I may not be living in the same reality you are. We may have wildly different reactions to the same stimulus. We may not just disagree on issues – our very interpretations of the world around us as facts or truth can be so far apart that my reality may be different from yours. How would we get there? It’s no accident. It’s reality building.
I may disagree with a conservative about the role of the federal government on economic issues, but we can both live in the same reality if we agree on what are facts versus fiction. That agreement has become fractured over the last several decades as the conservative movement has worked to build their own reality based on their own myths. One of these myths has been the myth of the liberal professor indoctrinating vulnerable students with lefty ideas.
What did you call me?
I went to a business-friendly, conservative-culture university in Ohio. This was the beginning of the George W Bush administration. Fox News was founded a few years before and the College Republicans were waging a campaign to make sure our local cable provider carried it to the student population. The College Republicans invited several speakers to campus throughout the year.
They brought in David Horowitz for a lecture once. As a liberal political science major with nothing else to do, I decided to go see him. So after I put down my bong, I sipped my Starbucks latte to help sober up and drove my Prius over to the lecture. (Actually I just walked, fully sober to the building…liberals don’t always fit stereotypes).
The College Republicans invited him to speak to an audience almost entirely of Republicans, at a campus that supposedly had the largest Campus Crusade for Christ chapter in the country, in one of the most affluent counties in Ohio. He was there to tell us all that the liberal teachers we had at that college were brainwashing us into their liberal cult. He had been promoting this theory for a few years and was preparing to write his new book on the subject: The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (2006).
As one of the only liberals in the room, I saw his theory as blatantly false. So much so that it was funny. From my experience, and many of those around me, our campus was conservative. It was Colin Powell-conservative. It was George H W Bush-conservative. It was (GOP Senator and alum) Mike DeWine -conservative. It was (alum) Paul Ryan-conservative. To tell us that our liberal professors were indoctrinating us to their liberal lies was laughable.
So I laughed. At him. In the middle of his speech. He didn’t love that. Have you ever been in a room filled with 150 to 200 people, all watching and hearing the same thing, but reacted completely different from everyone else? It felt like that one guy in a movie theater you can hear laughing when the dog dies in Marley and Me (spoiler alert).
David Horowitz then stops his lecture, looks at me and says, “I’m glad the Communist up there has a sense of humor.” I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but he called me a communist, so that’s cool.
Regnery Publishing and Conservative Reality Building
His book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (2006), is published by Regnery Publishing. Regnery Publishing was founded in 1947 by Henry Regnery. He began publishing pamphlets criticizing America’s role in World War II. Authors at the time couldn’t find a publishing company that would print these very unpopular views. So Henry Regnery stepped in. His small publishing company for the next four decades printed conservative diatribes with little success. While they did print William F Buckley’s influential God and Man at Yale in 1951, Regnery Publishing found such little success that by 1975 they finally found a bestseller – SuperJock: The loud, frantic, nonstop world of a rock radio DJ – by putting aside conservative politics to embrace the popular trend of radio disc jockeys (this was the mid-70s).
By the time the Regnery family sold the company to Phillips Publishing International in 1993, the media landscape was beginning to change. The Fairness Doctrine, the FCC directive that called for controversial topics to be covered in a manner that was fair, equitable and balanced, was eliminated in 1987. Rush Limbaugh began his first national talk radio show on August 1st, 1988. This was the time between when CNN was founded (1980) and when Fox News began (1996). This was the beginning of something called the “internet”. As a result of this changing media landscape, including the lax or end of regulation in the media world, proliferation of niche markets and niche ideas went mainstream. Conservatives were free to take over talk radio declaring Wars on Christmas and everything else sacred.
What happened to Regnery Publishing? Well, they had credibility with the conservative community and relationships with authors to continue to publish conservative screeds. The beginning of the Clinton administration proved profitable for this small, conservative publishing firm. A few forces came together for them: the creation and explosion of a new market of conservative consumers partly due to the creation of 24 hour news networks, the internet and conservative talk radio and a new Democratic president to focus their anger onto.
Alfred Regnery, who took over from his father Henry, has bragged about this period in his book, Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism.
Regnery Publishing, which had earned a reputation as the preeminent conservative book publisher, specialized, during the 1990s in books on the Clinton administration, and as its president and publisher I led the charge. We published no few than nine “Clinton” New York Times bestsellers between 1993 and 2001, which spent a combined eighty-two weeks on the list and caused no little discomfort to the Clintons…
He’s not wrong. His business thrived. There was a market for terrible books claiming ridiculous nonsense about Democrats, the Clintons, liberals or anyone else disagreeing with their conservative reality. Since the Clinton era, Regnery Publishing has given us such luminary works as:
- In Defense of Internment, by Michele Malkin, in which she defends interning Japanese-Americans during WWII and justifies future horrific crimes thru the war on terror.
- Inventing the AIDS Virus, Peter Duesberg, “Peter Duesberg, M.D., an eminent scientist and a pioneer in the discovery of retroviruses (such as HIV), challenges the widely accepted belief that HIV is the cause of AIDS.” (directly from Regnery’s website… I’m not kidding…they published a book from a ‘scientist’ claiming AIDS is not linked to HIV)
- Obama’s Four Horsemen, by David Harsanyi. This light fare explicitly tells its audience that the “apocalypse is here. You can’t hide under your desk once the four horsemen have arrived: Conquest, Famine, War, and Death, in the form of national debt, crippling dependence on government, extremism in the Middle East, and the suffocating grip of the bureaucratic state on every aspect of life”
Conservatives are literally telling their audience that HIV does not cause AIDS and that a Democratic president is bringing about the apocalypse. If this is not evidence for creating a whole new reality in which you see the world, I don’t know what is.
Reality Building – Build a media empire around your reality
By the time we get to the Obama administration, conservative media has engulfed the landscape. Confirmation bias tells us that people tend to seek out information that already conforms to their belief system. Well, if you identify as a conservative, that means you would seek out information from Fox News, from talk radio (Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and ‘friends’), from conservative ‘news’ sites like townhall.com or the crazier breitbart.com, from your conservative friends on social media, from books published by Regnery Publishing by David Horowitz or Ann Coulter or other conservatives who will tell you that the apocalypse is coming. This is how conservatives have constructed their own reality.
This is also partly why the “mainstream media” has been a target of the GOP and conservative movement for such a long time. CBS, ABC, NBC news are in the news business (sometimes even the journalism business). However, conservative media is not. It’s in the business of creating their own reality. The more people shun ‘mainstream media’ for reality building media, the more their reality is accepted and believed. It benefits the conservative movement. It benefits the conservative media market by promoting their own books, magazines, radio shows, colleges, think tanks across the different mediums. This is how we get a misinformed public. These dangerous conservative ideas aren’t coming out of nowhere. It’s a foundation of their reality.
When David Horowitz came to a conservative college campus to talk to conservatives about the brainwashing done by their liberal professors, I had to laugh. No one else in the room was laughing. They believed it. We were already willingly accepting different realities at that point and I didn’t even know it at the time. It’s not as funny to me anymore.