Alternative media (U.S. political right)

The term right-wing alternative media in the United States usually refers to internet, talk radio, print, and television journalism. They are defined by their presentation of opinions from a conservative or right wing point of view and politicized reporting as a counter to what they describe as a liberal bias of mainstream media.

Ben Shapiro, founder of The Daily Wire, one of the largest conservative websites in the United States.


Before the 1960sEdit

During this time, some prominent mainstream newspapers were conservative. William Randolph Hearst, longtime Progressive Democrat, turned increasingly conservative since the 1920s. He initially supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, but broke with him after 1934. Since then, the Hearst chain newspapers opposed the New Deal.[1] Among other prominent newspapers, Los Angeles Times remained staunchly conservative until 1952. During the 1960s, it turned decisively liberal.[2] McCormick family newspapers (particularly the Chicago Tribune) remained staunchly conservative until the late 1960s,[3] as were the Henry Luce magazines like Time and Fortune.[4] By 1936, most newspapers opposed the New Deal. In that year, newspapers in the largest 15 metropolitan cities with 70% circulation supported the Republican candidate Alf Landon against FDR.[5]

At the same time, conservative activists began to found their own magazines to counter alleged liberal bias in mainstream media, and to propagate conservative point of view. Human Events was founded in 1944 by The Washington Post former editor Felix Morley and publisher Henry Regnery.[6] Libertarian, pro-free market journal The Freeman was founded in 1950 by journalists John Chamberlain, Henry Hazlitt, and Suzanne La Follette.[7][non-primary source needed] Many conservative intellectuals were associated with it, who later joined the National Review.[citation needed]

In 1955, National Review was founded by the author and journalist William F. Buckley Jr. Its publisher was William A. Rusher. Since its inception, National Review became the beacon of post-war conservative movement. Buckley drew conservative (particularly ex-communist) intellectuals to the magazine, including Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, Whittaker Chambers, L. Brent Bozell Jr., John Dos Passos, James Burnham, and William Schlamm. Meyer formed the new thesis of fusionism, which included a fusion of traditionalism, libertarianism, and anti-communism. This became the guiding philosophy of the New Right.[8][9][10]

These decades also saw the emergence of conservative talk radio, though their outreach was limited than that of recent decades, due to the Fairness Doctrine. Among pioneering conservative talk radio hosts were Fulton Lewis, Paul Harvey, Bob Grant, Alan Burke, and Clarence Manion, former dean of the Notre Dame Law School.[11][12][13]

1960s to 1980sEdit

Not long after this, then Vice President Spiro Agnew began attacking the media in a series of speeches — two of the most famous of these were written by White House aides Patrick Buchanan and William Safire — as "elitist" and "liberal".

After Nixon's resignation and until the late 1980s, overtly conservative news outlets included the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Post and The Washington Times. Conservative magazines included the National Review, The Weekly Standard and the American Spectator.

Fairness doctrineEdit

The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that fairly reflected differing viewpoints.[14] In 1987, the FCC abolished the fairness doctrine,[15] prompting some to urge its reintroduction through either Commission policy or congressional legislation.[16] However, later the FCC removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011.[17]

The fairness doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been cited as a contributing factor in the rising level of party polarization in the United States.[18][19]

While the original purpose of the doctrine was to ensure that viewers were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints, it was used by both the Kennedy and later the Johnson administration to combat political opponents operating on talk radio. In 1969 the United States Supreme Court, in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, upheld the FCC's general right to enforce the fairness doctrine where channels were limited. However, the court did not rule that the FCC was obliged to do so.[20] The courts reasoned that the scarcity of the broadcast spectrum, which limited the opportunity for access to the airwaves, created a need for the doctrine.

The fairness doctrine is not the same as the equal-time rule, which is still in place. The fairness doctrine deals with discussion of controversial issues, while the equal-time rule deals only with political candidates.

Talk radioEdit

Rush Limbaugh, nationally syndicated radio host

With the increased popularity and superior sound quality of FM radio, AM stations had long languished behind FM in both popularity and ratings, resulting in underutilization of the band. There had even been discussions in the 1970s and 1980s of abolishing the AM band.[21]

The combination of underutilized AM frequencies and the absence of content restrictions led a number of radio programmers and syndicators to produce and broadcast conservative talk shows. Notable examples are Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. These talk shows draw large audiences and have arguably altered the political landscape. Talk radio became a key force in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.[22][23] While some liberal talk radio also emerged, such as Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! and the ersatz Air America Radio, most liberal voices have moved to the Internet, leaving broadcast radio still dominated by conservatives.


