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Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Conservative Cadre (26 of 45)

This is excerpt No. 26 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

One of our aims in America’s Right Turn was to highlight conservative success stories that illustrate how conservatives can use the new and alternative media to win on the ideological and political battlefields.  No better example can be found than Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute.  The home page of its website Morton Blackwellspotlights this quotation from my longtime friend: “You owe it to your philosophy to learn how to win.”

This excerpt details the programs of the Leadership Institute as of 2004; they have continued to expand and promote the conservative movement to this day.  While the emphasis has been on training conservative students, itteaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media.  Its unique college campus network has grown to more than 1,700 conservative campus groups and newspapers, and since 1979 the Institute has trained more than 191,000 conservative activists, leaders, and students.”  It is hard to imagine where the conservative movement would be without these efforts of Morton Blackwell and his Leadership Institute.

After you read this excerpt, I urge you to go to to learn more about its current programs and how you can join them in this cause.

A Conservative Success Story

If there really were a vast, right-wing conspiracy outside of Hillary Clinton’s fevered imagination, one of its hubs would be 1101 North Highland Avenue in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.  The only problem is that Webster’s defines a conspiracy in terms of secret schemes, and there’s no secret about what the Leadership Institute is doing at this address.  It’s training tomorrow’s conservative leaders, most of them young, with a heavy emphasis on media savvys.

Sometimes your best compliments come from the other side.  So it is with the Leadership Institute, which can quote Alan Colmes, the liberal co-host of Fox News’ Hannity and Colmes:  “I wish there were people on my side of the aisle doing what you’re doing.”

Morton Blackwell, one of the key New Right leaders we portrayed in Chapter 8, started the Leadership Institute in 1979.  Today it owns the five-story building on North Highland, thanks to the generosity of a supporter of its programs, Steven P. J. Wood.  The first floor consists of the lobby and a restaurant that leases its space; the four floors above are dedicated to training, training, and more training.  Since 1979, and through 2003, the Leadership Institute has trained 37,696 students for success in media and the public policy process.

At the Institute, there is no clear demarcation between media success and public policy success – each exists to serve the other.  In today’s world, as Morton Blackwell and the Leadership Institute staff fully understand, only media-savvy politicians can survive and succeed.  Take the Institute’s “boot camp of politics,” its Youth Leadership School.  “The school is not a series of lectures on political theory and philosophy,” says Blackwell.  “It is a crash course on how to win.”   (Not that Blackwell overlooks the thought behind the action.  Students and interns get that from his Read to Lead, an introduction to 25 conservative classics, and guest speakers from academia and Washington’s think tanks.) 

Communication skills are as much a part of the Youth Leadership School’s curriculum as election-organizing skills.

Similarly, the Campus Election Workshops train student activists in electing fellow conservatives to student government.  Part of election success is organizational smarts – “choosing the right candidate” and “building an effective campaign staff.”  The rest is media smarts – “forming a message that resonates with students” and “generating catchy, unique literature to gain public support.”

Here, briefly, are some of the Leadership Institute’s programs dealing with communications and the media:

  • * Its Broadcast Journalism School provides “the training necessary to obtain positions and build careers in the highly competitive, liberal-dominated field of broadcast journalism,” according to the Leadership Institute’s program review. Started in 1992, it has had 2,448 students through 2003.  Of these, some 94 Leadership Institute graduates are working on camera fulltime in TV news, and another 214 are working behind the scenes as TV producers, writers, and such.
  • * The Institute’s Effective Television Techniques Workshops “teach conservatives how to communicate effectively on television.”  And not just youth leaders – conservative academics, state legislators, and even members of Congress come here to hone their skills.  The Heritage Foundation has sent over 200 of its public policy experts here to receive television training, and the American Legislative Exchange Council has also made good use of this program.  Genevieve Woods, herself a veteran of television and of the culture wars (she’s with the Family Research Council), is the Leadership Institute’s technical consultant for this program.
  • * The Student Publications School “gives conservatives the expertise and skills required to start and run successful independent, conservative campus newspapers,” reports the Institute’s program review.  The May 25, 2003, issue of the New York Times Magazine looked at the explosion of campus conservative publications and credited the Leadership Institute’s training of budding journalists, along with programs from other organizations such as the Young America’s Foundation (see Chapter 12) and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (see Chapter 5).  In 2003 this program helped launch a record 21 new campus publications, including ones at Michigan State University, Johns Hopkins University, and Brown University.
  • In total, around 80 publications got their start here in the form of training and small start-up grants.  The goal is to help students get started and teach them how to stay afloat financially with the help of alumni and conservative foundations, by using direct mail and other skills.  The California Patriot is now in its sixth year of publication at UC Berkeley, and the Northwestern Chronicle has been going for more than 10 years.
  • *The Capitol Hill Writing School gives conservative staffers a review of the basics of good grammar and effective constituent and colleague correspondence.  The Institute started this program when a survey by its Employment Placement Office revealed writing to be the skill highest in demand by congressional offices.
  • * It’s easy to guess the focus of the Institute’s Direct Mail School, Advanced Direct Mail School, and High Dollar Direct Mail School.  As we’ve stressed in this book, direct mail is the media used by conservative organizations to raise most of their operating funds, and these programs at the Institute teach the skills necessary to continue and expand the reach of these organizations.
  • * The Leadership Institute’s Public Relations School and Advanced Public Relations School teach its students: “Your success often hinges on how well you articulate your message through the media.  This is a tough challenge for many conservatives already disadvantaged by a major, hostile media.”
  • * In the Institute’s Public Speaking Workshops and Advanced Public Speaking Workshops “students learn how to give speeches to motivate action, to be at ease in front of an audience, and overcome common mistakes.”
  • * And the Institute’s Internet Leadership School “teaches conservatives how to use the Internet to communicate messages in the public policy arena,” including “how to create and maintain an effective Website for their cause, campaign, or organization,” and “the newest ways to use the Internet to organize and communicate.”

In these media schools and workshops, students don’t just listen to teachers – they work together with state-of-the-art equipment in the Institute’s Sacher Multi-Media Center.  In fact, the studios and equipment here are so advanced that numerous conservative organizations in the Washington area – among them the Alliance for Marriage, 60 Plus Association, and Free Congress Foundation – regularly come here to produce their television or video programs.  Graduates of the Broadcast Journalism School also use these facilities to create their resume and portfolio tapes.

Nor does this exhaust the litany of Leadership Institute programs.  More firmly in the political techniques area are its Capitol Hill Staff Training School, Legislative Project Management School, Candidate Development School, Campaign Leadership School, Foreign Service Opportunity School, Grassroots Activist School, and Freshman Legislator Training School.  This being a book on the media, however, we’ve had to place our emphasis on the programs more directly involved with media and communications.

“Friends of liberty,” Morton Blackwell observes, “should rejoice that there is, in fact, no vast, right-wing conspiracy.  If all good groups were united in one tightly led, disciplined organization, that organization would have all the efficiency of the old Soviet economy.  Adam Smith’s invisible hand works in changing public policy as well as in creating wealth.”

And a very visible helping hand from the Leadership Institute makes sure that the work of Adam Smith’s invisible hand is translated into action in Washington and across the nation.


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. “Direct Mail: A Giant Step Forward for Political Democracy”
  24. “Why Direct Mail is the Smartest Form of Advertising for Conservative Candidates”
  25. “The 1970s: Healthy Growing Pains in the Emerging Conservative Movement”
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