L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of the Media Research Center, talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about media bias in America, why he believes it’s time for conservatives to speak out and what he’d like to see happen in the 2016 election.
Holding the national media accountable is Brent Bozell’s passion. In 1987 he founded the Media Research Center, the largest media watchdog organization in the United States. Its mission, he says, is to create a media culture in America where truth and liberty flourish. “If you don’t have a functioning, honest news reporting vehicle how do you have a functioning democracy? How can the public make informed decisions on key issues of the day when they’re being misinformed? This is why it’s critical. Thomas Jefferson said he’d rather have a country with a free media and no government than a country with a government but no media. He put a free media ahead of a free government.”
Although Bozell’s conservative views and his continuous scrutiny of the media have earned him his share of detractors, he does not flinch from carrying on with his mission. The MRC tracks the media on a daily basis and publishes its findings, research and commentary via a family of conservative news sites, including mrc.org, mrcaction.org, cnsnews.com, newsbusters.org and mrctv.org.
Bozell comes from a long line of writers, thinkers and activists. His grandfather Leo B. Bozell, a former newsman in Omaha, Nebraska, co-founded the legendary Bozell Worldwide, once one of the largest advertising agencies on the globe. And his father, L. Brent Bozell Jr., also a conservative activist and writer, co-authored the book McCarthy and His Enemies with his brother-in-law (Bozell’s uncle), the late William F. Buckley, founder of the political magazine National Review.
Opportunist: What motivated you to become a conservative writer and activist?
Brent Bozell: It’s in the blood on both sides of the family—the Bozell and the Buckley side. My father was one of the early founders of the modern conservative movement as was Bill Buckley, and what brought things to the fore I guess was the Reagan revolution and an excitement to finally put the country on the right track. Up until that point it was the moderates versus the liberals and the conservatives didn’t have a dog in that hunt. Reagan changed the equation and brought out a whole new generation of conservatives, and I was one of them.
Opportunist: Who was the most inspiring or influential person in your life?
Brent Bozell: My father, on three levels: as a father, as a Catholic and as a conservative.
Brent Bozell: I think the driving force behind it was, back in 1982 actually, there was a realization that conservatives were like the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus rolling a heavy boulder up the mountain. We seemed to have it roll back down on us every time. Our ideas weren’t resonating with the public because we had to go through the filter of the news media, which was 100 percent liberal. Our ideas were distorted and twisted. I concluded that until we did something about the press we were never going to win because our ideas didn’t get a fair hearing.
Opportunist: Do you believe media bias has always existed?
Brent Bozell: Yeah. There has always been a bias. The great mythology out there is this thing called objectivity, but that doesn’t exist. Unless a reporter has had a lobotomy, he or she has opinions about everything. You can’t deny that, although so many do. The Holy Grail is objectivity, but you’re never going to reach it—purely. So you have to strive for balance and truth, wherever that leaves you, and you have to check the bias at the door. When we entered this conversation that bias was 100 percent left-wing across every news entity in America. The left will always gravitate to the news media in the same way the left always gravitates to academia and the arts. These are three situations that allow them to change the popular culture, and that’s what they want to do.
Opportunist: So you believe the left uses the media to effect change?
Brent Bozell: I think the media has become, in many respects, radicalized just as liberalism has become radicalized. I never thought I would pine for the ‘good old days’ of Tom Brokaw. When I look at NBC news today, it makes a mockery of what his standards were even though we considered him—and I still consider him—a staunch liberal. NBC is now something that was unthinkable in his day. Look at what happened to journalist Bernie Goldberg. He begged his colleagues to stop the leftist agenda—he’s no conservative either—and he was sent out to the Siberia of journalism at CBS until he quit. [Former CBS News reporter] Sharyl Attkisson reported on Benghazi when nobody would touch it. Neither one is a conservative. All they did was break from the orthodoxy. Think about journalists during Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal or the Bush administration. When it comes to a Republican scandal, they lose sleep over it and work hard trying to get to the bottom of it. When it comes to a Democrat or a liberal, they purposely choose not to report it. This is not honest journalism. This is censorship. The media never got to the bottom of a single Bill Clinton scandal. And they haven’t even tried to report on the Obama scandals. These are deliberate things done by a quote-unquote news media. We showed this through our research. Our numbers don’t lie.
Opportunist: What about the radical right?
Brent Bozell: If you look at the news media, particularly on the Internet there is an ability for radicals on both sides to flex their muscles. What I tell my conservative brethren is that the rules in the old media weren’t followed, but there aren’t many rules in the new media. So it’s kind of a wild, Wild West. Conservatives have to discipline themselves in the Internet age to abide by rules of journalism. In today’s blogosphere world many do; a few don’t. I think that problem is far worse on the left than it is on the right. I just gave a speech on this. The left has moved into an era of militant censorship where they not only advance their position but a contrary position is not allowed to be advanced in the public conversation (i.e., traditional family marriage, questioning global warming, etc.). The radical nature of the left is it will not tolerate a conversation. Conservatives don’t take that position on anything and yet we are supposed to be the intolerant ones.
Opportunist: What lessons can the media learn from the recent situation with NBC’s Brian Williams?
