Last week, six Republican candidates for president had to answer questions from an interviewer who actually shares a lot of the same views and concerns as the average person who will end up voting for those candidates. How novel!
Friday’s interviews, hosted by Tucker Carlson and Blaze Media at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa, have implications aplenty for the Republican Party, the 2024 primary, and the candidates themselves (some of whom escaped the hot seat more intact than others). But the biggest loser of the day wasn’t Mike Pence or Asa Hutchinson; it was the failed gatekeepers in America’s corporate media.
The Media Charade
The big shots at legacy media outlets like CNN or MSNBC are so disgusted by Republicans, from Trump to concerned parents to pregnancy center volunteers, that it’s impossible for them to take conservatives or their ideas seriously. Even just having a (the?) prominent Republican on air for an interview is anathema; look at the meltdown they had after CNN hosted a town hall with Donald Trump.
When Republicans are invited on air, it’s for one of two purposes: to mock them or to get them to cave to the hive mind. Often, the first tactic is used to achieve the second. Elected Republicans are chronically susceptible to this.
No matter what, the peppering always comes from one direction. CNN anchors don’t ask questions from the perspective of Republican voters; they ask questions from the perspective of D.C. or New York journalists who spend their lives on Twitter or at White House Correspondents’ Dinners. And as Steve Deace, a BlazeTV host, pointed out, establishment Republicans like it that way.
“There is a reason the GOP wants enemy media to moderate their debates/forums. So that they only get hit from the Left, and therefore every Republican looks like a hero,” Deace explained. “Pence is indistinguishable from Trump. Asa indistinguishable from DeSantis. So it doesn’t matter who wins primaries, because they’re all ‘better than the Democrats.’ This scam has ruined us, the party, and this country for decades.”
That “scam” is a recipe for sloppy media and sloppy candidates, not to mention dissatisfied voters. For years, the big networks mostly maintained this monopoly, with some controlled opposition. Now, the success of a forum like what Carlson facilitated on Friday shows the cracks in the current media landscape — and the hunger conservative voters have for such an alternative.
Filling the Void
In Iowa, Tucker Carlson put GOP candidates in a position they don’t often find themselves: getting questions from their right instead of their left. He asked former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson why he vetoed a bill banning transgender interventions for children, and he asked former Vice President Mike Pence to answer to voters who feel he’s more concerned about defending Ukraine than defending American cities.
In doing so, Carlson’s questions actually did Republican candidates a favor, though some of them refused to take advantage of it. In a media environment where many of the widely held perspectives behind his questions are muscled or mocked out of the public square, he gave the interviewees ammunition to help legitimize them. As every institutional powerhouse in media yanks the rope to the left, events like Friday’s summit offer a tug the other way.
For Republicans who actually like their voter base, that’s a good thing. For those who don’t, it’s revealing, which is good for everyone else. But most importantly, it fills a void for voters: The questions they care about actually reach candidates, they get to hear the answers, and they see someone in media who actually represents them. It’s why Tucker Carlson is so popular and why trust in corporate media is abysmally low.
The ‘New Contras’
Carlson may be the most influential public figure in America, but he’s representative of a shift that’s been gaining momentum for years. In 2020, Ben Domenech and Emily Jashinsky wrote in The Federalist of those they termed the “New Contrarians,” or the “New Contras” — “a band of center-left journalists whose willingness to critique the excesses of leftism have pushed them from major publications to ascendant self-publishing platforms.”
These center-left dissidents may be strange bedfellows with a right-wing firebrand like Carlson, but they’re both part of the same sea change against legacy media gatekeepers made possible by the entrepreneurial possibilities of the internet and the insufferable arrogance of media elites.
As the Manhattan Institute’s Ilya Shapiro explained to Domenech and Jashinsky, “Before the internet, you needed to have some form of institutional support” to enter the media landscape. “The democratization and the lowering of barriers of entry to influence making media is critical here.”
With practice and a growing audience, the New Contras are getting savvier. The production quality of Friday’s summit, from Carlson’s interviews to the analysis from Blaze hosts and guest commentators, was decent and (more importantly) seemed good enough to satisfy viewers. As media dominance continues to shift away from legacy networks and toward YouTube, viewers don’t appear to be dissuaded by nontraditional and even makeshift setups if a writer or podcaster has interesting things to say.
Notably, the breakdown of the media monopoly isn’t just happening at news networks and in newsrooms, but it’s starting to ripple through Hollywood. Look no further than “Sound of Freedom,” the anti-child trafficking movie Angel Studios released on July 4. Like Angel’s other big hit, the TV series “The Chosen,” “Sound of Freedom” is wildly successful with audiences, hitting No. 2 at the box office this past weekend. Like the Substacks and Patreon content of the New Contras, both cinematic projects have been crowdfunded, and both have been praised for impressive production quality. And like Carlson, they’ve met with considerable resistance from yesterday’s powerbrokers.
From movies to journalism, these ventures are cropping up because the gatekeepers at legacy networks and studios inadvertently created a vacuum for them. The void is obvious to everyone who isn’t in the echo chamber. Tucker Carlson, the New Contras, and their merry band of misfits are doing the job the decaying media monolith refuses to — and they’re getting better at it.