Fred Barnes, a frequent Fox News commentator and executive editor of the Weekly Standard, has issued a call to arms: conservatives must “infiltrate” the supposedly liberal mainstream media. “What we need to do right now is dedicate ourselves to expanding our influence and not just sitting back and complaining about the mainstream media, but infiltrating them, overtaking them and changing the American media into something that is fair and balanced, once and for all,” Barnes told a dinner held by the conservative magazine American Spectator.
Barnes outlined his takeover plan for attendees at the swanky event:
Barnes and some other media critics argue that the broader, more liberal media still decide the daily story and political agenda, so he’s calling for a two-pronged war. One goal is to develop conservative reporters. “We need more smart, young people in journalism,” he argues, “to infiltrate — infiltrate! — the mainstream media. It can be done.”Then he wants wealthy conservatives to build media outlets. Citing the millions of dollars thrown at political campaigns, he says “there is a lot of money out there that can be used to start new magazines, to buy television networks, to buy newspapers, to start newspapers — so much can be done.”
Barnes begins with a popular but false premise: that the mainstream media is somehow biased against conservatives. The “liberal media” myth has been widely analyzed and debunked, and it’s especially curious that Barnes calls for a more powerful conservative media funded by wealthy conservatives. Barnes, of course, is a highly visible commentator for Fox News, which is owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch and consistently gets more viewers than MSNBC, CNN, and CNBC combined.
Fox’s significant influence aside, conservatives have already done a fairly good job of “infiltrating” the mainstream media. RedState founder Erick Erickson appears regularly on CNN; paleoconservative Pat Buchanan airs his views almost every day on MSNBC, frequently on Morning Joe, where the eponymous host is a former Republican congressman; conservative flamethrower Andrew Breitbart was hired (then fired) by ABC to do election analysis; the Washington Post regularly gives space to people like Marc Thiessen, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and now Jennifer Rubin, and even recently invited Dinesh D’Souza to write an op-ed explaining that President Obama is actually and African anti-colonialist.
And Barnes’ complaints aside, there’s not much evidence that even Tea Partiers feel maligned by the evil “lamestream” media. A recent Washington Post survey found that by a 76–23 margin, most local Tea Party leaders found coverage of their groups to be fair.
The American Spectator, which hosted the event Barnes spoke at, has been advancing the plans for self-financed conservative media for over a decade. In the 1990s, billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who owns the Spectator, invested millions of dollars in “The Arkansas Project,” the magazine’s “investigative” effort that produced wild, unfounded stories tying Bill Clinton to everything from Whitewater to murder, drug dealing, and the death of Vince Foster. Their efforts are echoed today by the likes of Breitbart, who began “Big Government,” a well-funded conservative news effort known so far for producing “journalism” that would make Scaife proud: the ACORN videos and the Shirley Sherrod “expose.” Both were projects of James O’Keefe, presumably the one of the “smart, young people in journalism” that Barnes is advocating for.
Barnes’ whining and agitating about the “liberal media” is likely aimed at further advancing more journalism in the mold of Fox News, Scaife and Breitbart. That’s not something our political dialogue lacks, and certainly not something it needs more of.