A little history will explain the column's success. Tom Johnson, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, opened the syndication door for me in 1984. It was a time when liberals dominated the op-ed page. Tom is both a liberal Democrat and a good friend. I have known him since his days in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. Tom practices pluralism. He bought my argument that there were too few conservative columnists, especially ones writing about values, faith and culture. He took a chance on a guy from a broadcast news background. He hasn't come over to "my side," but he practices the principles of the First Amendment as well as anyone in the news business.
In building the column, I told editors they were missing a significant demographic: politically and religiously conservative people who had stopped reading their newspapers because they didn't see their views represented. Most did not want to censor liberals (though a few did). They wanted to be included in the pluralism about which they hear so much. I told editors if they bought this column, they would be rewarded with hundreds of new subscriptions. They did and they were. As I traveled across America, I found that a majority of my conservative audiences no longer read their local paper, but most said they would if the paper carried me. That's just old-fashioned door-to-door salesmanship.
One more point. Liberals have many outlets for their ideas. They have the three broadcast networks, PBS, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and most of the big newspapers. (Only one conservative columnist is employed and regularly carried by The New York Times and he rarely challenges that newspaper's liberal social agenda.) In light of such ideological media imbalance, the liberal claim that Fox News Channel exists does not cancel their overwhelming media advantage.
The Media Matters survey is not only wrong about the number of newspapers that subscribe to George Will's and my columns; it's also wrong in its presumption that we are overly "influential" (whatever that means).
So, what conclusion should be reached? Only that Media Matters doesn't.
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