Inside The Bubble: CPAC Attendees Happy With State Of Conservative Media

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Despite widespread recent criticism of the role conservative media outlets played in the 2012 election and its aftermath, most attendees at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference had a positive view of the current state of right-wing journalism. 

The calls for reform of conservative media are unconvincing to journalists who have found that the current model has given them a large audience.

Mike Opelka, editor-at-large for Glenn Beck's The Blaze, said the popularity of conservative media proves that they are doing good work.

"Fox dominates the conservative cable media," he said. "We [The Blaze] are averaging 10 million uniques a month. I think it is on target for what we like. We are a center-right source and we think they like what we give them."

Dana Loesch, the conservative radio talk show host whose past work for the Breitbart family of conservative news websites helped generate appearances on CNN, Fox News and ABC News, also gave high marks to conservative outlets.

"I think they are doing a really good job," she said of her fellow right-wing media outlets. "It's a good market, I always think there is an appetite for conservative media because there are a lot of people, myself included, who think you don't get that perspective when you turn it on, CBS, NBC, the channels like that."

Their optimism comes at a time when numerous media voices, including several prominent conservatives, have raised questions about the state of conservative media following a 2012 election in which right-wing media outlets convinced their readers, viewers, and listeners that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a comfortable win over a villainous President Obama. Last week, American Conservative published an extensive piece critical of "groupthink" among "several conservative publications."

Similarly, in a February post at his influential Red State website, new Fox News contributor Erick Erickson criticized the conservative "echo chamber" for "trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial" at the expense of basic reporting.

But these concerns, alongside a recent flurry of embarrassments (like the "Friends of Hamas" debacle), were not shared by most at CPAC, who were quick to paint a rosy picture of their work in interviews with Media Matters.

For Sandy Rios, a radio talk show host and Fox News contributor, conservative media is "energized, motivated more than ever probably."

"Conservative media are not constrained by political correctness," she added. "They really do know what's going on. I see conservative media as understanding the fiscal issues, seamless with social issues. You can't have reasonable financial policy and have unstructured blinded morality. We have huge fiscal problems because we have broken down in so many areas of society."

Stephen K. Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, also backed the current conservative media movement, but said it will continue to improve.

"I think conservative media is really at the very beginning stages, I think the best days are ahead of us," he said during an interview that followed a panel of conservative voices Breitbart had hosted who had not been invited to speak at official CPAC events. "I think things are growing, I think you're getting more voices, technology's helping out. There's no conservative New York Times yet, or Washington Post, there will be. Our goal is to get more young people trained, more young people up into the system and we're having a great time."

Republican party leaders in attendance at CPAC, including current and former GOP elected officials, also largely approved of the work of right-wing media.

"I think they're doing fairly well. You've got Fox News, which is doing well in viewership," said Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform"My sense is that Fox talks to people who are already there. It is more important when I am talking to a broader've got to win converts." 

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) dismissed the idea that conservative media outlets are having problems.

"I don't think they're having problems, I think the media is evolving," said Capito, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2014. "I think it is an uphill battle for us because most of the media that gets the bigger play is liberal-based.

Asked how she is using Fox News to help her run for higher office, Capito said, "A lot. I've been on Hannity and Greta, will probably continue to do that. I've met with folks at Fox."

When Sen. John Barrasso, (R-WY) was asked if conservative media are doing a good job as he rushed from a speaking appearance at CPAC, he shot back: "Oh yeah."

Asked what media improvements could do to help the GOP, Barrasso answered that conservative outlets should "continue to stay conservative."

Former presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) offered a positive view of conservative media as she took the stage to present CPAC's blogger awards, stating: "I think it's great, it's growing."

Former Rep. Allen West (R-FL) echoed Bachmann, saying conservative media "are doing a lot, and I think they're doing very well and I think it's going to be even better."

Asked about conservative outlets' role in the 2012 election, several commentators placed blame for the loss solely on Romney. 

Jonah Goldberg, a syndicated conservative columnist and editor-at-large for National Review, credited many in right-wing media for trying to help Romney, but said he would not take the advice.

"A lot of people on conservative media were trying to tell them 'you've go to be bolder and actually stake out a position and not just do this Hallmark card, I love America stuff,'" Goldberg said. "And we got drowned out."

Jim Hoft, who runs the popular website, also said conservative media did their best for Romney.

"I think the conservative media may have done what they could at the time, but the Obama Administration is good at campaigning," said Hoft. "They did a good job at defining Romney before we could."

Added Rusty Humphries, a conservative radio talk show host who is syndicated on 250 stations, "Part of the problem is these guys all want to show how smart they are instead of trying to relate to regular folks."

He cited an idea he proposed to the Romney campaign that they should have had the candidate go on Keeping Up With The Kardashians. "Maybe he doesn't win them over, but maybe he does," Humphries recalled. "They've got 30 million followers on Facebook and Twitter. I took that to the Romney campaign, they laughed."

Others on the right said it was not their job to get Romney elected.

"I don't think it's their job to do it," said Loesch. "I think there are editorialist websites out there. I don't think it's about doing anything for anyone, it is about doing the story. I don't think its their job to make the case for them. I don't think that's their job to push the conservative agenda."

Opelka of The Blaze echoed that view.

"The conservative media's job was not to get Mitt Romney elected, we were covering the election," he said. "There is no shortage of fingers that can be pointed in the election, could the conservative media have focused more on conservative issues? I think there were times when conservative media got caught up in meaningless issues, like Rev. Wright. If they had focused more on jobs and the economy it might have been better."

Rios agreed: "I don't carry water for the GOP or the Republican Party and I don't think many conservative media do. If you really listen to conservative talk I think they are more committed to conservative principles than they are to a party."

Norquist said conservative media did not do enough because Romney lost, but he said they cannot be blamed for the defeat either. "Did they blow it? I don't think so," he said. "You look at the kind of stuff that went wrong, it was the candidate."

But for a younger generation, specifically the students that make up a strong contingent of CPAC attendees and volunteers, conservative media outlets have a lot of room for improvement. 

"Conservative media is outdated, their style is outdated," said Michael Loy, a University of Tennessee junior who trekked to National Harbor, MD., for the conference. "There are three things that sell a message: make people trust you, give people something they have never seen before, and be confident when you speak."

His friend and fellow Tennessee student Justin Mathewson agreed, saying the conservative media is doing well "with the heart of conservatives," adding that it may be losing what he called "fringe conservatives."

"If it is not reaching independent moderate voices, that causes some problems," he said, noting he gets a lot of news from Fox News and The Daily Caller.

Jonah Goldberg, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch
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