The Value of the ConWeb
How much is conservative 'Net news worth to Republicans in in-kind propaganda contributions?
By Terry Krepel
The big cover story in the June edition of NewsMax's magazine (the story itself is not online, but a promo is) is on the alleged "media war" against President Bush, specifically its claim that "the major media will 'spend' through in-kind coverage more than $2 billion to defeat President Bush and elect (John) Kerry."
Where does NewsMax get this absurdly high figure? It doesn't say -- how the figure was computed is never explained. A few examples are provided, however, but they don't really explain much either. For example: The article notes that National Public Radio has an annual budget of $106 million and is "hawkishly anti-Bush and pro-Kerry," so we can assume that NewsMax threw in that entire $106 million into its figures despite the fact that groups like Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting have conducted studies that show a majority of the partisan sources NPR uses are Republican.
The only actual example of calculation NewsMax offers is Howard Stern; a minute of ad time on Stern's radio show costs $40,000, taken times the five minutes a day NewsMax believes Stern spends bashing Bush, and the article concludes that "Kerry will have gotten some $43 million in free advertising." Adding that "when stars such as Stern and Rush Limbaugh endorse a product, advertisers can expect to as much as double the effect of their ads. Cha-ching! Stern's endorsement has just handed Kerry about $80,000,000."
The fact that NewsMax doesn't detail its entire methodology for its numbers -- not to mention that the article also quotes the Media Research Center's Brent Bozell as saying "there is no way to add up the numbers" -- is a hint that NewsMax may just be pulling that $2 billion number out of thin air or some unmentionable bodily orifice.
NewsMax also, as should be expected, doesn't add up the in-kind contributions of its fellow conservative media members; in fact, it talks down any impact the conservative media has relative to the "left-wing media." Why? Because that $2 billion number wouldn't look that impressive.
Let's start with NewsMax's sole documentation of methodology, Howard Stern, and apply it to Limbaugh. Assume that of his three-hour weekday show, we can subtract commercials and the occasional non-political rant against the Florida prosecutor who's looking into drug charges against him and reasonably conclude that two-thirds of his time, 120 minutes, is devoted to promoting Bush and conservatives and/or attacking Kerry and liberals -- after all, Limbaugh is much more political than Stern is. We'll even assume that Stern and Limbaugh share the same advertising rate, $40,000 per minute, though we suspect Limbaugh's is much higher given that he appears on several hundred radio stations compared to just 35 for Stern. Under this calculation one single Limbaugh show is worth $4.8 million in free advertising for the Bush campaign.
Take that level through the campaign, and Limbaugh alone is worth $1.032 billion to the Republicans. You can see why NewsMax isn't in a rush to detail that.
We can track the contributions of the ConWeb the same way. ConWebWatch took a week in June to count headlines on their front pages (as well as the WorldNetDaily commentary page) that could be considered pro-Bush or -conservative or anti-Kerry or -liberal. From there, we went to Intermarkets, which handles advertising for WorldNetDaily (NewsMax used to belong to Intermarkets, but their name is no longer on this list), and calculated their value. Headlines are essentially the same as a banner ad, so we applied Intermarkets' banner rate -- $5 per 1,000 impressions -- for its "news channel" package, of which WND generates around half the traffic according to Intermarket's numbers). WorldNetDaily claims at Intermarkets that it serves up 30 million banner impressions a month, so we'll apply that to NewsMax as well since their traffic is similar, and treat the "news channel" package as if it were only WND and NewsMax. We'll assume that each headline has generated 500,000 impressions.
Counting conservatively, NewsMax had 43 headlines that qualified under ConWebWatch's count that week, while WND had 32 headlines plus 29 others which were headline promotions for books published or sold by WND and were counted each day they appeared.
Using this count, each pro-Bush or anti-Kerry headline at NewsMax and WND is worth $2,500 as an in-kind Republican contribution. Assuming the same rate throughout 2004, NewsMax's direct in-kind contribution through headlines is $4.6 million, while WND's is $6.5 million.
Take the doubling effect NewsMax cited, then double it again to add in the further effect of the army of conservative talk-radio hosts who repeat these stories on their programs- -- sites like WND and NewsMax are prime outrage fodder for conservative talk radio -- and the propaganda value of NewsMax and WND to the Republicans is more than $71 million. And we only counted the blatantly obvious stuff. Imagine what Fox News Channel is worth.
The Media Research Center, as a nonprofit organization, can't accept advertising, but that doesn't mean it can't make its own in-kind contributions. Fortunately, the MRC has made told us how much it's spending. It announced in June that it was spending $2.8 million on a so-called "Tell the Truth!" campaign that claims to be about counteracting the "liberal media" but is really just a partisan campaign on behalf of Bush (which one would think would conflict with MRC's nonprofit status).
