In a recent post, conservative blogger John Hawkins explained why he rejected a Web site run by former Bush Administration speechwriter David Frum from an advertising network of right-leaning blogs:
...the mainstream media loves "conservatives" and "Republicans" who will trash whomever the Left hates most. So, if you're willing to talk about how Sarah Palin is a hick, Glenn Beck is a crank, Rush Limbaugh is bad for the country, and the Tea Party is bad for democracy, the mainstream media will reward you -- and because conservatives pride themselves on being open minded, they'll all too often give you a pass for your atrocious behavior -- especially since the MSM doesn't insist you play their game all the time. As long as you're willing to say what they want about the people they hate the most, they'll reward you with a cover story at Newsweek and then in your off time, you can churn out a few articles to point gullible conservatives towards while you're trying to guilt them into taking you seriously by crying "epistemic closure!"
This is what David Frum does for a living -- and don't think he doesn't know it. Even the people who write for him know it. I ran into someone who writes for his blog at an event once. He was extremely defensive about writing for them. I must have heard him tell at least three people, myself included, something akin to, "I write for FrumForum, but please don't hold that against me."
Long story short, everybody has to make a living. But, I'm not interested in helping people like Frum play this little game where they try to cripple conservatives publicly while coming around on the back end to milk us for money. If Frum wants to be a dancing monkey for the Left, let them come up with the money to pay for the tune.
Mr. Frum responds as follows:
Now this is really amazing. We live in a world in which conservative radio hosts actually tape commercials for everything from gold coins to adjustable mattresses. Rush Limbaugh frankly acknowledged to an admiring Zev Chafets: "First and foremost I'm a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime." Sarah Palin deserted her elected office before her term to cash in her economic opportunities. And yet it is I who am supposed to be prostituting my principles for money?
The truth, of course, is just the opposite. A lucre-seeking cynic would do much better to conform to conservative groupthink than to challenge it.
His full defense is here.
What I find so odd about Mr. Hawkins' post is its utter disconnect from the reality of David Frum's career. In the days when he was considered by most conservatives to be "one of them," publishing a laudatory book about George W. Bush and all the rest, Mr. Frum didn't have any trouble getting on television or contributing articles to mainstream publications or securing book deals. And he had a regular gig blogging at National Review and a $100,000 per year perch at AEI. Even at that early point in the narrative, it contradicts the world as imagined by his least persuasive critics.
Mr. Frum left NRO to launch his own Web site, knowing it would be a money loser (prior to its launch I attended a meeting where he set forth his plans and solicited advice from folks at various magazines. He said up front that he'd set aside money to spend on what was then New Majority, and that he never expected it to be a lucrative or profitable endeavor.) He has since lost that 6 figure gig at AEI, and posts lots of stuff on his website that he could get paid to write elsewhere.
It boggles my mind that Mr. Hawkins is unaware of the Washington DC market for political punditry, and that the vast majority of the most handsomely paid people have picked a side and assiduously avoided ruffling the wrong feathers.
Mr. Frum is a savvy guy. It doesn't escape his notice when Jonah Goldberg, to cite one example, benefits enormously from having his book touted by Glenn Beck. Indeed, Liberal Fascism sold so well, thanks in large part to Mr. Beck, that Mr. Goldberg got a seven figure advance on his next effort. So why, according to the John Hawkins theory of David Frum, hasn't he attempted to ingratiate himself to the Fox News host and reap a similar bounty? Because he is so well compensated by Newsweek? (And incidentally, Mr. Goldberg himself -- and I am not disparaging him here -- also writes a column for the Los Angeles Times. Apparently you can defend Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and still get gigs in the mainstream media!)
If you were going to opportunistically sell your beliefs to the highest bidder, would you go to Roger Ailes or Jon Meacham? Mr. Hawkins would have us believe the latter, when in fact, you go to Newsweek (full disclosure: I've written a couple freelance pieces for their Web site) if you want to persuade as large a number of people as possible that you're right. It is one thing to question someone's motives, and quite another to make accusations of lucre that make no sense given the reality of the monetary incentives writers and intellectuals encounter in the political realm.
Interested in money? Hitch your wagon to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. They know how to deliver. Interested in intellectual honesty and self-respect? That they cannot offer, and while some people operate in their orbit without behaving dishonorably, it is very difficult to do so. Mr. Frum is perfectly capable of playing their game, and whatever his flaws, he deserves enormous credit for foregoing that path in favor of a launching Web project that costs him money, and won't offer wealth commensurate with what he could earn keeping his mouth shut inside the movement even if it is enormously successful.