Circle the Volvo's!
Building a "Grassroots" Political Newspaper
By Scott Henson
July 1991; pages 4, 10; Volume 2, No. 7
The Madison Center for Educational Affairs (MCEA) is a neoconservative non-profit organization that has become a focal point for the right-wing political movement on campuses across the country. Formed September 1, 1990, through a merger between the Madison Center and the Institute for Educational Affairs, MCEA in the last academic year expanded its budget to over $1 million, and its agents and allies were sources for much of the recent propaganda campaign surrounding "political correctness" and the "politicization" of the academy.
(from the 1990 Annual Report)
Peter L. Arnold
Mrs. Somers von Behren
The Bodman Foundation
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
W.H. Brady Foundation
The Carthage Foundation
Peter B. Clark
Clarence and Joan F. Coleman Charitable Foundation
Sylvan Coleman Foundation
Committee for the Free World
Adolph Coors Foundation
Deloitte & Touche
The Dow Chemical Company
John C. Freeman, M.D.
Mr. and Mrs. Roger Hertog
Eileen S. and Bruce H. Hooper
Harley B. Howcott, Jr.
The J.M. Foundation
The Joyce Foundation
F.M. Kirby Foundation, Inc.
Nancy B. Krieble
Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky
Liberty Fund, Inc.
Lilly Endowment, Inc.
Jack and Gloria Louis Foundation
Neil A. McConnell Foundation
Michael J. Morsberger
National Starch and Chemical Foundation
John M. Olin Foundation
Olin Corporation Charitable Trust
Lovett C. Peters Charitable Trust
Billy Rose Foundation
Sarah Scaife Foundation
The Schultz Foundation
Charles D. Sears
Ralph M. Segall
Share Foundation, Inc.
Smith Richardson Foundation
Leonard M. and Jane T. Trosten
The Sam M. and Helen R. Walton Foundation
In the next year MCEA will become even more prominent, with a slew of projects that will almost assuredly result in another wave of left-bashing and "politically correct"-baiting in the academy. Meanwhile, the organization continues to fund its stable of right-wing student newspapers, including the University Review at UT-Austin, to promote the appearance of grass-roots support.
The three-year old Madison Center is a relative newcomer to the campus scene, but its merger partner has a long track record. The Institute for Educational Affairs (IEA) was founded in 1978 by neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol and William Simon, Treasury Secretary under Nixon, John M. Olin Foundation president and libertarian ideologue with the financial help of the Smith-Richardson Foundation whose president at the time was Leslie Lenkowsky.
Starting an "Independent" Newspaper
In 1980, IEA began funding right-wing student newspapers to support conservative organizing on campus. IEA at first only supplied grants to student papers, until Lenkowsky came on in 1985 to run the operation. Lenkowsky had in 1983 left Smith-Richardson to take an interim appointment as Deputy Director of the U.S. Information Agency. But in May 1984 he was turned down by the U.S. Senate for a permanent appointment after allegations that he blacklisted liberal speakers at USIA - a charged which he denied.
In 1986, one year after Lenkowsky took charge, IEA expanded its operations and began offering "editorial and management advice" to supplement its grant money. IEA installed a toll-free "hotline" for student editors, revamped the IEA newsletter, Newslink, to contain "installments of a brand-new editorial handbook; story ideas; clippings on campus issues from the national media; practical tips on matters like selling ads, recruiting staff, and fundraising; and news of alumni who have gone on to careers in journalism and public service."
IEA also began holding a series of conferences to teach nuts-and-bolts journalism skills like reporting, editing, layout, etc. to the unitiated. IEA staff members began annual site visits. It even operates a national advertising consortium, where the national association sells advertising - say, to Domino's Pizza or to Coors beer - and the student papers run the ads and collect the money. "A program to provide the editors with important books, magazines, newsletters and pamphlets on contemporary issues and on publishing techniques" began in conjunction with other right-wing groups. The whole shooting match was renamed "The Collegiate Network," to give it greater "espirit.."
What is to be Done?
As of May 1991, MCEA supports 64 conservative student papers around the country including the University Review at UT-Austin. MCEA continues this program as one of its most important strategies to fight curriculum reform and affirmative action on college campuses. The student publications have a combined circulation of about 500,000, and an annual budget of well over $1 million. (The Dartmouth Review alone received a $150,000 grant from the Olin Foundation in 1989 independent of MCEA) Next fall MCEA plans to produce a new quarterly magazine devoted solely to race issues. Tentatively called "Diversity," MCEA expects its circulation to begin at 100,000 and will, at least in the beginning, distribute most copies free of charge.
"Independent" right-wing college papers, according to a pre-merger IEA representative interviewed last summer, typically receive $1,500 semesterly grants. In 1990, MCEA spent over $330,000 on the Collegiate Network, according to its annual report, including more than $125,000 in grants to student papers. The organization also has a "hot line" where student editors can call for technical advice on newspaper production, and MCEA contributes national advertisers. In addition, IEA funds skills seminars and its representatives perdiocally inspect and advise local papers in person.
