For a Buck, This Conservative Publication Sells Out Its Own

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Human Events made headlines this week when its sales staff tried to sell a RedState political endorsement. They've done far worse.

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In the conservative movement, there is a tension between staying loyal to the rank and file and exploiting the fact that there's a lot of money to be made selling them stuff. Some institutions pull it off, as when National Review readers pay to go on a luxury cruise so that they can meet writers and editors. Other times, a guy like Glenn Beck manipulates his audience into buying marked up gold.

An item Ben Smith published Tuesday broke the latest news on this beat:

The endorsement of Erick Erickson, the founder of the conservative blog RedState and a CNN contributor is for sale as part of an advertising package, according to an email circulated by an account executive for The Human Events Group-Eagle Publishing, which recently purchased the site.

"Erick Erickson's reputation along with his rising profile, combine to make RedState the most influential conservative blog on Capitol Hill and across America," writes the account executive, Chris McIntyre, in a form email forwarded to POLITICO by two surprised conservatives. "Why not put Erick's influence to work for your organization?"

Erickson quickly responded, acknowledging that the sales pitch in question was sent out, but assuring his readers, "no, my endorsements are not for sale." I believe him, because for several years now I've watched in horror as the Human Events Group advertising staff revealed its moral compass. To be clear, I don't think a television network or a publishing company or a billboard owner implicitly endorses every business to whom it sells advertising. But I do take exception when a company is especially complicit in ads that take obvious advantage of vulnerable people who trust them.

Where to draw the line is anyone's guess, but for me, the Human Events advertising emails I long received were obviously on the wrong side of it. It is important to know that the publication is largely read by older Americans who feel as though they've been betrayed and lied to by the mainstream media. It inhabits a media world I associate with my grandparents. I think of them every time I get a message with a subject like, "Conspiracy to suppress cure for cancer." What does this advertisement targeting frightened old people with cancer say? That a breakthrough in a foreign country means "the hellish cancer treatments Americans take for granted are now outdated."

It goes on:

Incredible as it sounds, Germany's top cancer doctors literally "cook" cancer out of your body while you sleep - and you wake up without any bad side effects. Yes, you heard me right: no bad side effects. No loss of hair, no vomiting, and no nausea... Yet the American medical establishment hides the amazing German cancer cure from you.

If you've had a grandparent who is averse to doctors and actually dreading American cancer treatments... well, that ad just doesn't seem okay. Obviously, there are a lot of misleading pitches out there. But the fact that this one is targeting elderly cancer victims in a way that plays on an ideologically driven tendency to mistrust the establishment... and is sent out by a publication whose content encourages those same ideological tendencies? It's among the most abhorrent example of selling out rank and file conservatives that I know, and I don't think it's mitigated by the disclaimer:

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There are too many other examples in my inbox to discuss them all.

"Your doctor doesn't know everything," says one subject line. In case you missed the point it is reiterated in the body of the message: "These doctors today are full of crap." Given the demographic profile of the readership, dubious health claims are actually a big percentage of these pitches. Another example: "Slow your aging clock by 51 percent... this space age pill can actually double your energy!"

Here's a visual:

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And yet another example:

As you age, cells in your lungs start to die off faster than you replace them - causing your lungs to shrink. That's bad news for your strength, stamina and disease-fighting power. And here's the kicker: The smaller your lungs, the greater your chance of dying - of ALL causes! But I have proof that it's completely preventable... even reversible. YOU can make shrinking lungs -and shortened "healthspans" - a thing of the past!

With just minutes a day - you can use my technique to give you the lungpower of a 20-year-old. And with all that EXTRA oxygen and cardiovascular power, you'll REAWAKEN the energy and vitality you had years ago - even if you're past retirement.

Get rich quick schemes are next most frequent. "How to turn 10K into 351K in 151 days," says an email from last October. It encourages readers to visit this link. Judge for yourself if the advertised returns are plausible.

As an editor at a DC Web start-up called Culture11, I got rather obsessed with these emails. My colleagues from those days will recall me ranting in the office, unsuccessfully trying to get Chairman of Eagle Publishing Tom Phillips on the phone, and blogging about this subject to no effect. Eventually my frequent complaints prompted conservative blogger Conn Carroll to write, "Conor is right that now is the time for cleaning house in the conservative movement. But he is more self serving troll than true believer. Take his Human Events criticism. What is he trying to accomplish?"

I didn't endear myself to the Human Events editorial team either.   

Several months back I opted out of getting Human Events advertising emails. They get under my skin every time I see them. But I still think they deserve more attention. Is there any better example of an entity in the conservative movement thriving on the trust it enjoys among the rank and file, and then selling out some of those very same people? I can't say for certain whether or not Erick Erickson is being truthful when he contends that the Human Events ad sales team offered to sell his endorsement without so much as consulting him. I can only say that I wouldn't put it past them. In my estimation, they've been complicit in much sketchier schemes in the past.

Drop-down image credit: Human Events

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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