Double that for return on ad investment and double it again for getting repeated through the conservative echo chamber, and MRC's in-kind cash outlay is worth more than $11 million. Throw in a few million more for the propaganda value of CNSNews.com (we've captured a week of MRC and CNS headlines as well), and the total value of the MRC to Republicans is $15 million at the very least.
Are ConWebWatch's numbers accurate? While we haven't taken any math classes since high school, we do know how to run a calculator. Unlike NewsMax, we've documented how we came up with our numbers. Yet NewsMax and others will try to make that $2 billion figure an article of faith despite its highly questionable origin.
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The June NewsMax, in fact, is a cornucopia of media-bashing, rehashing every conspiracy theory about the "liberal media" and inventing a few more; as one article states, "the liberal media food chain is Orwellian and gargantuan."
You got your tagging of network TV news anchors as "stooges"; you got your attacks on "the notorious and all-too-real Hollywood left"; you got your depiction of newspaper reporters as "the enemy ... firing their pointed queries like a stream of machine-gun bullets" (NewsMax apparently missed the Columbia Journalism Review article that details how the press got snookered by the Iraqi National Congress into promoting the Bush administration line that Saddam Hussein was a graver threat than he was) and calls New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd "the lead Doberman -- jaws slavering and snapping."
The section on books, though, is pretty wobbly, descending even further into agitprop. It asserts that walking into a bookstore "might make you think for a moment you just walked into a local John Kerry for President office," then goes on to claim that "in a recent review of national bookstore chains ... NewsMax discovered almost no -pro-George W. Bush books near the front of the store or on promotional racks." Your typical NewsMax claim -- no supporting evidence. Yet it concludes that "John Kerry is getting a free ride" at all 2,300 locations of these chain bookstores.
The section goes on to get some facts wrong. It claims that Gary Aldrich's book "Unlimited Acccess" was the only book by a major publisher that was "critical of Clinton" before the 1996 election. But "Unlimited Access" was published by conservative Regnery -- which NewsMax describes a few paragraphs later as an "alternative" publisher. And among the three pro-Bush books listed as published by those "alternative" publishers like Regnery and Thomas Nelson (aka WND Books, though NewsMax apparently refuses to call it that) are Bill Sammon's "Misunderestimated" and John Podhoertz's "Bush Country," which are published by the somewhat less "alternative" ReganBooks imprint of HarperCollins and St. Martin's Press, respectively.
And the bookstore photo that accompanies this article is judiciously cropped to play up the Bush-bashing books. Still, you can see books that don't fit NewsMax's profile -- part of a cover of a book about the Bush family written by Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and author of the book "Reagan's War," which NewsMax's Dave Eberhart lavishly praised in a June 10 article; and Lawrence Lessig's "Free Culture," which isn't about politics at all.
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NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy takes on Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" in a July 1 commentary. "It takes a definite genius to be able to manipulate well-educated people," he writes, whereas an awed Ruddy and NewsMax must apparently settle for manipulating the lesser-educated.
After repeating NewsMax's baseless $2 billion in-kind figure, Ruddy tosses out another questionable number: "It is now evident that the Moore film will have a value of at least $250 million for the Kerry effort to win the White House." Like the $2 billion number, Ruddy offers no factual basis for this.
He gets a couple other facts wrong in the process. He claims that "Fahrenheit 9/11" "raked in over $20 million on its opening day" when that number actually applies to its first three days of release.
Ruddy also repeats the canard that during the 2000 election, the TV networks had declared Al Gore the winner in Florida "an hour before all the polls in the state had closed." Wrong -- the nets called Florida for Gore just 11 minutes before the final polls closed, as ConWebWatch reported back then. Why is this important to Ruddy? "As Republicans have pointed out, this had the effect of lowering Republican turnout by as many as 50,000 votes in Florida’s Panhandle," he writes. Does Ruddy really believe that 50,000 voters were dissuaded in those final 11 minutes?
Ruddy uses his rather long column to mostly regurgitate the GOP spin points against Moore, throwing that special NewsMax Clinton Factor of Moore's refusal to blame the Clinton administration for anything leading up to 9/11.
"So that’s the bottom line: Michael Moore is not interested in truth, he’s interested in political action, achieving goals and manipulating people. He can do 'whatever it takes' to achieve the objectives," Ruddy concludes.
So how does that make Moore different from Ruddy and his "news" organization? It doesn't.