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Conservative Writers Get New Venues as Columnists and in Magazines (36 of 45)

This is excerpt No. 36 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

Conservative stalwarts like M. Stanton Evans trained thousands of young journalists.  Many of them took M. Stanton Evansadvantage of expanding opportunities with the new alternative media, as columnists and magazine writers.

The columnists established a conservative beachhead in print newspapers, and later online, and the new writers filled the pages of the conservative magazines that proliferated with the alternative media revolution.  Sadly, Stan Evans is no longer with us and Human Events has ceased print publication, but this excerpt shows the progress conservatives had made up to 2004, when America’s Right Turn was published.

Training New Conservative Journalists

As bad as the imbalance toward liberals is in the ranks of journalists, it would be worse were it not for one of the relatively unsung heroes of the conservative movement, M. Stanton Evans.  Stan was associated for years with Human Events, served a stint as editorial page editor of the Indianapolis News, and is the author of a number of books.  But the role in which he’s had his most lasting impact is as a teacher of young budding journalists of the conservative persuasion.

Evans’ initiation in that role came in 1957, when he was the managing editor of Human Events and he supervised the first three work/scholarship students in the Human Events Journalism School – David Franke, coauthor of this book; William Schulz, who later became Washington editor of Reader’s Digest; and Douglas Caddy, who rounded out his career as a lawyer with political activism and the writing of a number of books.  Twenty years later Evans created the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., training more than 1,400 students before his recent retirement.  Of those trainees, an estimated 900 have taken media and media-related positions.

And they don’t just write for tiny right-wing rags – not that there’s anything wrong with writing for tiny right-wing rags.  Take a look at nationaljournalismcenter.org and you’ll find articles written by alumni that have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, Wired – even The New Republic.  Every week in the Wall Street Journal you’ll find the column of John Fund (NJC summer ’81), and almost as often you’ll find a new bestseller by Ann Coulter (NJC spring ’85).  The National Journalism Center has indeed made a difference by teaching young conservatives: Don’t just complain about the media – join and help make it right.

Since Evans’ retirement the National Journalism Center has been run by Young America’s Foundation (which also owns Ronald Reagan’s ranch in California), under the direction of libertarian newsman Kenneth E. Grubbs Jr.  The group’s financial resources should assure the continued expansion of this valuable link in the conservative movement’s penetration of the media.

(See also our excerpt No. 26, “Conservative Success Story: Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Cadre,” for another notable conservative effort at training future journalists.)

Conservative Columnists Come to the Fore

When the conservative movement first started, the two most influential columnists in the United States were Drew Pearson and Walter Lippmann.  Pearson was a dependably leftist muckraker.  Lippmann was a classical liberal (i.e., conservative) intellectual on some topics during some periods of his life, but by the time we’re talking about he had shed those convictions and was a modern welfare-state liberal.

Conservatives had no national counterparts to Pearson and Lippmann.  We had some excellent Washington correspondents, for papers such as the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun, but they appeared only in their local papers.  And we had nationally syndicated columnist David Lawrence, who was also editor of U.S. News.  Lawrence had an excellent commonsense business approach to issues, but he had neither the intellectual firepower of a Lippmann nor the muckraking power of a Drew Pearson.

Then, as in so many other areas, came Bill Buckley.  In addition to National Review and his PBS show, The Firing Line, and countless speeches, WFB Jr. found time to write a three-times-a-week syndicated column that spared no liberal and quickly became one of the top columns in America.

Buckley was the first new conservative columnist with nationwide impact in the Sixties.  As the conservative movement grew, the number of conservative columnists grew.  Go today to Townhall.com and you’ll find 67 conservative columnists; go to ConservativeChronicle.com and you’ll find 35 columnists and 27 cartoonists.  And that’s just part of the picture.

Christian Rightist Cal Thomas may be the most widely distributed conservative writer in the nation, with more than 550 newspapers printing his column.  Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will appears in more than 460 newspapers.  William F. Buckley Jr. is still going strong with more than 300 newspapers; Robert Novak and Mona Charen each appear in more than 200; Phyllis Schlafly, in more than 100.  Go through the roster and you’ll find a variety of right-wingers ranging from Joseph Sobran to Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro, to libertarians such as Thomas Sowell, Alan Reynolds, Charley Reese, Doug Bandow, and Bruce Bartlett.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of his career as a columnist, Robert Novak noted that he had been called a “redbaiter, Arabist, Communist China (and U.S. corporate) apologist, labor baiter, homophobe, warmonger, isolationist – and, most recently, unpatriotic conservative.  All these are base canards, but they reflect the tensions of our era…. The Washington of the ’60s was neither as polarized nor as partisan as the Washington of today.”

About Those Tiny Right-Wing Rags

Given our personal backgrounds writing for and publishing a number of ideological magazines, we trust you’ll understand we’re referring to them as “right-wing rags” only in the most affectionate sense of self-mockery.  We’re hooked on them, and every movement needs them.  Their subscription numbers may be miniscule compared to those of the media giants, but they have an importance far beyond those numbers.  These publications are the laboratories where a movement tests out new ideas and strategies, and where the different factions duke it out.  They serve as advance warning systems that give you a peek at the issues you’ll hear about on TV next, and then out of the mouths of political candidates.

Of course, time is more and more compressed in modern society.  The same people serving as editors and writers for these ideological magazines now also appear as “talking heads” on TV and radio talk shows, and sometimes even as speechwriters for candidates.  So it doesn’t take as long as it once did for ideas to make this transition into general currency, but the ideological magazines still serve a useful function as incubators.

No magazine had a greater impact – as an incubator of ideas, as a political petri dish creating the recipe for a new political culture – than National Review, of course, and we described its critical role in the formation of the conservative movement in excerpt No. 9.  In the 1970s, The Viguerie Company’s Conservative Digest served as the transmission belt for New Right ideas and programs, as that faction transformed the conservative movement.  Because of its forthright leadership, Conservative Digest received more publicity than any other opinion magazine in America between 1975 and 1985.

Then conservative opinion journals really took off during the Clinton years – ideological magazines thrive in an adversarial climate.  During the Clinton era, the American Spectator became the largest opinion magazine in America – reaching a peak circulation of around 280,000 – with its exposes of the many sins of the Clinton administration and its entourage.  That bubble burst for a number of reasons, among them the eviction of the Democrats from the White House.  The magazine underwent changes in ownership and editorial direction that mystified its dwindled band of followers.  While it’s now back in the hands of its founding editor, R. Emmett Tyrrell, its financial future is shaky and it’s hard to find a copy of the Spectator on a newsstand.

Just as National Review played a key role in shaping the original conservative movement and Conservative Digest was the organ of the New Right, so, today, the Weekly Standard serves as the ideological flagship of the “neoconservatives” in their takeover of the intellectual division of the conservative movement.  This is the faction that called for war in Iraq and for forcefully exporting American-style democracy around the world.  William Kristol started the Weekly Standard in 1995 with $3 million in start-up money from Rupert Murdoch, and while it has never achieved a large circulation it probably is the most influential ideological magazine in Bush-era Washington.

National Review is still in business, but Bill Buckley has turned over the reins to Rich Lowry and his band of – yes – neoconservatives.  While National Review now shares the conservative spotlight with a number of competitors, it still has the highest circulation among them.  That’s probably because of its “branding” as the first intellectual organ of the conservative movement.

The neoconservative takeover has been massive but not complete.  In October 2002, Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos started the American Conservative to promote Buchanan’s brand of Old Right views, including opposition to the war in Iraq.  Scott McConnell, formerly editorial page editor of the New York Post, is executive editor of the American Conservative, and Ronald Burr – who had brought the American Spectator to its peak circulation of 280,000 during the Clinton years – is handling the new magazine’s circulation.  Also, from out in the boonies (Rockford, Illinois), Chronicles gives a voice to Old Right writers and academicians on political and cultural issues.

Then there are the libertarians – an important part of the Right, but not conservative.  The libertarian flagship is Reason magazine, based in Los Angeles, which promotes “free minds and free markets.”  And out in Port Townsend, Washington (the state), you’ll find the offices of the small-circulation but lively Liberty magazine.  Of course, we’re only considering print publications in this chapter, and libertarians are much more active and prominent on the Internet, as we’ll see in a coming excerpt.

And throughout the ups and downs of the conservative movement, from the very beginning, there’s been Human Events.  Originally a newsletter, this tabloid serves as both a journal of opinion and a source of news on what’s happening in the movement.  Tom Winter (editor in chief) and Terence Jeffrey (editor) oversee its invaluable function as “the national conservative weekly.”

