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The Birth of Conservative Media as We Know It

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tags: conservative media



Nicole Hemmer is a research associate at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Her book Messengers of the Right will be published in August.

Henry Regnery flipped through his notes a final time as he waited for the rest of the group to arrive. In a few minutes Room 2233 in New York City’s Lincoln Building would be packed with some of the brightest lights of the conservative movement, gathered together at his request. Writers, publishers, and editors made up most of the guest list, including William F. Buckley Jr., the enfant terribleof the right; Frank Hanighen, cofounder of Human Events; Raymond Moley, Newsweek columnist and author of the anti–New Deal book After Seven Years (1939); and John Chamberlain, former editor of the Freeman and an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.

When everyone was settled, Regnery explained why he had called the meeting. As 1953 came to a close, he observed the men in Room 2233 were unquestionably on the losing side of politics. And that puzzled him. “The side we represent controls most of the wealth in this country,” he told those gathered. “The ideas and traditions we believe in are those which most Americans instinctively believe in also.” Why then was liberalism ascendant and conservatism relegated to the fringes? Because, Regnery argued, the left controlled institutions: the media, the universities, the foreign policy establishment. Until the right had a “counterintelligence unit” that could fight back, conservatives would remain a group of elites raging against a system that by all rights they should control.

As the meeting in Room 2233 suggests, from the start conservative media activism was a group effort. It emerged as a shared intellectual and political response to the new postwar world. The activists involved forged close (and often contentious) personal and professional relationships. Their ventures, which included Human Events, Regnery Publishing, the Manion Forum, and National Review, among many others, drew from the same pool of supporters and benefactors. The social and institutional networks they created thus set them apart from conservatives involved in media in earlier eras. Only with the creation of this postwar network did the concept of “conservative media” take its modern form. 

The springboard for all this activism was the America First Committee, convened more than a decade before the meeting in Room 2233. Though the nonintervention movement collapsed when the nation went to war in 1941, its most conservative set of donors and organizers endured. Even before the war ended, they were looking for ways to push back against the emerging consensus that the twentieth century must be Henry Luce’s “American Century,” with the United States deeply involved in world affairs and international institutions. Concerned that foreign policy was veering off course as the war wound to an end, the men behind America First came together again to support a four-page foreign policy weekly.

And so, in a small apartment in Washington, postwar conservative media got its start. ...

Read entire article at The New Republic


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