Jul 4 2004

Book Review – The Republican Noise Machine – David Brock

The Republican Noise Machine : Right Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy was a depressing book. I first noticed it from a post by Jerry Colonna. I had it shipped up to my house in Alaska where I settled in for a long read yesterday after my run.

In some ways, it seemed appropriate to read this over the fourth of July weekend. I read a bunch of mental floss on Friday and decided I needed to chew on something serious. I’m back to mental floss…

Until recently I was very apolitical. For whatever reason, I just didn’t engage – I felt that things worked themselves out over time and – rather than get wrapped up in the endless political debate – I figured I’d focus on issues that I cared about and support them, independent of their political affiliation. As a result, I told whoever asked that my political affiliation was “my own little party of one.”

A couple of years ago, I stuck my toe publicly into the political scene in Colorado. A close friend of mine – Jared Polis – decided to run for the Colorado State Board of Education (he won and is now the chairman). Jared is an unabashed democrat and has become a strong force in the otherwise very conservative state of Colorado. Several friends were running for office in the 2002 election cycle as democrats and I decided to get more actively involved. Everyone (except Jared) lost and – in addition to being bummed out by the candidates that were elected – I was disgusted by the way both parties acted near the end of the election cycle. I remember telling my wife “that’s it – I give up – I’m done with organized politics” (of course, that lasted about a week).

The Republican Noise Machine had me sitting in my chair with my mouth hanging open. Brock – a former right-wing insider – has written an incredibly substantive book that tells the story of how the GOP has systematically co-opted the media over the last few decades – starting wtih Nixon and rolling forward to today. This is not a “balanced book” (“balanced view” being one of the fallacies that Brock does a superb job of demolishing) – Brock is unapologetic as he tells his story.

It’s quite amazing how organized, effective, and ultimately successful the Republican Right has been. I’ve experienced this directly in Colorado. A year ago, JB Holston called me and told me about the Independence Institute, a conservative Colorado “think tank” that I was vaguely familiar with. While the Independence Institute isn’t mentioned in Brock’s book, it’s equivalent to many of the conservative “think tanks” that Brock discusses. JB suggested that Colorado needed a “progressive alternative”. I agreed and helped rally a crew of folks, including Jared and Rollie Heath (who lost his run for governer against the incumbent Bill Ownes in 2002), to help start the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network. It’s a year later and RMPN has done a great job of counterbalancing the Republican Right in Colorado. My experience watching from the background (and learning about the antics – expecially those in the media – by organizations like the Independence Institute) made the story Brock tells even more poignant.

This is a powerful book for anyone that is open minded about the political dynamics in our country. If you are conservative, read it to get an ex-conservative insider’s view on what is going on. If you are progressive or liberal, read it to get a much deeper historical understand of how things played out so that you can be more effective contending with them in the future. If you aren’t open minded, don’t bother – it won’t matter to you anyway.