When we look at circulation figures for the larger, established ideological magazines, this is what we find on the Right:

Circulations of Right-Wing Ideological Magazines

                                               National Review                                   160,000
                                               Human Events                                     65,000
                                              The Weekly Standard                             60,000   
                                              Reason                                                   52,000
                                              Insight                                                    40,000

And this is what we find on the Left:

Circulations of Left-Wing Ideological Magazines

                                                Mother Jones                                     228,000
                                                The Nation                                          160,000
                                                The New Republic                               61,000

Then there are the magazines that deal with a broad array of cultural topics, but whose politics overall are in the liberal camp.  They’re not, strictly speaking, “opinion magazines,” but they certainly have an impact on the political conversation of the nation, and in particular the intellectual class.  To appreciate the great advantage held by the liberals in this realm, look at these circulation figures:

Circulations of Liberal “Cultural” Magazines

Vanity Fair                                          1,183,000        
The New Yorker
                                     987,000
Atlantic Monthly                                     494,000
Utne Reader                                          240,000
Harpers Magazine                                  229,000

From these figures, it is obvious that liberals remain dominant in print-based opinion journals, though conservatives have a decent beachhead.  A liberal could counter that any number of financial magazines and religious publications have editorial views that are conservative.  True, but most people don’t turn to them for their political views.  They turn to them primarily for financial advice or religious counsel.  In the realm of print political opinion journals, the liberals remain dominant.

America’s Right Turn serialization:

To order American's Right Turn from Amazon please click this link.

  1. “Media Monopolies Declare War on Conservatives”
  2. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the West’s First Media Revolution”
  3. “What Conservatives Can Learn from America’s First Media Revolution”
  4. “The Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  5.  “More Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  6. “Money in Politics:  Everyone Complains About It, but Every Political Movement Needs It”
  7. “Conservatives in the Wilderness: American Politics in 1955” 
  8. Conservatives in the Wilderness: Restless, but Lacking Leadership
  9. “How William F. Buckley Jr. Gave Birth to the Conservative Movement”
  10. “How Barry Goldwater Gave Political Voice to the New Conservative Movement”
  11. “Why There Was No Mass Libertarian Movement—Lessons for Conservatives”
  12. “1964:  This is What Happens When the Other Side Controls the Mass Media”
  13. “Thanks to Shamelessly Dishonest Liberals, Conservatives Have No Chance in 1964
  14. “How Conservatives Turned a Lemon (1964) Into Lemonade (the Future Successful Movement”
  15. Conservatives Test a New Secret Weapon
  16. “Conservatives Use Their Secret Weapon to Create a Revolution”
  17. “Conservatives Grow Under the Radar, Testing Their New Secret Weapon”
  18. “Why Direct Mail Is So Powerful for Insurgents—Like Conservatives”
  19. “Creating the Religious Right, and Electing Reagan, Using Alternative Media”
  20. “Phyllis Schlafly Showed Us How to Stop an ‘Inevitable’ Leftist Crusade”
  21. “Liberals Learn How to Use the Conservatives’ Secret Weapon”
  22. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the Man Who Built the Modern Liberal Movement”
  23. “Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Conservative Cadre”
  24. “From FDR to Rush Limbaugh: The Talk Radio Revolution”
  25. “Talk Radio Demolishes Hillarycare, and Provides a New Battleground for the Culture Wars”
  26. “Why Liberals Fail—While Conservatives Succeed—on Talk Radio”
  27. “How the NRA Used Alternative Media to Save the Second Amendment”
  28. “C-SPAN Starts the Revolution Against TV’s Liberal Gatekeepers”
  29. “Fox Replaces CNN as King of Cable, Giving Conservatives a Voice on TV News”
  30. “Direct Mail: A Giant Step Forward for Political Democracy”
  31. “Why Direct Mail is the Smartest Form of Advertising for Conservative Candidates”
  32. “The 1970s: Healthy Growing Pains in the Emerging Conservative Movement”
  33. “Rush Limbaugh Becomes Talk Radio’s #1 Star; the “Tea Bag” Rebellion Becomes Its First Big Victory”
  34. “Cable TV—With Fox in the Lead—Becomes America’s Primary Source of Campaign News” 
  35. Political News and Impact: Newspapers Tumble—and Liberals Face Competition
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