In case you haven’t been paying attention — and frankly at this point why would you? — left-wing legacy corporate media have been trying to make the Jan. 6 clown show (I mean hearings) into the most important news story of the year. Every day, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and the rest of the mouthpieces of the Democratic Party remind readers and viewers that the hearings represent the existential battle to preserve American democracy.
It’s no surprise then that The Washington Post would set its sight on any and every conservative individual and organization it can associate with the treason charges they have leveled at all those even tangentially connected to the Trump administration. In the case of a 3,500-word article published on July 24, that target is the Claremont Institute, a prestigious and influential conservative organization. The article, coupled with Claremont’s clever response, embodies both what is wrong with legacy media and how conservatives must fight back against this once-legitimate institution of the republic.
Not Exactly a Smoking Gun
For those unfamiliar with the Claremont Institute, it is one of the most distinguished and intellectually rigorous conservative organizations in the United States. That’s not just because its quarterly publication, Claremont Review of Books, is widely regarded as the best conservative print journal in the country, but because of its prestigious fellows program, which has trained and informed the thinking of an entire generation of leading conservative voices, including some at The Federalist. It seeks to present a conservative vision that is both contemporary and relevant but also deeply faithful to the principles of the founding. Thus an attempted takedown of Claremont is by extension an attempt to malign a broad swath of the conservative movement.
So what exact crime is Claremont guilty of committing? “The Claremont Institute triumphed in the Trump years. Then came Jan. 6,” reads The Washington Post headline. How deep in the “insurrectionist” conspiracy were those West Coast conservatives?
“The institute — along with its journal, the Claremont Review of Books as well as related journals such as American Greatness, and allied organizations, including Michigan’s Hillsdale College — gained influence during Trump’s tenure, funneling ideas and personnel to the administration despite Trump’s lifelong suspicion of academics and other experts,” Washington Post journalists Marc Fisher and Isaac Stanley-Becker explain. What kind of influence?
The primary “henchman” in The Washington Post’s tale is John Eastman, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a prominent Claremont contributor, and a major proponent of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. He was present in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, rallying Trump supporters at the Ellipse prior to the mob’s storming of the Capitol. Claremont folks debate the prudence (or arguments) of Eastman, but he remains officially affiliated with the organization.
Not Even Hitting the Broadside of a Barn
Before we get to Eastman, it’s worth noting that some of the WaPo’s attempts to smear Claremont are simply risible. “The institute remains divided and other conservative journals ask what ‘happened to the Claremont Institute?’” What conservative journals, you ask? The neocon website The Bulwark founded by Bill Kristol, of course. In other words, a publication whose claim to the title of conservative is as tenuous as that of Jennifer Rubin or Michael Gerson is their best example of the right’s consternation over Claremont.
It cites a former Claremont fellow, “speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating friends at the institute,” who claims the institute will “justify any means necessary to preserve the republic…. That’s how Claremont goes from this quirky intellectual outfit to one of the main intellectual architects of trying to overthrow the republic.” Overthrow the republic? Where’s the evidence for that incredible accusation? The article and the anonymous source provide none.
Indeed, the WaPo’s citation of one of the most prominent voices at Claremont, Charles Kesler — a senior fellow at the institute, editor of the Claremont Review of Books, and a government professor at (the unaffiliated) Claremont McKenna College — does not exactly support the “insurrection” thesis. “I’m persuaded that John [Eastman] was wrong in the advice he gave Trump,” said Kesler, citing many other people at Claremont who think the same. In other words, the leading intellectual at Claremont does not agree with Eastman regarding the 2020 election. For an organization whose reputation is supposedly “in tatters,” its revenue and influence have continued to grow since 2020 in spite of its ambivalence about the 2020 election.
But perhaps the worst (or best) part of this misguided hit piece is its attempt to smear Claremont through an attack on Claremont’s president, Ryan P. Williams, who declined an interview through a spokesman and requested written questions. “Those yielded no response.” The WaPo reporters even went to his house (“no answer”) and visited Claremont’s headquarters, “a two-story unit with gold-colored chandeliers at the back of a drab office building.” (What purpose do those details serve? To accuse Claremont of having poor taste?). The receptionist told the journalists that Williams was gone.
Just prior to publication, Williams offered a statement to The Washington Post:
We’re proud of what we do at the Claremont Institute; for over 40 years, our scholarship and teaching have had a positive and substantive effect on the nation’s political discourse. … That said, the Claremont Institute is not interested in participating in the fiction that the Washington Post is a legitimate media outlet, or that its chronically discredited journalists are dispassionate fact-finders intent on bringing their readers objective news.
Doesn’t that say it all? Why pretend that The Washington Post is a neutral and objective disseminator of information in 2022? Just look at the WaPo’s very obvious pro-choice coverage of abortion. Or the great latitude it gives their reporters to try and dig up dirt on conservatives. Name a Democratic Party talking point, and you will see the Post has devoted prime real estate supporting that talking point within the last month. Williams has succinctly stated what even many moderate Americans now recognize: legacy corporate media such as the WaPo and The New York Times have lost their legitimacy as dispassionate sources of the news.
They Don’t Even See It
There’s little indication that any of the staff at these outlets have enough self-awareness to see this. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” remains the Post’s front-page slogan, emblematic of an industry with a savior complex so great it actually believes it should be dictating terms to the Catholic Church regarding doctrine. They have become an echo chamber, promoting a political ideology indistinguishable from that of the Democratic Party.
The Post’s attacks on Claremont — and the broader conservative movement — fail to deliver. (Though, of course, they arm the Dems with rhetorical bullet points for the midterms.) It’s a sad state for an industry Americans across the political spectrum once trusted. The Post’s old motto was “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” Whether we are talking about the WaPo or CNN and MSNBC, fewer Americans are “getting it” — and they are better off for it.