Conservative media eat their own

By Nicholas Wapshott
November 12, 2012

In the civil war that broke out between Republicans the minute the election was called for President Obama, media conservatives have turned on media conservatives. But none have shown more recklessness than Andrew Sullivan, chief American columnist for Murdoch’s Sunday Times in London, who on “Real Time With Bill Maher” cheerfully chewed off the hand that feeds him. “The Republican Party has to say, ‘We have no part of Fox News,’ ” Sullivan declared.

Attacking Murdoch’s grip on the post-defeat Republican debate through the strict party line dictated by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, the clearly agitated Sullivan said, “The media-industrial complex on the right is so lucrative they don’t want to lose it. And it is now controlling a political party. That has to be severed. Fox News has to be demonized and cut off.”

Sullivan is no leftie. An avowed Reagan and Thatcher fan who moved to Washington  from Britain and became a U.S. citizen to more closely involve himself in conservative thinking, he is the moderate right’s equivalent to that other naturalized Brit, the late Christopher Hitchens. [r2] Sullivan is smart, eloquent and has championed individual rights and attacked social conservatives, not least because he is openly gay.

His extraordinary outburst against Murdoch’s “media-industrial complex” is both brave and foolhardy. He appears to have reached a breaking point and sees Murdoch’s henchmen defining the Republican Party in such a narrow, unattractive way as to make it totally unelectable. How long Sullivan can keep his lucrative Sunday Times gig will depend on how generous Murdoch feels toward those who attack his pride and joy, Fox News. Murdoch is not known for forgiving those who pee inside the tent.

Sullivan’s day job is writing a blog for Newsweek, once a champion of liberal causes that, since falling under Barry Diller’s ownership, has become home to the few articulate conservatives Murdoch does not wholly own. Sullivan is not alone in his belief that Murdoch’s TV and newspaper empire has ignored moderate conservative voices in favor of the more sensational and simplistic views of Tea Partyers. His views are shared by former George W. Bush speechwriter and Newsweek blogger David Frum, who similarly blames Romney’s defeat on the “conservative entertainment complex” that has “fleeced,” “exploited” and “lied” to Republicans.

In his postmortem on why Romney lost, Frum deplores the fact that “the Republican Party is becoming increasingly isolated and estranged from modern America.” Like Sullivan, he blames Romney’s defeat on Murdoch’s minions pursuing an irrelevant agenda. He deplores the “kind of angry talk [that] may gain eyeballs on (Sean) Hannity” but has “narrowed [GOP] appeal to the most ideological fragment of the conservative base.”

“Fox Nation never was more than a very tiny slice of the American nation,” Frum wrote, “and it was only sad self-delusion that ever led anyone to think otherwise.”

Sullivan and Frum have a point. Their charge that Murdoch’s “media-industrial complex” provides lucrative livings for compliant conservative cheerleaders is hard to deny. Apart from the few conservatives on Diller’s payroll, which includes gay rights champion Margaret Hoover, who is Herbert Hoover’s granddaughter and a former George W. Bush staffer, Murdoch has cornered the market in prominent conservative opinion makers who blather endlessly to Fox’s audience of about 2 million.

In the wake of the 2008 election, Murdoch hired defeated presidential wannabes Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. He employs as a paid Fox contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist Karl Rove, George W.’s election strategist and the director of the American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS super PACs. Bush 43’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, and vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz are also paid Fox contributors. Perennial presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich received a reported $4.5 million from Murdoch’s HarperCollins in 1995 yet wrote only one book for them.

If conservative media outlets are partly responsible for Romney’s defeat, Fox boss Roger Ailes can hardly escape his share of the blame. Throughout the Obama presidency he has encouraged Tea Party supporters to push out moderate Republican lawmakers, an editorial policy that made voting Republican appear extreme and irrational. During the 2012 campaign, Ailes concentrated Fox’s fire on dissing Obama rather than showcasing Mitt Romney’s business and presidential credentials.

Ailes’s choice of election issues failed to persuade independents or wavering Republicans to vote for Romney. He directed Fox to blanket-cover the administration’s muddled response to the September 11 deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, a two-month campaign that proved little and did not resonate with middle-ground Americans, at the expense of domestic subjects that may have boosted Romney’s chances. In the light of the Romney defeat, Ailes’s GOP strategy must be counted as a gross miscalculation.

The failure of Ailes to throw his considerable weight behind Romney may stem from Murdoch’s annoyance at having his unsolicited advice to Romney on how to best run the campaign totally ignored. Murdoch likes pliant politicians who do as they are asked, which is why his brief flirtation with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came to an abrupt end after Christie embraced Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The battle to win Republican hearts and minds has now begun in earnest. Murdoch does not play softball, so do not expect Sullivan, Frum and other middle-ground Republicans to be found making their case on Fox. Murdoch’s dilemma, however, is whether to continue to pursue the lucrative seam of conservative fundamentalists, libertarians and Tea Partyers that has made Fox News such a success, or whether to broaden the channel’s appeal to help Republicans find a route back to electability.

Murdoch is a conservative billionaire with views to match. He tends to put business before his own predilections, cash before conscience. So long as the extreme conservative audience increases his family’s wealth, we can expect him to stick to his guns, even if that means facilitating a permanent Democratic majority.

Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics is published in paperback by W.W. Norton. Read extracts here.

