Tag Archives: meme factory

Inside the meme factory: The Clintons figured this out long ago

By Christopher B. Daly

When Hilary Clinton complained back in 1995 of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” trying to bring down her husband, she was not wrong. In fact, she and her husband’s political advisers were onto something: the interlocking network of conservative institutions set up since WWII to American politics to the right. As the Clintons realized, the right-wing think tanks and the right-wing media were mutually supportive in their campaign to concoct conservative political themes and inject them into the mainstream media. (Whether this system qualifies as a “consipracy” is a fine point, but Hilary was right to be paranoid: people were out to get her.)

A new batch of disclosures from the Clinton presidential library lay out the Clintons’ grasp of this phenomenon, circa 1995. They rightly identified Richard Mellon Scaife as a major source of funding for both conservative think tanks and media.

Scroll down past the heading sheets for a fascinating glimpse inside this usually hidden world.

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Inside the meme factory: GOP discovers “imperial presidency”

By Christopher B. Daly

In today’s NYTimes, a story purports to have discovered a trend among Republican congressmen, who are depicted as suddenly deciding to accuse President Obama of creating an “imperial presidency.”

Hmmm. . .

Whenever Republicans start using the same phrase for the same purpose, it behooves political journalists to dig a little deeper and figure out where the new phrase/slogan/soundbite is coming from. Usually, it has been hatched deep in the bowels of the conservative “meme factory” — that set of interlocking think tanks, consultants, and media that serves the conservative movement by providing it with a constant supply of talking points, slogans, and rallying cries.

Today’s story, by Ashley Parker, traced the new “meme” as far upstream as a recent report from the office of Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the House, but that’s as far as she got. I suspect there are more tributaries to explore, even further upstream.

An excerpt:

Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, recently released an addendum to a 33-page report his office had already put out on the “imperial presidency.” And both Mr. Broun and Mr. Loudermilk used similar phrases when talking about the role they believe government should play.

“Our founding fathers truly believed that government should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people — not a government over the people,” Mr. Broun told a gathering of supporters recently.The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

Imagine that — Loudermilk “offered a nearly identical refrain.” What a coincidence!

 

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Inside the Meme Factory: Conservatives gin up “studies” to suit needs

By Christopher B. Daly 

Here’s a peek inside what I call “the Meme Factory” — the interlocking set of institutions that conservatives built, mainly since WWII, to manufacture “studies,” slogans, and ideas that could probably not pass muster at most universities or scholarly journals but are very useful to the conservative movement. Briefly, the way it often works is that a conservative funder or activist has a notion. The notion is taken to a conservative “think tank,” where it can be refined, simplified, and outfitted with some academic-sounding “research.” The whole package can be offered to sympathetic conservative “journalists” who work at conservative media outlets like Fox, National Review, Newsmax, Breitbart, etc. Then, when real scholars and responsible journalists ignore it, conservatives can cry foul and denounce everyone else as “biased.”

Today’s case in point: a story in the NYTimes not about this phenomenon but which nevertheless reveals a bit of how this system operates. The story naturally focuses on the latest developments. Igt is essentially a “stage-setter” for a hearing set for Tuesday in a federal court in Detroit over the suitability of same-sex couples as parents. But it’s the backstory that really deserves equal attention:

–To start at the beginning, in August 2010, a federal judge in a different federal court in California writes in a ruling that he found “no reliable evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have any negative effects on society.”

–Alarmed, conservatives swing into action.

–In late 2010, they gather at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, one of the central nodes in the Meme Factory. According to the Times, “opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children.” In other words, they wanted to commission studies whose outcome was pre-determined.

–Result: “the marshaling of $785,000 for a large-scale study by Mark Regnerus, a meeting participant and a sociologist at the University of Texas who will testify in Michigan.” The money comes from two conservative foundations: Witherspoon and Bradley.

–His study comes out in 2012 in the journal Social Science Research, and conservatives immediately start citing it. No surprise: the study “finds” that children do best when raised by their own straight, married, monogamous parents.

–Scholars criticize his methods and motives, prompting the journal to launch an internal audit of its own procedures. Basically, the folks at Social Science Research need to determine how they got so badly used in this case.

–No matter. The Meme Factory has delivered: a study, a controversy, victim status, and news coverage.

Who says American manufacturing is dying?

Below, as a public service, I offer a version of a work in progress. It’s a timeline of the interlocking institutions that make up the Meme Factory — think tanks and media outlets. You’ll notice that some names crop up again and again: Scaife, Mellon, Murdoch, Kristol.

(Please help me fill in any blanks.)

CONSERVATIVE MEDIA AND INSTITUTIONS

 

A TIMELINE

 

Compiled by Christopher B. Daly

MEDIA OUTLETS

 

Debut              Name                                                   Owner/Founder

(not to mention: WSJ, Chi Tribune, LA Times, US News, Reader’s Digest, Forbes, etc)

1944                Human Events                                        Henry Regnery et al.

1955                National Review                                 William F. Buckley Jr.

 1965                Public Interest                                        Irving Kristol  (folded, 2005)

1967                American Spectator                             R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr./Regnery

