #StopRush has failed (legalinsurrection.com)
- So Conservatives Love the Media Now? (drudge.com)
- Mediaite: Vast Majority of National Advertisers Won’t Advertise on Rush Limbaugh’s Show (themoderatevoice.com)
- Limbaugh: Scarborough’s Claim That Right-Wing Media Overplayed Benghazi ‘Literally Nuts’ (mediaite.com)