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Response to Review no. 962

Professor Sarah Eppler Janda is to be congratulated for the fine review she produced of Conservatism in America. I could not have summarized my own work more lucidly or with greater force than she has. It was a delight to see this book, which authorized movement conservative publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard and National Review, studiously ignored, receiving serious treatment from a serious scholar.

I agree with Professor Janda’s judgment, that a chapter on the ‘conservative media’ would have enhanced my analysis. Because of the spatial limits required for my project and because of my focus on the published word, I failed to discuss in detail what has become the trump card in the movement conservative hand. For the last 14 years FOX News has allowed the predominantly neoconservative powerbrokers of the movement to prevail. Today, thanks to this widely watched 24/7 news channel, televised opinion-makers can decisively influence the GOP and the Beltway conservative policy community.

The tens of billions of dollars Australian press magnate Rupert Murdoch has bestowed on his neoconservative clients, a seemingly inexhaustible gift that funds the Weekly Standard and New York Post as well as FOX, has provided Murdoch’s beneficiaries with new visibility. This came after a period of relative eclipse in the 1990s, characterized by diminished influence during the Clinton and Bush One administrations. What renders FOX particularly useful for controlling the conservative movement from the top down is not only whom or what it chooses to focus on. Equally important is whom the channel chooses to ignore or marginalize, which is everyone and everything on the small-government, isolationist right, except for the feisty Ron Paul. But even the occasional appearances on FOX by Congressman Paul are usually limited to answering questions about how the Democratic Party’s economic policy is ruining America. A critic of Bush’s war of choice, Ron Paul and his equally non-conformist son, who is running for senator from Kentucky, are clearly anathema to FOX regulars. These regular contributors openly vent their contempt for these and other ‘quirky’, ‘dotty’ opponents of neoconservative Weltpolitik.

FOX has also created a medium for uniformly indoctrinating all movement conservatives and Republican Party members with a monolithic party-line. Resonant support for wars proclaimed as crusades for human rights and as struggles against ‘Islamofascism’, acceptance of the Republican as opposed to the Democratic version of the welfare state, and the recycling of every tired old face from the G. W. Bush administration, including that pedestrian operator Karl Rove, as a Tea Party rebel are all daily features on this ‘news channel’. And it is hard to persuade those who consider themselves to be on the right that positions that self-styled American conservatives routinely held before the existence of FOX and the neoconservative ascendancy were often incompatible with views that movement conservatives are now supposed to embrace. This confusion is understandable. Self-described conservatives of my acquaintance watch FOX for at least ten hours every day and seem to have memorized all its ‘talking points’ and predictable responses.

I would also note that what I call the ‘value game’ in the present conservative movement, which is justifying policy shifts (usually toward the left) by associating them with ‘permanent values’, is particularly easy with a mass outlet like FOX. Once the channel proclaims a policy to be ‘conservative’ and invests it with a value pedigree, it becomes impossible for dissenters to dispute effectively either the policy or value in question. This becomes increasingly the case as movement conservative publications become adjuncts of FOX. The channel now features and promotes authorized ‘movement conservative’ editors and bloggers. Given the declining influence of the printed word and the rise of televised pictures of reality, this dependence on TV patronage is hardly surprising.