Dear Media, Part II: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

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conservatism, News Media

Several commenters to Dear Media, Part I pointed to corporate ownership of media as the cause of media corruption. Corporate ownership certainly is an important factor, but the situation is more complex than that. And worse.

Don Hazen provides a glimpse of the bigger problem we’re up against:

Consider that the conservative political movement, which now has a hammerlock on every aspect of federal government, has a media message machine fed by more than 80 large non-profit organizations – let’s call them the Big 80 – funded by a gaggle of right-wing family foundations and wealthy individuals to the tune of $400 million a year.

And the Big 80 groups are just the “non-partisan” 501(c)(3) groups. These do not include groups like the NRA, the anti-gay and anti-abortion groups, nor do they include the political action committees (PACs) or the “527” groups (so named for the section of the tax code they fall under), like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which so effectively slammed John Kerry’s campaign in 2004.

To get their message out, the conservatives have a powerful media empire, which churns out and amplifies the message of the day – or the week – through a wide network of outlets and individuals, including Fox News, talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, Ann Coulter, as well as religious broadcasters like Pat Robertson and his 700 Club. On the web, it starts with TownHall.com

Fueling the conservative message machine with a steady flow of cash is a large group of wealthy individuals, including many who serve on the boards of the Big 80.

Needless to say, there’s not exactly a wall of separation between the right-wing media machine and corporate media managers, although it’s hard to say if media-VRWC relationships are primarily ideological or financial. In the case of the big publicly owned companies, sooner or later profits will trump all, I suspect. According to OpenSecrets.org reveals that many of the parent corporations, such as Time Warner (CNN, Time), General Electric (NBC, Newsweek), Disney (ABC), and CBS, donate more money overall to Democrats than to Republicans. On the other hand, and not surprisingly, News Corporation (Fox), the National Association of Broadcasters (an industry group representing commercial radio and television stations), and Clear Channel donate more to Republicans than to Democrats.

But if ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN, and their various print affiliates aren’t altogether in bed with the Right, why does right-wing ideology permeate so much of the news they produce? As explained here,

There is an important dynamic relationship between right-wing alternative media and the corporate media. Many of the conceptual frameworks and arguments used to marginalize left and liberal ideas in the media are first developed at think tanks funded by right-wing foundations and corporations. After these ideas are sharpened through feedback at conferences and other meetings, they are cooperatively field-tested within right-wing alternative media such as small-circulation newsletters and journals, and also by tracking responses to rhetoric in direct mail appeals. As popular themes that resonate with conservative audiences emerge, they are moved into more mainstream corporate media through columns by conservative luminaries, press releases picked up as articles in the print media, conversations on radio talk shows, and discussions on TV news roundtables.

Once the talking points are developed, right-wing operatives make sure the talking points permeate mass media. This Media Matters report shows how right-wing spin dominates Iraq War news and debate throughout mass media, for example.

And who are the operatives? A lot of them are grown in VRWC laboratories. In his book Lapdogs, Eric Boehlert describes the petrie dish Ann Coulter crawled out of:

Coulter wasn’t merely a controversial pundit; she was a pure product of the Beltway’s right-wing culture and career track. Coulter put in time clerking for Pasco Bowman II of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, litigated for the Center For Individual Rights, a right-wing advocacy group, and worked as a flak for Michigan Republican Senator Spencer Abraham. She then went on to write High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton; Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right; and Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. [p. 113]

Several of Coulter’s books were published by Regnery, which has been accused of “promoting” books by arranging bulk purchases to push up sales figures and place books on best-seller charts. The authors then make the rounds of talk shows, repeating the books’ propaganda points as they go. Whether anyone actually reads the books is not really the point. Recently, other major book publishers have begun to publish for the right-wing market. Coulter’s most recent book, which has come under accusations of plagiarism, was published by Random House.

Thus Coulter, who had never exhibited so much as a spark of insight, wit, originality, or intelligence, is promoted to mass media prominence by the VRWC.

And this is something the Right does very well. It finds “talent,” or whatever it is about Coulter they find valuable, and mentors, grooms, and promotes that talent and gets it in front of the public. The Left? Fuhgeddaboudit.

The Right began to build its think tank-media infrastructure in the 1970s, This was, as I explained in the previous post, the same time that the Left was coming apart.

The story of the conservative rise that Stein portrays begins back in the early 1970s, when there was panic among conservatives, especially in corporate boardrooms, that capitalism was under serious attack, and something drastic had to be done about it. …

… The conservative right, starting with seed money from the Coors Brewing family and Richard Mellon Scaife’s publishing enterprise, moved forward … conservatives – in spite of political differences, ego, and competing priorities – were able to cooperate and develop a methodology that drives their issues and values relentlessly.

