The Republican Noise Machine

right-wing media and how it corrupts democracy

by David Brock

Three Rivers Press, 2004, paper

The most influential political commentator in America [1997], Rush Limbaugh, and his hundreds of imitators saturated every media market in the country, providing 22 percent of Americans-not only conservatives but independent swing voters-with their primary source of news.

The Spectator juggernaut-which had a circulation of three hundred thousand per month at its height in the early 1990s-had been replaced by Internet gossip Matt Drudge, who gets more than 6.5 million visitors to his site every day.


Drudge Report

... the Drudge Report, the Internet gossip site maintained by Matt Drudge, an uneducated and professionally untrained former sales clerk at a CBS Entertainment gift shop. In the mid-1990s, Drudge started a Web site on which he posted Hollywood gossip that he said he gleaned at the gift shop. In other interviews, he has intimated that he snooped through executive offices. It didn't take long for the right wing to find Drudge and use his site as a dumping ground for "news" driven by a political agenda. Much of the "news" was false, such as his 1996 report of an imminent indictment of First Lady Hillary Clinton. Drudge has said his postings are 80 percent accurate. An investigation of his claim by the magazine Brill's Content found that ten of thirty-one Drudge "stories" were true. "Screw journalism," Drudge has said. "The whole thing's a fraud anyway."'

Amid the gossip, Drudge's site provided convenient links to newspapers, magazines, and syndicated columns and highlighted articles from the regular press of interest to news junkies on both coasts. He attracted a substantial following during Clinton's impeachment, in which he was as much participant as observer. When anti-Clinton operatives were unable to plant smears and rumors against the Clintons in the regular press, they leaked frequently to Drudge, who became known for these spoon-fed "scoops" and "exclusives."

As traffic to his site swelled, Drudge gained the following: a contract with AOL, giving him a much wider audience; a weekly interview show on the FOX News Channel (since canceled); invitations to speak at the National Press Club; appearances on CNN, MSNBC, and even Meet the Press; a radio talk show first on the ABC Network and then on a division of Clear Channel Worldwide-Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates the Limbaugh show; and a book deal. In Drudge Manifesto, dedicated to Linda R. Tripp, who betrayed her friend Monica Lewinsky in the White House sex scandal, Drudge wrote, "With a modem, a phone jack, and an inexpensive computer, your newsroom can be your living room, your bedroom.. . your bathroom, if you're so inclined."

By 1999, Drudge was getting more than 240 million hits to his site annually. He received 1.4 billion hits in 2002. Today, Drudge gets approximately 6.5 million visitors each day and is ranked number 242 in overall Web traffic by It is the sixth most popular "news" site, following CNN, BBC News, and the New York Times, but ahead of the Washington Post, USA Today, and ABC News. In September 2003, Drudge told the Miami Herald that he makes $1.2 million per year from his combined Web and radio ventures. Though Drudge has taken right-wing money to defend himself against libel charges, the site is advertiser-supported. Ads are sold through Intermarkets, a Virginia-based agency that works package deals and cross-promotes Human Events online,, The American Spectator, and other alternative "news" sites.' The Scaife-supported NewsMax and Rupert Murdoch's FOX Sports are among Drudge's frequent advertisers.

The Drudge Report is by far the premier transmission vehicle for right-wing media. He is able to filter and then link to "news" from outlets such as the Washington Times, the New York Post, The Weekly Standard, British tabloids, right-wing columnists, book authors, and far more obscure right-wing Web sites and to project this "news" and its authors onto talk radio and across all cable channels-thereby providing the organized Right with a priceless national and even international platform for its propaganda.


Rupert Murdoch

In the late 1970s and early 1990s, Keith Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born newspaper-publishing heir, went on a buying spree in the United States, purchasing papers in San Antonio, New York City, Boston, and Chicago. American journalism was never the same.

Murdoch was the personal embodiment of the right-wing libertarian philosophy espoused by Edith Efron in The News Twisters. He believed that journalism was a business just like any other, with no responsibilities other than to make a profit. Anathema to him were decades of bipartisan laws, regulations, and court decisions undertaken to ensure competition, public accountability, and diversity in the media.

"His editorial or journalistic policy was oriented toward the market," William Shawcross wrote in his biography Murdoch: The Making of a Media Empire. "His papers tended to be grey broadsheets or racy tabloids. Neither attracted excellent journalists. The ethos of News discouraged independent investigation or troublesome journalism." Criticizing the Watergate investigation started by the American media, Murdoch, who befriended Richard Nixon after his resignation, said, "I differ from the vast majority of my peers in this country in that I believe the new cult of adversarial journalism has sometimes been taken to the point of subversion."

Murdoch's idea of journalism was to cater to working-class tastes with a formula of titillating tabloid fare and the populist, ostensibly antiestablishment politics that he inherited from his raffish father. Like Nixon, Murdoch-_ who would be named by Time magazine in 1995 as the fourth most influential American, behind the president of the United States, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and Bill Gates of Microsoft-saw himself as at war with journalistic and cultural "elites," whom he felt looked down on him and on his readers.

As he worked his way through American, Australian, and British newspaper publishing, the commercial pressures he brought to bear on his competitors invited the lowering of standards. His success in London with the tabloid Sun, denounced as a "shit sheet" by the New Statesman, caused the competing Mirror to "abandon its more serious pages," according to Shawcross. Murdoch's New York Post drew similarly scathing reviews from American journalistic professionals. Washington Journalism Review said the Post was filled with "S curves of sex, scandal, sensation and screw the facts." According to Columbia Journalism Review, "The New York Post is no longer a journalistic problem. It is a social problem-a force for evil."'

Murdoch stood squarely outside the twentieth-century American journalistic tradition of objective and impartial reporting. He had no respect for the wall that had been erected by common accord over those years to separate and protect American journalists from the capricious whims of owners. Unlike other media moguls in the United States, Murdoch had personal control over his vast holdings in his media company News Corp., and he unabashedly used his media outlets to advance his commercial, ideological, and partisan agendas. While denouncing the "once powerful media barons," he was actually a throwback to the age when powerful media barons produced news that couldn't always be trusted. Like them, he published opinion and misinformation not only on the editorial pages but also in the news columns.

No such liberal partisans have ownership over major American news outlets that reach millions. Whereas the right-wing press of long ago was balanced by less powerful but still feisty crusading liberal publications, in reviving the long-abandoned style of partisan ideological journalism in the United States, Murdoch had a monopoly. No major executive in American journalism behaved as he did, using his media to communicate a political point of view and to dump dirt on his opponents.

