By now everyone knows about the “liberal media” — that’s in large part thanks to the Media Research Center, which is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary tonight in Washington, D.C. NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez chatted with its founder and president, Brent Bozell, on how things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How does it feel to be 20?
Brent Bozell: Once we were young bomb throwers. Now we’re old bomb throwers. But so long as we remember how to pull the pin, and where to throw the grenade, we’ll be around for many, many more years.
Lopez: What’s been MRC’s greatest single moment?
Bozell: There have been many moments. Our greatest moment, I think, was being the first — through our CNSNews.com operation — to prove the CBS memos on George Bush’s National Guard service to be fakes.
Lopez: Who’s MRC’s inspiration? If you had to wave — maybe you do — one picture in the front of the faces of your young staffers — whose would it be?
Bozell: Again, many inspirations. But if I had to choose one, I’d point to the man who has never received the recognition he deserved as one of the greatest leaders of the modern conservative movement, and who encouraged me to launch the MRC: the head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), the late John T. (“Terry”) Dolan.
Lopez: You do a lot of complaining. Have you seen it pay off when you look at journalism today?
Bozell: (Laughing) We don’t complain. We bitch. Actually, what we do is document the bias. They complain when we show this audacity. Sometimes it pays off in glorious, public fashion — like the canning of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes — but oftentimes it pays off quietly when you know — as often we’ve been told — that reporters are being far more careful simply because they don’t want to come into our gun sights.
When we began 20 years ago, a national survey showed that only 25 percent of the public thought the media were biased. Today that number stands at 89 percent. The establishment press has a massive credibility problem, and they’re all hemorrhaging viewers and readers. It’s no coincidence that the exception is FOX News.
Lopez: Do you get tired of being negative?
Bozell: Actually, yes. But we’re not negative by design. When you’re documenting, exposing, and confronting the liberal media’s daily jihad against the conservative movement, it can become tiring, but that’s why God invented vacations. The truth is, we also believe strongly in having fun. Our annual Dishonors Awards has become an institution in Washington. Our April Fool’s edition of Notable Quotables, wherein everything is made up, really ticks ’em off, much to our delight. The year that Garrick Utley’s producer at NBC called screaming at us, denying he’d taken to the airwaves to call for mandatory seat belts on shopping carts to prevent mid-aisle collisions — I still laugh at that today.
But then there are times one should be positive, too. What the liberal press did on that awful day, 9/11, and in the week or so following, showed us the news media at its finest, and to paraphrase Winston Churchill, reminded us that the American news media is the worst media in the world except for all the rest.
Lopez: How much do you owe Dan Rather for the fundraising he made possible?
Bozell: He put four of my children through college. Maybe now Katie Couric will fund my youngest boy.
Lopez: I like Terry Moran. I like Howard Fineman. I like Lisa Myers. Is this O.K.? Might I lose my VRWC card?
Bozell: Frankly, Kathryn, we’ve had our suspicions about — and our eyes on — you for quite some time. But you make an important point. It was Sam Donaldson, a man I consider a friend (and there goes my membership card), who impressed on me long ago: Always professional, never personal. There are many liberals in the media — O.K., maybe just some liberals in the media — who are genuinely nice people, good people. One can, and should, separate the personal from the professional.
Lopez: How much longer can you call it a liberal media out there?
Bozell: It’s an interesting question. Their numbers are crashing, but liberals still dominate the news media. The more interesting question is: How long will we have a news media, period? News is rapidly becoming infotainment, and with everyone galloping to the Internet, God only knows where we’ll be in five years. No one seems interested in real news any longer. There has to be a sex angle, or it’s just not “newsworthy.” Which is why I’d like to take this opportunity to announce that I am the father of Anna Nicole’s baby.
Lopez: What mainstream journalists do you like?
Bozell: If I gave you names today, they’d be fired tomorrow. Which gives me an idea. My favorite journalists are Bryant Gumbel, Keith Olbermann, and Chris Matthews.
Lopez: How important has Rush Limbaugh been to journalism?
Bozell: At our 20th Anniversary Gala Thursday night, we will be announcing our very first annual William F. Buckley Jr. Excellence in Media Award. Rush Limbaugh will be receiving the award, and for good reason: Where the new media are concerned, he started it all. And it’s the ultimate compliment to him that after all these years, and with all the competition, he still reigns as the king.
Lopez: Is FOX News right wing or not?
Bozell: That’s it. Turn in your card. Actually, I’m asked this a lot, to which my answer is that there are more self-described on-air liberal Democrats on FOX than there are conservatives on every other network combined. And liberals complain about the right wing bias of FOX. Amazing.
Lopez: Do you like to take credit for the existence of Media Matters? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that?
Bozell: There was a press story out there that claimed that Hillary Clinton was one of the prime organizers behind Media Matters, specifically to counter the MRC. Given Media Matters’s commitment to the truth, I can see why the Clintons were involved.
Lopez: How important has the blogosphere been to checking the mainstreamers?
Bozell: Immensely important. We have our own blog, Newsbusters.com, and it’s wildly successful. But I also worry about the blogosphere. There is the potential for real poison to be spread by people with nefarious agendas. Once something is out there, it never disappears, and the injured party will forever be forced to confront the distortion — or outright lie. God knows it’s happened to me.
Lopez: If the bloggers keep it up, will there be a need for the Media Research Center in 20 years?
Bozell: How do we know there will be a blogosphere in 20 years? Ten years? Five years? The information revolution is moving at warp speed, and it’s simply impossible to know with any certainty where we’re headed. But I know where you’re headed for asking that question: straight to a hearing of the Disciplinary Board of the VRWC.