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Is Conservative Media One Big "Racket"?

By       Message Eric Boehlert     Permalink
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Cross-posted from Media Matters

As Republicans continue to try to make sense of their recent election losses, the finger pointing is becoming more intense.

In recent days, prominent conservatives Bill Kristol and Joe Scarborough have leveled a new allegation: Major players have allowed their pursuit of personal wealth (and ego) to take precedence over larger political goals; that elements of the conservative movement resemble a me-first, moneymaking "racket," where lining ones pockets stands out as the key objective.

The nasty "racket" accusation highlights what's happened as Republicans have handed over more and more of their branding and marketing to media personalities whose ultimate barometers of success (ratings and personal income) differ from those who run political parties (getting candidates elected to office).

In the business of media self-promotion, and particularly the carnival barker variety that powers so much of the conservative movement via Fox News and AM talk radio, it's inevitable that the goals of the "conservative entertainment complex," as writer David Frum dubbed it, would collide with the retail politics of the Republican Party. (Frum has charged the complex with having "fleeced" and "exploited" its followers.)

Remember when Glenn Beck charged fans $125 to sit through the taping of his radio show? Or when he charged $500 if they wanted to attend a meet-and-greet before the show? And that was after  Beck banked $32 million the previous year. More recently, conservative pundits and outlets have rushed to cash in on election spending by renting their emails lists, while Fox News' Karl Rove lightened wealthy donors' bankrolls by $300 million via his failed political groups.

It's conservatism as an ATM.

The "racket" implication also extends beyond the media world and into the Tea Party, which Fox has faithfully touted as a "grassroot" movement. That feel-good characterization was hard to square with the recent revelation that former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey stepped down as chairman of FreedomWorks, an influential Tea Party non-profit group, with a staggering $8 million golden parachute. (He will reportedly be paid in $400,000 installments, annually, in "consulting fees.")

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Republicans rarely begrudge millionaires for big paydays. (It's the free marketplace!) But if they think cashing in has trumped winning elections, GOP pushback is inevitable.

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a (more...)

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