The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It [sic] Corrupts Democracy
by David Brock
(Crown, 432 pages, $25.95)
DAVID BROCK THINKS AMERICA has been duped. How else to explain the popularity of talk radio and the Fox News Channel, the success of conservative books or the sprawling right-wing presence on the Internet?
The rise of the right is the result of a nefarious, decades-old campaign by conservatives to create a myth of liberal media bias. Money from wealthy benefactors has and is being used to influence the press and consciously brainwash Americans. The mainstream media are a front group for the Republican Party. And Americans don’t even know it.
That is the conclusion that people less intelligent than those reading The American Spectator might come to after reading Brock’s latest diatribe, The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It [sic] Corrupts Democracy. It’s an odd subtitle. Pouring through the book’s 350-plus pages, I got lost trying to find any attempt to prove how democracy is being corrupted by anyone. Instead I found spin, anger, and vilification. The book does not contain a single cogent argument. It is simply a continuation of the narrative in Brock’s grandiloquent memoir Blinded by the Right, a venom-filled assault on his ex-friends. Indeed, Brock’s obsession with sliming anyone with an alternative viewpoint borders on what some might call McCarthyism. (To wit, during an interview flogging the book on the Today show, the author boasted “I name all the names.”)
Brock, who’s now heading up his own media “watchdog” group, Media Matters for America, does no original research and makes no new arguments in this book. A look at the endnotes shows that most of his information was culled from sources such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), People for the American Way, a host of liberal magazines and websites, and Clinton apologist Sidney Blumenthal, whom Brock quotes as an authority on Matt Drudge! Like Joe Conason’s Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth and Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias in the News (which Brock draws upon), no convincing evidence is put forward here to show a sinister right-wing plot to brainwash and dominate America.
Indeed, these writers predictably fail because they have no leg to stand on. They dismiss the mountain of studies and surveys that show journalists overwhelmingly consider themselves liberal. The latest of which, a study from the Pew Research Center, found that only 7 percent of reporters, editors, and media executives at national news organizations label themselves conservative. There is only one Fox News amidst the sea of available TV cable news sources. Regnery is but one of a myriad of publishing houses. The editorial boards of the major dailies are still liberal. The only area where conservatives dominate is talk radio. (The recently launched liberal Air America is already a failure.)
But the fact that some — any — conservative media have succeeded at all drives Brock crazy. He cannot come to grips with the idea that consumers actually like what conservative media offer; when asked why it has developed a captive audience on the Today Show, Brock shrugged it off by saying, “there’s always been a market for lies and deceptions.”
He should speak for himself. How many other journalists have made as nice a living as he by endlessly renouncing his past? Much of Brock’s fame came as a result of his reportage in this magazine during the Clinton years. His stories on Anita Hill and Bill Clinton and Troopergate made him a Beltway boy wonder. A decade later, Brock has accomplished little else aside from a series of confessions in magazine pieces and two books throwing mud at his erstwhile allies.
So deep is his animus it has clouded his ability to think. He is waging a one-man jihad against America’s right-of-center pundits and popular thinkers, cloaking his crusade as an attack on the financiers and ideas of the conservative movement. It’s almost as if he thinks the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to those with conservative views; that they have no right to be seen or heard.
AFTER A RAMBLING, self-absorbed introduction, Brock offers a sustained tutorial in histrionics. Conservative journalists are “right-wing verbal brownshirts.” The “organized Right has sabotaged not only journalism but also democracy and truth.” (There he goes again!) The Wall Street Journal engages in a “war on journalism.” Unlike at the Journal, writes Brock, editorial writers of the Left “are not professional ideologues, reliable partisans, or serial fabricators.” The non-liberal media are referred to simplistically as “the right wing” or “the Far Right,” as if it were some kind of monolith taking orders from a central politburo. Brock calls the investigative work of this magazine, some of the most well known of which was done by him, “dubious exposés,” yet he never once offers evidence of what was wrong with it.
Brock rips into one conservative luminary after the next, each time using the same modus operandi: questioning their motives, linking them to some shady person or group, or finding the worst possible quote and using it out of context. For example, Brock writes that Richard Perle called muckraking reporter Seymour Hersh a “terrorist,” whereas the actual quote was, “Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly.” (Emphasis added.)
Conservative activist David Horowitz is pilloried for supposed rabble-rousing that led to congressional hearings into bias at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In fact, those hearings came when some PBS stations were caught providing and selling their donor lists to the Democratic Party.
In an error-laden section on media baron Conrad Black, Brock reports that when Black became an owner of the congressional newspaper The Hill, Byron York of National Review was given a weekly column. Brock never mentions that liberal blogger Joshua Micah Marshall was hired at the same time and paired with York. The book is littered with examples of this kind of dishonesty. From claiming that CNN is biased to the right, to insinuating that Ronald Reagan would have lost New York State in 1980 if it hadn’t been for the New York Post‘s endorsement, Brock’s book is transparently partisan, intellectually unserious, and boring — even laughable.
The sad thing is that Brock’s work pre-apostasy still stands out as some of the most interesting and consequential journalism of the Clinton years.
Adam Daifallah is a member of the editorial board at Canada’s National Post. He is a former Washington correspondent of the New York Sun, a newspaper which Brock attacks in his book for having labeled China “red.” This review appears in the July-August issue of The American Spectator.