Postcards from the Edge (And By ‘Edge,’ I Mean ‘CPAC’)

Karl Frisch

By Karl Frisch

As the week comes to an end, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will rage on, with Fox News host Glenn Beck slated to deliver the gathering’s keynote address on Saturday evening. It is unclear at this time whether Beck will have his trusty blackboard in tow.

Beck’s appearance cements the hold conservative media figures have on the movement. Remember, radio host Rush Limbaugh was last year’s keynote speaker.

For those watching closely, it’s becoming pretty clear how all of this works. Limbaugh says, "I hope Obama fails," and he’s offered the plum speaking role. Beck calls Obama a "racist" who has "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture," and he gets tapped for the honor.

Ladies and gentlemen, your modern right-wing, media-driven conservative movement.

It appears that Limbaugh and Beck have taught their followers well. This year’s lineup of CPAC speakers has been as light on truth and heavy on hateful vitriol as their leaders could possibly expect.

Young America’s Foundation spokesman and frequent Fox News guest Jason Mattera got things off to an interesting start. Speaking in a crowded Washington, D.C., ballroom, Mattera said to applause and laughter, "[O]ur notion of freedom doesn’t consist of snorting cocaine, which is certainly one thing that separates us from Barack Obama."

I suppose it never occurred to Mattera that his words might make Beck, the center-ring attraction at this year’s CPAC circus, a bit uncomfortable. After all, the Fox News host has admitted to having had a cocaine problem, saying in a 2008 DVD, "I think by 24, I was making about $300,000 a year, and most of it went directly up my nose."

Mattera went on to mock college feminism classes, describing what may be his "all-time favorite" — an Occidental College course that "deconstructs what it means to be a feminist new black man." He advised the audience to think of "a feminist new black man" as a "crossover between RuPaul and Barney Frank." I’ve squared off with Mattera twice before on television, and in one instance, he deployed racially charged invective, and in the other, a homophobic slur. So I guess this was to be expected.

One thing became abundantly clear as the conference trudged on: Conservatives, like first-graders, love telling the same jokes over and over. As Media Matters‘ Brian Frederick rightly noted, CPAC might as well have called itself the Conservative Teleprompter Conference of 2010, given that the legacy of this year’s conference is shaping up to be little more than a bunch of lame teleprompter jokes. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that many of these jokes were made from a podium equipped with … yep, a teleprompter. Even Kathryn Lopez of the conservative National Review Online seemed to notice the bizarre fixation, posting the following to her Twitter profile: "I’ve heard at least three teleprompter jokes already. In front of a teleprompter. Godspeed to the man who uses the teleprompter."

Yes, this year’s conference has featured as speakers both Stephen Baldwin — who called Obama "homey" — and some guy from 1985’s The Goonies who now does voiceover work on videos about demon sheep and who said Obama was "probably" planning to use Gitmo to imprison Andrew Breitbart and Ann Coulter. But CPAC hasn’t been all fun and games.

Former House Majority Leader and FreedomWorks founder Dick Armey, who, along with Fox News, is a driving force behind the Tea Party movement, mocked the idea of a "crisis in health care" and let us all in on what he considers to be the toughest issue facing the U.S. when he proclaimed that "the number one biggest problem in America is the physical size of this government."

Singing from the same songbook, George Will lent the credibility of his employers — The Washington Post, Newsweek, and ABC News — to the gathering for a speech riddled with misinformation, including the tired right-wing canard that the New Deal failed. Will also dabbled in the land of conspiracy theories — popular territory for those assembled — by suggesting the Obama administration is creating a fiscal crisis to enlarge the government.

Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog, gave a shout-out to Media Matters, calling those who work here "the guys who can’t get jobs anywhere else" — which is odd, because he and I worked together at MSNBC (heretofore known as "anywhere else") for a few days during the 2004 presidential election. However, Erickson did offer up some honesty while discussing the right wing’s infrastructure when he noted, "[W]e’ve got Fox News." And for those wondering aloud at home: Yes, this is the same Erickson who CNN turned to for commentary on Obama’s State of the Union address this year.