Murdoch's goal as a media mogul-to expand his wealth and power by producing a vast supply of media content and owning the means to distribute it-would be facilitated by conservative support for the deregulation of the telecommunications industry. Over the next two decades, Murdoch's News Corp. became a worldwide media force in entertainment, newspapers, TV news, magazines, and book publishing. He publishes forty million newspapers per week that dominate the market in Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. Major holdings in the United States now include the FOX broadcasting network; dozens of U.S. TV stations; FOX News Channel; the film and TV production studio Twentieth Century-Fox; magazines, including TV Guide; and HarperCollins Publishers. In December 2003, by a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission gave Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. permission to buy control of DirecTV, the largest satellite operator in the United States, giving it a platform to launch new cable channels reaching eleven million subscribers.

In London, Murdoch had turned his Labour-oriented tabloid toward Margaret Thatcher, pushing her to power. For years until Murdoch acquired it in 1977, the New York Post had been "owned by Dolly Schiff, an ardent New Dealer.. . [and] the paper represented a readership shaped by immigration (especially Jews), Depression, war and Cold War: fiercely pro-Israel, and strongly liberal. In the 1950s, the Post broke the stories about the Nixon slush fund that led to Tricky Dick's famous 'Checkers' speech," wrote American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky. In 1980, Murdoch's New York Post broke with longtime precedent and gave a front-page endorsement to Reagan for president; Reagan carried the state.

"Murdoch had used the Post ruthlessly to promote his favored politicians and to savage their opponents," Neil Chenoweth wrote in Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Media Wizard. "The long list of victims and beneficiaries goes from former New York Mayor Ed Koch, whom the Post backed; to one-time vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, whom the Post crucified; to [Rudy] Giuliani, whom the Post ferociously supported; to Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom the Post described as a 'rejected wife,' a perpetrator of a 'veritable crime wave in the White House,' who 'couldn't find the Bronx unless she had a chauffeur, and couldn't find Yankee Stadium without a seeing eye dog.'

The Oxford-educated Murdoch had started out in life on the political Left, and his closest university friend was an open homosexual; but in time

"Murdoch came to reject almost every aspect of life that Oxford represented," wrote Chenoweth. Sexual libertinism appeared to be among the rejected views. "It was not only his politics that would become more conservative. His views on other people's sexuality would also change. It would be reflected in his newspapers' growing homophobia, and the zeal with which they would 'out' public figures," Chenoweth wrote. In 1998, Murdoch himself would be "outed," when his wife of thirty-two years, Anna, filed for divorce after discovering he was having an extramarital affair with News Corp. employee Wendi Deng, whom Murdoch soon married. Murdoch was "ruthless" toward his former wife, Anna Murdoch said.

Cultural resentment seemed a cornerstone of Murdoch's media properties and also of his employment practices. In the 1960s, the "unofficial employment policy" at the Murdoch papers in Australia was, according to Chenoweth, "no blacks, no poofters, no suede shoes." There was a notable dearth of female executives welcomed into News Corp.'s higher echelons, and Murdoch's New York Post was criticized for inflaming racial tensions in the city. "The Murdochs have always believed in the superiority of their own genes," Chenoweth reported. "In December 1999, Rupert Murdoch made a speech in Oxford where he emphasized the importance of IQ and genetic inheritance."

Beginning in the Reagan years, many of Murdoch's speeches were quietly written by his close adviser, Irwin Steizer, an economist who linked Murdoch's media world to the world of the right-wing think tank network, which would come to supply a good deal of the content for his print and TV "news" divisions. Stelzer had been the "director of regulation" at AEI before joining the Hudson Institute. According to Chenoweth, Stelzer's "consultancy with News Corp was worth a million a year" in the late 1980s. Steizer was published widely throughout the world in Murdoch publications, including in The Weekly Standard, William Kristol's neocon sinkhole. Steizer arranged lucrative writing assignments for other think tank denizens, including Charles Murray, whose theories linking intelligence to genetics Steizer supported. Murray called Stelzer "the Godfather."

Murdoch himself later joined the boards of the Cato Institute and the Hoover Institution, but his journalistic endeavors had a less scholarly pretense. In 1977 Murdoch hired Steve Dunleavy as editor of the Post. A veteran of Murdoch properties in Australia and England and a sometime contributor to Conservative Digest, Dunleavy, who had only a ninth-grade education, was described in a Newsweek profile as "at once populist and rabidly right-wing," a "notable boozer and brawler," and an admirer of Richard Nixon and G. Gordon Liddy. Dunleavy was also the author of a rumor-filled book, Those Wild, Wild Kennedy Boys. Newsweek reported that he wrote it in one weekend after courting a purported Kennedy hanger-on who had no idea he was a reporter, getting her drunk, falsely professing his love, and then betraying her in print.

Soon after Dunleavy's arrival, respected journalists began to flee the Post. Robert Lipsyte, a columnist who quit, told Newsweek, "Steve is dedicated to wringing out emotion and whipping up frenzy. His prose is not orderly, measured, or intelligent, and I can't see what his stories have to do with truth, beauty, or even what the public needs to know." While liberal-oriented newspapers published conservative columnists, liberals were not accorded the same freedom by Murdoch. The esteemed liberal columnist Murray Kempton left the Post in 1981.

Murdoch, who has poured millions into the coffers of the Republican Party, had an odd business model-he operated the Post at a heavy loss as a way of buying influence in American political, financial, and media circles to further extend the reach of his commercial holdings. Twenty-five years after Murdoch took control, the New York Post is still a money-loser, unable to support itself through circulation or advertising. It doesn't quite have the respect of the journalism world; but by virtue of being published in the media capital of the world, it can't help but affect the media ether. (He applies the same model in Washington, where The Weekly Standard, which pays editors Kristol and Fred Barnes well into six figures, costs him more than $1 million per year to underwrite.)

The Post is a force in New York politics, running hit pieces on Democrats, cheerleading for Republicans, and publishing a motley crew of uniformly conservative columnists-who frequently and without irony bash competing publications for bias-including Steve Dunleavy, John Podhoretz (son of Norman), disgraced former Clinton adviser and FOX News "analyst" Dick Morris, and Deborah Orin, who doubles as the Post's Washington bureau chief. (At normal newspapers, reporters and editors may move on to roles as columnists but don't typically play both parts simultaneously.

