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Why the News Media Sucks (9): The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

The change that turned our hard-hitting investigative journalists into weenie stenographers, government propagandists, and apologists for the administration (as long as it was a conservative Republican administration, that is) was driven neither by financial necessity nor some elemental and irresistible cosmic force. It was a deliberate conservative conspiracy that had definite origins, sponsors, centers, designers, and strategic planning. It’s time to take a look at who – and what – they were.

The American Enterprise Institute

In 1943, Lewis Harold Brown, the CEO of Johns-Manville, primary manufacturer of asbestos, decided that FDR was a Communist, that his programs were at best socialist, and that what the country lewis_h_brown_on_time_magazine_april_3_1939needed was a think tank for the development and spreading of conservative ideas. He founded the American Enterprise Association and hired about a dozen of the country’s top conservatives to staff it and to figure out how to get conservatives into power positions with the aim of killing the New Deal and eliminating personal and corporate income taxes. Brown was one of a number of far-right industrial barons at the time who were enraged with FDR and wanted him impeached or otherwise put out of the way.

macguire_j1They weren’t just PO’d and they weren’t the kind to sit on their hands and let democracy take its course. They were the kind who hired strikebreakers to kill unionists and arranged for union leaders to be murdered or even framed for murders they didn’t commit. They were the kind who corrupted local police and bought & sold local and state politicians. They were the kind who, like Jerry MacGuire, a top Wall Street bond salesman and former Commander of the Connecticut American Legion, and William Doyle, Commander of the Massachusetts American Legion, fantasized about a fascist military coup that would remove Roosevelt by force and replace him with a pro-Wall Street dictator, and then went out and tried to engineer it.

Brown wasn’t quite that flamboyant – or that stupid. His approach was much quieter, much deeper, but it didn’t grow much fruit during his lifetime. Three years after he died in 1951, William Baroody took over the AEA and renamed it the American Enterprise Institute. Baroody was much more in line with the MacGuire/Doyle brand of thinking, if he wasn’t willing to take it quite as far as they did. He was a proponent of aggressive, take-no-prisoners conservative political action, and he was focused almost single-mindedly on infiltrating far-right-wing conservatives into the US government. He saw himself, as Rick Perlstein wrote in a profile two years ago, as “a conservative empire builder”.

William J. Baroody Sr., the son of an immigrant stonecutter from New Hampshire, I relate in my book on the rise of the conservative movement, “was cagey, Machiavellian, hungry – a conservative empire builder”: he turned a humble business lobby against wartime price controls, the American Enterprise Association, into a full-service conservative “think tank,” the American Enterprise Institute. What a hustler he was! He told reporters, “I really can’t say whether I am a liberal or a conservative.” He put up pictures of himself with Hubert Humphrey up on his office walls; thus was AEI’s status as “non-partisan,” suitable for tax-deductible donations, vouchsafed.

He also, when it came time for his man Barry Goldwater to run for president, made of himself a sort of money launderer.

In early 1965, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch studied the expenses of the American Enterprise Institute for the previous, presidential, year. He found that the budget of AEI had suddenly and inexplicably grown 22 percent. Baroody Sr. spent the year on “paid leave”—indeed, earning a more than 10 percent raise from the employer he did not work for that year; instead, he occupied the office next to Goldwater’s at campaign headquarters, running his research operations, with several AEI employees on staff beside him. The AEI offices might have mostly been empty. Nonetheless, the outfit’s biggest budget item for 1964 was, fishily, “overhead.” Plainly, people were sluicing money to the Goldwater campaign through AEI as contributions to a tax-exempt “educational” institution.

Baroody built AEI into a conservative powerhouse. By the 1970’s, Baroody had grown it exponentially, ” from a group of twelve resident ‘thinkers’ to a well-funded organization with 145 resident scholars, 80 adjunct scholars, and a large supporting staff. This period of growth was largely funded by the Howard Pew Freedom Trust.” According to SourceWatch, “The Howard Pew Freedom Trust is one of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Financed by the Sun Oil fortune, it played an important role in the 1970s in greatly expanding the budget of the American Enterprise Institute, giving the AEI a total of $6 million between 1976 and 1981.”

Baroody used the money to buy influence and, not surprisingly, succeeded. By the 80’s, the Reagan Administration was hip-deep in AEI Fellows and Members – Richard Perle, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Fred Kagan, Newt Gingrich (a first-term Representative at the time), Norm Ornstein, Dick Cheney, Michael Ledeen (who was a courier for Oliver North during the rogue arms-for-hostages op), “Fat Tony” Scalia, Michael Novak, and even one Cabinet Sec, George Schultz at State.

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