The right’s success in media is not a shadowy conspiracy; it has been achieved out in the open, largely through ordinary politics. Much of it can be countered the same way.
At his first official press conference in 2017, Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a telling choice. After giving the first question to the New York Post, he then called on Jennifer Wishon, who was sitting at the back, in the seventh row. He didn’t mention the news organization she represented, but it was no secret: since 2011 she had served as the White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The consumption of ideological media has been a core part of conservative identity in the United States for two generations.
That President Trump’s press secretary chose to highlight CBN, the evangelical network started by Pat Robertson in 1960, may come as a surprise. After all, even the network’s top official, Gordon Robertson, laughs at the notion that Donald Trump is a devout Christian. But the Trump-CBN partnership dates to well before Spicer took the podium, back to 2011 when Trump was weighing a presidential bid. In the intervening years he has been interviewed on the network about twenty times, including several times as president.
Yet that relationship has received relatively little attention in the press, save a handful of articles a few years ago. While journalists have zeroed in on Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting and even the upstart network One America News, they have largely ignored CBN and the network of conservative evangelical radio and television stations that crisscross the nation.
Has that relationship simply been overlooked, or has it been deliberately concealed? That is the question that stalks the pages of Anne Nelson’s new book Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right. The “secret hub” at the heart of the book, the Council for National Policy (CNP)—for which CBN founder Pat Robertson served on the board of governors—is a banal-sounding organization with significant conservative political ties. Everyone from presidential candidates to big-money donors to movement organizers has attended the annual meetings or sat on the organization’s board. Add the CNP’s air of secrecy—the meetings are private, and it won’t reveal who attends—and you have the perfect set-up for Shadow Network’s central argument: that a shadowy organization has been coordinating a secret assault on democracy and truth for the better part of forty years.
What Nelson describes as a “shadow network” could better be understood as a political movement.
That argument is not entirely wrong, but it is wrongly framed. What Nelson describes as a “shadow network” could better be understood as a political movement. To be sure, it is a political movement that has worked to undermine faith in media, democracy, and facts. But if we detach the argument from Nelson’s conspiratorial framework, it is much easier to see how the right built a coalition capable of restructuring American politics and doing lasting damage to democratic governance.
Broadly speaking, Shadow Network is the story of how white conservative evangelicals became a core part of the Republican base. In Nelson’s telling, that story begins in the 1960s with the New Right, a set of political operatives who saw an opportunity to mobilize white evangelicals by emphasizing religious and social issues. Using targeted political messaging—one of the founders of the New Right, Richard Viguerie, was an innovator in direct mail—these political operatives turned evangelical devotees into evangelical voters. The New Right used these voters first to transform the Republican Party, then the country.
When the New Right looked at liberals’ elite connections, they saw a clearinghouse of American power. And they wanted in on the action.
The Council for National Policy played a central role in achieving this goal. Modeled after the Council on Foreign Relations (of which Nelson is a member), the CNP sought to bring together conservative donors, politician, and grassroots organizers—to connect “the donors and the doers,” as one member put it. In practice, that largely meant setting a political agenda through regular closed-door meetings—an agenda that would then filter out through organization leaders and right-wing radio—and channeling funds to political initiatives such as the Values Voter Summit, conservative media outlets, and now the Koch-funded i360 data platform, a new data platform developed to target and mobilize Republican voters.
It is telling that they modeled the CNP after the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which was a who’s-who of the American elite, especially during the Cold War. Scholars, politicians, journalists, diplomats, presidents—they all found in the CFR a place to connect to other elites and to the deep pockets of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. So influential was the CFR that it staffed a good chunk of the foreign policy leadership for three consecutive administrations (Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson). When the New Right looked at this configuration of elite connections, they saw a clearinghouse of American power. And they wanted in on the action.
Copying the liberal establishment of midcentury America was a common tactic of the conservative movement long before the CNP was founded. Many conservatives saw their marginalization in American politics as a function of having been out-organized. When William F. Buckley Jr. founded the National Review in 1955, he explicitly credited magazines such as the New Republic and the Nation for the success of the New Deal, and he hoped to start a similar political revolution with his new conservative magazine. Likewise, the American Conservative Union was modeled after Americans for Democratic Action and the National Association of Evangelicals after the mainline National Council of Churches.
Copying the liberal establishment of midcentury America was a common tactic of the conservative movement long before the CNP was founded.
That’s not to say that the right simply copied the institutions of liberalism. More often, they copied their fever-dream version of what they saw as overtly liberal institutions. Seeing the powerful political influence of liberal organizations in twentieth-century America, they assumed that those organizations had been designed precisely to transform American politics: that New Republic editors wrote only to advance a liberal political agenda, or that universities were dedicated to propagandizing Keynesian economics and secularism. So Fox News became a right-wing fun-house-mirror version of CNN, the Koch Foundation of the Ford Foundation, and the CNP of the CFR.
As that lineage suggests, the CNP was not particularly unusual as a right-wing organization. Like all the above organizations, it was founded with explicit political goals and systemic political strategies already in place. And in fact, though the shadow organization lurks throughout the book, the broader phenomenon Nelson is describing is not a semi-secret network but rather the institutional core of the conservative movement.
That becomes clear in the way Nelson describes the influence of the CNP. She does this primarily by signaling how someone influential, such as Pat Robertson or Mike Pence, was connected to the CNP. These connections become looser later in the book, as Nelson moves into the 2000s and 2010s: CNP founders give way to “CNP members,” “CNP donors,” “CNP affiliates,” and finally “friends of the organization.” But the proliferation of CNP connections often feels like a substitution for a broader argument. Ties to the CNP ultimately serve as a narrative device rather than evidence. Aside from founders and board members, it is not clear that being connected to the CNP means anything for conservatives other than another membership in one of the myriad umbrella organizations that proliferate in politics, such as the American Conservative Union, the Young America’s Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations, or the Democracy Fund.
And much of what is actually being done by the CNP and “friends of the organization” is not particularly scandalous. Nelson writes that, for the CNP to achieve its goal of a vastly more conservative government, they would need “a long-range strategy to target critical districts and activate previously unengaged voting blocs.” Later, she lays out the right’s new model of grassroots mobilization:
Identify an invisible, disengaged group of potential voters. Find a hot-button issue to activate them. Keep them riled up with targeted media and direct mail. Facilitate their interactions in gathering places they frequent, to reinforce their commitment with groupthink. Follow up with onsite voter registration and transportation to the polls on Election Day.
That . . . sounds a whole lot like run-of-the-mill politics. Even the threat of theocracy doesn’t quite land. For instance, Nelson acknowledges that materials like the Family Research Council’s iVoter guides are used by countless groups, but darkly warns about the role of religious leaders in conservative evangelical organizing: “By making pastors and churches their vehicles of distribution, the iVoter guides gave their recommendations the imprimatur of spiritual leaders—perhaps even an air of divine authority.” But church-based organizing is hardly limited to the right. “Souls to the polls” might sound frightening if deployed by someone like Jerry Falwell, but it is a regular part of Democratic voter turnout.
Set the conspiratorial framework aside, though, and there is something deeply important that Nelson’s work is doing. By focusing on the way central political institutions, especially the press, fractured in the post-Reagan era, she helps explain why right-wing organizations and politics have flourished in the past few decades.
Why did the collapse of journalism benefit the right far more than the left? In part because the right had been hard at work since the 1940s establishing alternative media institutions.
For Nelson, who has held leadership positions at the Columbia School of Journalism and the Committee to Protect Journalism, the “colony collapse” of journalism in the past few decades is a key factor in that explanation. That is partly due to the economic and technological changes that have decimated local news and transformed national outlets, and partly due to changes that have happened to the practice of journalism with the rise of right-wing media in the second half of the twentieth century. Why did the collapse of journalism benefit the right far more than the left? In part because the right had been hard at work since the 1940s establishing alternative media institutions, from magazines to radio shows to television networks. They paired these new institutions with a novel and effective argument about existing news outlets: that these purportedly objective outlets were riddled with liberal bias and could not possibly be trusted.
As a result, the consumption of ideological media has been a core part of conservative identity in the United States for two generations, something that has no parallel on the left. That built-in base allowed conservative media not only to survive the colony collapse of journalism in the late twentieth century, but to thrive—especially after the elimination of the Federal Communication Commission’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987 opened up the radio dial for the proliferation of right-wing voices.
In tying the transformation of media to the transformation of politics, Nelson is advancing an important argument. Our media environments and our political environments constitute one another; they cannot be separated. This is as true today as it was at the founding, when a free press was seen as vital to a healthy republic. The current fractured, factious, and fact-challenged landscape of political news both reflects and promotes the same qualities in our politics.
The right’s undermining of democracy has not been the function of a secret cabal of conservative elites—who are often forced to bow to the desires of their base, rather than brainwashing the base into following their lead.
The institutional decline that Nelson is less attuned to, and which helps explain the rise of organizations such as the CNP, is the decline of political parties. Yes, the Democratic and Republican parties still exist. But their traditional function, as Nelson ably charts, have been outsourced to other institutions. On the Republican side, that means the conservative movement has largely taken over for the party. The party’s fundraising function now belongs to foundations, Super PACs, and dark-money peddlers. The messaging function now belongs to right-wing media. And the mobilization function now largely resides with groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Turning Point USA.
The collapse of these core institutions of American democracy is deeply worrisome, highlighting the fragility of democracy. A few technological changes, a few tweaks to the institutional apparatus of elections, and suddenly the whole structure of democracy has been weakened. Not just weakened, but willfully undermined. The American right has taken aim at key parts of the democratic process: access to the ballot box, accurate information, checks and balances.
But that undermining has not been the function of a secret cabal of conservative elites. It has been as much, if not more so, about the desires of the base—the grassroots that organizations such as the CNP are “registering, indoctrinating, and mobilizing,” as Nelson puts it. It is far from clear that these conservative evangelicals are in as subservient a position as Nelson suggests. Their theology and politics are largely absent from Shadow Network, but the evangelical base is a powerful force in American politics. Yes, organizers help find a language and urgency that drove white evangelicals to the polls in the 1980s and 1990s. But to call that “indoctrination” is to posit a unidirectional line of political influence that simply does not exist.
In fact, as the durability of Trump support suggests, conservative organizations and media are often forced to bow to the desires of their base, rather than brainwashing the base into following their lead. Trump led in the polls well before he led among conservative elites. A base-driven perspective undermines the idea of a “shadow network,” but it is far more in line with how GOP politics have functioned in the past decade or so.
The dislocations of the Trump era have stoked a hunger for books like this: works that try to find Patient Zero for the dramatic reorientation of the American right away from the now familiar conservative politics of the Reagan era and toward those of 2016. Pinpointing a shadowy conspiracy behind that transformation is comforting: if it was something that happened out of sight, then we couldn’t have known about it, and therefore couldn’t have stopped it and aren’t responsible for it. Yes, the norms of democracy have been violently violated, but it was done in secret, so we can be forgiven for not understanding what was happening.
Pinpointing a shadowy conspiracy behind the transformation of conservative politics is comforting. But it lets us off too easily.
That lets us off too easily. The attacks on America’s democratic institutions and processes have not been happening in some secret hub of the radical right. They have been happening out in the open, little by little, with too few people paying attention. In the early days of conservative organizing, right-wing activists were dismissed, understandably enough, as fringe figures with no real relevance to American politics. And at the time they were, in fact, a small contingent. If journalists and liberal activists could be forgiven for missing the organizational strength of conservatives in the 1950s and 1960s, however, there was no excuse for dismissing it in the 1980s and 1990s, after Reagan had won two landslide elections and Republicans had swept the 1994 elections. That they were continuously caught offguard by conservative political success, and regularly overlooked conservative organizing, marked a catastrophic failure to understand the core operations of American politics.
By the time liberals started to take conservative organizing seriously, they were several decades behind and often failed to understand the broader ideological rationale that gave conservative institutions their power: the belief that all institutions are ideological, and that any institution that purports to be objective is untrustworthy. Without that, it is almost impossible to build reliance on ideological media. That became clear when Air America launched in 2004. It was supposed to be the left’s answer to conservative talk radio. Though a few commentators such as Rachel Maddow launched their careers out of Air America, by 2010 it had collapsed. There just wasn’t enough demand for left-wing talk.
The liberal-left has had more success in copying right-wing institutions in other arenas. In 2014 Democratic activists launched SIX, the State Innovation Exchange, as an answer to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has developed model legislation for conservative state legislatures across the country. Founded in 1973, ALEC had a forty-year head start, but it is significant that left-wing activists are finally following its lead.
There is, finally, a growing awareness of how effectively the right has organized to seize control of American politics—an awareness Shadow Network will help spread. But now that a critical mass of people is waking up to the assault on American democracy, we need to be straight with them: this wasn’t some secretive plot against America. It has been happening out in the open the entire time, largely through the normal functioning of politics. And as a result, much of it can be countered the same way.
Who is John Solomon? His name popped up frequently in closed-door testimony in the impeachment query. He is a regular on Hannity. And his work helps shape how millions of Americans understand this moment.
In weeks of closed-door testimony, American officials who worked in Ukraine kept circling back to the work of one journalist, John Solomon, whose articles they said appeared to have considerable currency with President Trump’s inner circle.
They had never known Mr. Solomon to be an authority on Ukrainian politics before, and certainly not someone with particular insights into the American ambassador to Ukraine who was a frequent target of his. So when Rudolph W. Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr. and the president himself started talking about his stories, those officials began closely following what he wrote.
Asked how she first learned of Mr. Giuliani’s interest in Ukraine, Fiona Hill, Mr. Trump’s former adviser on Russia and Europe, replied, in part, “John Solomon.”
Mr. Solomon has been a surprisingly central figure in the impeachment proceedings so far. But the glare has not been so kind.One witness testified to Congress that an article of his was full of “non-truths and non sequiturs.” Another witness said that he could not recall a single thing that was correct in one of Mr. Solomon’s stories, then added sarcastically, “His grammar might have been right.”
So who exactly is John Solomon? A Washington-based reporter and Fox News personality who had until recently been working at the politics outlet The Hill, Mr. Solomon, 52, is not well known outside conservative media. But, according to interviews and testimony, his writing and commentary helped trigger the chain of events that are now the subject of the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.
Though he worked for years at The Associated Press and briefly at The Washington Post, he moved on from mainstream outlets and now sits at the center of a network of conservative journalists, radio hosts, cable news pundits and activists whose work reaches millions of Americans every day, and shapes the way a large swath of the country sees this pivotal moment.
Understanding their work is key to explaining how Mr. Trump’s approval ratings remain so durable with his base — and why, as some polls suggest, far more direct and damaging evidence would have to emerge from the impeachment hearings that begin their public phase on Wednesday for that support to crack.According to transcripts released last week, Mr. Solomon and his pieces for The Hill are a focus for congressional investigators as they look into Mr. Trump’s efforts to push Ukrainian officials to investigate his rivals. One particular area of interest for Democrats, the transcripts show, is Mr. Solomon’s role in advancing claims by Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family deserved to be investigated for their own dealings in Ukraine.
In an interview, Mr. Giuliani said he turned to Mr. Solomon earlier this year with a cache of information he believed contained damaging details about Mr. Biden, his son, Hunter Biden, and the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I really turned my stuff over to John Solomon,” Mr. Giuliani said. “I had no other choice,” he added, asserting that Obama-era officials still “infected” the Justice Department and wouldn’t have diligently investigated the information he had compiled.
“So I said here’s the way to do it — I’m going to give it to the watchdogs of integrity, the fourth estate,” he said.
Mr. Solomon’s work has been endorsed by some of the most influential figures on the right like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the president, who has highlighted Mr. Solomon’s articles on Twitter.
Mark Levin, the radio and Fox host, recently said that Mr. Solomon and Sara Carter, a journalist with whom he frequently appears on television, were “like the Woodward and Bernsteins of our time.”
Media scholars describe the environment that has elevated Mr. Solomon’s stories as an information ecosystem entirely sealed off from other news coverage.Nicole Hemmer, a historian at Columbia University who studies the conservative media, said people often mistakenly refer to the Fox News-talk radio world as an “echo chamber” of opinion when in fact it is more like “an interconnected set of authorities.”
“Sean Hannity talks about John Solomon,” she said, “and then that gets picked up on Rush and Levin.” The effect, she added, is that his reporting carries weight with conservative audiences. “That gives it an authority when they’re hearing it from multiple sources every day.”
When Mr. Solomon appears on television and the radio, Mr. Hannity and other conservative hosts often identify him as an investigative reporter and cite his decades of experience at news organizations like The A.P. But his critics see this as a sleight of hand to give his writing a veneer of nonpartisan objectivity.
“Part of the issue is that for years he was identified with the mainstream media,” said James Manley, a former aide to Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader who tangled with Mr. Solomon in the 2000s over stories insinuating Mr. Reid had benefited inappropriately from his office. The Columbia Journalism Review later singled out Mr. Solomon’s reporting, saying it was “much ado about very little.”
An examination of Mr. Solomon’s reporting methods and interviews with people who have worked with him during his decades-long career in Washington show that his techniques blur the boundaries meant to keep journalist-source relationships at an arm’s length. And for some of his biggest stories on Ukraine, he has relied on a prosecutor with a history of making inconsistent statements who is now under criminal investigation.
At one point while he was employed as a columnist for The Hill and publishing regular pieces favorable to the president, Mr. Solomon discussed with colleagues a proposal to create a transparency office in the Trump White House. Some colleagues believed he might have wanted to run this office, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation.
(Unlike Fox, The Hill put a disclaimer over Mr. Solomon’s writing indicating that it was opinion starting in May of 2018 after complaints from colleagues about what they saw as one-sidedness in his work, The Post reported at the time.)
Mr. Solomon denied that he has ever sought work in any administration and said the transparency office proposal had “nothing to do with seeking a job.” He added, “It had to do with fostering an idea for more transparency.” As for the attacks on his work from the impeachment witnesses, he said, “The N.S.C. and State officials are entitled to their opinions of my reporting.”
A close look at one piece by Mr. Solomon shows how far one of his assertions, later called into doubt, can reverberate at the highest levels of the government.
In late March, Mr. Solomon and his team published pieces in The Hill making sensational claims of misconduct at the State Department: The American ambassador to Ukraine, a career foreign service officer who assumed her post during the Obama administration, had privately bad-mouthed Mr. Trump and, separately, had previously provided to Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general at the time, a list of individuals that Mr. Lutsenko should not prosecute. In conservative circles, where suspicion of anti-Trump officials working inside the government runs high, the allegation fit with the narrative that institutions like the State Department are rife with bad actors.
But there was less to the do-not-prosecute list than it appeared. The State Department dismissed it as “an outright fabrication.” Mr. Lutsenko changed his story and acknowledged that what he is quoted describing in Mr. Solomon’s report — “a list of people whom we should not prosecute” given to him by the ambassador — did not actually exist.
In an interview with The New York Times last month, Mr. Lutsenko blamed the confusion on the interpreter who handled his interview with The Hill. But he insisted that the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, had in fact asked him not to target certain politicians and activists who worked with the embassy on its anti-corruption efforts.
But among Mr. Trump’s allies and media boosters, the story line was set: A corrupt ambassador who did not like the president was misusing her authority to protect her friends. In the whistle-blower complaint that set off the impeachment inquiry, those articles and others by Mr. Solomon are cited as among the key events leading up to Mr. Trump’s demand that the Ukranians do him “a favor” and investigate the Bidens.
Mr. Solomon said in an email that Mr. Lutsenko was adamant he had not changed his story when the two spoke for a follow-up interview. The back-and-forth over the existence of a formal list, he said, is a “classic he-said, she-said dispute,” which he believes his coverage accurately reflected. “The idea I should have some regret for accurately quoting a major news figure in Ukraine is preposterous,” he said.
The “don’t prosecute” story gained considerable traction in conservative media. It drew the attention of the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who in March tweeted that Ms. Yovanovitch was a “joker” who shouldn’t be in the job. In May, the Trump administration recalled her from her position.
In his testimony, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, seemed alarmed at how quickly Mr. Solomon’s story was amplified by high-profile figures like Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump’s son. He testified that the entire thing “smelled really rotten.”
‘Reporting truth’ with unusual methods
Mr. Solomon grew up in Connecticut where his father was a police officer and later served as chief of police for the town of Easton. Before working for conservative outlets, he held senior reporting jobs at a number of mainstream organizations, including The A.P., where he worked for almost 20 years, and The Post, where he pursued investigative projects that often focused on federal law enforcement.
Mr. Solomon won an award in 2002 for coordinating the A.P.’s investigations into the law enforcement failures that preceded the Sept. 11 attacks. He joined The Post in 2007 but stayed only a short period before leaving for the Washington Times, telling his bosses that he could not pass up the large salary the conservative paper was offering.
His work at The Hill since 2017 has generated the most notice and controversy of his career. His reporting was of considerable value to the outlet’s publisher, James Finkelstein, who has been friends with Mr. Trump for decades and saw Mr. Solomon as a high-profile hire whose frequent Fox News appearances could help generate buzz and traffic for the website.
While Mr. Solomon was at The Hill, his relationships with sources were sometimes closer than reporters typically get with the people they cover. In March, according to documents uncovered as part of the impeachment inquiry, he shared a draft of one of his stories before publication with a noteworthy group: people who had helped gather the information that Mr. Giuliani had provided to Mr. Solomon.
They included Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, two lawyers who have been working with Mr. Giuliani to undermine the investigations into Mr. Trump, and Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman who helped connect Mr. Giuliani to Mr. Lutsenko. Mr. Solomon said “I do go over stories in advance” with sources for accuracy, not to tip them off to the content.
Mr. Solomon left The Hill in September under circumstances that neither he nor the paper have fully described. He has not said what his new venture will be — or how it is being funded — other than to describe it to former colleagues as a media start-up. For the time being, he is publishing his work on his personal website. His slogan is “Reporting Truth.”
“If in 96 days Trump loses this election, I am pointing the finger directly at people like [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and John McCain and John Kasich and Ted Cruz — if he won’t endorse — and Jeb Bush and everybody else that made promises they’re not keeping,” Hannity exclaimed, later threatening to endorse Ryan’s far-right primary challenger.
.. In fact, throughout the election season, it has appeared that Republicans have fielded more attacks from their supposed friends on the right than their political opponents on the left.
.. “The analogy that I think of is somebody who has a baby alligator in their bathtub and they keep feeding it and taking care of it,” said Charlie Sykes, a popular conservative talk show host in Wisconsin. “And it’s really cute when it’s a baby alligator — until it becomes a grown-up alligator and comes out and starts biting you.”
.. three key forces: Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Matt Drudge.
.. Simultaneously, the conservative news media sought to lock in its audience by characterizing the mainstream press as an industry comprising dishonest liberals — something with which the GOP was more than happy to go along.
.. “What it became, essentially, was they were preaching this is the only place you can get news. This is the only place you can trust. All other media outlets are lying to you. So you need to come to us,”
.. To avoid being called a RINO (Republican in name only), a Republican would have to take a hardline conservative position on nearly every issue. If, say, they were to hold conservative positions on 90% of the issues, the conservative press would focus on the 10% where there was disagreement.
.. only one candidate could be conservative enough to support for president: Cruz.
.. But something went awry. The most aggressive right-wing members of the conservative press — the members who constantly lambasted certain Republicans for not toeing the hard-right line on every issue — got behind perhaps the most unlikely candidate of all: Donald Trump.
.. “We have reached the bizarro-world point where, for all intents and purposes, conservatives are RINOs,” said John Ziegler, a nationally syndicated conservative talk show host who called Andrew Breitbart a friend. “There is no place now for real conservatives. We’ve also reached the point, I say, we’ve left the gravitational pull of the rational Earth, where we are now in a situation where facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, logic doesn’t matter.”
.. “You look at someone who a few cycles might have been derided as a right-wing lunatic, now they aren’t conservative enough,”
.. he believed some conservative pundits were “just drawn to Trump’s style more than policies.”
.. “I think that some of them just like Trump and were willing to cut him some slack on his shifting of positions because he’s a fighter and they like that,”
.. Ratings may have also played a role, according to conservative talkers who refused to jump aboard the Trump train.
.. Hannity in particular has faced criticism from some colleagues in the conservative-media sphere who allege he has been too cozy with Trump. Ziegler, the conservative radio host, said there’s “there’s no question” a “monetary element” drove coverage overall.
.. “Hannity is desperate for every ratings crumb on the Fox News Channel. … It’s all about ratings,” he said. “Hannity is not particularly talented, he’s not a smart guy — he used to just be a Republican talking points talk show host who happened to be in the right place at the right time. So he’s very vulnerable at any time.
.. while there are other outlets that belong to the conservative media apparatus, they lack the influence of the hard right. The National Review or Weekly Standard might earn the eyeballs of elites in Washington, but those in the heartland seem to prefer the style of the more aggressive pro-Trump outlets.
.. That has left conservatives who oppose Trump in a tricky position when trying to get their message to supporters. No longer can Ryan or Cruz turn to Hannity for a softball interview. They can’t work with Breitbart or rely on Drudge to help with their legislative agenda.
These Republicans have effectively been exiled from the conservative news media
.. “We have taught conservatives for many years to trust nothing other than what they hear in conservative media. Yet the conservative media has now proven to be untrustworthy.”
In early January, FBI director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and asked him to rein in his attack dog, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Nunes, who also attended the meeting, had supposedly “recused” himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, but in fact was running an increasingly vicious counter-investigation against the Department of Justice in an attempt to defend the administration.
.. He has compiled a secret memo making wild allegations of conspiracies and even criminality against all of Trump’s legal antagonists. The entire conservative media infrastructure, goaded on by Trump himself, is foaming at the mouth to publish the Nunes memo.
.. A side effect of Nunes’s campaign to discredit Trump’s investigators is to threaten to burn down the credibility and effectiveness of federal law enforcement. Here is the point that is largely absent from this drama: This is all happening because Paul Ryan wants it to happen.
.. A reporter asked Ryan if he believed the president should cooperate with Robert Mueller if he wanted an interview. Ryan dispatched it very quickly: “I’ll defer to the White House on all those questions. This pertains to them, not this branch.”
.. That has been Ryan’s stance all along. All the icky stuff Trump does, the corruption and disdain for the rule of law, is Trump’s business
.. In fact, there are things Ryan could do — and not just cinematic speeches calling out the president for his misdeeds. The House of Representatives could pass a bill to compel the release of Trump’s tax returns.
.. Given Trump’s unprecedented decision to retain his business interests in office, mere disclosure would be a meager step against the possibility for corruption. Democrats have repeatedly introduced bills to disclose the tax returns. Yet the House — Ryan’s House — has blocked every one.
.. In October, Gayle King asked Ryan how Trump could say that the tax cuts would increase his own taxes without disclosing his returns, and Ryan just laughed.
.. And now, Trump and his allies are circulating absurd lies about the Department of Justice in order to enable the administration to avoid any accountability to the rule of law. The heart of this campaign is the chamber Ryan controls.
It is not only or even primarily Devin Nunes, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Fox & Friends that are marching into the fever swamps. The invisible man at front of the march is Paul Ryan.