Attacking Al Gore in the news pages during the 2000 election, the Post cover screamed LIAR, LIAR. During the Iraq war, which Murdoch strongly supported, the Post led the right-wing media's effort to blacklist performers who had expressed opposition to the war as "appeasers" of Saddam Hussein. DON'T AID THESE SADDAM LOVERS, blared a March 2003 headline.

One of Murdoch's most poisonous smears was aimed at Senator Hillary Clinton in the midst of her heated race for the New York seat in 2000. It began with the release of a book written by Jerry Oppenheimer and published by Murdoch-owned HarperCollins, titled State of a Union: Inside the Complex Marriage of Bill and Hillary Clinton. The press release promised revelations that would "impact" Mrs. Clinton's political career. Among these was the sensational claim that in 1974, during an argument with an aide to her husband, Bill, Hillary had called the aide "a fucking Jew bastard." The New York Post trumpeted the story on its tabloid cover; within hours, CNN was reporting it.

The next day, this "news" was trumpeted on all three network morning shows; on two of the three evening newscasts (NBC and CBS); on the cable talk shows, including Hardball with Chris Matthews; and on Murdoch's FOX News Channel. The Right went to town with an op-ed by Dennis Prager in the Wall Street Journal and columns in National Review and the Washington Times ("First Anti-Semite?"). The right-wing Web site NewsMax reported that an Arkansas state trooper recalled Hillary saying "Jew bastard" and "Jewish motherfucker" all the time, though this "revelation" was not disclosed in the trooper's extensive prior interviews with reporters.

The "story," pushed along in Mickey Kaus's Slate column, did not withstand scrutiny. Oppenheimer was a former reporter for the National Enquirer. His source, a former Clinton campaign aide named Paul Fray, had lost his law license for taking a bribe. The story of the campaign argument had been told by Fray to many reporters over the years-with no mention of the "Jew bastard" remark. In addition, Fray had written to Mrs. Clinton in 1997, apologizing for calling her names and spreading false stories about her. Oppenheimer misstated basic facts about Mrs. Clinton's family tree in an attempt to tar her entire family as anti-Semitic. Nor was it evident that Fray, a Baptist, was even Jewish.


Sun Myung Moon/Washington Times

A second right-wing media mogul is the Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. Moon believes that he is the new Messiah and has said that he seeks to lead an "automatic theocracy to rule the world."' At an anniversary party for the Washington Times in the mid-1990s, Moon said, "Fifteen years ago, when the world was adrift on the stormy waves of the Cold War, I established the Washington Times to fulfill God's desperate desire to save this world."

Moon believes that "the separation of religion and politics is what Satan likes most" and that once they are joined he can establish a one-world government. He has made racist remarks about blacks, saying their contributions to society are limited to the "physical aspect," and this employer of Andrew Sullivan has labeled gays as "dung-eating dogs."' Moon has endorsed a staple of anti-Semitism: "By killing one man, Jesus, the Jewish people had to suffer for 2,000 years," Moon has said. "Countless numbers of people have been slaughtered. During the second World War, six million people were slaughtered to cleanse all of the sins of the Jewish people from the time of Jesus."' Right-wing Christians and neoconservative Jews embrace Moon and feed off his largesse, despite his highly offensive teachings.

Moon, who opposes constitutional democracy and calls the United States "the kingdom of Satan"-plainly anti-American beliefs-has had ties to a long line of GOP politicians. He staged a fast for Nixon. Reagan called Moon's Times his favorite newspaper. George H. W. Bush traveled with Moon to South America, where Moon founded a seminary, and took $100,000 for a speaking engagement where he praised the Washington Times as "a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington, D.C." He attested to Moon's "respect for editorial independence" and described Moon as "the man with the vision."'

George W. Bush has promoted his "Faith-Based Initiative" to Moon front groups, which have received government funds from the program. Bush appointed one Moonie operative to head the government's VISTA national community service program and another, a former Times editor, as a top official in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Moon himself appeared at one of the Bush faith-based rallies, declaring, "God's purpose is to establish a restored Adam and Eve, or True Parents, centering on true love."°

Moon believes he and his wife are the True Parents. After the GOP gains in the November 2002 elections, Moon declared, "Key Congressional committee posts were regained by people who respect the Father's vision and understand America's responsibility."

Seeking to win credibility and legitimacy for his overseas religious and business enterprises, Moon has pumped hundreds of millions into the Washington Times since it was founded in 1982-$100 million per year to offer the Washington Post ideological competition, just as the Post was tracking right under Meg Greenfield. The Times's role was to "expand the spectrum" further right, taking up a crusading role against Communism in the 1980s and emphasizing sexual abstinence and "family values" in the 1990s. American women, Moon has said, are a "line of prostitutes." Moon seeks the "annihilation" of the United Nations, and his paper strongly supported the Iraq war.

The Washington Times provides a forum for thinly veiled racism. The Times "editor in chief," Wesley Pruden, has waxed nostalgic for the Confederacy in his opinion column, which is adorned by a small photograph of him wearing a cornpone straw fedora and a twisted smile. No other newspaper editor in chief in the United States regularly boosts one party and attacks the other in a dual role as a columnist. As Michelangelo Signorile has reported in the New York Press, Washington Times "assistant managing editor" Robert Stacy McCam has written commentaries for the paper and elsewhere sympathetic to the cause of white separatism. Times columnist Paul Craig Roberts, formerly a booster of supply-side economics at the Wall Street Journal, has written that Brown v. Board of Education has "no legal basis." He also wrote: "Today in the United States white people have no political representation .... What is the future for whites in a political system where both political parties pander to third world immigrants and support racial privileges for minorities? Having lost equal protection of law, what will whites lose next?"

The editorial page is run by Tony Blankley, a former flack for Newt Gingrich who also writes a syndicated column. Blankley said of George W. Bush, "There are only three newspapers that the President reads over breakfast-his local paper in Texas, and then the Washington Post and the Washington Times. So we are one of three newspapers that the president personally reads, not necessarily cover to cover every morning, but we get it at the presidential breakfast table. That's an impact." (Bush later said he does not read newspapers but rather receives briefings on them from senior staff.) Blankley predecessors Tod Lindberg and Helle Dale, now housed at the Hoover Institution and the Heritage Foundation respectively, appear as weekly columnists. The paper features an in-house column by Frank Gaffrley, the former Reagan Defense official who heads the Center for Security Policy, on whose board Dick Cheney and William Bennett have served. Gaffney was so anxious to go to war with Saddam Hussein that he tried to link him to the Oklahoma City bombing.

