A Deficit of Stories
As much as think tanks, we need storytelling tanks — and a way to disperse the stories far and wide.


Lee Habeeb

The impact of this mass-media advantage is incalculable. Indeed, it is so powerful that it creates an effect much like the Stockholm syndrome. We conservatives begin to feel as if we’re hostages or a beleaguered minority in our own country, though we know we’re not. We begin to placate those who hold more power, and we fall to arguing among ourselves. And soon, our internal family squabble itself becomes fodder for the media. And when we vent, we become the very caricature of ourselves that the media created.

That’s the power of media ownership: A small group of people can have a profound impact on the culture. Indeed, it is a form of asymmetric warfare that the Left is fighting against its own country. They’re reaping huge rewards for their investments: They’re winning.

The question we must ask is this: Where are our versions of these mass-media platforms? We have a few. In 1996, Roger Ailes, with help from Rupert Murdoch, launched Fox News. It didn’t take long for Fox to double CNN’s daily audience, even though CNN had a 16-year head start.

We’ve had success in talk radio. I know, because I helped launch Laura Ingraham’s show in 2001. I help run Salem Radio Network, which gives a platform to Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt.

But we are not telling enough stories. Mostly, we’re preaching to the choir. Not a bad thing, because choirs need to be fed, but why don’t we own more distribution channels and content providers? Do we believe we can reason our way to victory, using our superior arguments to win back our country?

If so, the factually inclined among us forget two important facts: (1) Most human beings get their information through stories, and (2) most Americans don’t like the smart guy in the room who is telling us what to think, even if that guy believes a lot of what we believe.

Regrettably, we have too few people communicating our story effectively, which is the story of free enterprise and the American character. We’ve developed a deep bench of Ph.D.’s and invested billions in our great think tanks, but we’ve invested almost nothing when it comes to telling stories and making venues where we can share those stories.

If we had our own version of NPR, an organization we love to mock but which has 35 million listeners — 35 million! — we’d see storytellers come out of the woodwork, just as an army of pundits came out of the woodwork to populate Fox News. Nothing prompts supply like demand!

Indeed, the power of owning our own version of a distribution outlet such as NPR would be all-encompassing, because the distributor has the power to shape content and train a generation of stars and storytellers. Their stories could reach independents and a new generation of listeners and viewers, because it wouldn’t take much to turn our version of NPR into television, podcasts, apps, live streams, and content that can be shared on Facebook and YouTube.

We must challenge our most generous donors to dream big and reverse-engineer some of the Left’s most effective storytelling conglomerates. In the past two presidential cycles, GOP donors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on TV ads. What do they have to show for their investment? Worse, those advertising dollars filled the coffers of media conglomerates whose news and programming caricature us each and every day. We’re funding the enemy’s networks, and we’re the smart business people?

Don Hewitt, the genius behind 60 Minutes, was asked why the show he created was so successful. “Tell me a story,” he said, “one with a beginning, middle, and end.” He knew that storytelling matters. Stories have good guys and bad guys, conflict and resolution.  

In the liberal universe, the bad guys are corporations, millionaires, Christians, Israel, The U.S. Military, billionaires, the Founding Fathers, and energy producers, to name a few. The good guys are journalists, trial lawyers, union leaders, Palestinians, and government agencies, all there to protect good guys from the bad guys. Us.

We need not be depressed by this state of affairs. We are the people who believe in building things. We know that one or two innovators can change everything.

We need our big donors — most of them big dreamers themselves — to invest in a few good men and women who will construct new distribution platforms and storytelling tanks. Invest big, and let those people hire people who look and sound like America, who like America, and who share America’s values. Then watch the audience come, and revenue, too. And watch us shape the cultural narrative for a change.

Let’s stop complaining about our storytelling deficit, about the media bias and our media-pipeline problem. It’s time to construct our own.

How hard could it be? After all, liberals did it.

— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review