excerpted from the book
How the Right Wing Is Turning
America into a One-Party State
by Sheldon Rampton and John
Jeremy Tarcher/Penguin, 2004
... taIk radio ... took off in the 1980s with the demise of AM
music and the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine that required stations
to grant equal airtime to opposing views. The number of talk radio
stations in the United States jumped from 200 in 1986 to more
than 1,000 eight years later, mostly featuring conservative hosts
and heavily Republican audiences. "Republicans have it down
to a science," the Detroit Free Press reported in 1994. "At
the House Republican Study Committee, for example, they have a
list of 300 talk radio programs. During big legislative battles-when
they need folks to pressure Congress-they pump out GOP opinion,
by fax, all over the country."
Conservative foundations have (also) financed media-watch organizations
that work to pressure media organizations into airing conservative
viewpoints or that attack programs for perceived "liberal
bias," including Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media; David Horowitz's
Committee for Media Integrity (COMINT); the Center for Media and
Public Affairs; and L. Brent Bozell III's Media Research Center.
In addition, they have financed their own media outlets, ranging
from highbrow to tabloid. Some examples include:
* The Bradley, Olin and Scaife foundations
have poured more than $6.1 million into The New Criterion, a monthly
cultural review founded to counter the allegedly pernicious effects
of 1960s leftist radicalism on art criticism.' It has been characterized
as an "organ for respectable neoconservative opinion"
that challenges "the leftists on the battleground of ideas"
by Herbert London, a John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New
York University and president of the Hudson Institute, a leading
conservative think tank .61
* Another $7.9 million has gone into Irving
Kristol's National Affairs, Inc., which publishes The National
Interest and The Public Interest. ' Kristol's publications have
editorial boards that include Henry Kissinger, Midge Decter, Charles
Krauthammer, Richard Perle and Daniel Pipes. They enjoy endorsements
from other conservative luminaries such as William Bennett and
David Brooks. The National Interest published Francis Fukuyama's
influential essay "The End of History'" and Fukuyama
has returned the favor by writing a promotional blurb for The
Public Interest, touting its "large impact" on "the
intellectual history of the late twentieth century America....
No other magazine has had a comparable effect.""
* More than $6 million has gone to The
American Spectator, which played a key role in attacking Anita
Hill after she testified before Congress that she had been sexually
harassed by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas .6"
The Spectator also originated many of the most salacious stories
about President Clinton that dominated public attention throughout
his eight years in office, including Whitewater, Troopergate and
the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
By 2000 ... another conservative cable channel had begun to flower-Fox
News, a branch of billionaire Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Launched
in 1996, Fox had the advantage of Murdoch's deep pockets and his
already substantial media holdings. Beginning in his home country
of Australia, Murdoch has built a network of 175 newspapers around
the world, and has extended his reach into other media including
the Fox broadcast networks, Fox Sports, FX, 20th Century-Fox studios,
dozens of local U.S. television stations, the HarperCollins publishing
house and the Sky and Star satellite systems in England and Asia.
Although Murdoch is an ideological conservative, he is first and
foremost a practical businessman. The notable exceptions to his
priority on profit-seeking have been the Weekly Standard, edited
by Bill Kristol (the former chief of staff to Vice President Dan
Quayle) and the New York Post, a conservative tabloid newspaper.
Both publications lose money ($40 million a year for the Post),
but they help cement Murdoch's standing with Republican policymakers,
and he is able to use the Post to cross-promote his Fox television
"When Ted Turner launched the Cable
News Network in 1980, CNN took the idea of all-news radio and
transferred it to television, observes New Yorker media columnist
Ken Auletta. "The Fox News idea was to make another sort
of transition: to bring the heated, sometimes confrontational
atmosphere of talk radio into the television studio. Its conservative
tone is precisely what at tracts many of its viewers. Whereas
the efforts of conventional television news programs to appear
objective come across as bland and evasive, Fox is gleefully opinionated,
which appeals to many people as refreshingly candid. Matt Gross,
a former Fox News editor, says network employees were instructed:
"Seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white
men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions....
