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Who's Behind the Attack on Liberal Professors?

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In a recent article on HNN Professors Eric Foner and Glenda Gilmore worry that academic freedom is being eroded. While they address the McCarthyite tactics of the right, I think there may also be another interesting story here.

I work with the Commonweal Institute, a moderate/progressive think tank. My work with Commonweal involves research into right-wing organizations. This research entails checking the affiliations of conservatives cited in news stories, articles, op-ed pieces, books and articles. The people and organizations Foner and Gilmore mention share interesting connections.

The piece mentions Campus Watch, which is part of the Middle East Forum. If you visit the website of Cursor's Media Transparency, an organization that investigates right-wing foundations, you will discover that the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation fund the Middle East Forum.

Next the piece mentions William J. Bennett. Many of Bennett's activities are funded by the far-right Heritage Foundation, which in turn is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife, Joseph Coors's Castle Rock Foundation and the Olin Foundation, among others.

Next mentioned is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Turns out this group is funded by ... wait for it ... the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Scaife, Coors, Olin and a few others.

Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, mentioned next, is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Olin, Coors and the Smith Richardson Foundation. Mrs. Cheney was also chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which received funds at the time by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and Olin.

Every One of Them?

So it turns out that every single right-wing source mentioned in their article owes some portion (if not all) of their livelihood to a very small core group of funders. In my experience, this is not atypical among conservative opinion-makers. It appears that the majority of the conservative experts and scholars writing newspaper op-ed pieces, books and magazine articles, and even the organizations that generate the "talking points" and position papers used by TV pundits and radio talk show hosts, are directly funded by, or work for organizations supported by this core group of funders.

This pattern of concentrated, interlinking financial backing is not found when you look into who is funding people and organizations that would not describe themselves as "conservatives".

So What?

Foner and Gilmore cite several apparently unconnected people and organizations as being part of "a broader trend among conservative commentators, who since September 11 have increasingly equated criticism of the Bush administration with lack of patriotism." Readers of the article might come away with the impression of a number of independent conservative "voices" concerned with what is being said on campus.

But is this true? All the voices cited originate from organizations funded and coordinated by a core group of wealthy individuals and organizations. Any scholar finding what appears to be a broad trend should be aware that the deliberate creation of an illusion of broad trends is a tactic used to influence the public by the conservative movement that is funded by this core group.

Some History of the Conservative Movement

In 1971 the National Chamber of Commerce circulated a memo by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell among business leaders which claimed that "the American economic system" of business and free markets was "under broad attack" by "Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic." Powell argued that those engaged in this attack come from "the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians."

According to the Powell memo, the key to solving this problem was to get business people to "confront this problem as a primary responsibility of corporate management" by building organizations that will use "careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing only available in joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations." It helped immeasurably, Powell noted, that the boards of trustees of universities "overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the system," and that most of the media "are owned and theoretically controlled by corporations which depend upon profits, and the free enterprise system to survive."

Powell wrote that these organizations should employ a "faculty of scholars" to publish in journals, write "books, paperbacks and pamphlets," with speakers and a speaker's bureau, as well as develop organizations to evaluate textbooks, and engage in a "long range effort" to correct the purported imbalances in campus faculties. "The television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance." Powell said that this effort must also target the judicial system.

The "Four Sisters"

In 1973, in response to the Powell memo, Joseph Coors and Christian-right leader Paul Weyrich founded the Heritage Foundation. Coors told Lee Edwards, historian of the Heritage Foundation, that the Powell memo persuaded him that American business was "ignoring a crisis." In response, Coors decided to help provide the seed funding for the creation of what was to become the Heritage Foundation, giving $250,000.(1)

Subsequently, the Olin Foundation, under the direction of its president, former Treasury Secretary William Simon (author of the influential 1979 book A Time for Truth), began funding similar organizations in concert with "the Four Sisters"--Richard Mellon Scaife's various foundations, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Olin Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation--along with Coors's foundations, foundations associated with the Koch oil family, and a group of large corporations. (In this article, I will refer to this group of funders as the "Four Sisters Funding Group" or FSFG.)

Following Powell's long-term plan to "build a movement," FSFG has funded and built a network of think tanks, advocacy organizations, and expanded into media, lobbying, and other areas. The work was slow but effective. As Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, told a group of conservative business people, "things take time. It takes at least 10 years for a radical new idea to emerge from obscurity."

