Conservative Vultures Circling Over Wounded Media

John K. Carlisle of the arch-conservative National Legal and Policy Center is peddling a cynical strategy to exploit an ailing newspaper industry. The plan is an undisguised blueprint for media manipulation [Note: The NLPC scrubbed this article from their website, but through the persistent survivability of the Internet it is still available here and here]. Here are some examples of how Carlisle presents his initiative:

“The long-term decline in newspaper circulation presents the conservative movement with an excellent opportunity to increase its influence with the media.”

“Falling readership and tighter budgets are forcing newspapers to dedicate fewer staff to investigative reporting. As a result, they are increasingly relying upon nonprofit organizations to fill the gap.”

“If conservative nonprofit organizations significantly increase their use of investigative reporting, then the movement will be able to partly offset the liberal bias of the mainstream media.”

“…by aggressively getting involved in investigative journalism conservative nonprofit organizations stand to enormously change the terms of the media debate, perhaps in much the same way that Fox News and Talk Radio revolutionized media coverage.”

The plan, in short, is for conservative think tanks to produce stories that they could feed to newspapers and television who, due to their desperation for content, would gladly publish it. But you have to wonder what need is being filled when so much of the media is already shoveling rightist propaganda produced from within the media companies themselves. Carlisle even supplies the examples of Fox News and talk radio, which are dominated by conservative ideologues.

The real purpose of this proposal is not to offset any mythical liberal bias, but to fortify a conservative one. Carlisle cites the launch of ProPublica, an independent investigative news service, as evidence that conservatives need to redouble their efforts to influence the media. He correctly points out that the founders of ProPublica are long-time progressive activists. But he dismissed the fact that the service is headed by a former editor of the Wall Street Journal who insisted on, and was granted, editorial independence.

The right’s echo chamber is already at work attempting to discredit ProPublica, beginning with a report on Fox News where Brit Hume criticizes the new firm and its founders before they have published even one story (YouTube):

“They are major Democratic political donors, who gave all their campaign contributions to Democrats in 2006. They have also been longtime critics of President Bush.”

If that’s the criteria used to discredit ProPublica, what can be said of Carlisle’s group, the National Legal and Policy Center, that has received about 73% of their funding since 1995 from the ultra-right Scaife Family Foundations? The network of Scaife institutions has not only contributed millions of dollars to Republicans and criticized President Clinton, they have also spread outrageous smears against other Democrats including a story that accused Hillary Clinton of murder.

The NLPC is an avowedly conservative group that proudly asserts its intention to infect the media with its rightist perspectives. Their plot to plant slanted news items into conventional media outlets is a nauseating assault on journalistic ethics. And this is coming from an organization whose motto is “Promoting ethics in public life.” They are also mimicking the M. O. of Bush administration agencies that have previously been caught engaging in illegal distribution of propaganda through the use of video press releases and payoffs to public figures like pundits and celebrities. If Carlisle succeeds the government’s abhorrent practice of shipping pre-packaged fake news “reports” to media outlets for distribution, without disclosing the producer, will shift to the private sector where it could pick up steam from aggressive fundraising, marketing, and the absence of oversight.

The tactics of the NLPC and other organizations like them must be closely watched and, when necessary, countered to prevent them from succeeding in contaminating the media any more than it already is. Keep an eye on the bylines in your local paper and be aware of who you are reading. Know the names of staff writers and regularly syndicated independent and wire correspondents. If you see reports from other outsourced authors who are affiliated with partisan think tanks, let the editors know that this will not be tolerated and will result in a lost subscriber. Don’t let your local media become a bazaar where any two-bit propagandist can set up a stall and hawk their snake oil.

See update here (4/21/2010).