PHOTO: Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is seen at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida August 27, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

16 comments

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What planet are you from? No one, particularly Andrew Sullivan, thinks of Andrew Sullivan as a conservative. He’s as liberal as they get.

Posted by ChrisJBreisch | Report as abusive

wow – this article says it all, and the sources are all right wing conservatives (at least they were yesterday). tomorrow they will join the other rational conservatives who have been drummed out of the gop by the very fraction that is eating it alive.

Posted by jcfl | Report as abusive

Murdock–another grumpy old white man, with a lot of money

Posted by 0okm9ijn | Report as abusive

Wapshott hit it on the head; the true leaders of the GOP today aren’t politicians but media mouths as well as other single issue litmus testers, e.g. Grover Norquist, Wayne LaPierre, Rush of course, Hannity, et al.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

BTW, it’s nice to see just which side in this argument really is filled with zombies.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

He’s an interesting cove is Andrew Sullivan. As much as anything his concern (in his Sunday Times columns) is that conservative Republicans talk only to each other, and he argues that this is why losing to Obama was a shock to their system. If you keep to your tribe, it is easy to persuade yourself that only morons and lunatics think otherwise than you do.

Posted by timhaigh | Report as abusive

Finally an article that gives the conductors of the GOP clown car their just due. Fox has been irrelevent for the vast majority of Americans, but i must admit it is fun to watch them turn on each other looking for any excuse to blunt the truth that their hateful, ultra rignt wing message is the core of the problem. Take your time boys, I am enjoying watching you (for a change)……

Posted by JohnnyRacer | Report as abusive

When you have an audience who can’t construct a sentence – who can’t even capitalize “I”, and look forward to “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Honey Boo Boo” after a hard day at minimum wage, why wouldn’t you fleece them for every intelligent thought they might luck into and take their money in the process?

When is someone with better writing and punctuation skills than I going to peg the listeners and believers of Norquist, Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity – - their faithful audience?

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

GEE — the hits keep on rolling. But the interesting part of this is the concept that all media now are political spin machines and FOX lost so they need to tone it down. The Benghazi affair was pushed to the back of the mainstream media – FOX covered it. It started to gain momentum but even this news organization purposely stuck articles on the outer pages then Sandy came along. WHen we have all the news media covering the news the way one administration wants it covered – we can do away with all the news media and just go to a state run news media.. How is that for getting it right? You better start trying a lot harder to see things in an objective way – like the news used to be or else you can count yourself among those not needed in the state run media.
PS. Just cause you call this guy a conservative or whatever doesn’t make it so – the political garbage writing just isn’t stopping and the media has a new theme call everyone who doesn’t line up left – an extremists. We need the socialists to stop hiding behind our freedoms and come out of the closet. then we can have a real vote.

Posted by xit007 | Report as abusive

The conservatives made the fatal error of believing their own PR. Romney beating Obama? Are you kidding? They kept talking about how all the polls were wrong and how Romney was really in the lead. You can keep telling yourself that, but there is a square-up day. It’s called election day.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

All the ink being spilled about a “split” in the GOP or how the GOP has to change – after a very close election – does remind one of how the past is forgotten. After the 1964 blowout of the GOP, the same (wrong) things were said – that conservatism was dead, that the GOP had to become a moderate-liberal party etc etc. Just the opposite happened. A landslide was misconstrued as rationale to overreach – and here misconstruing a razor thin win will lead down the same path.

Posted by SayHey | Report as abusive

Okay, SayHey. Keep thinking that. You hear that, GOP? Don’t change a thing. You’re doing everything right.

Good times. Meanwhile, us Democrats will be busy employing our new low-cost strategy for picking up seats in Congress. It’s called “Hand the teabagger a microphone and have the camera ready.”

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Actually there are more than a few articulate conservatives that Murdoch does not wholly own. Check out Reason, and The American Conservative.

Posted by RynoM | Report as abusive

A life-long Republican, I finally worked my way high enough in the party (a local Treasurer) to become a state Delegate. I was told that I would vote “pro-life”on a number of issues.

Since I am “pro-choice”, I didn’t. As far as I was concerned, that vote was hard earned by many, many hours put in and I cast it as I saw fit…not that it made any difference. The religious radical right has taken or been given carte blanche, and they have driven it into the ditch Only question is “is anyone going to learn from that experience?

The Tea Party people has shown popular and effective passion, but also a fatal attraction to those who would become the American Taliban.

I admire their determination to “hold the line” on the debt limit, something other politicians of both parties have proven incapable of doing. Unfortunately they seem to be a “one-trick” pony, and less than effective in picking their candidates and their political battles.

I voted against Romney, not for Obama, because I believe had Romney & Co. gained the White House AND both houses of Congress they could have done FAR more long term damage to this country than Obama can in four more years of divided government. Henceforth I guess “Libertarian” is the lable I must use until common sense returns to mainstream politics.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

I’ve been a registered Republican for forty years who voted for Change in 2008 and voted to Move Forward in 2012.

Although the Republican Party has lost my support for the forseeable future, I do enjoy their marketing material… it has to cost something to line my circular file and they do have money to burn.

Posted by CuriousOne | Report as abusive

“The Republican Party has to say, ‘We have no part of Fox News,’ ” Sullivan declared. But that would be a lie.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive