In a piece for The Atlantic on how conservative media "failed the rank and file" with their coverage in the run-up to Mitt Romney's resounding loss last November, Conor Friedersdorf observed that "a lot of cynical people have gotten rich broadcasting and publishing red meat for movement conservative consumption."
To wit, this week Cox Media Group has launched Rare, a new website which endorser Ted Nugent promises "will guarantee the red meat is delivered how real conservatives like it -- rare." Cox owns several daily newspapers including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, almost twenty TV stations, 87 radio stations, and boasted a 2012 revenue of nearly $2 billion. Rare will represent Cox's "first national news product."
Based on the recent history of Rare's Editor-in-Chief Brett Decker -- who served as editor for the toxic Washington Times editorial page during much of President Obama's first term -- and the largely aggregated content posted by the site so far, it's hard to escape the feeling that Rare will be just another megaphone in the conservative echo chamber, albeit one with slicker packaging.
Rare is the latest in an increasingly long line of conservatives sites promising to revolutionize online news, and it's already setting high expectations for itself. According to the lofty promises in promotional materials, Rare will be a "social content hub for modern conservatives" that represents a "real reinvention of the conservative news space" and one of the "few opportunities to actually redefine what news is today."
The results so far are not promising. In the few days since it has launched, Rare has been light on original content, largely aggregating a mix of straight news articles about the big events of the week; articles from established conservative sites like Weekly Standard and CNS News; snide dismissals of climate science; and celebrity gossip (sample headlines include "Amanda Bynes minute-long selfie"). Original content from Rare staff is largely limited to brief, sentence-long "Rare Take" comments on the stories they repost from other outlets.
Outside of those "Rare Takes," Rare is also publishing "Rare original content" op-eds from standard right-wing comentators and politicians. As of this writing, the top story on the site is a column from Ted Nugent, illustrated with a picture of the camo-clad NRA board member standing in front of an American flag with a rifle over his shoulder.
Aside from praise for Rare, the column is boilerplate Nugent, basically indistinguishable from any number of similar columns he has written for Washington Times and WND in recent years (liberals want to "erase the 2nd amendment," etc.).
This sort of reheated right-wing fare is a far cry from what Rare has promised. In a press release, Editor-in-Chief Decker positioned the outlet as a platform for the debate on how conservatism can "rebuild itself into a majority coalition."
In the months following the drubbing the GOP suffered in the 2012 presidential election, several conservatives have pondered the role messaging -- and in the words of David Frum, the "conservative entertainment complex" -- has played in the party's recent electoral woes.
Many of these complaints about the GOP's messaging problem apply directly to the editorial page of the Times during Decker's time as editor. (He resigned from the position in November.)
"Obama's Inevitable Shellacking"
Some of the criticisms targeting conservative media have focused on the way in which the right-wing bubble had led its adherents to believe Mitt Romney was cruising to an easy victory over Obama.
Over the course of the 2012 election cycle, Rare Editor-in-Chief Decker wrote several optimistic columns for The Washington Times about how Obama was headed to almost-certain electoral defeat (sample headlines include "Obama's inevitable shellacking," from May 2012). And he wasn't alone in doing so on the Times' editorial page.
In a September 25, 2012 editorial by the Washington Times editorial board headlined "Rigging the polls," the paper cited the inept analysis of Dean Chambers, the previously unknown blogger who had decided -- based on little more than wishful thinking and paranoia -- that there was a massive conspiracy to "skew" polls in Obama's favor.
Obama's "Mysteriously Missing Birth Certificate"
In January, MSNBC host and former Republican representative Joe Scarborough criticized several prominent conservative commentators like Sean Hannity and Matt Drudge for the "extreme" shift of the party in recent years. According to Scarborough, conservatives' dabbling in things like birtherism contributed to the party losing Middle America and another presidential election.
In early 2011, celebrity reality show host Donald Trump spent an unfortunate amount of time in the political media spotlight by pretending he might run for president. Aided by conservative media outlets, Trump infamously seized on paranoid, discredited conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth certificate to make waves.
While Decker wasn't totally sold on Trump's candidacy, in a column published a couple weeks before Obama publicly embarrassed Trump by releasing his supposedly nonexistent long-form birth certificate, Decker praised Trump for how he "refreshingly...just hangs it all out there."
As an example, Decker cited the way Trump had "gotten immense support for criticizing President Obama for his mysteriously missing birth certificate, an issue most Americans are talking about but which is considered taboo by the liberal establishment." (Decker wrote an earlier column admitting that there were more important issues than "whether little Barry was born in Honolulu or Hartford or Havana," but nonetheless blamed the president's supposed secrecy for the persistence of the conspiracy theories.)
Obama As Portrayed By The Washington Times: A "Cultural Muslim" With "Black Nationalist Sympathies" Who Is "Out To Destroy America"
Writing for Commentary last month, conservative columnist John Podhoretz complained that conservatives have been weighed down by "excessive alarmism" about President Obama, whom they have caricatured as a "not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power."
During Decker's tenure as editorial page editor, the paper ran countless columns painting Obama as an extremist hell-bent on the destruction of American values.
At various points during Obama's first term, contributors to the Washington Times editorial page characterized Obama as a "Machiavellian socialist" and a "radical leftist who seeks to dismantle capitalism"; a "cultural Muslim" who is "betraying the Jews"; a "cultural Muslim who is promoting an anti-American" agenda; a man with a "disturbing pattern" of "black nationalist sympathies"; and someone that is "out to destroy America."
The editorial page also routinely featured outlandish and often Islamophobic illustrations and Photoshops, including one of Obama with a star and crescent on his cheek:
Obama with a star and crescent shaved into his head:
In a promotional video posted at Rare's website, one of the people describing the site explains that "it's not our ideology that needs to change; it's the way we market our ideals." Considering Decker's previous job, he may not be the best person to lead such a charge.