Illiberal Media

Democracy in Danger / Episode 1

In 1960, conservative radio show host Clarence Manion launched a movement to draft Sen. Barry Goldwater to run for president on the Republican ticket. The effort was doomed — Richard Nixon handily won the nomination. But it had lasting implications and marked a turning point for politics and the media in the United States. This image shows Klansmen supporting Goldwater at the GOP National Convention in San Francisco, in 1964, as a counterprotester pushes back their signs. Nicole Hemmer sees a historical connection between the tactics that brought Goldwater to prominence in those days and the influence of white nationalism in conservative media today.

Photo by Warren K. Leffler via Library of Congress.

Government by the people can’t work without getting reliable information in the hands of the people. So when disinformation artists hijack the media, democracy itself is put at risk.

On this debut episode of Democracy in Danger, political historian Nicole Hemmer joins hosts Will Hitchcock and Siva Vaidhyanathan to explore the roots of the powerful right-wing media in America, and their influence on Republican politics. How did the party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt become the house of Trump and Breitbart?

Hemmer takes Will and Siva back to a little-known conservative radio host who supported Barry Goldwater in the 1960s, tracing the information tactics developed back then all the way to the illiberal politics of today’s alt-right movement.

About our guest

Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University’s Obama Presidency Oral History Project, and the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She’s also a regular contributor to the Washington Post, where she co-founded and co-edits “Made by History,” and has worked on her own podcasts — Past Present and the six-part series A12: The Story of Charlottesville.

Hemmer joined us by video conference from her home in New York. The show was recorded in June and posted July 21, 2020.

What we’re reading

By our guest

Don’t miss Hemmer’s book, Messengers of the Right, from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

And read more about Clarence Manion and his movement, in this 2016 essay in Politico, “How Conservative Media Learned to Play Politics.”

From around the web

Fareed Zakaria is often credited with coining the concept of “illiberalism.” In 2016, he took a look back on the idea and its relevance today, in this Washington post column.

In this 2016 blog post from the London School of Economics, political scientist Peter Harris asks whether pushing an illiberal agenda is truly “un-American” — or business as usual.

And here’s some useful post-Charlottesville commentary by Henry Giroux, “Trump’s Neo-Nazis and the Rise of Illiberal Democracy.”



A transcript of this episode is available here