News On The Right (Full Proposal)

News on the Right: Early Proposal Draft and CFP

The recent surge of populist, nationalist, and authoritarian politics in North America and throughout much of the globe has brought to light an immense resistance against modern, professional journalism’s claims to truth and fairness. In the United States, recent polling suggests that citizens’ trust in news media has been in a general decline since before the start of the 21st century, hitting a new low in 2016. Crucially, reported trust in major news media in the U.S. differs greatly along partisan lines.[1] The trending notion of a “post-truth” age may not be a satisfying diagnosis of journalism’s predicament, but it signifies that a long battle has intensified over how news institutions discern truths and prioritize key facts and voices. While not alone, conservative news organizations have been at the front lines of that battle for decades, which begs the question: How have conservatives approached the question of news and its veracity? Indeed, what is the ‘news’ on the right?

The aim of this collection is to bring focus to conservative news and information as a crucial area for academic inquiry, especially for critical media studies and journalism studies scholars. While it is obvious that conservative news cultures have been powerful and among the forces shaping the circulation and norms of political discourse, critical media studies has largely let the story of conservative news slip past its view. There have indeed been some exceptional and insightful studies in this area. In particular, Heather Hendershot has offered major works on early conservative broadcasting, evangelical television, and William F. Buckley’s long-running Firing Line.[2] Social historian Nicole Hemmer has recently published an important study of the growth of conservative media activism and news infrastructure in the postwar decades.[3] And political communication scholars Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph Cappella coined the increasingly salient term “echo chamber” in their groundbreaking study of the conservative media establishment and its effects.[4] Yet, there remains both a dearth of scholarship on conservative news cultures and, even more importantly, a lack of continuity and exchange of ideas among the outposts where such scholarship is underway. To start bridging over this disconnection, this book will bring together an interdisciplinary array of scholars to build upon key questions, enrich debates, and share knowledge about the currents of conservative media.

In short, we want to see conservative news become a recognized research object for critical media scholarship and beyond. This does not mean approaching conservative news as a phenomenon isolated from the cultural processes and contexts in which it enmeshed – as if the Drudge Report, for example, could be separated from the decline of professional journalism’s hegemony, the rise of news aggregation, from the burgeoning of online citizen journalism, etc. On the contrary, we believe research on conservative news offers a way to deepen and expand upon ongoing inquiry into topics that are already known among the major themes in media studies and other fields. For example, consider how research on the mobilization of conservative news audiences may add to understandings of audience fragmentation in a digital media landscape; such research may tell aspects of the story of partisan fragmentation likely to be missed by perspectives emphasizing the technical affordances of digital media. Studies in conservative news offer a unique and valuable vantage point for grappling with many of the overarching questions at the center of media studies, as well as long-established and ongoing lines of inquiry within the fields of U.S. history and political science focusing on the modern conservative movement, populism, and political polarization.[5]

Scholarship on conservative news not only furthers existing debates across disciplines, it also generates its own profound questions and insights on developments in contemporary news and political cultures. To get a sense of the richness this research trajectory may have to offer, media scholars need only look at what has happened with scholarship on conservatism within the discipline of U.S. history. In 1994, historian Alan Brinkley proposed that his discipline was suffering from “a problem of historical imagination” due to its lack of insight on the continuing influence of American conservatism.[6] But since Brinkley’s article appeared, there has been an avalanche of historical scholarship focusing on New Right movements and 20th century conservatism.[7] As Julian Zelizer suggests, a new generation of historians have produced “a burst of innovative scholarly activity” through tapping into “the history of conservatism as an avenue to write about politics through a method different from than their predecessors.”[8] This flurry of wide-ranging examinations of conservatism have explored facets of the movement ranging from grassroots organizing to reactions against the civil rights and New Left movements to religious mobilizations to the political geography of suburbanization. But, as Kim Phillips-Fein noted in her 2011 essay assessing the state of the field, “The role of mass media in the creation of the Right also has not yet received full attention from historians.”[9] This book would, thus, not only extend the field of critical media studies, it would do so in a way that fills a recognized gap in the historiography of modern conservatism.

