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This is What Happens When the Other Side Controls the Mass Media (12 of 45)

This is excerpt No. 12 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

You think the mainstream media—the establishment media—are bad today?  Take a trip back to 1964, when conservatives first challenged the establishment with the Goldwater presidential campaign. Look at what the Klan for Goldwater admost prestigious publications had to say about new author Bill Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and all conservatives. Some things never change. 

And back then there were no big alternative media havens where conservatives could hear—and tell—the other side of the story.  There was no Fox News, no Rush Limbaugh, no Internet.

The liberal media first sought to ignore conservatives and their message.  When that didn’t work, they responded with epithets of “fascist,” “Nazi,” “anti-Semites.”  And those smear tactics came from the most “respected” media, not just the fringes.  As I say, some things never change. 

But conservatives refused to die, and they refused to let the liberal smear campaign go unchallenged.  Bob Dylan’s “the times they are a’changin” became a favorite theme of the cultural left in the 1960s, but it was conservatives who would bring about the biggest political change.  

Warning: This chapter contains excerpts from liberal media that may be offensive to people with a brain.

By the numbers, 1964 was an unmitigated disaster for conservatives.  After defeating Nelson Rockefeller at the GOP convention in San Francisco, Barry Goldwater suffered a humiliating defeat himself at the hands of President Lyndon B. Johnson.  He got only 27,176,799 votes, or 39 percent of the total.  LBJ got 43,126,506 votes – a commanding 61 percent.  Goldwater carried only six states – his home state of Arizona and the Southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, giving him a pittance of 52 electoral votes.

Furthermore, as Lee Edwards notes, “Johnson’s victory was overwhelming in every region (except the Deep South) and every voting bloc (except among Republicans, and even 20 percent of them defected to LBJ).  Republicans lost two seats in the Senate, 37 in the House of Representatives, and 541 in the state legislatures.  They added one governor.  Of the 54 Republican congressmen who had endorsed Goldwater before the convention and then had run for reelection, 20 were defeated.”

Yes, indeed – by the numbers, 1964 was an unmitigated disaster for conservatives.

Yet, as hindsight shows us, the conservative movement not only survived 1964 but went on to establish increasing control over the Republican Party as well as periodic control of Congress and the White House.  How could that happen?

As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story.

The “unbiased” and “objective” liberal media

At the beginning, the approach of the establishment media toward the first conservative efforts was to ignore them.  When the “rumble on the Right” became too loud to ignore, the tactic was to smear it.  Some attacks were pretty bland by the standards of political vitriol – “America needs responsible conservatives, but these guys aren’t responsible or conservative.”  The others were increasingly nasty – attaching labels to conservatives ranging from “crackpot” and “ultra-“ (always “ultra-”) “right” to the Big Berthas in the liberal arsenal: “fascist” and “Nazi.”

Again, a little historical perspective is in order for today’s younger conservatives.  The era we’re talking about – 1955 to 1964 – was obviously much closer to World War II than we are today.  And Americans were still assimilating the full extent of Nazi atrocities against the Jews, which FDR had kept hidden during the war.  In this environment, to call someone a “Nazi” or a “fascist” was the ultimate exile from respectable and permissible society.  And it didn’t help American conservatives that the Nazis and fascists in Europe were commonly labeled “the Right” (even though they were national socialists, truly placing them on the Left).  Sloppy or devious minds would draw up a conspiracy chart for you if you were too dimwitted to make the connection yourself: Nazis in Europe = the “Right.”  Conservatives in America = the “Right.”  Ergo, “conservatives” = “Nazis.”

It didn’t matter that the conservative movement was headed by persons representing the two ethnic groups most hated by real American Nazis – Barry Goldwater (half-Jewish in his heritage) and William F. Buckley Jr. (a Catholic).  It didn’t matter that other Jews played a prominent role in the founding of the conservative movement, people such as the movement’s first public relations genius, Marvin Liebman, and the first chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, Robert Schuchman.  Heck, it didn’t matter that even the head of the most vilified group, Robert Welch of the John Birch Society, was not only against the anti-Semites but against segregation and that he purged the society of both anti-Semites and racists.  What was important to the establishment and liberal/leftist press was to let the mud fly, hoping that enough would stick to tarnish and abort the conservative competition to liberalism’s hegemony in American politics.

In a nation as large and diverse and free as the United States, you will find, of course, a few real Nazis and fascists (though it’s a question how many of them are really FBI spies and informants).  The liberal media’s attack against the burgeoning conservative movement, then, took three forms: (1) Simply labeling conservatives as Nazis or fascists; (2) looking desperately for some nut who had attached himself to a specific event or organization and spotlighting that barnacle to besmirch the whole group or event; and (3) ignoring mainstream conservatives in favor of spotlighting the most extreme groups, and then leading the reader or viewer to make the desired association between conservatives and extremists.

Bill Buckley himself was one of the first of the new conservatives to find themselves the target of such smears.  With the publication of his first book, God and Man at Yale, Buckley was accused as follows: “…the methods he proposes for his alma mater are precisely those employed in Italy, Germany, and Russia” (The New Republic); “[Buckley is] stating the fascist alternative to liberalism…. What more could Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin ask for?” (Yale Daily News); and this from the august Saturday Review of Literature:  “The book is one which has the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night.  There will undoubtedly be robed figures who gather to it, but the hoods will not be academic.  They will cover the face.”

In the coming years, virtually all of us in the conservative movement would find ourselves the targets of such smears, and without mass media outlets of our own, we were virtually defenseless against the charges – our protests simply were ignored.   For example, CBS’s Mike Wallace asked conservative radio commentator Fulton Lewis Jr. to explain “the attraction the far Right has for crackpot fascist groups in America.”  “Thunder against the Right,” in the November 24, 1961, issue of Time, featured attacks by President Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the Department of Social Action of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (mixing politics and religion was okay when practiced by the Left).  The New York Times Magazine chimed in with “Report on the ‘Rampageous Right,’” or those who have “a deep distrust of democratic institutions and of the democratic process – a distrust, in short, of the people” and who “subscribe wholeheartedly to the conspiratorial, or devil, theory of history.” (Unfortunately M. Stanton Evans never got around to writing one of the books he wanted to write: The History Theory of Conspiracy).  Newsweek got into the act with “Thunder on the Right: The Conservatives, the Radicals, the Fanatic Fringe,” and Time returned to the attack with “The Ultras.”

Uh, do you see a theme here?

In The Rise of the Right, longtime National Review publisher Bill Rusher showed the extent to which the liberal media had pursued the smear by analyzing the biennial indexes of the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature.  This publication indexed, by topic, all articles appearing in 125 of the nation’s leading publications.  From March 1, 1957, to February 28, 1959, the listing of articles on conservatism consumed just 1-3/4 inches.  From March 1, 1959, to February 28, 1961: 4 inches.  From March 1, 1961, to February 28, 1963: 14-1/2 inches of almost entirely hostile articles (not including the 3-1/2 inches listing articles in National Review itself, which had become the first conservative periodical to be indexed).

As we said, the procedure was to ignore conservatism as long as possible – then to smear it when the critter refused to die.

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”
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