Messengers of the Right

Messengers of the Right

Messengers of the Right

Messengers of the Right


From Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck and Matt Drudge, Americans are accustomed to thinking of right-wing media as integral to contemporary conservatism. But today's well-known personalities make up the second generation of broadcasting and publishing activists. Messengers of the Right tells the story of the little-known first generation.

Beginning in the late 1940s, activists working in media emerged as leaders of the American conservative movement. They not only started an array of enterprises--publishing houses, radio programs, magazines, book clubs, television shows--they also built the movement. They coordinated rallies, founded organizations, ran political campaigns, and mobilized voters. While these media activists disagreed profoundly on tactics and strategy, they shared a belief that political change stemmed not just from ideas but from spreading those ideas through openly ideological communications channels.

In Messengers of the Right, Nicole Hemmer explains how conservative media became the institutional and organizational nexus of the conservative movement, transforming audiences into activists and activists into a reliable voting base. Hemmer also explores how the idea of liberal media bias emerged, why conservatives have been more successful at media activism than liberals, and how the right remade both the Republican Party and American news media. Messengers of the Right follows broadcaster Clarence Manion, book publisher Henry Regnery, and magazine publisher William Rusher as they evolved from frustrated outsiders in search of a platform into leaders of one of the most significant and successful political movements of the twentieth century.


“My project this summer is to get you to vote for George Bush.” My father’s declaration, made one June day in 2004 as we were driving into town, did not surprise me. I was back in Indiana for my annual visit, and my dad and I had spent every day since my arrival wrangling over American politics: the war in Iraq, the marriage equality referenda, the impending election. Raised conservative, I had slowly slid to the left as my dad drifted further right. But that divergence ended up drawing us closer together. Political debate became the secret language of our relationship, the way we conveyed love, respect, disagreement, and admiration. So there was nothing extraordinary about an afternoon spent debating politics. Yet I remember every contour of that particular conversation—the conviction in my dad’s voice, the soft hum of traffic, the breeze stirring the Ohio Valley’s stagnant summer air—because of what he did next.

He turned on the radio.

Our 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. I found it both grating and captivating, a heady mix of personality and passion and politics. During ad breaks we feasted on each segment’s arguments and insights, dissecting the surprisingly wide variety of philosophies and logics (and illogics) at play. in addition to engaging from my own adversarial perspective, I observed my dad’s response as a sympathetic listener. He absorbed some arguments, rejected others, and refashioned still others to fit with his life experiences. This dynamic interplay confounded the common stereotype of talk-radio listeners as sponges soaking up the host’s message. It was compel-

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