To date, an enthusiasm for conservatism as a rich site of inquiry hasn’t been shared by history’s estranged cousin, journalism history. Nor has conservative media become a recognizable focal point of research in the broader field of critical media studies (under which journalism studies falls as a subfield). This is despite critical media studies’ long-standing link to the thought of the Birmingham school, which brought a range of creative approaches to analyzing historic conjunctures, especially the formation of popular attitudes, mindsets, and cultural meanings leading to the rise of Thatcherism in the 1980s. Inspired in part by Birmingham thinkers’ nuanced and interdisciplinary approach to meaning-making, critical media scholars have produced scores of books deepening our understandings of popular culture through analyzing reality television, social media sites, celebrity, and advertising. But recent work on conservative news and media is conspicuously difficult to find and far flung. There have been scattered works of critical media scholarship offering compelling examinations of concerns touching upon facets of conservative news culture, exploring topics ranging from religious broadcasting to tabloid journalism to opinion programming to mediated conspiracy theories.[10] What has been absent is any sense of conservative news as a topical common place around which scholars engage in productive criticism and theory-building.

Much of journalism scholarship remains focused on a particular, once- hegemonic form of journalism that Daniel Hallin has poignantly described as “high modern journalism.”[11] This model, which reached its peak influence in the middle of the 20th century, has been based on the premise that objective professional discretion should serve as the legitimate arbiter for defining news and deciding how it should be presented. Today, this model can no longer confidently assume dominance, so it becomes more urgent for journalism scholars to continue broadening the scope of their critical inquiries. In a pivotal 1974 essay, James Carey called upon journalism historians to foreground the act of reporting as a cultural form that both precedes and exceeds journalism as a discipline, business, or profession. The subsequent four decades have seen a broadening of journalism historiography, most notably a proliferation of studies foregrounding the role of race, gender, and class in constructing the professional, alternative and left-radical presses in the United States. To date, the field has nevertheless maintained a stubborn blind spot for reporters exhibiting right-wing ideological bias.[12] In foregrounding right-wing news, and conservative journalism, this book seeks to extend Carey’s insights one step further. Though under-studied, conservative news has become a tremendously powerful platform in the United States, where it is fair to say that the “media logic” of certain forms of conservative news have shaped the terms of political discourse, at least among conservative activists and political leaders. Some of the major questions we pose for thinking, in the spirit of Carey, about the particular sensibilities and styles of judgment articulated to conservative news including: What principles and habits have these news cultures adapted for discerning truth and falsehood? For judging news selection and prioritization? How have the aesthetics of conservative news developed? How do conservative news producers and consumers see their purpose within a larger, more heterogeneous public sphere? What actors and historic circumstances have shaped conservative news norms? How have those norms differed across factions and moments?

This collection will focus mostly on conservative news cultures centered in the United States, but we are also seeking contributors who can offer transnational and comparative perspectives. We are looking for contributors who will draw on cultural history, political economy, and cultural studies approaches to studying conservative news, the growth of its media infrastructure, its diverse publics, its normative propositions, and related topics. While we are seeking case studies among other approaches, we hope all contributors will connect their research to broad questions or lines of research relating to conservative news – i.e. we are looking for studies that clearly articulate significant claims beyond the analysis of a single text. We would like contributors to submit abstracts by April 30th, 2017 and full article drafts by November 1st. We also ask that contributors be willing to share their drafts with each other, so that we may recommend contributors address each other for revisions. We plan to complete and share a book proposal shortly after receiving all abstracts, and we will update contributors on the status of a book contract.

We have a vision now for major sets of questions we would like to cover in this volume, but we will certainly be flexible as contributors’ proposals might suggest modifying this organizational scheme. Here are the framing sections we have in mind for now:

We seek contributions centering on the following themes:

The mythology of the liberal media

Since at least the 1950s, a sense of embattlement has been a central binding force and raison d’etre for conservative media outlets. By the late 1960s, American conservative media and movement activists identified the “liberal media” as a powerful institutional force suppressing the spread of conservatism. This section will examine the rise of the powerful story of the liberal media, how it has been maintained or transformed as the American media landscape has drastically shifted from the mid-20th century era of high modernism, and its significance to the practices of conservative news outlets.

Reactions to the right: Propaganda and panics

For as long as there has been right-wing media, there have been progressive and liberal initiatives to counter it. Father Coughlin was opposed by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in the late 1930s. The National Association of Manufacturers-affiliated broadcasters like Fulton Lewis, Jr. ran up against groups like the Voice of Freedom Committee and the Federal Communication Commission’s ban on broadcast editorials in the 1940s. From the late 1940s through the 1980s, conservative broadcasters capitalized on and often ran afoul of the “Fairness Doctrine,” an FCC regulation mandating ideological balance over the airwaves. This section will examine various progressive media reforms and activists who directly opposed right-wing broadcasters and print journalists, with an eye toward how their criticisms shaped the conservative movement’s messaging and media operations.

