Beyond the Bubble: Rightwing newsletter tries to decipher the conservative news media for outsiders
Nearly six years into monitoring the content of conservative media outlets for his website and newsletter The Righting, Howard Polskin has not lost the capacity for surprise.
Case in point: when Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential candidacy, and many of his long-time media allies let fly with anger and insults. Two impeachments, two years of election denials and a U.S. Capitol riot didn’t have the impact of a disappointing showing by Republicans in the midterm elections.
“I didn’t expect the level of vitriol, there’s no question about it,” he said.
Trump’s inauguration in 2017 started Polskin on his journey. A New York-based former reporter and publicist for the likes of CNN and J.K. Rowling, Polskin was mystified at why his fellow Americans had elected Trump, and sought explanations.
He began studying outlets popular with conservatives and sending links to fellow left-leaning friends who wouldn’t think of clicking on the Washington Free Beacon, the Epoch Times, PJ Media or Chicks on the Right.
“I didn’t start it as a business,” he said. “I started it for myself.”
It has grown into a newsletter with subscribers that number nearly 10,000 and a website. Polskin, with a former Newsweek editor and freelance writers, does original reporting on people behind the outlets and coverage trends like the targeting of transgender rights and how powerful women of color are disparaged. He’s produced an “A-Z Guide to Right Wing Media” with 130 entries.
The Righting also follows which sites are gaining and losing popularity in an industry fully dominated by FoxNews.com.
Polskin is impatient for more people who are not enmeshed in conservative media to read what he’s compiling. He received an important endorsement when California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in September that he reads The Righting each morning.
Newsom told Politico that it gave him “a different appreciation and a different understanding of the ruthlessness of the right.”
People who are not fans don’t appreciate the breadth of the conservative media ecosystem, and how it has spread beyond radio and websites into podcasting, publishing and YouTube channels, Polskin said. The left doesn’t come anywhere close.
He’s not switched sides, but Polskin admits his work has pushed him more toward the political center. He’s grown to appreciate the talents of certain writers, like Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter, a lawyer and former stand-up comic, and Ray Cardello, a blogger from New Hampshire.
“Prior to The Righting, I never went to these sites and it has opened my mind to a different way of thinking,” he said. “While I might not agree with it all the time, I get the underlying philosophy.”
He worries about the sites succeeding in painting Democrats as having views on the fringe and making them unpalatable to many Americans.
Scroll through some of the headlines Polskin has collected and you’ll find conventional conservative wisdom mixed with some that border on the bizarre: “Wokeness is the Acid Dissolving Christianity,” “Unvaccinated Women Shun Vaccinated Single Men,” “Climate Extremism is Making Americans Mentally Ill” and “DeSantis Flashes his Alpha-Dog Energy in Meeting with Diminished Biden.”
Pre-election newsletters contain an assortment of cold takes: “Bet the House on a GOP Landslide,” “Even Dems Now Realize Midterm Elections Will be a Bloodbath,” “All Signs Point to a Landslide for Liberty” and “Fetterman is Toast.”
“I might ridicule something, but I’m careful with that,” Polskin said. “I don’t want to get in a war with anyone. It would be time-consuming and distracting.”
For now, Polskin said The Righting is “a brand in search of a business.” A Ford Foundation grant he received in May provides the bulk of the funding, and Polskin is exploring ways to have readers donate. It has no advertising. Polskin isn’t opposed to that, although he did turn down an ad request from a gun manufacturer.
“I enjoy Howard quite a bit,” said Cardello, whose “Conservative View from New Hampshire” blog is often quoted in The Righting. “I know what side he comes from, but you can still have a civil conversation with him.”
That hasn’t always been the case with friends and even relatives since Cardello started putting his views online. He said he appreciates the exposure Polskin has given his writing to people of all points of view.
“Otherwise you’re just singing for the choir,” he said. “I put my work out there and if the only people who read it are conservatives … what have I really accomplished?”
Polskin said he saw real anger in the conservative press about the midterm election results and a need to blame someone. Trump was the most obvious choice.
He is interested to see whether the break with Trump is permanent — and it is by no means unanimous. In one sign of softening, WND wrote that “Trump has promised to Make America Great Again — and he is probably the only person who can do it.”
And there is always the tried-and-true target, as a headline in the Gateway Pundit illustrated: “Dems Steal Midterms as Communism Comes to America.”