Brent Bozell: Stop lying. [Laughs] What I thought was an interesting number was that 73 percent of the public was following this. In a nation of 310 million people, NBC reaches about 5 million. Whether we like it or not, people don’t pay attention to the news. And yet 73 percent of the public paid attention. I believe this showed that, fundamentally, the public doesn’t like being lied to. It also points to the ego and the arrogance of these journalists who believe they are above the fray. They are no different than Hillary Clinton apparently—especially when they lie about the lie. Look at ‘Rathergate.’ It became perfectly obvious and unequivocally evident that the key document against George Bush was a fraud perpetrated by a man who had a personal agenda against George Bush. The biggest joke in journalism is the term ‘investigative reporter.’ They have already made up their minds. They are looking for data to back up their theories. They aren’t open to the truth.
Opportunist: In a recent column for TownHall.com titled Mike Huckabee vs. Beyoncé, you talk about the backlash the former Arkansas governor received for his comments about Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z’s Grammy Awards performance last year (in his new book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy). Why do you think Huckabee received such widespread criticism for voicing his personal opinion?
Brent Bozell: This is the radicalization of the left where across-the-board free speech is not tolerated anymore. If a businessman makes a $1,000 contribution for traditional marriage they run him out of his job and accuse him of being a hater. If Huckabee says what he said, they accuse him of all sorts of dastardly beliefs just because he’s trying to get the culture to clean up its act. If you’re a Christian and you go on the radio and quote Leviticus, you lose your job. If you’re Phil Robertson [star of the reality TV show ‘Duck Dynasty’] and you quote the Bible you get suspended. And yet the media goes along with the uber-intolerance of Houston Mayor [Annise Parker] sending her attorneys out to subpoena pastors who might say something against gay marriage. Conservatives are forced into hiding. If you look at a speech I gave at CPAC [the Conservative Political Action Conference] last week, you will hear 20, 30 or 40 examples I gave of what’s happening on college campuses. If you have any idea of running a conservative newspaper on campus, it’s destroyed. So much for critical thinking. I call my speech ‘Cultural Fascism.’ This is not liberalism. This has slipped into fascism. It’s frightening. It truly is. People on the left aren’t denouncing it, but traditional liberalism should be denouncing it to the rooftops. It’s kind of like Muslims being intimidated by radical Islamists. Liberals are intimidated by leftists who run the show. Look how many deliberate lies Barack Obama has told to get his ideas through. If Ronald Reagan deliberately lied through his teeth, how would the media have reacted?
Opportunist: You have written several books about media and political bias. Do you have any others planned or in the works?
Brent Bozell: No, but every time I say I’m not going to do one I do. We may look at another. After the 2016 election we might do a review of the race. Last time I did a book on Hillary Clinton it bombed like every other book about her has since Barack Obama stole the limelight from her and became the nominee. I don’t know if I will do a Hillary 2.0. And there is always the great American novel to be written.
Opportunist: Speaking of the 2016 election, do you have your eye on any potential conservative contenders for the presidential race?
Brent Bozell: I think there is a wealth of possible candidates but, on the other hand, if the Republicans nominate Jeb Bush it will be an unmitigated disaster for the party and the country.
Opportunist: Why do you believe that?
Brent Bozell: Because Jeb Bush cannot get elected for the exact same reason neither Mitt Romney nor John McCain could get elected. Because moderates and conservatives will stay home when they’re completely unmotivated to get out and vote. Active conservatives have seen utter incompetence and lack of resolve in both the House and Senate with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. This will be a trifecta of uselessness, and they will see it and stay home. The conservatives just have to avoid the secular firing squad. They need to come forward with a national conversation where all conservatives say ‘this is where we agree’ and ‘this is where we disagree.’ Then, as the misunderstandings fall by the wayside, the conservatives need to embrace one another and, ultimately, decide on one of them to run and get behind that one person.
Opportunist: Do you believe Hillary Clinton has a good chance of becoming the first female president of the United States?
Brent Bozell: If Jeb Bush runs then, yeah, I think she does. No question about it. However, I’ve thought from the very beginning that in no way is she a shoe-in to get the nomination. I’m not at all convinced everything points to it right now. She has so much negativity swirling around her. That’s becoming more and more apparent. Her recent aloofness and arrogance—she shows it in her body language, her speeches and her interviews, and now she’s showing it with her efforts. Her book tour was a bomb. Every time she spoke she did something stupid. When you see her with her husband, as you will, that’s not a positive. The media thinks it’s a positive but it’s a negative that reminds us of the awful scandals in the Clinton administration, with Hillary playing the victim on one hand and the hit man on the other, and the way she was handling the bimbo eruptions with her husband and how much she knew and was allowing to happen. And at the end of the day what were her accomplishments as Secretary of State? One word that comes to mind is Benghazi. I think any one of a half-dozen conservatives can beat her, but I don’t think Jeb Bush can.
Opportunist: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Opportunist: What’s next for you?
Brent Bozell: Well, we are in the midst of an extraordinarily exciting revolution. We are reaching the end of the news era and galloping into the Information Age. Everything changes there, particularly with the Internet in general and, more specifically, with social media. Finally, our side has the ability to tell its story without having to go through the filter of the old media.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Brent Bozell on Twitter: @BrentBozell