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June 13, 2005
BOOK REVIEW: 'South Park Conservatives' Examines 'Revolt' of Conservatives, Libertarians against Liberal Media Outlets
Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Hinton News Network Book Critic
Hinton (HNN) — "South Park Conservatives": It sounds like the ultimate oxymoron. How can uptight (they usually are) conservatives and libertarians like the Comedy Central hit show about the four potty–mouthed fourth–graders in fictional South Park, Colo.
Brian C. Anderson, senior editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, follows in the footsteps of Bernard Goldberg ("Bias") and other unveilers of alleged liberal media bias in "South Park Conservatives: The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias" (Regnery, 206 pages, $24.95). The book may be fairly slim, but it's packed with anecdotes and data about the sea change in news coverage over the past few decades.
Anderson, in his mid 40s, is no "South Park Conservative" himself, he says early on. He comes across as more of a solid libertarian. He notes that conservatives like Brent Bozell don't like the crudely animated production of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, calling it "twisted," "vile trash," and a "threat to our youth."
Parker and Stone have created a program, now in its eighth season, that is not so much conservative as "anti–liberal," Anderson says. He quotes the show's co–creator, Stone: "I hate conservatives, but I really f***king hate liberals." Chapter Five of Anderson's book is devoted to a close reading of several "South Park" episodes that show how non–PC – Political Correctness is a defining characteristic of liberal or mainstream media – the hit show really is. Devotees of the show – and millions of them are today's conservative high school and college students – will recognize some of the examples by their titles: "Cripple Fight," Rainforest Schmainforest" and "Cherokee Hair Tampons." I'm not going to explain these three shows; get the book and find out how subversive "South Park" is!
Actually, much of the book deals with fairly dry topics like the Federal Communication Commission's "Fairness Doctrine" on radio and TV, whose repeal in the 1980s helped spur the popularity of AM talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh. The Fairness Doctrine (pages 34–36) codified in 1949, required radio and TV to "provide …contrasting viewpoints on issues of interest in the community."
Faced with this dilemma, most broadcasters avoided controversial views altogether, playing non–controversial public service announcements like Smokey Bear "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" instead. Both Republican and Democratic administrations, Anderson notes, used the Fairness Doctrine of the FCC to bludgeon their opponents. Mark Fowler, President Reagan's libertarian FCC chief, stopped enforcing the doctrine in the early 1980s and it was officially repealed in 1987 by Fowler's successor Dennis Patrick.
"Liberals howled. So did some conservatives, among them Phyllis Schafly, who had leaned on the doctrine in her victorious struggle against the Equal Rights Amendment," Anderson notes.
Limbaugh, a Missouri native working as a DJ in Sacramento, Calif., began his show in 1987 on KFBK, replacing Morton Downey Jr. Anderson recounts how ABC president Ed McLaughlin heard the program while driving through California's capital city and persuaded Limbaugh, then 37, to move to New York and syndicate the program nationally.
The rest is history, after Limbaugh's Excellence in Broadcasting network began in 1988 on a few stations. Today, fueled by Limbaugh's over–the–top humor – liberals just don't get it! – the show is a monster phenomenon. If you don't have an EIB radio station nearby – my situation – you can listen to Rush and other conservative commentators on New York's WABC Radio 77 on your computer.
On Friday, June 10, 2005, Limbaugh was absent, with guest host Walter E. Williams of George Mason University filling in. Williams, a conservative black academic, had fellow conservative black academic Thomas Sowell as an on–air guest. Sowell discussed his latest book "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," which I reviewed for HNN (see the HNN book review archives).
Other conservatives and/or libertarians followed in the giant footsteps of the bombastic Missourian, including Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Anderson cites journalist/political observer Michael Barone who credits Limbaugh's "Big Tent" conservatism with killing off the attempt by Patrick Buchanan to "redefine American conservatism in the image of his father, circa 1939 – isolationist, nativist, protectionist."
Actually, Limbaugh is more in line with William F. Buckley's "Big Tent" brand of conservatism, which embraces people like Jonah Goldberg, whose last name alone would exclude him from Buchanan's "Little Tent." Buckley was the first conservative I took seriously, and his book, "The Unmaking of a Mayor," about his unsuccessful attempt to become mayor of New York City in 1965, was the subject of my first published book review 39 years ago. I've reviewed other WFB books since, as well as several by his talented son Christopher Buckley.
Is there a "liberal media bias" today? Based on nearly 40 years of print and online journalism experience, my answer is "more today than when I started out in the mid–1960s in the Chicago metro area."
One major reason is there are fewer competing newspapers in major metro areas – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. – the list goes on and on. Competing newspapers had – still have – distinct political views, while monopoly papers don't want to offend anyone.
At the beginning of the 1960s, Chicago had four daily newspapers and the biggest in circulation, the Chicago Tribune, was far to the right of the political spectrum. That position today is occupied by the Chicago Sun–Times, while the Trib is definitely to the left on the spectrum.
The same is true of my newspaper home from 1976 to 1990, the Los Angeles Times. It morphed from a far right–wing, West Coast version of the 1950s Chicago Tribune, to the resoundingly liberal publication – owned since 2000 by the Chicago Tribune Co. – it is today. If you were a target–shooting, gun owner, as I was at the LA Times, you were definitely out of the loop. This wasn't the case when I joined the staff of the Register–Herald in Beckley, W.Va. in 1992. Gun ownership was not a black mark on my record here in West Virginia.
Getting back to "South Park Conservatives." I found Anderson to be on target most of the time in his analysis of today's journalism. When I started out, it wasn't unheard of for a reporter to have only a high school education.
One of my mentors in my first job was typical, starting out as a copy boy after high school and learning his trade on the job. Today, journalists are uniformly college educated and – in big city news organizations – are often from the same social class as the politicians and business leaders they cover. Some of them even make serious money – a definite contrast to the journos I started out with in 1966.
Anderson, who has a B.A. and M.A. from Boston College and a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa, covers the rise of the blogosphere, the Fox phenomenon – it's difficult to believe FNC is only 10 years old! – and the increasingly strong presence of conservatives on college campuses – where their professors are left–wing, often Marxist, survivors from the 1960s anti–war movement, at least in places like UC–Berkeley, Columbia University and many of the so–called "prestige" universities.
The chapter on the popularity of conservative/libertarian books and the success of publishers like Regnery, Encounter Books and conservative imprints from traditionally liberal publishers is important because it's something that hasn't garnered a great deal of coverage. Anderson says that Judith Regan, then with Pocket Books, "mortified" her New York liberal friends when she published Limbaugh's first book "The Way Things Ought to Be" in the early 1990s. When it became a major best–seller, many of them sought conservative authors to publish. Publishing today is largely a bottom–line, dog–eat–dog business, driven by sales, rather than ideology.
The subject of conservative authors and publishers of all political views is worth an entire book – and one is probably being written right now.
Who should read "South Park Conservatives"? Everyone who wants a relatively bias–free look at news media today. Anderson's remarks are "pithy," to use an O'Reillyism, with little "bloviating," to use another one. "South Park Conservatives" is fully documented, thoroughly indexed and well written.
Doctrinaire liberals may find that it explains things – like the popularity of conservative radio and TV – they find inexplicable.
Publisher's web site: www.regnery.com
Anderson's Web site: www.manhattan-institute.org/html/anderson.htm
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David M. Kinchen is the Editor of HuntingtonNews.Net, repsponses and article submissions can be made to .