BOOK REVIEW: ‘Messengers of the Right’ – Washington Times
MESSENGERS OF THE RIGHT: CONSERVATIVE MEDIA AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN POLITICS
By Nicole Hemmer
University of Pennsylvania Press, $34.95, 320 pages
Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, tells us that the idea for this readable and deeply-researched study of the growth of conservative media, and how it gave rise to one of the most successful political movements of the 20th century, grew out of the political arguments she and her father enjoyed when she went home to Indiana for her annual visits.
His mission was get her to move rightward and vote Republican, while she drifted left. Then one day he turned on the car radio, and their conversation “was replaced with the sound of ‘The Rush Limbaugh Show,’ and then ‘The Sean Hannity Show.’ Wherever we went that summer, the radio offered up a steady stream of conservative talk.”
She was struck by the variety of thought and insights it offered. “It was compelling stuff. And while it didn’t change my vote, it did change my life — and led to the book you’re reading now” — a book, incidentally, which she dedicates to her father.
Her new-found interest led to the archives, where she found that beginning in the late 1940s and ‘50s, a new generation of conservative visionaries and leaders, founding and shaping a variety of media enterprises, were “transforming audiences into activists and activists into a reliable voter base.”
With Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fox commentators well-known among most Americans today, activist conservative media is a national political fact of life. But these figures, writes Ms. Hemmer, constitute “the second generation of media activists.” In “Messengers of the Right” she sets out to tell the story of “the little-known first generation”
Among the leaders of that first generation setting in motion the movement that ultimately remade the Republican Party and restructured the national news media are Clarence Manion, former dean of the Notre Dame Law School, widely credited as one of the founders of talk radio. Dean Manion, who left the Eisenhower administration on a point of principle, forfeited a promised Supreme Court appointment by doing so. Notably, it was Clarence Manion who arranged for Brent Bozell to write Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative.”
Publisher Henry Regnery, a founder of Human Events, supplied the new conservative movement with vital depth in the early 1950s as publisher of William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” and Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.”
Kirk’s book, said Mr. Regnery, helped give postwar conservatism “its name, and more important, coherence.” And Bill Buckley, who gave “the conservative movement a style and rhetoric of its own,” would go on “to do more than anyone else to reconcile potentially conflicting viewpoints into a coherent intellectual force.” Mr. Buckley would expand that role with his televised debate show, “Firing Line,” which became a model for similar shows.
Mr. Regnery would also publish books by James Burnham, Richard Weaver, Frank Meyer, Willmoore Kendall and Whittaker Chambers. And in 1979 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich published Henry Regnery’s own memorable autobiography, “Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher.”
William Rusher, publisher of National Review, was a highly respected conservative strategist, thinker and organizer; a founder of Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union; the conservative presence on the 1970s television program “The Advocates;” and author of “The Rise of the Right” (1984), a conservative classic. A key figure in the Draft Goldwater movement, Bill Rusher was one of those conservative leaders, along with Bill Buckley, thanked personally by Ronald Reagan for having played a major role in putting him in the White House.
The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 represented the culmination of years of effort among Ms. Hemmer’s first generation of conservative activists. Then, in 1992, Ronald Reagan sent Rush Limbaugh this letter: “Dear Rush,” the former president wrote, “thanks for all you’re doing to promote Republican and conservative principles. Now that I’ve retired from active politics, I don’t mind that you’ve become the number one voice for conservatism in our country.”
“The Limbaugh era of Republican politics had arrived,” writes Ms. Hemmer. As had the era of Roger Ailes and Fox news.
It’s not possible, in a short summary, to do justice to the great detail and imposing cast of characters that Ms. Hemmer introduces in her narrative of how the first generation of conservative media activists, despite being in the political minority, were able to transform audiences into reliable conservative voters, and how successful the second generation has been in building on that legacy.
Suffice it to say her father would have been very proud.
• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).
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