More so than Murdoch's Post, the Washington Times set out to bust what it considered the liberal monopoly on news reporting, becoming the unlikely base camp for the conservative campaign to subvert journalism from within. Top Times editors, some of whom had little if any journalistic training, devised a product that was a mirror image of what they believed the "liberal" Post to be: a dishonest, intentionally slanted, and often inaccurate take on the news in the service of a predetermined political ideology. The Times set out on a propagandistic mission in its news columns to misinform rather than inform, while simultaneously denying it.

According to an investigator for a congressional committee that examined Moon's operations, Moon preaches a doctrine he called Heavenly Deception. Religious recruits are told that "the non-Moon world is evil. It must be lied to so it can help Moon take over. Then it can become good under Moon's control."

Washington Times founding editor James Whelan, editorial page editor William Cheshire, and several of his staff all resigned, charging that Moon operatives had violated their editorial independence. In the 1980s, Wesley Pruden, then "managing editor," regularly rewrote headlines and story leads to reflect GOP spin. Within the newsroom, these forays became known as "Prudenizing," and a number of reporters quit after having their copy mangled for political ends. In one infamous incident during the 1988 presidential campaign, a Times story falsely suggested that Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had sought psychiatric treatment in the late 1970s. Editors doctored a quote from Dukakis's relative, changing it from "It is possible, but I doubt it" to "It is possible."" Meanwhile, the newspaper ran front-page editorials soliciting money for the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund for the contras, a cause backed by various Moon political committees. The private-money fund, which led to the Iran-contra scandal, was chaired by William Simon.

Like Murdoch's Post in New York, publishing in Washington gives the Times a buzz factor it wouldn't otherwise enjoy, considering that its circulation is less than that of the Colorado Springs Gazette. By the 1990s, both papers were benefiting enormously from synergistic relations with rightwing radio and cable talk television and from a compliant mainstream media that accepted fraudulent journalism as an unavoidable part of the overall media mix.


Christian Broadcasting

After founding the Heritage Foundation, Paul Weyrich and his initial financial backer Joe Coors did not rest on their laurels. After leaving Heritage and chartering the Free Congress Foundation with Coors money in the mid-1970s, Weyrich masterminded the right wing's expansion into television. As a former broadcaster, he recognized the potency of the medium and how it could be used to further the conservative cause.

With Weyrich's prodding, Coors ventured directly into spreading the conservative word through the TV media. Coors provided initial funding for Television News Inc., a twenty-four-hour news service based in New York City in the days before cable.' As "news director," Coors hired Roger Ailes, the former Nixon aide and conservative publicist. That effort was short-lived. More than twenty years would pass before Ailes was tapped by Rupert Murdoch to head the FOX News Channel.

Weyrich, meanwhile, had secret blueprints drawn up outlining a multimillion-dollar plan to convert the politically dormant Evangelical Christian constituency to conservative policy positions through new media channels.' The effort was underwritten by Richard DeVos, the conservative president of the Amway Corporation, and by Dallas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt, a supporter of the John Birch Society, of George Wallace, of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, and of the Media Research Center.'

As Edith Efron had predicted in 1971, conservatives could take advantage of the so-called narrowcasting trend in the TV industry, which made it profitable to reach smaller audiences with special interests. The loyalty of the audience was more important than its size. A network of religious Right broadcasters, organized in a trade association called the National Religious Broadcasters, moved quickly to buy local TV stations, package programming for syndication, begin networks through newly available cable and satellite systems, and commandeer previously neglected UHF channels.

Religious broadcasting, especially on radio, was not new, though in the past it focused more on cultural than political matters. The ABC television network, then run by conservative Republican executives, had given the Reverend Billy Graham a half-hour program in the 1950s, which he used to promote fundamentalist Christianity and bash Communism.' In the 1950s and 1960s, fundamentalist ministries stretching from New Jersey to Arkansas, attracting financial support from local businesspeople, reached large radio audiences; exposed listeners to Christian Fundamentalism; and railed against the teachings of Charles Darwin.

A few of these ministers were ferociously ideological and had a distinct political bias; for example, the Reverend Billy James Hargis used his Christian Crusade to denounce Communists, liberals, homosexuals, and the media. Hargis was aided by Conservative Digest publisher Richard Viguerie and his valuable direct-mail lists. Heard on 270 radio stations nationwide, Hargis said "the biggest traitors" were "liberals, welfare staters, do-gooders and one-worlders." "Don't talk to me of liberalism! It is a double-standard, Satanic hypocrisy," he proclaimed. The Christian Crusade published a magazine of the same name and several books, such as The Facts About Communism & Our Churches, Communism: The Total Lie, and The Real Extremists: The Far Left.' (A sex scandal caused Hargis to lose his ministry in 1976.)

The Reverend Carl Mclntire of The 20°' Century Reformation Hour reached some twenty million radio listeners through six hundred outlets, supplemented by mass mailings of "radio letters" and sponsored by Mclntire's newspaper, the Christian Beacon. "His program runs a pattern," as George Thayer elucidated in The Farther Shores of Politics. "He opens with a folksy greeting that is offset by strains of some patriotic music such as 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' . . . then comes the political pitch . . . 'these communists and these liberals are using the fear of the bomb to frighten us so we won't stand up for our principles of morality and we will retreat from freedom... and our political leaders-some of them - are being intimidated by this propaganda . 6 Dr. Frederick Charles Schwarz of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade convened "meet and scream" groups in which participants were "ready to condemn, attack, harass or intimidate at the first slip of a liberal phrase."'

Dallas oilman H. L. Hunt, Nelson Bunker Hunt's father, subsidized the Campus Crusade for Christ and broadcast The Facts Forum, later called Life Line, with a nominally religious bent. These radio programs, aired on 387 radio stations nationwide, reached as many as five million listeners per day. Underwritten by advertising from Hunt-owned companies, the programs campaigned against "teachers, psychologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, economists, and politicians," all of whom Hunt considered "practiced brain-twisters turned loose on our defenseless children." Hunt believed that the U.S. government was Communist-controlled. Life Line lost its tax exemption as a public charity in 1963 because its programming was so "one-sided."

