For a Buck, This Conservative Publication Sells Out Its Own

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.

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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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