'The Next Rush Limbaugh': Conservatives Pumping Right-Wing Young People into Media Jobs
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This year at the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C., there were a number of targeted media trainings and journalism-oriented panels. A panel titled “Shining Light into Dark Places” sought to stress the importance of investigative journalism. Others included “Freelance Writing for Freedom,” “So You Want to be a Columnist” and “Want to be the Next Rush Limbaugh?”
Despite Sarah Palin's invectives against the "lamestream media," conservatives seem eager to fill its ranks with right-wing young people.
One such training program, called the World Journalism Institute, offers a two-month program for 15-20 students, two weeks of which is spent in New York City each year, as part of its mission to “recruit, equip, place and encourage Christians in the newsrooms of America.” About half of the students come from Christian schools and the application requires a 500-word essay that is “a personal testimony of your Christian faith” and another 500-word essay that describes “your understanding of Christian journalism in America today.” The program is associated with WORLDMag.com, an online Christian magazine.
The program isn’t accredited, and Robert Case, the program’s director, says that’s intentional because they offer “vocational training.” The price tag for this two-week course, during which students will produce four multimedia articles, is $500. After the two-week course, promising students can be awarded a $6,000 scholarship for an internship—sometimes at the “New York Times, NBC, CBS, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Washington Times, [or] the Jerusalem Post.” Case estimates the actual cost per student is closer to $5,000, but he says they fundraise for the rest.
Case says that students taking the course learn to write as a journalist informed by a Christian worldview.
“We believe in absolutes. We don’t believe in relativism. We believe God has spoken and settled an issue. Now, has he settled the issue on NAFTA? I don’t think so,” Case said. “But has he said something about abortion? I think he has argued on abortion. Has he said something about a man being faithful to his wife? I think he has said that. These are the things that as a Christian, you need to write with this perspective, that there is a right and a wrong.”
Case also said there are other elements that denote a Christian perspective in journalism.
“We don’t believe in ‘gotcha’ journalism or ambush interviews,” Case said. “We don’t believe that’s the way. We believe that’s absolutely prohibited in the Bible. Everyone is treated fairly. Everyone is treated as an image bearer of God. Much as I might have a political bias against people, and the fact is that I do, the fact is those people need to be treated with integrity and dignity in the way we cover it.”
Though Case professes to believe in a type of journalism informed by a Christian worldview that doesn't engage in "ambush" tactics, that is precisely the direction in which much of conservative journalism is going. James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles released controversial videos in which they dressed up as a pimp and a prostitute. The videos were released on Andrew Breitbart's Big Government, and encouraged Congress to cut off funding to ACORN, a grassroots organizing group for the poor. ACORN eventually folded due to lack of funding, despite the fact that the videos O'Keefe produced were heavily edited. Lila Rose has also engaged in releasing similar "ambush" videos that target the sexual health provider Planned Parenthood. Rose's work was lauded by those appearing on the panels sponsored by WORLDMag, despite Case's insistence that "ambush" tactics aren't Christian.
When asked where students from WJI end up, Case noted that a small number actually enter the field of mainstream journalism. Of the program’s roughly 600 alums, Case estimates that 250 have entered into news journalism of some kind—often as news anchors in places like Tulsa. Case proudly highlighted one alumna who is a managing editor at a small-town paper in Wyoming. But sticking with journalism isn’t common, Case says, particularly with female alums.
“The girls end up pregnant and married. So we spend a gazillion dollars educating the girls. And the girls are often our very best writers. They’re the best students, the hardest workers. The most serious. They’re the ones that … outwork the guys. But, God love ‘em, they get married, and they have children, and that takes them out of the workforce,” Case said.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily frowned upon. “Because we are purposefully Christian, those that aren’t in the business … are married and having children,” Case said. “We encourage that. We think that’s great. Big families are great.”
But while the World Journalism Institute may not have pushed many students into the forefront of national journalism, other programs have. The National Journalism Center, a program of the conservative political youth group Young America's Foundation, is designed to create a pipeline for students to get into journalism.
The program is advertised to a conservative audience and is affiliated with an explicitly conservative group, but the program advertises itself as emphasizing the “values of accuracy, balance and objectivity.” A student at CPAC working the National Journalism Center’s booth said he was currently interning at the American Spectator.
The National Journalism Center has met some success, with notable alumni including Malcolm Gladwell and Ann Coulter. The program’s brochure boasts that “participants have worked at more than 50 respected print and broadcast organizations, including ABC, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, C-SPAN, Newsweek, National Review, The American Spectator, Time, Human Events, Roll Call, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.”
If accepted to the program, students attend free of charge, even receiving a $1,000 monthly stipend during the internship.
And these two programs aren’t the only two that offer well-financed journalism internship programs from conservative organizations; the Institute for Humane Studies sponsors an eight-week summer internship program that offers a $3,200 stipend and mentorship. The Heritage Foundation has also offered a "Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting” training at the National Press Club.
Conservative publications enter into the ever-morphing field of journalism at unprecedented rates; from TownHall, the Daily Caller and Fox News, conservative journalism is becoming a crowded field. Conservatives are hoping to fill the ranks of both of these conservative publications and push conservatives into more mainstream news outlets. Arming young conservatives with stipends, housing and networking might just be the way they’ll do it.