Monday, May 18, 2020

Paul Matzko's "The Radio Right"

Paul Matzko is a historian who specializes in the intersection of politics, religion, and mass media in modern America. He currently works at the Cato Institute as the Assistant Editor for Tech and Innovation for and is the host of the weekly podcast Building Tomorrow.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Radio Right: How a Band of Broadcasters Took on the Federal Government and Built the Modern Conservative Movement, and reported the following:
To summarize, page 99 [inset below left; click to enlarge] drops the reader into the middle of President John F. Kennedy’s preparations to censor those conservative radio broadcasters who criticized his administration. This particular page discusses his working relationship with his brother, US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy--who kept track of the day to day operations of the censorship campaign--and their plan to target the offending broadcasters with audits by the Internal Revenue Service.

Page 99 is not the best place to start reading because understanding what’s going on requires significant information from the previous chapter, namely, this thing called the “Reuther Memorandum” referenced in the chapter title. It’s also not the worst place to start because it doesn’t take a professional historian to be able to tell from reading just this page that some kind of political skullduggery is involved.

If the idea that President Kennedy targeted his political opponents with IRS audits surprises you, then buckle in for the rest of the book! The Kennedy administration also leaned on the Federal Communications Commission to selectively enforce its regulations (known as the “Fairness Doctrine”) against radio stations airing conservative programming; the threat was that either stations stop doing so or they would face problems when it came time to renew their station licenses. To aid in that effort, the administration and its allies at the Democratic National Committee also secretly created two front organizations to launder money and administration talking points and to lodge Fairness Doctrine complaints against recalcitrant stations. The pressure campaign outlived Kennedy and continued into the late-1960s, by which time hundreds of station owners had dropped conservative broadcasting. It was the most successful episode of government censorship of the past half century, and, until now, the most successfully concealed.
Visit Paul Matzko's website.

--Marshal Zeringue