196?                Commentary (turns right)                 Norman Podhoretz/

1968                Reason  (libertarian)                            Robert W. Poole Jr.   

1975                Conservative Digest                           Richard Viguerie

1982                Washington Times                              Rev. Moon/Unification Church

1985                The National Interest                         Irving Kristol

1988                Rush Limbaugh                                     Limbaugh/Clear Channel

1995                Weekly Standard                                 Murdoch/News Corp/ Wm Kristol

1995                Townhall.com                                      offshoot of Heritage

1996                Fox News                                                Ailes/ News Corp. (Murdoch)

1996                The Drudge Report                             Matt Drudge

 1996                Free Republic (website)                   James C. “Jim” Robinson

1997                World Net Daily                                 Jos.&Eliz. Farah

1998                Newsmax Media                                 Christopher W. Ruddy  (Scaife)

2001                InstaPundit                                         Glenn Reynolds

2002                The American Conservative (mag)     Pat Buchanan, Taki, et al.

2002                Glenn Beck Radio Program                 Glenn Beck

 2007                Breitbart.com                                      Andrew Breitbart

INSTITUTIONS                 [major donors: Olin, Coors, Scaife, Richardson, Bradley]

1943                American Enterprise Institute                        big business

1947                Regnery Publishing                             Eagle Publishing

1957                Hoover Institution                              ?????/ Stanford

1960                Young Americans for Freedom           William F. Buckley

1961                Christian Broadcasting Network        Pat Robertson

1963                Oral Roberts University                     Oral Roberts

1969                AIM                                                    Reed Irvine

1973                Heritage Foundation                           Paul Weyrich             (Coors)

1975                Eagle Forum                                        Phyllis Schlafly  (radio, Web)

1977                Cato Institute                                      Edward H. Crane                                                                                       (Koch, Olin, Scaife, Bradley)

1977                Focus on the Family                           Dr. James Dobson

1977                National Journalism Center                M. Stanton Evans (Buckley; YAF))

1978                Inst. for Educational Affairs               Irving Kristol/William E. Simon                                                (Olin, Scaife, Richardson)

1979                Moral Majority (thru 1989)               Weyrich, Viguerie, Falwell.

1982                Federalist Society                               Edwin Meese, Robert Bork, Olson

1987                Media Research Center                       L. Brent Bozell III

1997                Project for  New American Century         Wm. Kristol / Robert Kagan 

 

 

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Inside the Meme Factory

By Christopher B. Daly 

The career of Michael Goldfarb, as described in today’s NYTimes, is a great example of the power of the conservative “meme factory” that sustains individuals, institutions, and ideas on the right. It’s the combination of right-wing think tanks and right-wing news media — all created since World War II as an alternative universe to the world of academia and mainstream journalism. It’s a subject I am researching and writing about for what I hope will be my next book.

To quote the Times:

His career was spawned, rather, in the conservative confines of The Weekly Standard and allied organizations, namely the Project for the New American Century, which is well known for promoting the war in Iraq. He has since gone on to thrive in the influential world of outside ideological groups. Mr. Goldfarb, known as a flamethrower on both sides of the aisle, has achieved unparalleled hybrid status in the process.

What this passage suggests is that the conservative Meme Factory is now into its second generation. Many of the key steps that created the Meme Factory in

Irving Kristol Wikipedia

Irving Kristol
Wikipedia

the first place were taken by Irving Kristol, neocon intellectual entrepreneur and founder of The Public Interest. His son, Bill Kristol, is the founder of The Weekly Standard, which gave Goldfarb his start. Bill Kristol is also the chair of the think tank Project for a New American Century.

At age 32, Goldfarb has passed several times through the revolving door connecting the think tanks and the media.

 

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Inside the Meme Factory

By Christopher B. Daly

That phrase, Inside the Meme Factory, is the working title of my next book. It refers to an idea that is well illustrated in a piece on page 1 of today’s Times by the estimable James B. Stewart (lawyer, book author, contributor to both the New Yorker and the Times — is there more than one of him?). In his article, Stewart seizes on a comment made by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and tries to walk it back to its origins. The phrase involved a rhetorical question raised from the bench by Scalia during arguments over the national health care law, asking whether the government could make Americans do other things that are good for them, such as eating broccoli. Here’s the nub:

It turns out that broccoli did not spring from the mind of Justice Scalia. The vegetable trail leads backward through conservative media and pundits. Before reaching the Supreme Court, vegetables were cited by a federal judge in Florida with a libertarian streak; in an Internet video financed by libertarian and ultraconservative backers; at a Congressional hearing by a Republican senator; and an op-ed column by David B. Rivkin Jr., a libertarian lawyer whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was 10.

 Stewart’s painstaking track-back shows that the idea of challenging the limits of the Commerce Clause originated with libertarian thinkers and was sustained in a series of hand-offs by other libertarians and conservatives, all working within the universe of conservative institutions (Cato, Reason, Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Reagan-appointed judges, a former Clarence Thomas law clerk, et al.) And, as so often happens, several of those institutions get crucial amounts of funding from the Kochs and the Scaifes.

The “broccoli” story exemplifies a much larger truth: most of the themes, slogans, argument-stoppers, images, and jokes that shape our politics and much of our public conversation don’t come from nowhere. Many of them are the fruits of deliberate efforts, especially among conservatives, and many of those efforts take place in a nearly hidden network of institutions. Those institutions include an array of think tanks, publishers, and conservative media outlets that generate and amplify conservative “memes.” In my book, I trace the deliberate campaign to fund and build this network of interlocking conservative institutions in the decades after World War II.

Stay tuned.

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