Creating "Conventional Wisdom"

Now, after 30 years of effort, this core FSFG has built a comprehensive ideological infrastructure. There are now over 500 organizations, with the Heritage Foundation at the hub, all funded by this core group. David Callahan's 1999 study, $1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s, found that just the top 20 of the organizations spent over $1 billion on this ideological effort in the 1990s.

The right-wing movement's messages are orchestrated and amplified to sound like a mass "movement" consisting of many "voices." Using "messaging"--communication techniques from the fields of marketing, public relations, and corporate image-management--the movement appeals to people's deeper feelings and values. Messages are repeated until they become "conventional wisdom." Examples include lines like "Social Security is going broke" and "public schools are failing." Both statements are questionable, yet both have been firmly embedded in the "public mind" by purposeful repetition through multiple channels. This orchestration has been referred to as a "Mighty Wurlitzer, " a CIA term that refers to propaganda that is repeated over and over again in numerous places until the public believes what it's hearing must be true.

As a study by the People for the American Way, has put it: "The result of this comprehensive and yet largely invisible funding strategy is an extraordinary amplification of the far right's views on a range of issues. The various funding recipients do not march in ideological lock-step, but they do promote many of the same issues to their respective audiences. They have thus been able to keep alive in the public debate a variety of policy ideas long ago discredited or discarded by the mainstream. That, in turn, has been of enormous value in the right's ongoing effort to reshape American society. The success of the right-wing efforts are seen at every level of government, as a vast armada of foundation-funded right-wing organizations has both fed and capitalized on the current swing to the right in Congress and in the state legislatures."

The Money Comes With Strings

The FSFG money comes with ideological strings attached. Their think tanks are not independent; their organizations must espouse their ideology. "Cato, for example," as Gregg Easterbrook pointed out in an article in the Atlantic in 1986, "flatly states that it will not release any study that calls for a government program. The institute's president, Edward Crane, says that he receives one or two commissioned reports each year that are 'inconsistent,' and he does not publish them. The analyst Jonathan Stein lost his job at [the Center For Strategic & International Studies] CSIS several months after he published a book highly critical of Star Wars, the study of which is worth millions to think tanks that toe the line. (CSIS denies there was any connection.) "

The core group that controls this movement is now attacking even Republicans who would previously have been considered "conservatives" for inadequate ideological purity. Members of the moderate wing of the Republican Party are derided by the radical right as nothing more than RINO's -- Republicans In Name Only. The FSFG is funding efforts to drive these moderates out of office and out of the party.(2)

The Movement is Coordinated

Currently the core of the "conservative movement" meets weekly with representatives of the FSFG. As Eric Alterman has revealed:

Their weekly agenda was hammered out every Wednesday at a meeting chaired by Grover Norquist, a rightwing Leninist who believes in an ever-shifting tactical alliance.… Among those who attend the invitation-only meetings are spokespeople and representatives of NRA, the Christian Coalition, the Heritage Foundation; corporate lobbyists, the top people from the Republican party and the Congressional Republican leadership, and chief White House aides. Trusted rightwing journalists and editors also attend, though the meetings are off the record.

While the ostensible purpose of the meeting is to share information and coordinate strategy, they also give Norquist the opportunity to act as an ideological enforcer. When one member of the Bush administration worried to a New York Times reporter that the administration's plan to repeal the estate tax would cripple charitable giving, he was publicly warned by Norquist that this was "the first betrayal of Bush", and was gone not long afterward. When a conservative pundit named Laura Ingraham criticised a fellow conservative in the House of Representatives for overzealousness, she was immediately informed by Norquist to decide "whether to be with us or against us". She was no longer welcome at the meetings.

David Brock, in his book Blinded By the Right, described from inside this "movement" how different parts of the right-wing web and their funders interacted during the attempt to remove President Clinton from office. Brock writes that funding was supplied by Richard Mellon Scaife, Federalist Society (funded by Scaife) lawyers and judges working behind the scenes assisting Special Prosecutor Ken Starr and supplying information to (Scaife-funded) American Spectator magazine.

