NPR Twice Promoted David Weigel as Chronicler of Conservative Extremism

The idea that Washington Post writer David Weigel was supposed to be a conservative -- and not merely someone reporting on the conservative movement -- was clearly not based on a review of Weigel's output. Weigel didn't just deconstruct conservatives for the Post, but was also presented twice recently by National Public Radio as a wise man assessing the fringiness of conservatives. Last October, they wanted to know how strange Fox News was, and whether they could be blamed for Tea Party protests. Weigel called their influence "massive." Weigel typically suggested Fox and Glenn Beck were not "realistic" in painting President Obama as connected to ACORN and the SEIU.

On NPR's Fresh Air on February 23, before he joined the Post, Weigel reported on CPAC and the Tea Party and embraced host Terry Gross's idea that conservatives shouldn't be big fans of government-enhancing Dick Cheney: 

GROSS: So if the conservative movement is glad that Bush isn't around anymore, and if they think that he embraced big government, why was Dick Cheney such a rock star at CPAC? I mean, if anything, Cheney is the person most responsible for the expansion of the powers of the executive branch.

WEIGEL: Well...

GROSS: And Cheney was the person who - was the architect in a - one of the architects of the war in Iraq, which was certainly government getting us into a very long war, a war that many people think was not only fought on false premises but many people believe has been very destructive both to America and Iraq. So why did he get such the rousing welcome that he did, if in many ways he represented the expansion of government's power?

WEIGEL: That's an excellent point, it's just that he represents a specific kind of government expansion, the expansion of the national security state and the expansion of America's role in spreading democracy around the world with military action.

Those are very popular with conservatives, and that's a dispute. CPAC was pretty convivial this year, but the dispute that existed there was between more Ron Paul-type activists who think America should pull back from engagement in the world and wiretapping and all these debates that are hot right now, and the more traditional conservatives, who think anything that the president needs to kill terrorists is justifiable.

So that's why he was cheered. Cheney was a surprise guest who was introduced by his daughter, Liz Cheney, who has become a pretty successful pundit, basically making that argument, arguing sometimes against reality that everything Barack Obama does is aiding terrorists and making America less safe. That got huge cheers.

Weigel also talked about how CPAC organizers were downplaying a presidential straw poll that Ron Paul won, and the idea that Weigel's libertarian doesn't come through in this segment:

WEIGEL: But conservatives were united in trying to diminish this result, because they don't want their image to the American people to be a septuagenarian politician who bangs on about the need to pull - you know, to close down American bases and speaks at meetings of the John Birch Society. I mean, it was accidentally very revealing of how far right the party has gotten.

GROSS: Do you mean that Paul's victory is representative of how far right the party has gotten?

WEIGEL: Oh, yeah, this is an unscientific straw poll that was conducted, but they've all been unscientific straw polls, and they usually don't end with this very libertarian - and libertarian is a term that gets tossed around a lot. Paul specifically is one of these guys who thinks we just really need to roll back the federal government to at least what it was like before 1912, before the progressive movement. Actually, I correct myself: before Teddy Roosevelt.

Weigel also suggested the Tea Party movement weren't Dick Armey's puppets, but they didn't know which bills to oppose until Armey told them: 

GROSS: The Tea Party movement wants to be something new and different and have some impact on the Republican Party. But one of the chief funders of parts of the Tea Party movement is Dick Armey, through his organization Freedom Works. And Dick Armey is really, you know, a voice of the past. I mean he was one of the - he was a Republican leader during the Clinton administration and goes back before that. Like, when was he in Congress?

WEIGEL: He was elected in 1984 and he left on his own volition in 2002. I mean he was in no danger of being defeated. He just retired to become, like a lot of former congressmen, a lobbyist with some political interests.

GROSS: Okay. So what are his interests in funding the Tea Party movement?

WEIGEL: One thing Armey would say is that he doesnt fund the Tea Party movement. He loves to contrast what they see as union thugs and ACORN putting Democratic rallies together with Tea Party people gassing up their cars and driving to Washington for his rallies. There's some dishonesty there. (Laughter)

I mean Freedom Works is always on the scene. It helps set these things up. It's got full-time activists who help get permits. And I mean I've been to a couple of events at Freedom Works' office where theyll have huge, you know, nice buffet spreads and things like that for Tea Party activists and conservative bloggers to meet and strategize. But it's not a ton of money they're spending. He has figured out that the very libertarian beliefs he's had for a long time, which he always thought had some sort of, you know, if not a majority support, some huge support in the country he just couldnt locate, well, that support's been located. So he is happily steering these guys and giving them candidates they can support and giving them policies they can support.

I mean Tea Party activists are not - do not come to these rallies with a set of political goals. They generally believe the things I've been talking about - about the Constitution, about how Obama's trying to wreck it. But for them to come out against a bill or believe that that bill contains a provision that's going to kill their grandmothers, something like that, that is coming from people like Armey, who have these interests - have lobbying interests in some respects, who want that message to get out there. And that's what you see.

I mean I dont - I really don't think that conservative activists at the top like Armey have been puppeteering this movement. I mean they're right, it was - it did spring out of some part of the American map in reaction to Obama's policies. But they are telling it what it should stand for as much as Fox News is informing them what Obama is doing that they should be opposing.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis