Right Hook

Secret memo reveals NBC's Brian Williams is GOP's new "go-to anchor." Tony Blankley's plan to make L.A. liberals spew their lattes. Plus: Still brooding over Janet Jackson's boob, Brent Bozell now discovers shocking depravity of MTV!

By Mark Follman
Published February 10, 2005 11:04PM (EST)

So much for the "liberal" media. The favorite right-wing claim that the nation's news biz is in need of a Joseph McCarthy-style purging has been pretty laughable ever since the ascent of cable juggernaut Fox News Channel, talk-radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh and other powerful right-wing outlets. And now conservatives are adding "NBC Nightly News" to their user-friendly list.

"While Fox News Channel remains the favorite network of Republican lawmakers, NBC's new anchor, Brian Williams, is the one turning GOP heads," reports U.S. News & World Report this week. "Message guru and former MSNBC contributor Frank Luntz says in a confidential memo to Hill leaders that Williams has emerged as the 'go-to network anchor' because of his brains and 'lack of detectable ideological bias.' Luntz credits NBC executive producer Steve Capus for 'a flawless transition to a new generation of news anchor.' Still, Fox and CNN lead the nets when it comes to GOP loyalty."

Luntz himself was forced off MSNBC during the 2004 presidential campaign and has a long history of compromising partisanship. And he must have a unique way of measuring "detectable ideological bias." For starters, Williams, as noted in last week's edition of "Right Hook," is a dedicated fan of Rush Limbaugh's.

"I think it's my duty to listen to Rush," Williams said in a December interview with C-SPAN. "I think Rush has actually yet to get the credit he is due because his audience for so many years felt they were in the wilderness of this country. No one was talking to them."

"I think Rush helped to give birth to a movement," Williams added. "I think he played his part in the contract with America. So I hope he gets his due as a broadcaster."

And Limbaugh would probably give Williams his due for boosting President Bush's campaign to convince Americans that Social Security is in "crisis." The Jan. 11 broadcast of the "Nightly News" stacked the deck in Bush's favor on the issue, according to media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. NBC included comments from one worker who was worried about future benefit cuts in Social Security, notes FAIR, but the broadcast also leaned on the wisdom of David John, billed by NBC as a "Social Security analyst" and one of the "supporters of the benefit cut." What NBC didn't bother to mention was John's institutional affiliation: He works for the Heritage Foundation, the right-wing Washington think tank leading the charge for Bush's pro-privatization plan.

Virtually behind enemy lines
Lefty Los Angeles station KCRW, one of the largest public radio outlets in the country, has begun airing the far-right ruminations of Tony Blankley, the editorial page editor of the Washington Times. Blankley wonders why Arianna Huffington "inexplicably gave up her right-wing politics," but he has a clear vision of why he's heading to Southern California to fill the far-right spot on KCRW's weekly politics program, "Left, Right and Center" (with Huffington having moved, of course, well to the left).

"Why am I doing it?" Blankley wondered in the pages of the L.A. Times. "I suppose for much the same reason that 19th century Christian missionaries took creaky steamboats to the ends of the world: There weren't enough heathens left to convert in London or Stockholm back then, just as there aren't enough liberals left to convert in Washington today."

Actually, Blankley will be phoning in his crusade: "I always had a taste for campaigning deep behind the lines, although this time I'm doing it over the airwaves, since I'm not actually leaving Washington, D.C.," he noted. "In 1964, I went door-to-door passing out campaign literature in the Fairfax District and discovered just how much strength those old folks had when they slammed their doors in my face. I rarely got much past, 'Hi, I'm from Goldwater for President Headquarters, and...'"

But Blankley expects to have no such trouble haranguing the highfalutin folks dubbed "the urban and university-town elite" by the likes of columnist David Brooks.

"At KCRW," says Blankley, "the audience won't be able to slam the door on me, and most people don't have mute buttons on their radios. Those who do have the fancy cars with steering wheel mute buttons probably have a latte or tofu in their otherwise free hand and won't hit the button in time.

"I calculate that hundreds of thousands of liberals tune in each week to hear the eloquent words of the L.A. Times' own premier man of the left, Robert Scheer. An equal number of New Age, fourth-dimension, spiritual humanitarians tune in to hear Arianna explain her latest distinctive angle on political reality. My strategy is this: In the brief moments I can squeeze a word in between their soliloquies, I can steal the ears of their listeners and explain the sober, rational, conservative view of the passing political parade."

But are the denizens of L.A. prepared for such thoughtful commentary? As the watchdog group Media Matters for America notes, former Blankley "soliloquies" include singing the praises of the discredited anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 campaign, labeling billionaire Democrat George Soros a "pirate capitalist" and "a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust," and referring to the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as "People Eating Tasty Animals."

I want my Temptation TV
For his part, Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, is focusing on the sexually liberal media. Paul McCartney may have kept it clean during this year's Super Bowl halftime show, but Bozell is still reliving the horror of Janet Jackson's little flash dance from last year, and is going after its presumed mastermind.

"In today's popular culture, millions of children have to watch bared breasts on the Super Bowl before the networks wonder -- just wonder -- if they've gone too far," Bozell wrote in a column for Townhall.com. "The author of the Janet Jackson 'wardrobe malfunction' was MTV, but it remains utterly unshaken by the cultural earthquake it started. It's still the Temptation Channel, a 24-hour hangout selling easy sex, swagger and swearing -- all aimed, directly and deliberately, at children. MTV touts to advertisers that it's watched by 73 percent of boys and 78 percent of girls ages 12 to 19 and is profoundly influential in the lives and lifestyles of its young fans."

Bozell, who has apparently just awakened from a 20-year slumber, cites a Parents Television Council study, and concludes that it's all spring break, all the time on MTV, which he says averages "about 18 physical and 17 verbal references to sex per hour."

"Predictably, MTV defends itself by saying it's only a mirror that reflects the culture," he says. "Baloney. MTV is manufacturing the culture, not reflecting it. But this time, MTV took its defense further, stating the PTC is 'underestimating young people's intellect and level of sophistication.' That is potentially the most pathetic response I have ever heard."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Fox News Mtv Nbc Rush Limbaugh