Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Conservative Bias: How Jesse Helms Pioneered the Rise of Right-Wing Media and Realigned the Republican Party

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Conservative Bias: How Jesse Helms Pioneered the Rise of Right-Wing Media and Realigned the Republican Party

Article excerpt

Conservative Bias: How Jesse Helms Pioneered the Rise of Right-Wing Media and Realigned the Republican Party. By Bryan Hardin Thrift. (Gainesville and other cities: University Press of Florida, 2014. Pp. xii, 262. $69.95, ISBN 978-0-8130-4931-1.)

The past several years have seen a proliferation of excellent scholarship detailing the efforts of southern whites to negotiate the drastic changes of the mid-twentieth century. Bryan Hardin Thrift's new volume demonstrates the fertile ground yet remaining by introducing a hitherto neglected figure to the narrative: North Carolina newsman and future senator Jesse Helms.

Helms's relative absence from the literature likely reflects historians' tendency to view him as a man of the New Right, entering the political scene in the 1970s and remaining prominent through the 1990s. Thrift's work renders Helms's centrality to southern politics abundantly clear long before his 1972 Senate victory. Thrift makes two interwoven claims for Helms's significance: first, Helms "forged a new form of southern conservatism" rooted in private enterprise and utilizing coded language to make implicit racial arguments; and second, Helms pioneered the development of conservative media (p. 2).

Helms unquestionably advanced the conservative cause in his home state of North Carolina. He enjoyed important regional and even national access through his syndicated "Viewpoint" column and frequent pickups by national publications such as Human Events. Thrift skillfully traces Helms's mastery of what the critical Raleigh News and Observer labeled "pious incitement," "an outrage-driven, symbolic politics that offered moral indignation to build conservatism" (p. 10). His televised editorials, delivered as often as twenty times a month between the late 1950s and 1972, successfully "substituted a moralistic discourse for an explicitly racist language and a moral community for a racial one," unifying white voters across class boundaries and stridently advocating conservative economic as well as racial positions (p. 59).

Helms believed the national media outlets were hopelessly biased. During his years as a television executive and news director at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, he fought to make his station, whose tagline was "The Voice of Free Enterprise," a vehicle for countering perceived rampant liberalism (p. …

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