A reporter in right-wing “Crazy Town”

The right-wing media ecosystem is sometimes described as a perpetual scandal machine (recent headlines included “THE GREAT PLAN OF THE LEFT TO DESTROY OUR COUNTRY” and “ELON MUSK IS THE BOSS ALL WAKED LOSERS NEED”), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t occasional droughts. Last Monday morning, as Howard Polskin began scouring right-wing websites for material to TheRighting, the newsletter he founded to provide a daily roundup of conservative commentary, he looked concerned. The previous week, the hearings into the January 6th Capitol bombing had generated a steady stream of headlines provocative enough to serve as subject matter for the bulletin (“THE REAL TARGET OF THE J6 COMMITTEE IS YOU”). But a weekend break had raised the possibility of an unlikely lull. Normally Polskin waits until 10 A M allow himself a chewing gum, but this morning he was chewing nervously at nine o’clock. “We’ll have another in the afternoon, maybe two, if it’s a bad day,” he said.

Seventy-one-year-old Polskin, with bright green eyes and a bushy mustache, sat at the dining room table of his beachfront co-op in Boca Raton. He worked from a handwritten list of fifty conservative outlets, which he goes through every day. He chooses articles for many reasons, but an important factor is having a catchy title. He sends the first seventeen to his newsletter subscribers – a few thousand who include academics and the media, plus a handful of political staffers. “I’m watching what will reveal the heart and soul of the right,” he said. It tries to offer a full range of conservative policies, in an organized form. “So you go crazy like ‘Justin Trudeau: Fidel Castro’s Son.’ But then you also get the the wall street journal to say that freedom is not quite dead.

Polskin has worked in the media industry – reporting for a local New Jersey newspaper, public relations for CNN – for forty-eight years. He created TheRighting after the 2016 election. “Something happened in this country that led to the election of Donald Trump,” he said. “I don’t like it, but I think it needs to be understood better.” Subscriptions are free. A Ford Foundation Fellowship pays occasional freelancers. He is driven more by curiosity than by profit, which is nil; for a week last summer, he stood on a street corner to count if people were wearing masks, just to satisfy his own interest.

In addition to the newsletter, he tracks web traffic to conservative sites and writes trending articles. He thinks Breitbart and Infowars are losing their edge; they were once Polskin’s most consistent source of titles. “More so much more,” he said. “It’s just not as interesting.” Lately, he’s been more inclined to quote the Daily Caller (“Pronoun Police attempt another arrest”); WND(“It’s not a gun crisis, it’s a spiritual crisis”); or NOQ report (“Bill Gates outlines his global buyout plan”).

What about the response to the January 6 hearings? Polskin divided the coverage into three camps. There’s the predictable fare, ridiculing the debates as political hacking. “Then there’s stuff that’s way more, you know, going crazy city.” (He quoted Tucker Carlson.) But, he added, “I’m seeing an increase in some anti-Trump stories, and I’ve actually started making a dossier about it.”

Polskin’s liberal friends sometimes worry that he spends too much time behind enemy lines. “The knee-jerk reaction, to the mainstream and the liberals, is that anything from the right is poison,” he said. “Does this impact a CDC doctor studying coronavirus when looking through a microscope? No. I have a clinical detachment. It’s like I’m an explorer in a new country. Yet , he fears becoming numb to poisonous language, like comparing Anthony Fauci to Josef Mengele.

He went back to looking for titles. The batch of the day was particularly weak. Two were so unclear that he had to paraphrase. A headline by Bill O’Reilly on voter anger at Joe Biden (“It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy world“) became “Bill O’Reilly: Biden could resign for health reasons.”

Polskin also chose some simpler ones:DEMS BEGINS TO PREPARE AMERICA FOR THEIR MEDIUM TERM FLIGHT(“So irresponsible,” he says); “Definitive proof that critical race theory is taught in our schools” (“A kind of evergreen tree”); and “It Seems Trump Misses Black Americans.”

But he still hadn’t found a title worthy of the subject of the newsletter. After nearly an hour of searching, one caught his eye:January 6 was not a coup.” It was from The American Conservative, which Polskin did not consider part of the “mad city”. It was short, punchy, simple. “Any reasonable person would conclude that there was a coup,” he said. “And here we have a pretty respectable conservative publication saying it was not a blow. And I love the phrase, “To stage a coup, you need tanks on the White House lawn.” “He looked relieved. “It ticks a lot of boxes,” he said. ♦

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