What was new in the 1970s was the fusion of religion and partisan politics coupled with technological capacity to reach a wider audience. Weyrich showed fundamentalist evangelical ministers such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell how to politicize religion to the GOP's benefit while making boatloads of cash. Politics was projected onto the TV screen and cast as a morality play, a Manichaean struggle between the forces of light and darkness. Bad intentions, illegitimacy, and even Satanic powers were assigned to the "enemy"' "Rhetoric that equates the political work of the religious right with warfare is commonplace among the movement's leaders," analyst Dan Junas has written. "It reflects in part an apocalyptic vision of politics, and in part a conviction that their agenda reflects divine will." The "central, unifying ideology" of the various strains of evangelical belief, according to Junas, was that "Christians are mandated by the Bible to take control of all secular institutions and build the Kingdom of God on earth."°

"We are going to single out those people in government who are against what we consider to be the Bible, moralist position, and we're going to inform the public," Falwell announced. "Jesus was not a pacifist. He was not a sissy." Robertson said, "We have enough votes to run the country. And when people say, 'We've had enough,' we are going to take over." According to Robertson, "It's going to be a spiritual battle. There will be Satanic forces .... We are not going to be coming up just against human beings, to beat them in elections. We're going to be coming up against spiritual warfare."

"If you read Scripture, Jesus was not some sort of milquetoast person with supreme charity," Weyrich declared. "He cut people in two."

The new religious broadcasts echoed many of the racial and sexual themes of the direct-mail hit pieces and of new conservative magazines like Conservative Digest, which called for a national day "of fasting and prayer" to "devote completely to prayer, meditation, thanks and repentance for our sins." Robertson told his listeners: "There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world. How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshippers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy money changers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?"

Demonization of the "liberal media" was a rhetorical staple of the religious broadcasters; Hargis's ministry had put out a pamphlet called The

Ugly Truth About Drew Pear-son, attacking the integrity of the prominent columnist. On the Trinity Broadcasting Network's Praise the Lord show, Doug Clark compared critical press reports on Ronald Reagan to a "satanic attack on America" adding, "I think we're carrying [press] freedom a little too far."" Later, the Christian broadcasters played a key role in propagating the fiction that the Iran-contra scandal was an invention of a liberal media conspiracy as a way of deflecting aggressive media coverage.

On a deeper level, when many Christian activists criticized the "liberal" media, they were expressing concern that the media was a secular institution, rather than a fundamentalist Christian one. Their theology put them in conflict with the fact-based approach of objective journalism. In his book Prodigal Press, Marvin Olasky-the close adviser to both Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush, whom the latter called "compassionate conservatism's leading thinker"-identified the problem as "the almost total dominance of newspapers by non-Christians." Olasky described the New

York Times as a once "great Christian newspaper." Of the newspaper's subsequent (and current) Jewish owners, the Ochs/Sulzberger family, Olasky wrote, "One generation died or departed. Owners and editors who knew not Joseph emerged." An example of "liberal bias" cited by Olasky was "materialist reporters [who] could not take seriously the belief that AIDS is a God-sent warning to homosexuals and adulterous heterosexuals and to anyone who scorns Him,"

The ministers endeavored to present their theology in a journalistic style, with Pat Robertson acting as the unlikely assigning editor. The Virginia-based Robertson was the son of a U.S. senator, was a Yale Law School grad, and had attended seminary, where he came to believe that God had instructed him to purchase a TV station, which he did in 1959, Robertson hired Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker; together the three launched The 700 Club TV show in 1963. Funds were raised for the broadcast through telethons."

In 1977, Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network. CBN formed a "news department" and hired "correspondents," and The 700 Club moved beyond religious proselytizing to booking right-wing politicians and activists as talking heads. On CBN, which was carried in thirty-six million homes by the mid-1980s, the conservative movement had just the kind of biased, crusading, counterfactual electronic powerhouse that they claimed to fear liberal partisans had established at CBS, NBC, and ABC.

Before FOX, before CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC, there was CBN. The head of the National Religious Broadcasters, the Reverend Ben Armstrong, observed that the televangelists had "done what Ted Turner tried to do and Rupert Murdoch wants to do-create a fourth alternative network.""

The broadcasts were a means for conservative spokespeople to politicize their base with their own brand of conservative "news." Christian reconstructionist activist Gary North, the son-in-law of Rousas Rushdoony, said that Robertson's CBN was a tool to create political "brushfires," rallying local ministers and their audiences around the country to adopt a proscribed point of view, "Without a means of publicizing a crisis, few pastors would take a stand," said North, who advocated stoning women who had abortions

In 1980, Forbes reported that three religious TV networks Robertson's CBN, the PTL Television Network, and the Trinity Broadcasting Network-were grossing $140 million, compared with close to nothing in 1975. Religiously oriented TV stations numbered more than thirty nationwide. Christian preachers soon had sixty-two nationally syndicated shows. "One evangelical TV show, the Christian Broadcasting Network's '700 Club,' reaches cable TV systems with 8 million subscribers-more cabled homes than Home Box Office reaches," Forbes reported. "The '700 Club' is also carried on 150 television stations, almost as many as are affiliated with ABC. The '700 Club? major religious rival, the PTL Television Network's 'PTL Club,' reaches 4 million cabled homes and is aired on 235 TV stations, more than are affiliated with CBS. Even Trinity's 'Praise The Lord' program, a distant number three in religious show biz, reaches 2.5 million cabled homes-more than Showtime, HBO's biggest rival."

Forbes also noted that "many evangelists are using their shows, financed with tax-deductible contributions, not only to preach the gospel but to promote politicians and political causes."

"The television evangelists, who each week explicate the moral issues and lament the state of the American nation and spirit, give the movement its appearance of a massive and single-minded constituency," the New York Times reported in 1980. The Times found reliable audience numbers difficult to come by, in part because cable was not then rated. Viewership estimates for the newly politicized TV preachers, once heard only in the Bible Belt but now appearing in major TV markets around the country, ranged as high as 115 million per week, although the actual figure may have been closer to 30 million. An unrepeated radio audience, tuning in to 1,300 religious radio stations, might have been about 15 million. The audience for Jerry Falwell's Old-Time Gospel Hour, aired on 325 TV stations and 300 radio stations each week, was anywhere from 6 million to 15 million per week.

At biweekly meetings in Washington of his secretive Library Court group, where he gathered the leadership of twenty-five right-wing think tank and advocacy organizations that had been chartered in just a two-year period (between 1978 and 1980), Paul Weyrich worked to reshape the messaging of the religious broadcasters-many of whom had supported the Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter in 1976-and he coordinated lines of communication. In 1979, Weyrich coined the term "moral majority" for the newly active Christian Right. "We are talking about Christianizing America," he said. 'We are talking simply about spreading the Bible in a political context."

A frequent guest on Robertson's 700 Club and on the Reverend Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Praise the Lord, Weyrich told the Times that before the 1980 election, he had met with "upwards of 10,000 pastors" nationwide, giving technical talks on how to frame issues and anti-Carter sermons in a way that would favor Reagan and other conservative candidates while trying to avoid running afoul of Federal Communications Commission rules that said hosts on broadcast television could not endorse political candidates.

Weyrich estimated that these efforts had resulted in the registration of millions of new fundamentalist Christian voters. Though they fell far short of constituting a "moral majority," they were zealous and highly dedicated viewers and participants who compensated for their minority status through intense activism. Given Reagan's popular vote margin of just over 50 percent-with just over half of eligible voters casting ballots-it was apparent that among other factors, this harnessing of new media power by highly emotive and manipulative right-winger leaders, who mobilized the social discontent prevalent in the country during the Carter years, had made a critical difference in the outcome of the 1980 election.

Though several of the high-profile televangelists were eventually ruined in a series of sex and financial fraud scandals, fundamentalist ministers continue today to reach deeply into the base of the GOP with right-wing messaging and "news." Thirty years after its founding, the Trinity Broadcasting Network is "not only the world's largest Christian television ministry, it is also the 10th largest television broadcaster in the U.S.," according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity. Its programming includes The 700 Club and Praise the Lord, now hosted by the network's founders, Paul and Jan Crouch. According to the center, "While Trinity's dedication to spreading the word of the Lord seems admirable enough, some of the views expressed by regular contributors to the network, like John Hagee of John Hagee Ministries & Global Evangelism Television, Inc., trouble some observers. Hagee's views on a coming Armaggedon might be considered quirky were it not for his huge audience and close ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has spoken at Hagee events in support of the minister."

The ministers effectively parlay their prominence in the Christian media into prominence across every broadcast and cable news network in the country. Falwell and Robertson are generally interviewed respectfully, and even indulgently, by secular hosts, no matter how hate filled or fallacious their messages. Falwell, a cable regular, is rarely called to account for his role in selling copies of The Clinton Chronicles, a lurid videotape suggesting the Clintons were complicit in murder.

Despite his history of extremist speech, Robertson has appeared as an unexceptionable guest on virtually every mainstream TV news and talk show in the country. In 1985, Robertson remarked, "Whenever evangelization efforts meet with chronic resistance, extermination should follow." He told New York magazine, "The people who have come into institutions today are primarily termites. They are destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is the universities, government, our traditions that we have. The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has come for a godly fumigation. "17

In his 1991 book, The New World Order, Robertson claimed that an international conspiracy of Jewish bankers controlled the financial system. "You're supposed to be nice to Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists," Robertson told the London Observer. "Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the anti-Christ." In a 1992 fund-raising letter, Robertson wrote, "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

In 2003, Robertson launched a twenty-one-day "prayer offensive" that he called Operation Supreme Court Freedom. Claiming that the court "has opened the door to homosexual marriage, bigamy, legalized prostitution and even incest," Robertson seemed to wish for the deaths of three justices. "One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer, and another has a heart condition," he said on The 700 Club Web site."

Interviewing National Review's Joel Mowbray on The 700 Club about his Regnery book Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security, Robertson said, "I read your book. When you get through, you say, 'If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer.' I mean, you get through this, and you say, 'We've got to blow that thing up.' I mean, is it as bad as you say?" Mowbray replied, "It is." Six months prior, Robertson had said on the same broadcast, "Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up."

Even after Falwell and Robertson blamed "abortionists, feminists and gays and lesbians" for the terrorist attack on September 11, they were welcomed back into the ranks of TV punditry as if they had never uttered those words. Falwell subsequently appeared-alone-on Bill O'Reilly's FOX show to discuss "Gays & the GOP"

Eclipsing Falwell and perhaps even Robertson is Dr. James Dobson, a right-wing psychologist who chairs a national network of more than eighty Christian fundamentalist ministries called Focus on the Family. Dobson's "internationally syndicated radio programs [are] heard daily on more than 3,000 radio facilities in North America and in 15 languages on approximately 3,300 facilities in over 116 countries," according to his Web site. "His commentaries are heard by more than 200 million people every day, including a program translation carried on all state-owned radio stations in the People's Republic of China. He is seen on 80 television stations daily in the U.S."

According to the site, Dobson reaches a combined radio and TV audience of twenty-nine million Americans, more than Rush Limbaugh. In addition to his own daily thirty-minute radio show, Family News in Focus, The James Dobson Family Minute ("nuggets of truth" culled from the thirty-minute broadcast), and Focus on the Family Commentary are syndicated to several major-market radio stations. Another nationally syndicated radio spot is Washington Watch, a ninety-second report hosted by right-wing Family Research Council spokesperson Genevieve Wood (a member of Heritage's "Media Advisory Board"), which "alerts each of us to current developments in public policy that promise-or threaten-to have a direct impact on the family values we hold dear."

Dobson's biography on his Web site says that he has been an adviser on "family matters" to Ronald Reagan, George H. W Bush, and Bob Dole. He is the author of the best-selling book Dare to Discipline, with chapters titled "Love Must Be Tough," "Parenting Isn't for Cowards," and "Emotions: Can You Trust Them?" In 2002, he published Bringing Up Boys, in which he asked (and answered) "What Causes Homosexuality?" and "How Can It Be Prevented?" Library journal cautioned librarians about the latter book, calling it "peculiarly mean-spirited." In it, Dobson dispenses "biblically-based" advice and defames feminists as women who "never married, didn't like children, and deeply resented men . The book was for sale on Sean Hannity's Web site, among other outlets.

Dobson uses his media platforms for political ends. In 1994, he achieved his first major victory by helping to defeat congressional legislation that would have required home-school teachers to be certified. In summer 2003, Dobson's radio and TV commentaries focused on such topics as "Dobson Supports War Effort in Iraq"; support for the "Federal Marriage Amendment" banning gay unions; and thwarting "Judicial Tyranny" by confirming right-wing Bush judicial nominees. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who wrote a decision striking down anti-sodomy laws in Texas, was called "the most dangerous man in America." Dobson featured the book A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, which claimed that homosexuality is "preventable and treatable" and resulted from "damaged relations with a father or an overbearing mother." (The book was featured on the FOX News shows Hannity & Colmes and The O'Reilly Factor.)

