The Conservative Critique of the Media

Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer and president of the American Bar Association, write a memo to the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in 1971, urging him to protect the interests of business against the growing number of protesters calling for legal accountability and stricter regulations.

Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer and president of the American Bar Association, write a memo to the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in 1971, urging him to protect the interests of business against the growing number of protesters calling for legal accountability and stricter regulations.

I can hardly think of a better example of what happens when the body's different intelligence centres get disconnected from each other than the United States' fierce rivalry between the Republicans and the Democrats.  If we think of the country as one body with three brains: a head, a heart, and a gut/body, we can see how the blue states largely honor one brain at the expense of another, while the red states do the opposite. 

Long hailed as intellectual snobs who control the media, Hollywood, and higher education, the Democrats seem to honor the cultivation of the mind while ignoring or at least diminishing the importance of the lower brain in the gut from whence healthy boundaries and the ability to protect oneself are exercised.  On the other hand are the Republicans who are crying out for more protection-- both of their personal rights and of the borders of their country-- but who largely neglect to nurture the head centre from which logical thinking arises. 

Where the heart-brain in all this kerfuffle is the subject of an entirely different blog post.

While modern psychology doesn't necessarily speak of the human psyche in the terms I'm using, it would help if we thought of the chakra system here.  Imagine all seven of them laid on top of one another along the body.  The lower chakras are the first to develop in a child and have to do with how we identify the borders of one's own body (ie. where I end and mommy begins), what is mine, how I take up my space in the world and defend my boundaries.  Later on as the child develops, they develop the higher chakras of the mind where knowledge ultimately becomes wisdom.

As a mirror reflects the body, so the media reflects the political landscape of the country.  Although just like imperfect mirrors that make us look skinnier, fatter, shorter or taller than we really are, the media has long been criticized for being either too right-wing or too left-wing. 

Today I'd like to focus on the critique coming from the Conservatives, which necessitates a look at the evolution of their party over their 160 year life span. 

While the Republican political position on fiscal conservation, limited government, and freedom to conduct private enterprise has more or less remained consistent, its stance on some social issues has shifted drastically; the first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln, and as we know, he was an opponent to slavery.  The GOP held their first convention in 1854, a time when journalism was still coming to its own as a profession.  Newspaper publishers and pampleteers abounded, and it was normal at the time for newspaper publishers to state their opinion as clearly and loudly as they could.  It was not until the Progressive Era that journalists started seeing themselves as real professionals with standards and ethics to abide by, namely objectivity in reportage.

Through the 1930's, Franklin D. Roosevelt was spending large amounts of federal money on programs and make-work projects to help the poor get back on their feet and get the economy running at full speed again.  Not all, but some conservatives opposed it, saying that it negatively affected the economy by expanding government unnecessarily and giving unions too much power; during this time, Social Security was put in place and a minimum wage was set. 

By the mid-1940's, conservatives were pushing back against a federal government that they felt was getting too big for its britches.  In a backlash against what they already felt was a liberal media, a conservative newspaper was born.

In reporting the news, Human Events is objective; it aims for accurate representation of the facts. But it is not impartial. It looks at events through eyes that are biased in favor of limited constitutional government, local self-government, private enterprise, and individual freedom.

But the New Deal programs were deeply embedded in the American consciousness and only became partially dismantled in the 1980's.  From 1953 to 1961, Republican president Dwight Eisenhower left the New Deal intact, then his successor, Democrat Lyndon B Johnson, built upon that platform and implemented the Great Society initiative that was to end poverty and eliminate racism.  Even after Johnson, Republican Richard Nixon maintained the programs.

However, it took the long and messy civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's to push conservatives to a new strategy on the media.  It was no longer enough to just publish "the objective facts through a conservative lens."  It became necessary to discredit the liberal media, and they were going to do it by channeling class hostility toward the liberal journalist snobs who controlled how the news was being delivered.

In 1964, Arizona Senator Goldwater was the Republican nominee for the election against Lyndon B. Johnson.  Although he lost miserably, the lesson learned from the aftermath was that the Republicans needed to make all future campaigns about social issues, and not just focus on the economy.  The economy was boring and complicated to the electorate, but got fired up about issues like abortion, gay rights, desegregatation, gun control, and family values.  Hollywood was being taken over by liberals, they felt, and they were influencing young people to disrespect their elders and throw Judeo-Christian values out the window. 

