Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Stop That Noise

David Brock’s new book is excerpted in Salon.com.

For the first time since 1929, the Republican Party controls all three branches of government. Fewer people identify with the Democratic Party today than at any time since the New Deal. Conservatism seems the prevailing political and intellectual current, while liberalism seems a fringe dispensation of a few aging professors and Hollywood celebrities. People ask me, a former insider, how the Republican Right has won political and ideological power with such seeming ease and why Democrats, despite winning the most votes in the last three presidential elections, seem to be caught in a downward spiral, still able to win at the ballot box but steadily losing the battle for hearts and minds.

While it is not the only answer, my answer is: It’s the media, stupid.

When I say this, in a more respectful way, to folks outside the right wing, I usually get either of two responses. Those who receive their news from the New York Times and National Public Radio give me blank stares. They are living in a rarefied media culture — one that prizes accuracy, fairness, and civility — that is no longer representative of the media as a whole. Those who have heard snippets of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, have caught a glimpse of Bill O’Reilly’s temper tantrums on the FOX News Channel, or occasionally peruse the editorials in the Wall Street Journal think I’m a Cassandra. They view this media as self-discrediting and therefore irrelevant. They are living in a vacuum of denial.

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Those who understand what I mean are either members of the media itself, have read media-criticism books or Internet sites devoted to the subject, or are in the political trenches every day dealing with the media. The gap between those who recognize right-wing media power for what it is and those who don’t is wide and deep, as if they inhabit parallel universes. The gap is dangerous to democracy and needs to be closed.

I know there is a Republican Noise Machine because I was once part of it. From the Washington Times, to a stint as a “research fellow” at the Heritage Foundation (the Right’s premier think tank), to a position as an “investigative writer” at the muckraking magazine The American Spectator, and as the author of a best-selling right-wing book, I forwarded the right-wing agenda not as an open political operative or advocate but under the guise of journalism and punditry, fueled by huge sums of money from right-wing billionaires, foundations, and self-interested corporations.

By the time I said good-bye to the right wing in 1997, what was once a voice in the wilderness was drowning out competing voices across all media channels. The most influential political commentator in America, 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. Conservatives had changed the face of the cable news business with the establishment of the top-rated FOX News Channel, a slicker broadcast version of the Moonie Washington Times. Pundit Ann Coulter and her fanatical ilk topped the best-seller lists, becoming superstars in the world of political punditry. 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. Although enormous subsidies were still being pumped into right-wing media that did not turn a profit, right-wing media also had become a multibillion-dollar business, a development that powerfully affected all other commercial media.

The lies, smears, and vicious caricatures leveled against Bill and Hillary Clinton by this right-wing media, and then repeated in virtually every media venue in the country, have now been well documented, not least in “Blinded by the Right.” In that book, I compared the anti-Clinton propaganda to a virus as it seeped off the pages of the Spectator into the minds of every sentient American. My memoir ended in 2000; what I did not fully comprehend then, but what is apparent to me now as I have watched the politics of the last few years unfold, is that the virus was not Clinton-specific. In fact, it had nothing to do with the Clintons per se; rather, in different strains, it would afflict any and every political opponent of the right wing, including Al Gore, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, and the mourners of Senator Paul Wellstone, every major Democrat seeking the presidency in 2004, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org. What we have here, as a criminal investigator might say, is a pattern.

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My view is that unchecked right-wing media power means that in the United States today, no issue can be honestly debated and no election can be fairly decided. If California voters recall their governor in the belief that the state budget deficit is four times higher than it actually is, if Americans think Saddam Hussein was behind September 11 before hearing any evidence, if 19 percent of the public thinks it is in the top 1 percent tax bracket, if Americans view criticism of the government’s national security policies as tantamount to treason — thank the right-wing media and those who abet it.

Read the rest here (subscription / Day Pass required).

The Right Wing has it so knocked. They can just make shit up. Meanwhile, people with scruples…