The facts of a story just didn't matter at all. The idea was to
get those viewers out of their seats, screaming at the TV, the
politicians, the liberals -whoever -simply by running a provocative
Like talk radio, part of the secret to Fox's success has been
the fact that "talk is cheap." It has a smaller reporting
staff than its competitors but compensates with better bluster,
hiring on-air talent such as Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, Oliver
North, Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera. Even by cable standards,
Fox spends less on actual news-gathering than any of the other
networks. In 1999, it spent $4 million on a promotional campaign
calling itself "the most powerful name in news" at a
time when its news staff was only one-third the size of the staffs
at either NBC or CNN.-' Even by the time of the Iraq War, Fox
News had just 1,250 full-time and freelance employees and 17 news
bureaus, only six of them overseas, with operating costs of about
$250 million. By contrast, CNN had 4,000 employees and 42 bureaus,
31 of them overseas, at a cost of about $800 million. In the Middle
East, Fox had only 15 correspondents, compared to at least 100
apiece for ABC, CBS, NBC and BBC .76 As U.S. tanks rolled on Baghdad,
Fox was forced to purchase video footage of Baghdad from Al-Jazeera,
the Arab network. "We don't have the resources overseas that
CNN and other networks have," admitted Fox correspondent
Rick Leventhal, who was with the First Marine Light Armor Reconnaissance
unit. "We're going in with less money and equipment and people,
and trying to do the same job. You might call it smoke and mirrors,
but it's working." By the end of the war, 1 Fox had the lead
in the cable ratings.
"The roots of Fox News Channel, is day-to-day on-air bias
are actual and direct. They come in the form of an executive memo"
written by John Moody, the network's vice president for news,
and "distributed electronically each morning, addressing
what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how they should
be covered. To the newsroom personnel responsible for the channel's
daytime programming, The Memo is the bible. if, on any given day,
you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular
point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it," Reina explained.
"The Memo was born with the Bush administration, early in
2001, and, intentionally or not, has ensured that the administration's
point of view consistently comes across on FNC.
"Think about it," writes Nation columnist Eric Alterman.
"Who among the liberals can be counted upon to be as ideological,
as relentless and as nakedly partisan as George Will, Robert Novak,
Pat Buchanan, Bay Buchanan, William Bennett, William Kristol,
Fred Barnes, John McLaughlin, Charles Krauthammer, Paul Gigot,
Oliver North, Kate O'Beirne, Tony Blankley, Ann Coulter, Sean
Hannity, Tony Snow, Laura Ingraham, Jonah Goldberg, William F.
Buckley, Jr., Bill O'Reilly, Alan Keyes, Tucker Carlson, Brit
Hume, the self-described 'wild men' of the Wall Street Journal
editorial page, etc., etc.? In fact, it's hard to come up with
a single journalist/pundit appearing on television who is even
remotely as far to the left of the mainstream spectrum Ls most
of these conservatives are to the right."
David Brock, who was one of the luminaries of right-wing journalism
before experiencing a change of heart in the late 1990s, has described
the ease with which he was able to climb aboard the conservative
career escalator in his 2002 mea culpa, Blinded by the Right:
The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. "Most of us,"
he writes (by which he means cohorts such as Ann Coulter, Dinesh
D'Souza, Laura Ingraharn and John Podhoretz), "were involved
in alternative campus publications- in the '80s, 'alternative'
meant conservative-funded by a right-wing outfit in Washington
called the Institute for Educational Affairs. The foundation was
chartered in 1978 by former Nixon and Ford treasury secretary
William Simon and Irving Kristol, the ex-Trotskylte intellectual
known as the godfather of conservatism, in a bid to recruit and
program cadres of young people and send them forth into ideological
battle. While it appeared to us as if the left was an all-powerful
force, the truth is that in terms of movement building, the left
didn't have the money, the discipline, or the single-mindedness
of the right."""'
After a tumultuous year as a conservative
editor of Berkeley's student newspaper, the Daily Cal, Brock was
"approached about editing the Berkeley Review, an even more
crude version of its sister publication at Dartmouth." Brock
had qualms about the 11 racist, homophobic" stance of the
Berkeley Review, so he declined the offer but was helped instead
to "found another outlet, a dignified, neoconservative weekly
magazine we called the Berkeley Journal." While still in
college, Brock also began writing for the Heritage Foundation's
Policy Review and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal,
and fresh out of college he was able to step into a job at Rev.
Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, followed by a stint at the
Heritage Foundation and from there to the American Spectator,
itself a recipient of more than $6 million in grants from Bradley,
Olin and other conservative foundations.;
Brock's big break, though, came in 1991
when Anita Hill, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma,
testified before Congress that she had been sexually harassed
by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. The Bradley Foundation
contributed $11,850 specifically to finance Brock's research as
he wrote an attack on Hill, which appeared first as an "Investigative
report" in the American Spectator."" Brock's article,
which declared that Hill was "a little bit nutty and a little
bit slutty," was then expanded into a book titled The Real
Anita Hill, which portrayed her testimony before Congress as part
of an orchestrated left-wing conspiracy to derail Thomas. The
book extensively quoted Hill's detractors, many of them anonymous,
who described her as untrustworthy," "bitter ... ..
militantly anti-male ... .. subject to wild mood swings,"
"a full-fledged campus radical" and "the world's
kinkiest law professor."
In Blinded by the Right, Brock admits
that his attacks on Hill were "a witches' brew of fact, allegation,
hearsay, speculation, opinion, and invective.... I didn't know
what good reporting Is. Like a kid Playing with a loaded gun,
I didn't appreciate the difference between a substantiated charge
and an unsubstantiated one." In fact, Brock stated, "Every
source I relied on either thought Thomas walked on water or had
a virulent animus toward Hill.... I had no access to Hill's supporters,
and therefore no understanding of their motivations, no responses
to any of my charges, and no knowledge of whatever incriminating
evidence they might have gathered against Thomas that was not
introduced in the hearing.... The conspiracy theory I invented
about the Thomas-Hill case could not possibly have been true,
because I had absolutely no access to any of the supposed liberal
conspirators.... All of my impressions of the characters I was
writing about were filtered through their conservative antagonists,
all of whom I believed without question."
Although New York Times columnist Anthony
Lewis dismissed The Real Anita Hill as "sleaze with footnotes,"
the actual book review in the Times was flattering, and it spent
eight weeks on the Times bestseller list.
Paula Jones and her lawsuit accusing Clinton of sexual harassment,
as part of a multi mill ion-dollar campaign financed by Richard
Mellon Scaife.. Called the "Arkansas Project," the campaign
was coordinated closely from the outset with The American Spectator,
which received checks of $50,000 per month to keep the project
running, generating a steady stream of scandalous allegations
about the Clinton administration. According to Brock and Spectator
editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., the initial discussions that led
to the Arkansas Project took place on a Chesapeake Bay boat trip
in mid-1993, involving four men-Tyrrell, Scaife aide Richard Larry,
Washington lawyer Stephen Boynton, and long-time Spectator board
member David Henderson, a retired public relations executive ....
.. Several sources at The Spectator, all of whom asked for anonymity,
said they thought Tyrrell had agreed to undertake the investigation
to please Larry and Scaife, the magazine's most generous supporter
since 1970," the Washington Post reported in 1999.
Brock, in Blinded by the Right concurs
"The anti-Clinton scandal machine became quite a profitable
business for rightwing publishers, pundits, and radio talk show
hosts, and we at the Spectator were pioneers," he recalled.
"In the three years that t 74 $2.5 million Arkansas Project
ran, Henderson paid himself $47/ 7,000 and Boynton made $ 5 77,000.
Of course, my own greed motivated me to play along with these
Keystone Kops, who knew nothing about Journalism. Yet I took down
their preposterous accusations that the Clintons were involved
in everything from sex orgies to drug-running to murder as if
they were legitimate, and did what I could to check them out.
This was part of my job at The Spectator, and I was paid handsomely
for it. All of us at The Spectator were in it together at some
level or another, scamming Scaife.
The career of John Stossel on ABC's 20/20 offers another example
of the way the echo chamber works to place conservative ideas
into the mainstream media, while hiding the interests of the people
who promote those ideas. Stossel's programs regularly rely on
interviews and information provided by conservative think tanks,
which in turn help advance and defend Stossel's career. Writer
David Mastio (himself a conservative pundit who writes for publications
such as National Review) detailed some of those relationships
in a February 2000 report for Salon.com. Mastio noted that Stossel
has a business arrangement with the Palmer R. Chitester Fund,
a conservative, tax-exempt nonprofit organization that is partly
financed by the Bradley and Olin foundations. Through the Chitester
Fund, Stossel's ABC specials are also used as classroom educational
materials. The Chitester Fund hires conservative economics instructors
at George Mason University, which is itself a magnet for more
than $36 million in funding from Olin, Koch, Bradley, Scaife and
other conservative foundations. The economics instructors write
study guides to go with several of Stossel's TV shows, and the
Chitester Fund sells them to schools through a program that it
calls "Stossel in the Classroom." The Heartland Institute,
a conservative think tank in Illinois also funded by Bradley,
Scaife and the others, advertises "Stossel in the Classroom"
in its publication, the School Reform News.