Dobson is a frequent guest on CNN's Larry King Live, where he appears for cordial, solo, hour-length interviews during which the kindly King does his best to humanize him, even when Dobson told King on the air that King-as a Jew-could not go to heaven. According to the Focus on the Family Web site, Dr. Walt Larimore, "vice president of medical outreach," has appeared on NBC's Today show, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, and several FOX News shows and has given dozens of print interviews to mainstream newspapers. Carrie Gordon Earll, "bioethics analyst," has been interviewed on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports and on National Public Radio.

Through this steady and mostly uncritical mainstream media exposure, these Christian rightists, with their polemical biblical interpretations and pseudosocial science, have come to stand for what it meant to be a politically committed Christian in the United States. Representatives of mainstream Christianity are far less frequently featured in the TV debate about politics and policy.

In 1993, what Newsweek called America's "first unabashedly ideological, political TV channel" was launched: National Empowerment Television (NET). Behind the operation was none other than Paul Weyrich. Ever since his experiences with Christian broadcasting in the late 1970s, Weyrich had been aiming to bring conservative ideology to the TV airwaves in a secular format. With NET, he got the chance.

By this time, Joe Coors's son Jeffrey had become chairman of Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation. The Coors family, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Christian Right activist Howard F. Ahmanson Jr. underwrote the new network, eventually to the tune of $17 million per year filtered through Weyrich's network of nonprofits. Ahmanson, an Orange County, California, multimillionaire, has backed a magazine called the Chalcedon Report, which "carried an article calling for gays to be stoned; a think tank called the Claremont institute which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises the 'God-fearing Caucasian middle class'; and a scientific body which rejects the theory of evolution," according to a report about Ahmanson's activities in The Guardian of London."

The chief operating officer of NET was Burton Yale Pines, a former Heritage official; the general manager was Brian Jones, a Bush operative in the 1992 campaign and future FOX News Channel executive. NET reached into about fourteen million subscriber households nationwide, with the largest markets in the South and West, and captured a predominantly male audience. Its approach was heavily interactive, giving conservatives an opportunity to phone in and receive direct political instruction on lobbying for or against legislation to "talk back to Washington," as Weyrich put it.

To promote the career of Newt Gingrich, whom Weyrich had trained in one of his seminars in the 1970s prior to his first race for Congress, NET broadcast a program hosted by Gingrich called Progress Report as well as a course Gingrich taught on "American civilization," both of which were underwritten by nonprofit foundations Gingrich sustained as adjuncts to GOPAC, his political action committee. Through NET, Gingrich received crucial exposure in the run-up to the 1994 congressional elections, a year of very low voter turnout when the GOP won control of Congress.

Among other personalities featured on the network were Bush aide Mary Matalin, Representative Susan Molinari, Robert Novak, Armstrong Williams, Grover Norquist, and Ronald Reagan's son Michael. Reed Irvine produced a series for NET called The Other Side, which promoted the theory that former White House counsel Vincent Foster had been lured into a "sex trap" at Fort Marcy Park, where his dead body was found. The National Rifle Association, the Cato Institute, and the Christian Coalition were featured prominently (some of the groups paid for the TV time). A "news and policy program" titled Rising Tide was produced by the Republican National Committee. Another show, The Next Revolution, focused on "America's abandonment of its traditional Judeo-Christian culture for the cultural Marxism of political correctness." Weyrich insisted that the network ban the words "gay," "African American," and "Native American" and replace them with "homosexual," "black," and "Indian."

A weekly NET show was hosted by conservative theorist William Lind, who advocated burning adulterers at the stake and branding women who held careers outside the home with the letter C. According to Lind:

Hatred of certain things is a family value, and a very important one. In fact, if we are going to rescue our culture, we need a lot more hate. We need hate of the very things cultural Marxism most strongly promotes, including loose sexual morals, feminism and bad behavior by certain racial and ethnic groups.

In an article published by the Free Congress Foundation, Eric Heubeck explained why Weyrich sought a TV presence. He wrote:

There is no medium more conducive to propagandistic purposes than the moving image, and our movement must learn to make use of this medium. A skillfully produced motion picture or television documentary has tremendous persuasive power. It has the power to bypass not only the old prejudices that have been assiduously cultivated by the Left over the past few decades, but also the innate skepticism of the viewer, the resistance to new ideas and all arguments made in print [that] tend to appeal to the rational, critical faculties of the mind to a greater or lesser degree .20

In 1995, after Republicans won control of Congress, Weyrich was able to convince Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) cable systems to carry his fledgling network, clearing a very difficult hurdle for any new cable channel. TCI, the nation's largest cable operator at the time, was run by John C. Malone, who owned effective controlling interest in the company and was a prominent industry spokesman for deregulatory plans that the new Gingrich-led Congress would act on. Malone served on the board of the Cato Institute, and he praised Rush Limbaugh for being willing to "say politically incorrect things.""

The conservative mogul emerged in the mid-1990s as a key behind-the-scenes player in the political composition of the media. "Malone was the man who decided what went into the television sets of one in every four U.S. cable households-and what didn't," wrote Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth. When Rupert Murdoch launched the FOX News Channel in 1996, Malone made him a crucial deal, giving Murdoch access to TCI systems in return for the right to buy a 20 percent interest in the channel. Malone purchased two-thirds of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, the producer of PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and TCI owned significant interests in the Discovery Channel, Court TV and Time Warner, which owned CNN and Time among other media properties. When Malone created his own news chat show, he hired future FOX anchor David Asman from the Wall Street journal as host and called it Damn Right! He also brought to TCI Pat Robertson's Family Channel, formerly the Christian Broadcasting Network."

Malone killed the '90s Channel, a liberal cable channel, by raising entry rates to his cable system and excluding it from a political package that included the heavily subsidized NET. Democrats in Washington discussed plans to create a liberal NET, but nothing moved beyond the talking phase.