A Case Study

Often it is possible to discern how the timing of a "Mighty Wurlitzer" chorus relates to a planned conservative policy initiative. A recent example is the flurry of articles that hit the press starting in late November, originating from the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform and the Tax Foundation, which claimed that the poor do not pay enough income taxes. The Wall Street Journal even referred to the poor as "lucky duckies." The paper did not mention that poor people do pay Social Security taxes. The publicity appears to have been timed to the release of the president's latest tax-cutting program.(3)

The Effect on Society

The core right-wing web of organizations funded by the FSFG has increasingly been able to set the public agenda, shifting national and local politics consistently to the right and away from the mainstream public interest. As a result, right-wing ideological premises and arguments dominate public-issue debate, with big money using this communications infrastructure to drown out other voices, virtually creating a one-dollar-one-vote society. "As one investigative journalist stated years ago in a pioneering investigation of the conservative philanthropy of Richard Scaife," wrote Sally Covington in a 1997 study, "layer upon layer of seminars, studies, conferences, and interviews [can] do much to push along if not create, the issues, which then become the national agenda of debate.... By multiplying the authorities to whom the media are prepared to give a friendly hearing, [conservative donations] have helped to create an illusion of diversity where none exists. The result could be an increasing number of one-sided debates in which the challengers are far outnumbered, if indeed they are heard from at all."

The Right's Attack on Academia

So how does all this relate to the attack on academic freedom which Foner and Gilmore complained about?

It turns out that many of the most important attacks are part of a campaign organized by conservative foundations, as a study by report by the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) found. In a section entitled, "Targeting the Academy" the report discusses right-wing attacks on academia, including "political correctness" campaigns, efforts to use alumni contributions to advance a conservative agenda, efforts to take over or de-fund the National Endowment for the Humanities and to de-fund the National Endowment for the Arts. These attacks follow the pattern outlined in the Powell memo -- attack the patriotism of liberals and attempt to convince trustees of colleges and universities to remove them, replacing them with ideological "conservatives."(4)

The FSFG supports organizations like Accuracy in Academia, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the Madison Center for Educational Affairs (their "Collegiate Network" links over 70 student newspapers), the Institute for Educational Affairs and others. These organizations work to transform academia toward the right's ideological agenda.

Why Do They Hate America?

Daniel Pipes has accused scholars like Foner and Gilmore of hating America. His attacks follow the plan laid out in the Powell memo and in William Simons's book, A Time For Truth. Like Powell and Simon, Pipes accuses liberal faculty of anti-American bias and wants trustees to remove or silence them. "Why do they hate America"? Because, the phrase implies, they are like the terrorists, who also hate America. A search on Google for the term "they hate America" turns up over a million uses. So what Foner and Gilmore encountered is a well-funded campaign to pursue an ideological agenda.


By looking at the backgrounds of the conservative sources cited in Foner and Gilmore's article on freedom of speech on campus, we have discovered another story. What Foner and Gillmore took to be a number of voices signifying, in their words, "a broader trend among conservative commentators, who since September 11 have increasingly equated criticism of the Bush administration with lack of patriotism," is really only the tip of an iceberg of organizations, funded by a core group coordinating a right-wing agenda to put a chill on more than just academic speech. Academics should be on guard because the activities of these organizations follow a pattern designed to mislead the casual reviewer.

1.See Jerry Landray, From The Powell Manifesto: How A Prominent Lawyer's Attack Memo Changed America.

2. See http://www.commonwealinstitute.org/information.html#moderates.

3. See:

Heritage Foundation, May 8, 2001 http://www.heritage.org/Research/PoliticalPhilosophy/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=4327
Americans for Tax Reform, May 7, 2002 http://www.atr.org/caucus/article050702.html
Tax Foundation, November, 2002 http://www.taxfoundation.org/prtopincome.html

The Wurlitzer:
Nov. 20, 2002 http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110002937
Nov. 26, 2002 http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A39211-2002Nov25&notFound=true
Nov. 26, 2002 http://slate.msn.com/id/2074666/
Dec. 3, 2002 http://www.washtimes.com/commentary/20021203-415124.htm
Dec. 4, 2002 http://www.naplesnews.com/02/12/perspective/d856951a.htm
Dec. 10, 2002 http://www.whitehouse.gov/cea/taxnotes30th_anniversaryspeech_dec10_2002.pdf
Dec. 15, 2002 http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A59577-2002Dec15&notFound=true
Dec. 16, 2002 http://slate.msn.com/id/2075483/
Dec. 21, 2002 http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/12/21/duckies/
Jan. 7, 2003 White House proposes tax changes: http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/kd3739.htm
Jan. 9, 2003 http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/01/09/ED210726.DTL
Jan. 14, 2003 http://slate.msn.com/id/2076725/
Jan. 16, 2002 http://slate.msn.com/id/2077089/
Jan. 20, 2003 http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110002938
Jan. 20, 2003 http://slate.msn.com/id/2077201/

4. See: People for the American Way's report, Buying a Movement, including a case study of the Yale Endowment and a case study of the right-wing movement's efforts to influence university undergraduates.