The University Review isn't the only right-wing "independent" student newspaper in Texas affiliated with the Collegiate Network. In March of this year, the Houston Clarion, based at the University of Houston, joined the MCEA ranks. In addition, the Rice Sentinel, an MCEA paper also in Houston, started up in 1990. The Sentinel declares in its staffbox that the paper "is not affiliated with any party or social group," and that it "receives no support, financial or otherwise, from Rice University," but it doesn't address the issue of MCEA funding. The Sentinel contains no advertising in its April 1991 issue - neither does the March issue of the Clarion.
But instead of "political correctness" Lukefahr labels this phenomenon "conservative bulimia."
Similarly, the only paid ads in the April University Review were from the National Association of Scholars and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a Pennsylvania-based right-wing think tank founded by William Buckley in the 1950s. Most of the 64 newspapers in the Collegiate Network receive grants from the Madison Center to stay afloat. But do student papers really toe the party line for these rightist groups? In April 1991 the Rice Sentinel reprinted an article by Dinesh D'Souza straight from the MCEA Newslink newsletter. And the cover art for the lead story in the April/University Review ("Are You PC?") appeared just two months later on some Accuracy in Academia literature at its Washington D.C. conference (see chastisements).
Producing the "Politically Correct" Debate
But perhaps the most blatant example of students parroting the national party line came in the Houston Clarion, where a young writing tellingly footnoted his March 1991 article: an "Introduction to Political Correctness." Of the 10 references, two cited right-wing demagogue George Will, two more came from the Rice Sentinel, one came from the "Accuracy in Academia" newsletter Campus Report, and three sources came from publications of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Other examples of MCEA foisting its positions upon students are even more blatant. In the May 1991 issue of Newslink, for example, MCEA representatives suggest that student reporters write follow-up stories about a recent federal court of appeals decision which "ruled against a professor who was admonished by the University of Alabama for 'injectung religious beliefs into classes.'" MCEA wants students journalists to query "How does this court's decision apply to other forms of biased instruction?" The article tells student journalists to "Use the decision to question the Dean of Faculty and faculty members: does this apply only to religious bias, or should professors who bring unrelated views, Marxist and feminist, for example, into the classroom be chastised as well?"
These types of specious arguments permeate the "political correctness" debate. The federal court, of course, was ruling on the constitutional separation of church and state - there's no constitutional separation of political philosophy and the state, and in fact the notion would be absurd. Even so, this example shows one of the mechanisms through which a handful of well-funded right-wing institutions can disseminate their malicious drivel from the center - Washington D.C. - to the periphery around the country.
Despite their use (ad naseum) of the derogatory epithet "politically correct," MCEA papers aren't immune to their own brand of "political correctness" or to administering "ideological purity tests." In the May 1991 issue of Newslink, the newsletter of the Collegiate Network, MCEA staffer Bob Lukefahr complains of student editors at Madison Center-sponsored papers who "purge" their fellow journalists for ideological reasons.
But instead of "political correctness," Lukefahr labels this phenomenon "conservative bulimia." Lukefahr explains: "I've seen the symptoms in far too many of my recent site visits. The staff is usually haughty. They don't like the College Republicans, or the 'libertarian faction,' or the 'squishy moderates' at their own papers. Indeed, the editor usually becomes quite animated, full of enthusiam even, as he talks about the staff infidels who he thinks are dragging the paper in 'the wrong direction.' (Strangely enough, many people seem to delight [his italics] in the notion of an impending purge.) My diagnosis is usually right on target: the staff has conservative bulimia."
Elsewhere in the newsletter, referring this time to the campus left, Lukefahr complains that "campuses are still populated by far too many students who oppose the free exchange of ideas." Lukefahr never addresses the contradiction that arises when right-wing student newspapers - which constitute the front lines of the "political correctness" assault - conduct their own ideological purges. Instead he wants to gloss over the differences: "Once the establishment press is as open to your views as they profess to be already," Lukefahr writes, "then you can argue publicly amongst yourselves. For the time being, you need to circle the Volvos and protect your small community from the egalitarian savages who are after your scalps."
But MCEA doesn't spend $330,000 annually to train student editors so they can disappear into corporate anonymity after a couple of years battling the liberal dragon. MCEA has therefore installed mechanisms to ensure that its young vassals are introduced to the right people. One student editor of the Vassar Spectator, for example, spent a one-year internship at The New Republic before going on to edit the conservative Freedom Review.
MCEA internships in 1990 included full-year positions for MCEA editors at The New Republic and Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars. MCEA student editors also interned at the Office of the Vice President, the Bradley Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, NBC News, and Policy Review, the theoretical organ of the Heritage Foundation. MCEA, along with the Olin Foundation, helped fund the writing of D'Souza's book through its Grants to Scholars program.
MCEA's budget, according to its 1990 annual report, is currently growing faster than its directors can spend the money. MCEA begins 1991 carrying more than $565,000 over from last year, when its aggregate expenditures totalled $1,035,457. Of that, 32 percent went to the student journalism program, 12 percent ($120,930 in 1990) went to the college guide, 7 percent went to editorial internships, and 23 percent ($240,000 in 1990) for its Grants to Scholars program. This enormous budget came from just 54 donors in 1990 (see chart). This is no more a "grassroots" political movement on campuses, than the federal government is a "grassroots" political organization.