In the early 2000s, blogs of all political persuasions became increasingly influential. Conservative blogs such as Power Line, Captains Quarters and blogger Michelle Malkin covered and promoted a number of stories, for instance the Swift Boat Veterans' criticism of the war record of presidential candidate John Kerry. Particularly notable was the uncovering of the "Memogate" scandal by Little Green Footballs and others. American blog Captains Quarters played a role in the 2004 Canadian election, outflanking a Canadian judicial gag order on media coverage of hearings related to a Canadian Liberal Party corruption scandal. The fallout from the scandal helped lead to a Conservative victory in the following election.[24]


In October 2020, describing the ascendancy of alternative media on the right of American politics during the late 2010s, journalist Ben Smith wrote:[25]

By 2015, the old gatekeepers had entered a kind of crisis of confidence, believing they couldn't control the online news cycle any better than King Canute could control the tides. Television networks all but let Donald Trump take over as executive producer that summer and fall. In October 2016, Julian Assange and James Comey seemed to drive the news cycle more than the major news organizations. Many figures in old media and new bought into the idea that in the new world, readers would find the information they wanted to read — and therefore, decisions by editors and producers, about whether to cover something and how much attention to give it, didn't mean much.

There was also an emergence of state-specific right-wing alternative media news websites that emerged in the decade such as The Tennessee Star, New Boston Post, and others.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ David Nasaw, "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst" (2001) pp.458,469,480
  2. ^ Dennis McDougal, "Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise of and Fall of the L.A.Times Dynasty" (2002) pp.65,158,191-92
  3. ^ Richard Norton Smith, "The olonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick" (2003) ch.11
  4. ^ Brinkley, "The Publisher: Henry Luce and the American Century"(2010) pp.ix-x,165,197,370
  5. ^ Charles W. Smith Jr. "Public Opinion in a Democracy"(1939), pp.85-86.
  6. ^ Gilian Peele, 'American Conservatism in Historical Perspective', in "Crisis of Conservatism? The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement, & American Politics after Bush", Gillian Peele, Joel D. Aberbach (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press,2011,p. 21
  7. ^ "About the Freeman". Foundation for Economic Education. July 14, 2015. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  8. ^ Perlstein, Rick (April 11, 2017). "I thought I understood the American Right". The New York Times. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  9. ^ Byers, Dylan. "National Review, conservative thinkers stand against Donald Trump". CNN. Retrieved April 5, 2017.
  10. ^ Brooks, David (September 24, 2017). "The Conservative Mind". The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  11. ^ Nimmo, Dan; Chevelle Newsome (1997). Political commentators in the United States in the 20th Century. p. 95.
  12. ^ "Clarence E. Manion dead at 83; host of radio forum". July 29, 1979. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  13. ^ "WABC welcomes back Bob Grant". New York: August 24, 2007. Retrieved July 29, 2010.
  14. ^ "CBS v. Democratic Nat'l Committee, 412 U.S. 94 (1973)". Justia Law. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  15. ^ Fletcher, Dan (February 20, 2009). "A Brief History of the Fairness Doctrine". Time. Retrieved October 10, 2021. It's as predictable as Rush Limbaugh sparking a controversy: every few years, someone in Congress brings up the Fairness Doctrine. In 1987 the FCC abolished the policy, which dictates that public broadcast license-holders have a duty to present important issues to the public and — here's the 'fairness' part — to give multiple perspectives while doing so.
  16. ^ Clark, Drew (October 20, 2004). "How Fair Is Sinclair's Doctrine?". Slate.
  17. ^ Boliek, Brooks (August 22, 2011). "FCC finally kills off fairness doctrine". Politico.
  18. ^ E. Patterson, Thomas (2013). "The News Media: Communicating Political Images". We the People. 10th ed. McGraw-Hill Education: 336.
  19. ^ Rendall, Steve (January 1, 2005). "The Fairness Doctrine: How We Lost it, and Why We Need it Back". Extra!. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  20. ^ Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, decided June 8, 1969, also at 395 U.S. 367 (1969) (Excerpt from majority opinion, III A; Senate report cited in footnote 26). Justice William O. Douglas did not participate in the decision, but there were no concurring or dissenting opinions.
  21. ^ David Giovannoni (1999) [1991-09-01]. "The Tyranny of the AM Band: How Dual AM/FM Licensees Can Adjust to the 1990s" (PDF). Audience Research Analysis. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 25, 2005. Retrieved April 30, 2007.
  22. ^ "The Right Talk". The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. October 13, 2003. PBS. Transcript.
  23. ^ Baum, Matthew A. (2005). "Talking the Vote: Why Presidential Candidates Hit the Talk Show Circuit". American Journal of Political Science. 49 (2): 213–234. doi:10.1111/j.0092-5853.2005.t01-1-00119.x.
  24. ^ Dobbin, Murray (November 30, 2005). "The Case Against a Martin Majority". The Tyee.
  25. ^ Smith, Ben (October 25, 2020). "Trump Had One Last Story to Sell. The Wall Street Journal Wouldn't Buy It". The Media Equation. The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 30, 2020.
  26. ^ "Inside the business model of a 'baby Breitbart'". May 4, 2018.

Further readingEdit