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A Revolution in the Past 14 Years: Conservatives and Alternative Media

Fourteen years ago, we wrote America’s Right Turn.  The subtitle of the book explains why America took that right turn:  How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power.

In the past few months, we have serialized 45 excerpts from America’s Right Turn in  Now we wish to analyze how that alternative media landscape has changed and expanded since the book was Viguerie Right Turnpublished.

In a media revolution, historic changes advance at an accelerated speed.  We showed how that happened in two previous media revolutions—Martin Luther’s use of the new printing press in the media revolution of 1517, and the American colonists’ use of the new technology to involve nearly all of the free population and create a “world turned upside down”—the media revolution of 1776.

We are in the midst of a third media revolution—the introduction of new and alternative media that started in the 1960s.  These new media provided an alternative to the established and Establishment media—the three broadcast TV networks, powerful newspapers like the New York Times, and New York-dominated literary media (primarily books and magazines).  It was a political revolution because those established media were uniformly liberal, and conservatives—shut out of the old media—were the first to use the new media to gain some power.

Political direct mail was the first of the new and alternative media, introduced by your coauthor Richard Viguerie in the 1960s.  It was truly revolutionary in impact—for the first time a broad swath of ordinary citizens became involved in the organization and finance of political campaigns.  Liberals woke up to its potential when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 with significant help from direct mail.  By the time America’s Right Turn was published, the two sides were roughly equivalent in the use of direct mail for political organization and financing, though we judged the liberals to be somewhat more advanced in their efforts.  That continues to be the situation to this day.

Talk radio was the next big alternative media.  Conservatives dominated this medium then, and continue to dominate it today.  Liberal efforts such as Air America Radio and Democracy Radio have failed to erode the conservative dominance in talk radio.  We considered some possible reasons for this, but have to leave it to future social historians to explain more conclusively why this is a conservative medium.

Then came cable television as the alternative to the three broadcast networks.  Its impact on political news and campaigning was just beginning to be noticed when America’s Right Turn was published, but the trend was clear and has continued in the last 14 years.  Cable TV has toppled the broadcast networks as a source of political and campaign news.  Ideologically it’s a wash.  Conservative Fox News has roughly the audience of liberal CNN and liberal MSNBC combined.  But that’s more exposure than conservatives ever had in the era of the broadcast network triopoly.   

The Internet has had the greatest revolutionary impact of the new media that were around in 2004.  It was still in its infancy then, but—as with cable television—the trend was clear.  The Internet and talk TV are now the major sources of political and campaign news, followed by talk radio.  And ideologically the balance is the same as with cable TV—rough parity between left and right.  But its impact for conservatives is actually far deeper.  Individual conservatives—not just journalism professionals—now have an unlimited number of ways to contribute to political discussion on the Internet.  We have hundreds, even thousands, of sources to consult in finding our political news and forming our political opinions.  And we can organize political forums, movements, and campaigns directly on the Internet, free of the financial restraints that made print advocacy largely limited to the rich and powerful.  This is a revolution the scope of which we never dreamed about in the infancy of the conservative movement.

Books have not disappeared, as it was so fashionable to predict when the Internet was new.  But the digital revolution has expanded how they are published and promoted, with the introduction of Amazon Kindle and its competitors.  Ideologically, conservatives now have a voice, in contrast to the near-blackout of conservatives when New York print publishers dominated the book industry.  In print books, we have Regnery Publishing and other ventures.  And digital books are open to anyone, conservative or liberal, who is interested in learning the ropes.

Magazines, on the other hand, have virtually disappeared as a print source of political and campaign news, though we treasure the ones we have. As even more prominently with newspapers, their focus has changed from print to digital.  Which means that conservatives now have as much opportunity with digital magazines (and especially blogs, that Internet add-on) as they wish to grab.

The new kid on the block

Social media—Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and their competitors—have had as great an impact on political and campaign news as the introduction of the Internet itself, and of course they depend on the Internet for the distribution of their impact.  All of this has happened since we wrote America’s Right Turn in 2004. 

Add in Google as the predominant search engine that directs us to what’s available on the Internet, and you have a leftist Silicon Valley consortium that has more power over our politics than the “Robber Barons” had over American industry in the 19th century.  And they are starting to use that technological power to censor conservatives.  Countering this is our main challenge once the midterm election is behind us.  We must do that or they will curtail our political power as effectively as the TV broadcast networks did before the alternative media revolution of the 1960s.

The social media have spread throughout all of society, among conservatives and liberals alike.  Putting aside the impact of Silicon Valley censorship for the time being, it is hard to judge which side is using the social media more effectively, and how long the present players will enjoy their consortium-monopoly power.  The possible technological changes are simply impossible to predict.

Who, a few years ago, for example, would have predicted how an activist and fighting president like Donald Trump would use Twitter to set the nation’s political agenda—or at least capture its attention?  The Left, for all its power, hasn’t figured out how to counter The Donald’s midnight and early morning Tweets!  And “Tweet” wasn’t even part of our language just a few years ago.

Given the threat of Silicon Valley censorship, we must note that while political direct mail now shares the alternative media throne with all the other players, it remains the safest of the alternative media for conservatives.  While the Left is opposed to free speech in any form when it is conservatives who are speaking, they are hampered when it comes to direct mail by the First Amendment.  There is a straight line from the pamphlets and broadsides protected by the Founders in the Bill of Rights, to today’s political news and commentary brought to you by direct mail.  And the Viguerie company, American Target Advertising, has continued in its efforts to this day, sending out hundreds of millions of political direct mail letters in the 2018 midterm election cycle. 

Bottom line:  Conservatives dominate in talk radio.  President Trump dominates Twitter.  Liberals dominate in direct mail.  There is rough parity between conservatives and liberals in cable television, the Internet, and social media.  And the future is what we make of it.

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
  36. “Conservative Writers Get New Venues as Columnists and in Magazines”
  37. Conservative Authors Fire a New Weapon: Books with Ideas That Have Consequences
  38. “The World Turned Upside Down: How the Internet Empowers the Individual”
  39. Why Politicians Like Hillary Don’t Want You to Have the Choices Offered by the Internet
  40. “Conservatives and Libertarians Embrace the Internet”
  41. Liberals Use the Internet to Move On Past the Clinton Impeachment
  42. “Howard Dean and Joe Trippi Create the First Internet-Based Presidential Campaign”
  43. “Stirrings on the Right Side of the Internet”
  44. “How Alternative Media Have Changed American Politics: The View from 2004”
  45. Alternative Media and the Future of Conservatism - As Seen in 2004
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