The Indispensable Brent Bozell

by Neal B. Freeman

For nearly 30 years the Media Research Center has kept the tablets and built the case.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) held its annual Freedom & Opportunity Luncheon last Tuesday in Portland, Maine. The keynote speaker was L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center. He was introduced by MHPC director Neal B. Freeman.

Our speaker today needs an introduction. Not because you’ve never heard of him. You all know him as an omnipresence on Fox News. And if you have found your way onto his fundraising list, you have won a faithful correspondent for life. And perhaps beyond.

No, he needs an introduction because he is that rarest of creatures, the public figure who is better than he looks.

My first impression of Brent sticks with me. I was managing his father’s campaign for Congress and observing strictly the Mayo Clinic’s Official Campaign Worker’s Diet, each of the five daily meals consisting of a pepperoni pizza, extra cheese, washed down with a Coke in the giant, Bloomberg-infuriating size. I had gained so much weight that my face disappeared behind a slab of pasty white flesh. Brent’s mother, the sainted Patricia Buckley Bozell, took pity on me and invited me to join the family breakfast, where I rediscovered coffee, toast, and something called fruit.

Breakfast with Brent and his nine siblings was a lively affair. All of them sporting shocks of flaming red hair, all of them full of vinegar. One morning, laughter broke out around the table and I looked up to find ten Bozell children pointing at me. I then looked down to see two Cheerios spreading milk rings across my necktie. Brent’s brother Johnny, a Rockwellian rascal, had mastered the mechanics of the spoon catapult.

Just as I was preparing a retaliatory strike, loading my spoon with bits of scrambled egg and hot sauce, Brent, aged eight, intervened. He dressed down Johnny, calmed his unruly siblings, and persuaded me, the putative adult in the room, to disarm. Thus began Brent’s career in crisis management.

The crisis he has been managing these past 20-something years is the crisis of the American media. Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” It is also recorded, of course, that Thomas Jefferson never visited Portland, Maine. As consumers of news media, we all sense when the Press-Herald is pursuing an agenda only distantly related to the people’s right to know. We all sense when NBC News is bending a story. And for the handful of us who still read the New York Times, we have all found ourselves saying when reading one of those front-page trend stories, “Wow! What if that’s true?”

But sensing and knowing are two different things. What Brent has done at the Media Research Center — which he founded as a bootstrap operation in 1987 — is to identify and document and publicize egregious lapses by major media outlets. There are no shortcuts in this work. Brent and MRC have taken pains to build the record and to make the unassailable case.

I need not remind you that this is critically important work. A democracy can flourish only if its citizens are comprehensively informed. A democracy can flourish only if facts are regarded as sacred things, and only if there is a broad consensus to respect them.

In keeping the tablets these many years, Brent has become our own Bureau of Weights and Measures. In matters of media bias, his is the last word. And this singular stature has led, organically, to his role as one of the founding fathers of the new media — the alternative media to which people abandoned by the networks and the newspapers have turned in recent years. I refer, of course, not only to Fox News and talk radio, but also to the profusion of alternative websites, The Maine Wire very much among them, that accost the conventional wisdom.

Ladies and gentlemen, a thunderous Maine welcome, if you would, for the man who leads our fight to keep the media straight, the indispensable Brent Bozell.

— Neal B. Freeman is a director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center and a longtime NR contributing editor.