Starting with just a handful or groups, including the Heritage Foundation, in the early ’70s, the conservatives built a new generation of organizations – think tanks, media monitors, legal groups, networking organizations, all driven by the same over-arching values of free enterprise, individual freedoms and limited government.

Hazen goes on to explain that various right-wing organizations work together to provide each other with speakers, guest “pundits,” and other resources. They also, apparently, work closely with producers of mainstream mass media talk shows on radio and television to provide bodies to staff the “roundtables” and other guest spots the programs need to fill.

And what are liberals and progressives doing to compete? As I explained here, not nearly enough.

Rightie media infrastructure isn’t the only reason why media is screwed up, however. More will be discussed in Part III.

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4 Comments

  1. Donna  •  Jul 4, 2006 @7:33 am

    Follow the trajectory of VRWC/media industry and you’ll see something similar to the trajectory of the fast food industry. There’s not much nutrition in today’s mass-produced junk food and there’s not much brain food in today’s Repug-dominated mass-produced ‘talking points’.

    In fact, too much of the first will rot your body and too much of the second will rot your brain. No wonder that we’re seeing in our country an alarming increase in unhealthy obesity and unhealthy mentality.

    I can’t wrap my will around ‘competing’ as much as modeling a difference, much the way a real restaurant can offer what a fast food outlet cannot begin to offer. To me, sites like the Mahablog are exactly like a good brain-food restaurant in this media age of junk sound-bites. [I am not sure that the corporate structure of the media giants would ever allow a ‘change of menu’ in the MSM.]

    One of the responses I do have when I see a blitz of VRWC ‘talking points’ or a blitz of shrillness [like the attack on the NYT] is to ask, “Ahem, what else is going on right now that the coordinating shrillers want to cover up with fake noise?”
    So, I hear the ‘noise’ and it prompts me to look behind the ‘created’ headlines…..uh huh, five more American soldiers dead in one day in Iraq; uh huh, Supreme Court pulls the rug out from under the would-be-king-George; uh huh, some American soldiers plan and carry out rape and then murder of Iraqi family [My God!].

    Maybe we need a bumper sticker: A healthy brain needs more than sound bites.

  2. emel  •  Jul 4, 2006 @12:31 pm

    Yes the billionaires club are the root of this because as we know we don’t get paid for promoting ideas but they always do and well paid at that.

    Speaking of billionaires do you guess that Buffet looked at George and decided he had better not leave his grandchildren too well off, since the evidence of rot was right in his face. Better to give the money away than let your progeny rot the country with their unaccountability. That is the real damage these billionaires do- they and theirs are never held accountable for what they do to society.

  3. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Jul 4, 2006 @2:30 pm

    Another important factor in the media’s right wing bias is that virtually every media outlet in the country is part of a corporate conglomerate which is an integral part of the military industrial complex. For example, NBC is owed by General Electric and CBS was until recently owned by Westinghouse – both huge military contractors that have made billions out of the war agaisnt Iraq. The warmongers are making out like bandits under the bloodthirsty reign of King George the Turd, and they are happy to use their media mouthpieces to bang the drum for perpetual war against whoever displease his Bushiness. That’s why there have been virtually no voices for peace in the media in the last four years. Chris Carter was right: “The business of America isn’t business, it’s war.”

  4. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 4, 2006 @3:46 pm

    It’s quite a racket!
    We need to go back to old laws. Ones that prohibited groups from owning newspaper’s,TV, and radio stations in the same market.
    As much as I loved (many aspect’s of) him, Clinton was responsible for giving this away.
    The “Fairness Doctrine,” is something else we need to demand to have back. It truly provided point vs. counterpoint. That was lost under Reagan, if memory serves me right…
    When you pay all of the mouth’s, you own those mouth’s. They’ll say what you want. And now, when we need them, “We have no mouth and we must scream! (a great shortstory by Harlan Ellison).”
    It’s kind of tough to be heard when the only station you have is AirAmerica!
    Well, thank God for at least that!
    And remember, this Cabal of Dunce’s (I’m taking this from the book by John Kennedy Toole) can’t last forever. And, if the voting machines are not accountable this year, a new generation of patriot’s will have to do the 1776 thing all over again.
    Happy 4th, folks.
    Remember, call them a “Cabal of Dunce’s” every chance you get.

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