Alternative media (U.S. political right)
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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 liberal bias of mainstream media.
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. Among other prominent newspapers, Los Angeles Times remained staunchly conservative until 1952. During the 1960s, it turned decisively liberal. McCormick family newspapers (particularly the Chicago Tribune) remained staunchly conservative till the late 1960s., as were the Henry Luce magazines like Time and Fortune. 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.
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. Libertarian, pro-free market journal The Freeman was founded in 1950 by journalists John Chamberlain, Henry Hazlitt, and Suzanne La Follette. Many conservative intellectuals were associated with it, who later joined the National Review.
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.
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.
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.
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 was honest, equitable, and balanced. In 1987, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine, prompting some to urge its reintroduction through either Commission policy or Congressional legislation. However later the FCC removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011.
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 considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.
The main agenda for the doctrine was to ensure that viewers were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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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.
- Clark, Drew (20 October 2004) "How Fair Is Sinclair's Doctrine?" Slate
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- 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.
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- James Brian McPherson (July 9, 2008). The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media's Role in the Rise of the Right. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-2332-8.
- Nicole Hemmer (August 25, 2016). Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-4839-5.