Jul 3, 2022 • 58M

Theory of Change #043: Nicole Hemmer on how right-wing media holds American reaction together

Historian Nicole Hemmer discusses how reactionary media have radicalized millions of Americans since the 1940s

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Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? History is filled with stories of people and institutions that spent big and devoted many resources to effect change but have little to show for it. By contrast, many societal developments have happened without forethought from anyone. And of course, change can be negative as well as positive. In each episode of this weekly program, Theory of Change host Matthew Sheffield delves deep with guests to discuss larger trends in politics, religion, media, and technology.
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Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity gives instructions to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) onstage at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. February 26, 2015. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Episode Summary

Politics in the United States has been so incredibly erratic since 2015 when Donald Trump began his political career in earnest. Much has been written and spoken about how Trump has transformed the Republican party by empowering its large extremist faction.

But it’s also the case that Trump transformed the complex and large advocacy media apparatus that the American right has been building for itself since the 1940s. In fact, you could argue that while more than a few Republican politicians are trying to copy Trump’s angry and conspiratorial rhetoric, his political ascent in the GOP actually had more of an impact on the right wing media. While conspiracy websites, talk show hosts, and writers have always found some success among American conservatives, the ultra reactionary dynamic that now prevails in right wing media is unparalleled in our history.

Joining me to discuss all this today is Nicole Hemmer. She’s a historian of American media who wrote a terrific book called Messengers of the Right about the emergence of right wing media in the 1940s. She’s also a contributor to a new book that just came out called The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical Assessment. And she’s got another book that will be released soon called Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s.

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