Stossel has been caught simply fabricating facts to fit his ideological
agenda. On February 4, 2000, he broadcast a scathing attack on
organic foods. Titled "The Food You Eat-Organic Foods May
Not Be as Healthy as You Think," Stossel's 20120 segment
suggested that organic farmers' failure to use pesticides actually
make their food less safe. "We searched the records and found
there have been no tests done that actually compare bacteria counts
in organic vs. normal food," Stossel told 20120 viewers.
"So we did our own laboratory testing." The results,
he claimed, showed that neither conventional nor organic produce
had pesticide residues, but that organic produce was more likely
to contain dangerous E. coli bacteria. "By a small margin,
more of the organic produce was contaminated than the conventional
stuff," Stossel said. "But the real bad news for you
organics buyers is that the average concentration of E. coli in
the spring mix [a bag of organic lettuce] was much higher. And
what about pesticides? Our tests surprisingly found no pesticide
residue on the conventional samples or the organic." In reality,
the pesticide tests that Stossel claimed were conducted were never
done at all. Tests had been done for bacterial contamination,
but according to the scientists hired to perform them, the tests
were incapable of proving the food safety problems that Stossel
attributed to the results.
On March 27, 2001, a pesticide-industry advocacy group called
Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) sent around
an e-mail to its members, urging them to assist CEI's Michael
Sanera, who heads a CEI project aimed at eliminating environmental
education in schools. "Mr. Sanera has been contacted by ABC
News," the e-mail explained. "A producer for John Stossel
is working on a program on environmental education. He needs examples
of kids who have been 'scared green' by schools teaching doomsday
environmentalism.... Let's try to help Mr. Stossel. He treats
industry fairly in his programs.
When an organization circulates a message
to multiple parties, sometimes copies get forwarded to other people
as well, and a copy of the RISE message wound up in the hands
of John Borowski, an environmental science teacher who lives in
Oregon. A few days later, he was surprised to receive a phone
call himself from Ted Balaker and Debbie Colloton, who identified
themselves as television producers with ABC News. Without mentioning
Stossel's name, they said that they had read a piece Borowski
wrote supporting environmental education and that they wanted
to interview him for a piece they were doing about environmental
issues. After he hung up the phone, Borowski did a bit of sleuthing.
Using an assumed name, he pretended to be a parent upset at "environmental
scare-mongering in the classroom" and contacted Angela Bendorf
Jamison, a public relations consultant to RISE. Jamison directed
him to Sanera, whom she confirmed was "working with Stossel's
people on this.""' Borowski ended up not doing the interview.
John Quigley, the executive director of
Earth Day in Los Angeles, was not so lucky. He was contacted by
Colloton for permission to film a field trip at which some 2,000
kids learned about clean energy solutions. Through Quigley, Colloton
also arranged for several elementary school kids to be interviewed
in an ABC studio as they talked about the environment. When Stossel
showed up to conduct the interview, Quigley says, "He started
asking leading questions, and it was very clear what he wanted
to get. He would say, 'Wow, it's really scary, isn't it?' And
the kids weren't scared at all and so they just looked at him.
He asked that question repeatedly .... These were bright kids,
and they were responding well. He was clearly trying to elicit
certain responses on tape. When he didn't get the verbal response
he wanted, he had the crew shoot from behind and had the students
raise their hands while he asked, 'Is the air getting dirtier
or cleaner?' It was clear that he wasn't interested in honest
dialogue but was trying to elicit certain responses for a script
lie had already written ."
After the children's parents complained
that their kids had been manipulated, Stossel appeared on Bill
O'Reilly's program on Fox News to say that the parents had been
"brainwashed" by "the totalitarian left. They want
to silence people who criticize them."",
In May 2003, Stossel was promoted to co-anchor
of 20120. "These are conservative times," an ABC source
told TV Guide. "The network wants somebody to match the times
." 13' But shouldn't a record of fair and accurate reporting
be more important than bending to the current political wind?