Political liberals did not have a media honcho like John Malone in their corner, nor did they have the deep pockets of a Rupert Murdoch or a Paul Weyrich. Weyrich was displaced as NET chairman due to erratic behavior in 1997; he was succeeded by former NBC executive Bob Sutton. By then, NET had lost its steam, but Murdoch was well on his way to filling the TV Liche that Weyrich had identified and nurtured for more than twenty years.

One of the more troubling aspects of partisan media operations like FOX, of course, is that it is now possible for news consumers to purposely choose purveyors of information that reinforce their beliefs with "facts," rather than the other way around. Conservatives have succeeded in creating a media world where there are now "blue facts" and "red facts." Those who voted for Kerry chose the traditional three broadcast networks and newspapers as their sources for news, more than 70 percent of Bush voters chose FOX, more than 60 percent of Bush voters chose talk radio, and more than 50 percent of Bush voters chose the Internet as their sources of information. As NPR's Cokie Roberts has observed, consumers are now choosing their news the way they choose music.

... FOX is now recognized for what it is-namely a propaganda organ of the GOP ...

... on August 4, when Internet gossip Matt Drudge began hyping a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which had begun airing an ad in a handful F media markets charging that Kerry was not the decorated war hero that military records unambiguously showed him to be; the group was about to publish a book, Unfit for Command, through the right-wing publishing house Regnery, issuing the same phony indictment. Although every piece of available documentary evidence contradicted the group's claims that Kerry had lied about his war record and didn't really earn his medals for valor, the Swift Boat Veterans-whose authority to make their claim that they served alongside Kerry was itself a lie-were allowed to put on a full-court press, beginning with the FOX News Channel and quickly sliding across the other cable networks, earning millions of dollars in free media coverage for their small ad buy. "The influence of this ad is a function not of paid exposure but of the ad's treatment in free media," Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, explained in releasing a survey showing that more than half the country had seen or heard about the ad. "The advertisement has received extensive coverage, particularly on conservative talk radio and cable news channels, and has been the subject of some attention in broadcast news as well."

It was another classic case of lies spreading halfway around the world before the truth was able to put its boots on. Those paying close attention to the controversy learned that the group's main protagonist, John O'Neill, who had never met Kerry in Vietnam, had been recruited in the early 1970s by the Nixon administration to discredit Kerry, who had emerged as a spokesman for the antiwar cause on his return from Vietnam. Though O'Neill claimed not to have been involved in partisan politics in the thirty years since then, government records showed that he was in fact a reliable Republican donor, and he had turned to top Bush financial supporters in Texas and GOP political operatives with ties to the Bush White House to launch the Swift Boat group. O'Neill's Unfit for Command coauthor was Jerome Corsi, who, it was soon discovered, had a history of posting grossly bigoted statements on a far-right Internet message board. Other Swift Boat accusers included a doctor who claimed to have treated a Kerry war wound, though his name was not listed as the attending physician; a retired Navy admiral who, only three months before he signed up with the attack group, had said he had no firsthand knowledge to discredit Kerry and barely knew him; a fellow Swift Boater who claimed that Kerry had not come under enemy fire during a mission for which he won the Bronze Star, but whose own Bronze Star citation lauded him for providing aid to a damaged Swift boat on that same mission "despite enemy bullets flying about him"; and several disgruntled vets who appeared on camera to decry accusations that they falsely attributed to Kerry about atrocities committed in Vietnam by U.S. troops and to claim that Kerry had once met secretly with the North Vietnamese even though the meeting wasn't a secret.

These and other details were duly reported in the "old" media, mostly by newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune weeks after the Swift Boat vets had made their cable TV tour. On television, the story was presented as if there were two opposing sides of roughly equal credibility debating the matter, with no effort to get to the truth or falsity of the charges or to weigh the credibility of the accusers. It was all lost in the Crossfire. Print reporters generally performed better, sifting carefully through the claims to show how dubious they were, but their reports were just not enough to counter the brushfire of innuendo and character assassination spreading on "new" media, cable television, radio, and the Internet. And even the print reporters shied away from stating the obvious: The Swift Boat group was a sham; their charges were lies. As the Los Angeles Times put it in an editorial:

The technique President Bush is using against John F. Kerry was perfected by his father against Michael Dukakis in 1988, though its roots go back at least to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It is: Bring a charge, however bogus. Make the charge simple... but make sure the supporting details are complicated and blurry enough to prevent easy refutation.

Then sit back and let the media do your work for you. Journalists have to report the charges, usually feel obliged to report the rebuttal, and often even attempt an analysis or assessment. But the canons of the profession prevent most journalists from saying outright: These charges are false. As a result, the voters are left with a general sense that there is some controversy over Kerry's service in Vietnam.

Election Day exit polls showed that three in four voters were familiar with the Swift Boat vet charges. Thus what had been seen as one of the main strengths of Kerry's candidacy-that he fought for his country, as opposed to the checkered National Guard service record of President Bush-got wiped away in a torrent of ugly charge and countercharge. Somehow, the fact that Kerry served in combat, while Bush did not, never registered. To add insult to injury, while spending weeks on the trumped-up Swift Boat charges, the media refused to investigate important unanswered questions about Bush's military record. As Matthew Yglesias wrote in the American Prospect:

Questions about whether or not George W. Bush shirked his responsibilities in the National Guard, pulled strings to get into the National Guard, performed poorly while in the National Guard, and violated the law by disobeying direct orders are, I think, a bit too complicated for our media to sort out. On the one hand, there's all this documentary evidence suggesting Bush is in the wrong. On the other hand, there's Bush and the White House staff saying he's right. It's the president's word against the documents, so who's to say? We learned during the swiftvets controversy that having all the documentary evidence on your side, and only the word of politically motivated liars against you is hardly proof in the press' eyes that you're right.

In the closing days of the race, the Swift Boat vets reared their heads for an encore when the Sinclair Broadcasting Company, which owns or controls some sixty-two stations with a reach of roughly a quarter of American households, announced that it planned to air a film called Stolen Honor, a compilation reel of the Swift Boat vet charges, for forty minutes in prime time as a news documentary. The company, whose top executives are major donors to the Republican Party, planned to force its affiliates, heavily concentrated in the swing states, to air the film special without commercial interruption. Such a bald political abuse of the airwaves-as a broadcaster, Sinclair is given free access to the public airwaves in exchange for fair and responsible coverage-was unprecedented. Though the company backed off its plans after a storm of controversy erupted, the incident was another reminder that conservative media power, enhanced by the loosening of media consolidation rules, extends far beyond the FOX News Channel.

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