Dec
01
1987

Coddling the Conservatives

The Red Scare of the 1950s gave birth to a fast-rising right-wing movement, the John Birch Society. Its rise was aborted when the society's leader, Robert Welch, made a statement that was deemed so outrageous by the media establishment as to place the Birchers beyond the pale of respectable discourse: Welch called President Dwight Eisenhower a "Communist dupe."

In December 1987 Howard Phillips, the head of the Conservative Caucus, made a statement that topped Welch's for absurdity: Ronald Reagan had become a "useful idiot for Kremlin propaganda." But instead of ridiculing or repudiating him, the media rewarded Phillips with regular access to America's biggest news outlets, including the opinion page of the New York Times (12/11/87).

Phillips appeared on ABC's Nightline (12/4/87) with fellow right-wing activist Richard Viguerie and a conservative senator. All three were critics of the INF arms limitation treaty which, according to an ABC News poll, was supported by 52 percent of the U.S. public, compared to 8 percent who opposed it.

While a willingness to air viewpoints shared by a distinct minority is admirable, why has Nightline never presented a panel composed solely of progressives? Why, for example, was there no panel of three dissenters shortly after the Grenada invasion? Even when polls showed that 70 percent to 80 percent of the public favored a bilateral nuclear arms freeze, no panel of freeze advocates was assembled. As FAIR asked in a letter to Nightline: "When will Nightline be as open to minority viewpoints of the left as it is to those of the right?"