Moment of Reckoning for the “Conservative Media”

The sham that is the Trump presidency has served its primary function quite well — it has decimated the grassroots conservative movement at the moment when that movement seemed to be gaining enough traction to have some effect as a counterforce to America’s progressive transformation. When I say “decimated,” I mean “crushed,” as Mitch McConnell promised to do to the Tea Party in 2014, back when he was challenged in the Kentucky primary by Matt Bevin — until a Karl Rove front group falsely calling itself Kentuckians for Strong Leadership leapt to McConnell’s defense. As I have noted before, one of the major “Kentuckian” donors in that pro-McConnell, anti-constitutionalist PAC was Donald J. Trump.

I have written for two years about the GOP establishment’s obvious preference for Trump, and of the corresponding big lie at the heart of Trump’s popularity, namely that he is an outsider who intends to “drain the swamp.” More of the machinations of that big lie have come to prominence over the past couple of days, specifically related to one of the uglier manifestations of the progressive GOP establishment’s circling of the wagons for Trump, viz., the so-called “conservative media’s” endless fawning over and excuse-making for the man-child and his administration.

Erick Erickson, the founder of RedState and popular conservative commentator, has explained how he was effectively barred from Fox News due to his conservative, anti-McConnell position in 2014, and his support of Tea Party challenger Bevin. The key to the story is that one of the major players in orchestrating his ouster as a regular Fox contributor was Elaine Chao — Mrs. Mitch McConnell — who happened to be a member of the board of directors at News Corp (owners of Fox News). In other words, the very politically-involved wife of the current lead swamp creature of the GOP establishment was a vocal advocate for the editorial stance of Fox News, destroying any illusions that Fox was ever anything but the propaganda wing of the Republican Party’s old boys club.

Now let’s add two and two, shall we?

McConnell’s wife is active in manipulating the on-air political slant of Fox News. Fox News spends all of the 2015-16 GOP primary season undermining the campaign of McConnell’s senate arch-enemy Ted Cruz — including by fabricating the fake optics of third candidate “surges,” as they did with Marco Rubio’s third place finish in Iowa, effectively deflating the significance and popular impact of Cruz’s victory over Trump in the very first caucus — while giving wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s every move, thereby creating the illusion of an unstoppable popular juggernaut. (These, as I have frequently explained, are exactly the same tactics they used in 2012 to support Mitt Romney — the establishment choice — against the various Tea Party-friendly challengers.)

Upon winning the presidency, one of Trump’s first cabinet appointments is Elaine Chao.

This is the true nature of the swamp-draining that Trump’s cultists still, to this day, fantasize they are witnessing: The GOP establishment exploits its direct ties to the conservative news media to plump for its preferred candidate (Trump) and denigrate genuine constitutionalist challengers to the Washington status quo, while simultaneously creating the grassroots-pleasing storyline that Mr. and Mrs. McConnell’s chosen puppet is an anti-establishment outsider; they then exploit the incompetence and amorality of their appointed figurehead to achieve their own swamp-filling goals, including by planting their own people within their puppet’s administration; the swamp-draining alpha male outsider, as president, ends up promoting almost exclusively the very things you would expect an establishment insider to promote — tax cuts without spending cuts, a modified and renamed version of ObamaCare, a massive shift to the left on illegal immigration, a more “moderate” position on the Second Amendment, a general disregard for the Constitution, etc.

The one area where grassroots or constitutionalist or Tea Party conservatives have been most wretchedly duped and abused by the establishment manipulators — the real “deep state” operatives, to use the alt-right lingo of the moment — is in the arena of the alternative media. Fox News, the Drudge Report, talk radio, and the conservative opinion websites were for years pitched as a spiritual home for those conservatives, where at last their views, and their desire to revive their failing republic, would gain a fair hearing. All along, these venues, or most of them most of the time, were little more than the establishment’s friendly smile, rhetorical performance art designed to lure principled men and women into the feeling that these sources were a safe haven, and then, systematically and repeatedly, to pull the rug out from under these good people in Act III, insisting that this year — “just one last time” — they should rally behind the establishment’s chosen fraud, “since after all, the alternative would be worse.”

And today comes another interesting, related story, from RedState, involving another long-time Fox News contributor, Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, who elected not to renew his contract with the network. More importantly, he had the courage to release a statement detailing his reason for breaking ties with Fox, which I will quote at some length, omitting the obligatory “thank you to the good people” portions:

I feel compelled to explain why I have to leave. Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution,” and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin’s agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the “nothing-burger” has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true–that’s how the Russians do things. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.

There are undoubtedly nits to pick with Peters’ assessment of certain details, and I am by no means suggesting that his own political views perfectly reflect my own. But the frustration in his tone, and his insider’s perspective on how all attempts to seem “fair and balanced” from a conservative point of view have gone out the window in favor of pure sycophancy for the most anti-conservative, establishment-friendly, and morally indefensible Republican president imaginable, rings so true it hurts.

And Peters’ criticism has deeper resonance with anyone who has had a long-time association with virtually any of the prominent American conservative news sources over the past several years. Fox is merely the biggest fish in the sea. The smaller fish are generally so many miniatures of the same phenomenon: the reality, or at least the appearance, of even-handedness and open-mindedness regarding the presentation of sincere, principled commentary related to liberty, constitutional conservatism, and classical liberal political philosophy in general, is jettisoned now in favor of outrageous and almost uninterrupted idolatry over Trump and everything he does. If you think Peters sounds unreasonably iconoclastic or bombastic in his broad disillusionment over Fox’s sell-out of its audience for profit, I can assure you that, were the names changed, almost everything he says would serve well as an account of the way so many of us who have been involved in the “conservative media” feel about our old colleagues and the contexts in which we once thrived quite happily and peaceably, healthy disagreements notwithstanding.

For me, the essence of Peters’ polemic lies in these words: “Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.”

Yes. This, in a nutshell, is what it feels like to participate in an organization with enthusiasm and a sense of fellow-feeling, only to realize, to paraphrase Reagan, that you haven’t left themthey have left you.

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