WASHINGTON, February 22, 2014 — John Derbyshire has deplored the consolidation of establishment conservative opinion-sources during the last two decades, a tendency exemplified by the viewer-success of Fox news. Fifty years ago, those who considered themselves to be thinking conservatives were forced to read magazines and books in developing their views; now they are saturated with the latest GOP talking points simply by turning on their televisions.
What renders this change even more deplorable is that the benefactor who pays for Fox, Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, National Review, and other GOP-friendly publications is a single Australian press baron: Rupert Murdoch.
Although Murdoch may not oversee every issue of every publication he finances or every rant on Fox, his attitudes influence what he pays for. He is an ardent, outspoken Zionist, an advocate of a vigorous American interventionism, and an avowed social liberal, who in the past supported the career of Hillary Clinton. Not accidentally, those projects he has decided to finance feature a liberal internationalist foreign policy, predictably one-sided reporting on Middle Eastern affairs, and the willingness to shift to the left on most social issues.
Murdoch has consigned his projects to those who are identifiably neoconservative and the reason is clear; they and he see eye-to-eye on most issues. While all are entirely open to allowing those further on the left to write for their publications and appear on their TV channel, they have cut out of their conversation thinkers and authors on the Old Right (the side to which I belong), and in fact anyone thought to be leaning too far in a reactionary direction.
The Murdoch media empire structures the relevant political debate between conventional Republicans, who usually share their foreign policy slant, and liberal Democrats. Although a few libertarians and religious enthusiasts are thrown into the mix, they are there mostly as window dressing. Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are the regularly featured commentators. Of late, George Will has become a Fox-all-star but contributes nothing but a starchy WASP style to his stilted formulation of mostly standard neoconservative views.
Fox and the other wards of the Murdoch Empire have cemented the identification of “conservatism” with GOP politics. They have made it increasingly difficult to discuss “conservative philosophy” without bringing in GOP talking points and cheering squads. Equally ominous, intellectually undistinguished celebrities are presented to us as intellectually independent, fiercely courageous “conservatives” by virtue of having voted for some Republican presidential candidate. These favored few are mostly indistinguishable from other Hollywood celebrities, despite the fact they may have chosen to vote Republican in some election.
Murdoch publications never hide the glaringly obvious prejudices of neoconservatives against certain groups, e.g., Germans, Russians and, above all, the critics of the neoconservative policy of imposing state-of-the-art American democracy on other parts of the globe. As an historian, I don’t even have to bother to read reviews in my field in National Review, Weekly Standard, or Wall Street Journal because their slant is so predictable.
Long after these interpretations were exposed as nonsense or mere rhetorical postures, one could still read in the recipients of Murdoch philanthropy that the German Empire was solely responsible for the outbreak of World War One, that H.L. Mencken revealed fascist sympathies because he opposed American entry into that war, and that Russia was doomed to Stalinist tyranny because it failed to produce an Abraham Lincoln in the nineteenth century. One can also read in the Murdoch press that ancient Athens was a precursor of America’s drive to be a global democracy. By contrast, Athens’s rival Sparta supposedly provided a foretaste of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany or an early version of Russian autocracy. In all these cases what started out as neoconservative eccentricities are elevated into indisputable truth bordering on religious dogma.
Mind you, I do not begrudge people their right to be nutty. I just wish there were more dissenting views and less partisan politics let into the conservative club. This will probably not happen unless real diversification of funding and professional opportunities becomes possible on the right.
The degree to which non-authorized views have been read out of what still perceives itself as a conservative movement was made clear to me when I began receiving nasty letters from readers of my newspaper columns in Central Pennsylvania. These readers were appalled that I would dare to disagree with people they had seen on Fox, and some of these unfriendly letter-writers questioned my credentials as a Republican, although I never claimed to hold those credentials. One devoutly Evangelical lady assured me that I was going to Hell for disagreeing with Charles Krauthammer, who spoke every night — presumably ex cathedra — as a Fox All-star. There was, however, some minor disagreement among my critics concerning which theological authority has a more direct pipeline to Heaven, Krauthammer or Rush Limbaugh.
Although I find Limbaugh’s anti-Democratic invectives at least as tiresome as Will’s or Kraut’s pontificating or O’Reilly’s rudeness to his guests, at least, to his credit, Rush operates independently of Murdoch dough. It seems, however, that Rush also associates Republican rooters with deep thinkers. His loud-mouthed partisanship has all the intellectual sophistication of sports fans at a stadium pulling for the home team. And in the world of Fox and Limbaugh, that is what it comes down to, rooting for Team A against Team B.
There still are conservative websites and conservative publications that survive in this age of gross vulgarization and mindless party-lining. These enterprises aren’t read by more than a few thousand people, and most of them would not be to the taste of Mr. Murdoch or even be comprehensible to Rush and other Republican cheer-leaders.
These endeavors scrape by on a shoe-string, and I volunteer my efforts to keeping some of them in operation. Very few of the contributors to these websites and publications describe themselves as Republicans. More than a few actually voted for Obama in the last presidential race, if there was no third party candidate available on the ballot in their states. So deep is the revulsion of these people for the Republicans, the GOP neoconservative puppet-masters, and the prepackaged talking points that faithful followers are supposed to identify as “conservatism.”
Although I‘ve asked this question for decades, no one of note seems interested in answering it: “What exactly is conservative about any of this?”