Secular Conservatives & Media Framingby Chip Berlet
Secular conservatives have long molded public opinion in major traditional
corporate media--large-circulation publications such as Reader's Digest,
conservative commentators on radio and TV, and even through TV drama
programs such as "I Led Three Lives," and "The FBI." There is an important
dynamic relationship between right-wing alternative media and the corporate
media. Many of the conceptual frameworks and arguments used to marginalize
left and liberal ideas in the media are first developed at think tanks
funded by right-wing foundations and corporations. After these ideas
are sharpened through feedback at conferences and other meetings, they
are cooperatively field-tested within right-wing alternative media such
as small-circulation newsletters and journals, and also by tracking responses
to rhetoric in direct mail appeals. As popular themes that resonate with
conservative audiences emerge, they are moved into more mainstream corporate
media through columns by conservative luminaries, press releases picked
up as articles in the print media, conversations on radio talk shows,
and discussions on TV news roundtables.
Secular conservatives have launched themselves into cyberspace, with
a major clearinghouse being the "Town Hall" section on Compuserve or
the Town Hall web page on the Internet. Town Hall is the best starting
off point for exploring the secular right online. Town Hall contains
articles and press releases from secular conservative groups such as
the Heritage Foundation, National Review, and Empower America,
but also a few theocratic right groups such as the Family Research Council.
As the increasingly-refined arguments reach a broader audience, they
help mobilize mass constituencies for rightist ideas. This in turn adds
to the impression that all fresh ideas are coming from the right, as
there is no comparable left infrastructure for the refinement and distribution
of ideas. For example, between 1990 and 1993 four influential conservative
magazines (National Interest, Public Interest, The New
Criterion, and American Spectator) received a total of $2.7
million in grants, while the four top left magazines (The Nation, The
Progressive, In These Times, and Mother Jones) received
less than 10 percent of that amount, under $270 thousand.
A good example of this process was documented by the National Council
for Research on Women in an analysis of how the false idea that campuses
were under siege by radical "PC Police" was constructed. The topic of
how foundation-funded conservative think tanks dominate political discourse
with claims that are frequently open to challenge on a factual or logical
basis is a topic explored by Ellen Messer-Davidow. The increased demand
for packaged information by reporters with diminishing resources to conduct
their own thorough research and investigations has amplified this dynamic.
As Lawrence Soley concluded in his article on right-wing foundations
and think tanks:
While the research of conservative think tanks isn't serious, their lobbying
efforts on behalf of corporate contributors are....Although information
on the shallowness of [conservative] think tank research is available
to the news media, reporters appear to have turned their backs on it
in order to get easy access to a soundbite or quote. Rather than asking
think tank representatives hard questions about their funding and their
lobbying efforts, reporters turn to them for their ideologically prefabricated
opinions on domestic and foreign affairs. And that's the way the news
Sources & Notes:
A regularly updated list of links to web pages of various groups
on the right is posted by Political Research Associates. at <http://www.publiceye.org/lnk_dem.html> and
by Hatewatch at <http://hatewatch.org>. For radio programs, consult
Far Right Radio Review online at <http://www.clark.net/pub/cwilkins/rfpi/frwr.html>.
David Callahan, "Liberal Policy's Weak Foundations: Fighting the Bull
Curve," The Nation, November 13, 1995, pp. 568-572.
Beth Schulman, "Foundations for a Movement: How the Right Wing Subsidizes
its Press," Extra! (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), special
issue on "The Right-Wing Media Machine," March/April 1995, p. 11. Attempts
to call The New Republic a left magazine will be met with laughter.
"To Reclaim a Legacy of Diversity: Analyzing the 'Political Correctness'
Debates in Higher Education," Washington, DC: National Council for Research
on Women, 1993.
Ellen Messer-Davidow, "Manufacturing the Attack on Liberalized Higher
Education," Social Text, Fall 1993, pp. 40-80; Davidow, "Who (Ac)Counts
and How," MMLA (The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association),
Lawrence Soley, "Right-Think Inc., City Pages, (Minneapolis,
MN), 10/31/90, p. 10.
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