Echo Chamber

excerpted from the book

Banana Republicans

How the Right Wing Is Turning America into a One-Party State

by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber

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 holdings.

"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 story.

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 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?

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