David Brock’s The Republican Noise Machine

Every academic in the USA should read David Brock’s The Republican Noise Machine.  Despite the title, this discussion of how right-wing media corrupt democracy is less about the GOP than about how a strange cadre of multimillionaires, impelled by loss of prestige on the wingnut right, set about years ago to change every aspect of public discourse in America.  The movement they have funded has set loud, blustering, well-paid bullies in media outlets around the country; has submitted thousands of what purport to be research articles and honest opinion pieces to print periodicals; and has “graduated” pseudo-journalists from bogus entities specially created to install them in major newspapers and television networks.  The individuals chiefly involved have also been reinforced with huge funding from interested corporations.

The result of this quiet and well-financed campaign behind the scenes over the past thirty years has been to skew public discourse.  Although this concerted movement to alter American news media has been coordinated with selected Republican politicians since the Nixon administration, even the older “conservative” and “Republican” entities are almost unrecognizable today.

This giant campaign also extends beyond the news media:

“In addition to underwriting the think tanks, conservative foundations and corporations have poured millions directly into the academy, chartering conservative research centers to advance policy objectives in foreign policy, economics, and the law.  In this way, the Right has been able to establish strategic beachheads at a host of elite universities, including Harvard, Columbia, MIT, and Stanford, gaining credibility for ideas that might not otherwise pass muster through the traditional means of judging scholarly merit, then promoting those ideas in the media.  University of Virginia Professor Patrick J. Michaels, for example, appears frequently on television, arguing against environmental measures to curb global warming.  Michaels is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and has edited a publication funded by the Western Fuels Association, a coal producer and power cooperative.  Those associations are not typically mentioned in the broadcasts.”

It might be added that those associations are also typically not mentioned in regard to Condoleezza Rice (funded since 1980 by the ultra-right Hoover Institution, housed at Stanford).  Rice has typically received soft press treatment, while doing her part to boost the neocon and PNAC pet project of invading Iraq with a series of untruthful public statements.

In every topic of wide public import, discussion often tends to pit genuine journalists and overstretched news entities against highly paid ringers.  For those of us who wondered how or why someone like Ann Coulter could be making millions, Brock’s book elucidates:

“The think tanks provide cushy six-figure sinecures to movement ‘intellectuals,’ and to ex-government officials whose role it is to fan out in the media proselytizing for the conservative agenda, providing mainstream and right-wing media outlets with a steady stream of subsidized op-eds and talking heads.  These bought-and-paid-for conservative talkers face off in the media in debates that are made possible by right-wing financiers: If conservative special-interest money were to be eliminated from the equation, there wouldn’t be much of a conservative ‘side’ to hold up, and there would be few to do the talking.”

The reader or viewer, of course, is never told about financial connections that might lead to enlightened skepticism:

“While it may appear to readers and viewers that they are hearing hundreds of independent conclusions derived from each journalist’s research and reporting, they are really hearing from a handful of right-wing multimillionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife, whose money has gone into more than one-third of the think tanks, and from a few dozen corporations.”

Brock’s book will amply repay the time spent reading it.  One help is that it names some of the peculiar training schools for rightwing media personalities:  so, if you notice some of these characters popping up in your local media outlets, you can let your local newspaper, television station or radio station know that you know. 

News is fine.  Opinion is fine.  But when something purporting to be news or opinion is actually paid propaganda, the public has a right to know.


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