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Right Turns Left

Eytan Kobre

Conservatives can no longer speak their minds

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


I recently wrote about the stifling of dissenting voices on conservative talk radio, which often resembles one big echo chamber in which fevered conspiracy-trafficking and spineless Trumpian cheerleading are all-too-common, and where reasoned debate of policy issues is largely absent, and dissonant views are shouted down.

After that piece appeared, my wife pointed out my omission of an important and laudable exception: Michael Medved, host of a long-running, nationally syndicated radio program and an Orthodox Jew. Although staunchly conservative, he engages respectfully and fairly with callers and their views, responding with facts, not fury. He wins most of those debates, but maybe that’s because he’s usually right and has the empirical goods to prove it; he also has a weekly segment devoted to debunking callers’ conspiracy theories.

And unlike so many others in his business, he never sold out by hitching his fortunes to the president’s bandwagon. A vociferous on-air critic of the current president during the 2016 campaign, Medved hasn’t hesitated to credit his good decisions and policies since taking office, while standing by most of his earlier stinging personal and political critiques of the man and his fitness to be president.

Little wonder, then, that he seems to share my dim view of the talk-show universe. In a 2016 interview with Politico, he said, “I think talk radio is in crisis… the kind of reflexive monochromatic falling into line for Trump… you hear on Sean Hannity’s show, for instance, I think long-term, that will not work to the benefit of the people involved. I don’t think that’s the right decision politically, ethically, or in terms of business.”

You can still hear Medved’s voice of moral clarity across America — but not for much longer. Two weeks from now, Mr. Medved will lose his nationwide microphone on the Salem Radio Network, the country’s biggest broadcaster of conservative radio (although he’ll still be on the local Seattle dial). He’ll be replaced by one of the president’s cheerleaders-in-chief, Sebastian Gorka, a Steve Bannon acolyte and part of the seedy cast — Lewandowski, Manafort, Scaramucci, et al. — who’ve surrounded the president.

That Medved’s 21-year career with Salem is ending in this way, to be replaced by “America First with Sebastian Gorka,” is also part of the gagging of dissent on the right. Instead of talk show hosts silencing individual callers, the media moguls who employ them are doing so by axing — sorry, “not renewing the contracts of” — those who don’t fall in line with the president and his Trumpified Republican party.

This magnifies a hundred-fold the irony of the right-wing critique of left-wing suppression of free speech. Instead of the sorry spectacle of a left-wing student rabble preventing a speaker at a one-time campus event from sharing his conservative perspective with an audience of a few hundred, this choking off of authentically conservative voices on the radio and in print effectively denies millions of Americans a balanced perspective on what’s going on in their country. And there’s almost nowhere to go anymore in the entire medium of radio to get that differing conservative perspective.

Shortly before the 2016 election, Medved wrote in USA Today that as “one of the lonely few broadcasters in national radio syndication to maintain implacable opposition to the Trump candidacy, I can attest that my position has generated primarily anger from our syndicator, many of our 300 local affiliates and thousands of individual listeners who feel no hesitation in expressing their rage in emails and phone calls.”

The approach taken by others in Salem’s lineup, however, calls to mind Groucho Marx’s bon mot, “These are my principles. And if you don’t like these, I have others.” In early June 2016, for example, Medved’s colleague Hugh Hewitt said on-air that the GOP had to dump Trump at its convention, arguing that not to do so would be “like ignoring stage-four cancer.” Exactly one week later, Hewitt penned a Washington Post op-ed in which he wrote that “for the good of the country, Republicans have to...close ranks around Trump.”

A Salem executive’s email showed that its CEO had written to Hewitt and Medved with a “very well-stated case for supporting the GOP nominee because we have to beat Hillary.” After Hewitt’s quickie conversion was revealed in his WaPo opinion piece, that same CEO marveled, “Wow, he took a lot from my email to him and turned it into an article.”

And Medved? “There’s no question,” he told Politico, “it would have helped my career to even be reluctantly on the Trump train. But the problem is I can’t pretend. I really do see this as not a job, it’s a vocation.” As a result, CNN reported, Salem changed his airtime slot in several major radio markets from the sought-after afternoon hours to the late evening ones. And now, come January 1, his successful two-decade run with Salem will be history. If the president is worried about witch hunts, he ought to start with Salem.

In addition to its radio holdings, the Salem Media Group, Salem Radio’s parent company, also publishes books and owns numerous big-name conservative websites, and in April, one of those sites, the influential Red State blog, abruptly fired some of its top editors and writers. One of them, writer Patrick Frey, noted that it was “not for poor performance; among those dismissed were some of the top page view earners… We had only one thing in common: we were all fierce and highly vocal critics of Donald Trump [and this was] part of a larger effort by… Salem Media Group to clamp down on criticism of Trump.”

Nor is this limited to Salem. Washington Post’s Megan McArdle reports that the “future of the Weekly Standard, one of the nation’s leading conservative publications, suddenly looks shaky” due to a conflict between the editors and its publisher, Clarity Media, over the magazine’s generally anti-Trump stance.

Reflecting on what happened at Red State, Frey wrote that it signals

widespread changes in the conservative movement in America — in particular, a narrowing of viewpoint diversity, and a rampant fear of speaking one’s mind…. Historically, it is members of the Left, not the Right, who shout down speakers and attempt to use the power of organized boycotts or government authority to stamp out speech they don’t like. The Left typically employs this despotic set of behaviors in the service of identity politics, paternalistically creating classes of people who Cannot Be Criticized in polite society.

But what used to be a problem only on the Left is now a problem on the Right as well… the Right now suffers from its own political correctness. But the protected class that is officially Free From Criticism is not… women or blacks. It is Donald Trump.

This Patrick Frey fellow, does he have a subscription to Mishpacha? Here’s what appeared in this column in August 2016:

The Republican nominee sized up regular Americans’ enormous, entirely justified rage at being forced to sit and watch, bound and gagged, as it were, as liberal elites pushed a version of reality in which a jihadi’s massacre of American soldiers while screaming “Allahu Akhbar” is a workplace violence incident; in which people are whatever gender they say they are… And the list goes on and on.

That rage has become the basis for an implicit bargain the nominee has made with his voters: I will rail uncontrollably at all the things you’ve hated all these many years, as you cheer me on, and in exchange, you will do just one thing for me — muzzle yourselves, and everyone else too, on one topic only: Me. Even when I say things for which you would severely censure your child or your employee, you will muffle your outraged inner voice of conscience, just smile obsequiously and mutter something about how I’m just “ruffling feathers again” or “being me.”

Over the past two years, I have found it to be a point of pride that not only Michael Medved but most, if not virtually all, of the high-profile Orthodox Jews in secular journalism have rejected that bargain, and instead placed themselves somewhere on the spectrum of skeptics and critics of this president. That speaks so well of a moral clarity and courage that likely has much to do with their faith. Theirs is an example many in Orthodox journalism would do well to follow.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 739. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at

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