Veteran Republicans Say Right-Wing Media Is “A Big Problem For The Party” In New Harvard Report

Republican insiders are complaining that the right-wing media “is shaping the party's agenda in ways that are impeding Republicans' ability to govern and to win presidential elections,” according to a new Harvard report.

New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes, a Joan Shorenstein fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, spent nearly four months researching how the conservative media is increasingly influencing the Republican Party. She found “unanimity among establishment Republicans -- many of them conservatives by the definition of anyone but purists -- that rightwing media has become a big problem for the party, and their readiness to talk about it, was something of a surprise to this reporter of three decades' experience in Washington.”

Since its founding in 2004, Media Matters has documented the increasingly extreme rhetoric and policy positions of conservative media. But party Republicans are now complaining that conservative commentators, many of whom are lining their pockets with big salaries, are making it difficult for Republicans to govern and win national elections.

Dave Schnittger, a longtime former top aide to House Republican leaders, told Calmes that conservative media are loudest in opposing actions “that leaders have to get done as part of governing,” such as meeting basic fiscal deadlines.

Another top Republican aide, who asked for anonymity, complained of the conservative media: “There's no money, ratings or clicks in everyone going along to get along.” Calmes added, “Asked whether he could offer examples of legislative outcomes affected by conservative media, this Republican all but snapped, 'Sure. All of 'em.' Does he worry more broadly then about the small-d democratic process? 'Yeah, absolutely. Because the loudest voices drown out the sensible ones and there's no real space to have serious discussions.'”

When it comes to national issues, Republicans fret that the conservative media has pushed the party “far to the anti-government, anti-compromise ideological right.” Republicans pointed to the conservative media being “on the wrong side of history” and at odds with public opinion on “gay rights, insurance for contraceptives, climate change, and budget policy.” They also complained that right-wing pundits have destroyed Republicans' ability to help pass comprehensive immigration reform.

One Republican Senate aide claimed that it's “the conservative media pushing us to take these positions, these extremist positions. And of course there are those who are more than willing to take them because it gets them press. It's a vicious cycle: The shows want ratings -- they're a business. The members want publicity. So it's just this unholy alliance.”

The conservative media's influence on the Republican Party has become a key story during the 2016 presidential primary season. Fox News has an unprecedented media role in the process, as it is hosting the first Republican debate and using polling to cap the number of debate participants at 10. Candidates competing to get into the debates are now frequently appearing on the network's airwaves, and their allies are spending big money on advertising to reach Fox's conservative audience.

Perhaps one of the most disruptive forces in the primary, Donald Trump, has enjoyed a cozy relationship with Fox News. Fox has promoted Trump's antics so much that Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch has reportedly fought with chairman and CEO Roger Ailes over the channel's coverage of the divisive Republican candidate.