The 1960s were rife with conflict in the United States.  In 1966, Betty Friedan organized and became president of NOW- the National Organization for Women- and styled her protests after the civil rights movement.  There were protests on behalf of the environment, and Ralph Nader was raising red flags in the electorates' minds about big corporations, unfettered by policies and legislation that would consumers safe.

By 1968, conservative strategizers had formulated an idea to get themselves into office, and they called themselves the New Right.  Richard Nixon, who was not yet in office, and two young strategizers Patrick Buchanan and Kevin Phillips listened to the rhetoric in the deep South about the moral fabric of the country coming apart and the embarassment of Vietnam, and decided that they would present America as having two classes- "the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few" [Source]. 

It worked.  By chanelling hostility toward the liberal elite which they felt overpopulated universities, the media, and bureaucracy, Republicans were able to distract voters from big business and direct their ire against what they called The New Class, thus, winning the White House.  Their strategy was to expose journalists, academics, and bureaucrats as a class of unelected "professionals and technocrats who espouse liberalism as a means to rationalize and expand their power, for example, by expanding the welfare system, which they administer" [Source- class notes].  It was during Nixon's campaign that Buchanan wrote speeches for Vice-President Spiro Agnew, getting him to call liberals, among other things, "nattering nabobs of negativism."

A few other massive influences came to bear between 1970 and 1980.  In the midst of the social movements stirring up public sentiment against big business, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell, just before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Nixon in 1971, wrote a confiential memo to his friend, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce, "[proposing] a road map to defend and advance the free enterprise system against perceived socialist, communist, and fascist cultural trends [Source].  Partly in reaction to Ralph Nader's activism, Powell's concern was that "the American economic system was under broad attack" and if social movements continued to gain momentum, corporations would no longer to be able to pursue their economic aims as freely as they wished.  He urged "corporate America to become more aggressive in molding society's thinking about business, government, politics and law in the US", calling for private funds to be directed toward foundations that would build campaigns that softened the image of corporations in the media and the general public.

Thus, in that decade, no fewer than 18 conservative think tanks, foundations, and institutes were founded to conduct research and provide what they felt was an objective and unbiased counterargument to the liberal point of view in the media.  Among them was AIM (Accuracy in Media), the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority, and the Koch Charitable Foundation.

The second influence that played a very large role in increased polarization between the left and right was the fundamentalist Christian voice that urged Evangelicals to not sit idly by while their country, with its Christian roots, was heading off into amoral territory.  Before the 1950's, Christians were happy not to get involved in politics, but Francis Schaeffer, a popular fundamentalist theologian, drew a sharp line in the sand against what he called Secular Humanism in such books as A Christian Manifesto and Whatever Happened to the Human Race?   He took particular issue with abortion, but overall felt America was losing its moral bearings on several fronts.

In A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer's argument is simple. The United States began as a nation rooted in Biblical principles. But as society became more pluralistic, with each new wave of immigrants, proponents of a new philosophy of secular humanism gradually came to dominate debate on policy issues. Since humanists place human progress, not God, at the center of their considerations, they pushed American culture in all manner of ungodly directions, the most visible results of which included legalized abortion and the secularization of the public schools. At the end of -- A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer calls for Christians to use civil disobedience to restore Biblical morality... [Source]. 

Riding on his intellectual coattails was Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist Southern Baptist pastor and activist who co-founded the Moral Majority in 1979.  Falwell powerfully and rather successfully lobbied government on behalf of Christian interests for at least three decades.  More and more, American Christians were being reminded that to be Christian was to be Republican, and there was no middle ground.

In 1996, Australian-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch created Fox News, which had as its mission to provide unbiased news coverage with a conservative point of view.  It is well-known today as a major influencer in persuading the electorate to vote Republican, although it should be noted that it has also contributed its fair share to a journalistic ecosystem that is now known today as fake news.  Overall across the political spectrum, Americans are losing confidence in the profession of journalism, and as newspapers across the country bleed ad revenue and lose readership to sensationalist news, the future of objective reportage and investigative journalism as a profession is in question.






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