Journalistic sensibilities of conservative news producers

This section will focus on questions about the editorial philosophies and ethical principles that have been adopted by conservative news producers. In what ways have familiar ideas of professional journalism – such as objectivity, fairness, the separation of facts and values, and emotional detachment — been rejected, modified, or endorsed by factions of conservative media? What epistemic principles have conservative news producers offered for discerning truth and falsehood? What kinds of practices have conservative news producers put forward as legitimate modes for setting news agendas and priorities? How have the intersections of commercial incentives, ideological principles, and political strategy influenced the editorial directions and styles of conservative news? How have conservative news producers thought about their audiences and the role their audiences should play in shaping journalistic coverage and norms?

Journalistic sensibilities of conservative news audiences

What journalistic values and sensibilities do conservative news audiences hold? What role have conservative news audiences played in providing feedback and input in shaping the production of conservative news? What role has citizen journalism and social spreadability played in shaping the sphere of conservative news? Have trends in user interactivity among conservative news outlets paralleled those among professional journalism and other news genres?

Conservative news and movement infrastructure

How have different conservative media factions wrestled with questions of advocacy journalism? What alliances and relationships have conservative outlets formed with movement institutions and party politics? What kinds of influences have been shared among conservative media and movement and party politics?

Methodological questions and dilemmas for scholarship on right wing news cultures

To what extend does the critical analysis of conservative news require ideological detachment? What are the ethical and methodological challenges of studying a still-unfolding political movement with which one does or does not affiliate? How should non-conservatives, or even progressives, approach accessing archives and oral history sources? Conservative news is a politically fraught object of analysis. This section features essays exploring the ethical and methodological quandaries that result from researching a politically charged topic.

Right wing news and media technologies

From Richard Viguerie’s use of direct mail, to Rush Limbaugh’s mastery of talk radio, to Fox News’ reinvention of cable news, to a recent wave of right-wing social media stars, the New Right has a long reputation for form innovation. To what extent have new, and newly-deregulated, media forms influenced the spread and content of conservatism in the United States? What role have aesthetics and entertainment played? And how have these form-defining right-wing media operations impacted their progressive and apolitical competitors? How have they impacted the broader media ecology?

Schedule:

  • Abstracts due: April 30th, 2017
  • Decisions on proposals: May 30th
  • Proposal to presses: July 15th
  • Chapter drafts: December 1st
  • Revisions: February 1st, 2018

Please send abstracts or questions to: rightnewscfp@gmail.com

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[1] This has been born out in the results of polling conducted in 2016 by Gallup (http://www.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx) and Pew (http://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/trust-and-accuracy/).

[2] Heather Hendershot, Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), What’s Fair On The Air? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line (New York: Broadside, 2016).

[3] Nicole Hemmer, Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media Activism and the Transformation of American Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

[4] Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and Joseph N. Cappella, Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[5] See Special Issue of New Political Science on “Right-Wing Populism and the Media,” 34:4 (2012). See “Roundtable on Conservatism” in Journal of American History (December 2011).

[6] Alan Brinkley, “The Problem of American Conservatism,” American Historical Review 99 (April 1994): 409–29.

[7] Kim Phillips-Fein, “Conservatism: A State of the Field,” The Journal of American History 98, no. 3 (December 2011): 723–43; Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, “Who Is Wagging Whom? Power and the New History of American Populism,” The Historical Journal 57, no. 3 (September 2014): 869–97; Julian E. Zelizer, “Reflections: Rethinking the History of American Conservatism,” Reviews in American History 38, no. 2 (June 17, 2010): 367–92, doi:10.1353/rah.0.0217.

[8] Zelizer, “Reflections,” 367–68.

[9] Kim Phillips-Fein, “Conservatism: A State of the Field,” 735. Phillips-Fein cites only Hendershot’s What’s Fair on the Air? (2011) and Hemmer’s doctoral dissertation, “Messengers of the Right” (2010).

[10] Ronald Jacobs and Eleanor Townsley, “The Hermeneutics of Hannity: Format Innovation in the Space of Opinion after September 11,” Cultural Sociology 8, 3 (September 1, 2014): 240–57; Matthew Norton, “A Structural Hermeneutics of The O’Reilly Factor,” Theory and Society 40, 3 (May 1, 2011): 315; Heather Hendershot, Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2010); Jack Z. Bratich, Conspiracy Panics: Political Rationality and Popular Culture (SUNY Press, 2008); Barbie Zelizer, The Changing Faces of Journalism: Tabloidization, Technology and Truthiness (New York: Routledge, 2009).

[11] Daniel C Hallin, We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere (New York: Routledge, 1994); John Nerone, “Does Journalism History Matter?,” American Journalism 28, 4 (October 1, 2011): 7–27.

[12] A.J. Bauer, “Journalism History and Conservative Erasure,” Forthcoming, American Journalism (Winter 2018).

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