What right-wing gathering would truly be complete without kudos for MSNBC’s resident bigot, Pat Buchanan, from Michele Bachmann, the kooky congresswoman from Minnesota? Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey, who was named "Blogger of the Year" by a live-via-satellite Rush Limbaugh, praised Bachmann as "a tea party activist before the tea arrived." Bachmann, in turn, challenged the audience to convert a liberal into a "Pat Buchanan, WorldNetDaily-reading conservative," thus completing the triangle of delusion.

Former Vice President Darth Cheney and his daughter Liz made an appearance as well. Liz, who for months now has been on what can be described only as the Bush/Cheney-legacy-repair media tour, used her turn on the podium to promote the creaky right-wing narrative that Obama is an America apologist, saying the president needs to "stop apologizing for this great nation and start defending her." I can think of a few things for which her father might wish to apologize.

CPAC is also home to many media conservative you’ve probably never heard of, like XPAC outreach leader and gay-hating bigot Kevin McCullough. XPAC is for the young CPAC attendees, because as we all know, adding an "X" to your name makes you hip and totally xool. McCullough, a radio host and blogger, has made a career out of bashing gays for their "perverse" lifestyle of "nihilism, narcissism and compulsive sexual addiction." As CPAC speaker, McCullough said he was "not that terribly disturbed" that his birther friend, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, is challenging Sen. John McCain in the Arizona GOP Senate primary. In a failed attempt to channel civil-rights icon Rosa Parks, he went on to say that young conservative activists "will not sit at the back of the bus." And in a slap in the face to the greatest generation, he said "saving freedom" from academia and government is the "greatest task" asked of a generation, except "perhaps" the World War II generation.

Anyone who has followed CPAC over the years likely isn’t surprised by the antics on display at its 2010 incarnation — CPAC has always been a welcoming venue for the far-right fringe.

With one day left in the gathering, including Beck’s keynote, the crazy is sure to continue. You can keep up to speed by checking out Media Mattersongoing live coverage or by following @MMFA and @KarlFrisch on Twitter.

Other major stories

Happy birthday to Glenn Beck’s crazy-talk chalkboard!

A year ago, Beck rolled out the first in a long series of increasingly bizarre blackboard scrawls and graphics intended to link Obama and the progressive movement to extremists and dictators and otherwise illustrate Beck’s conspiratorial worldview. Throughout the year, he has used chalk, markers, and Fox News’ graphics department to bring his theories to life in vivid detail. To help celebrate the blackboard’s first birthday, Media Matters has reviewed Beck’s charts and detailed them in a special report you won’t want to miss.

Award-winning journalist Will Bunch joins Media Matters

This week, Media Matters announced that award-winning journalist Will Bunch will be joining the organization as a senior fellow. A senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and author of its popular blog Attytood, Bunch was named the city’s best blogger by Philadelphia Magazine in 2008 and best columnist by the same publication in 2009.

He is the author of a forthcoming book tentatively titled The Backlash (Harper, August 2010) which looks at the conservative media’s role in driving the Tea Party movement. Bunch is also the author of 2009’s Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy (Free Press, February 2009), which examined the calculated effort by the modern conservative movement to canonize the 40th president and its harmful effect on everything from runaway debt to failed energy policies to unchecked greed on Wall Street.

"After three decades as a highly respected journalist, Will Bunch brings to Media Matters a knowledge of media and politics that is unmatched," Media Matters president Eric Burns said in announcing the news. "I am delighted that he will be joining us in the fight for a more honest, accurate media."

Bunch has won numerous journalism awards, including a share of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for spot-news reporting when he worked for New York Newsday. His articles have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, American Prospect, American Journalism Review and numerous other publications.

"I’m thrilled to work with Media Matters in support of my new book, The Backlash," Bunch said. "I’m also excited Media Matters is offering me a wider platform to push for better journalism, which in turn will lead to better democracy."

This week’s media columns

This week’s media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert looks at James O’Keefe and the myth of the ACORN pimp, and Jamison Foser takes on another myth, that of the "liberal" Washington Post opinion pages.

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube or sign up to receive his columns by email.