Mr. Christopher Ruddy
Chief Executive Office
NewsMax Media, Inc
BiographyEditor, CEO and President, Newsmax Media, Inc. Special Mention- Named one of the top 20 new media personalities in the U.S. by Newsweek; former national correspondent, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; former investigative reporter, New York Post; named by Clinton White House #1 press critic. Education- B.A., St. John's University; MSc., London School of Economics, University of London; Media Fellow, Hoover Institute. Personal- Lives in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The New Media: How it Works
Thank you for all coming. Hillary Clinton sent regrets that she was not able to join us today. She said she’s busy running for president. Last night we had a wonderful time; Dick Morris was there. And I mention that because, on a number of levels, it’s really fascinating, because Dick, at one point, was one of the closest people to the Clintons politically one could get. But he has changed and to have someone like that who is now on our side is a very hopeful sign. I think listening to the other side and being open minded caused him to change his mind on a lot of issues. And Dick gave a fascinating discussion of how he felt the new media was changing the course of American politics. And I’m going to bring up some of his points in my remarks today.
I remember something that Winston Churchill said, "If you don’t get in their face, they have a way of stabbing you in the back." So truth is very important, and in a democracy it is probably more important than anywhere else because the people in a republican democratic government have to make decisions. If they’re not fully informed, their decisions will likely be bad. It’s like I make decisions constantly in my company but I have to make decisions about marketing based on previous testing. And if my reports are wrong, my decisions will be wrong.
Over the last few decades, we’ve witnessed the rise of the new left and the rise of the Clintons in the 90’s but the American people were not being fully informed of the facts, and elected Bill Clinton twice. And I even think the Clintons were partially responsible for 9-11 because they laid the ground work for what happened when they stripped our intelligence agencies so severely that 19 high-jackers were able to enter the United States illegally.
And the CIA, the FBI and other intelligence agencies, after spending 30 billion dollars a year, were totally unaware of the plot.
So, I think we have serious troubles in America if we neglect the media and we neglect the flow of information. And the new media -- and I guess people think mostly of the Internet -- is really part of a longer chain of media that has grown and spawned over the past 35 years. And NewsMax is just the latest outlet that’s reaching probably the most people instantly now.
I think of Richard Viguerie, who is probably the grandfather of the new media. He was the one that did all the direct mail back in the 70’s. And he still does direct mail, God bless him. But he started it, and paved the way for the whole Reagan revolution 10 years later by writing those letters exposing what Ted Kennedy was doing in Congress, exposing what the left was doing in the media. And you know, it’s a funny thing, and it still happens today, the conservative media doesn’t have a direct impact like The New York Times or The Washington Post or CNN. A story breaks, and then the liberal media covers it. And it’s all over the radio. We don’t have that affect yet. If a story breaks, it takes months, sometimes years to incubate.
I saw it during the 90’s: the direct mail efforts, the underground media networks really laid the groundwork for Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. But it took years. Now, things are speeding up. I saw it during the swift boat thing we were involved with. But NewsMax was really laying the groundwork with that early in 2004. From March through May, we covered very assiduously John Kerry’s record in Vietnam and the information about his record that was uncovered by the Swift Boat guys.
In fact, I saw historian Douglas Brinkley on television with Brian Lamb of
C-Span, and he said, "You know people started talking about the swift boat issue in the summer of 2004." Well NewsMax was talking about John Kerry’s Vietnam record way back in March and April. So, it’s a sign, I think, that we can lay the groundwork for a big story and be influential.
Newsletters play a big role in influencing the culture. There’s a lot of financial newsletters that cover politics. In fact, sitting next to me is Lee Bellinger, the publisher of The American Sentinel, a very well read publication. It’s not got a huge circulation, but it’s a very influential circulation. And he covers a lot of things going on in Washington and behind the scenes.
The great development was talk radio. Before Rush came along, most talk radio was local in the United States. And the local radio hosts were doing a tremendous job. I know in the state of California, Proposition 13 and the whole tax revolution of the 1970’s, there were about 4 radio hosts, George Putnam, Ray Breme, and about two others in the state. They pushed Proposition 13 which capped property taxes and started the tax revolution which led to Reagan’s rise in 1980. So here again, local new media challenged the establishment and bypassed the establishment media.
And then, of course, we saw the rise of the internet and Drudge and NewsMax and CNS, a lot of different sites that now are regularly challenging what’s happening in the media. And I have to say I don’t have a technical background; I am a reporter, my background is journalism and I was certainly not one of the first on the Internet. It took me a long time. I had one of those old laptops that had a 28 byte connection. And I couldn’t even pull up things in the first couple of years like in ’94-95. Then I got a call from a few people saying you know, there’s this young fellow out in Los Angeles that’s a big fan of yours, and he’s constantly linking to your articles from the Pittsburgh TribuneReview, which was the paper I was working for at the time. And his name is Matt Drudge.
So, I didn’t know anything about him and started looking at his site. So I called him up and said, look, I’m coming in to Los Angeles, come with me. We went out to lunch with George Putnam. And Matt was just like he is today, very quirky guy, very interesting guy, very brilliant. He wore this funny hat even back then, so he was preparing for his role. And this again is before the Lewinski scandal broke.
And he would openly say, "Look, I sit up at night in my boxer shorts in my little Hollywood apartment, and I’m up all night looking through all these stories." He got started when he worked in the gift shop at the CBS studio in Hollywood. And he would hear everybody coming through his shop and all the gossip and apparently, he would find out all kinds of things happening in the news and post them on his site. And he became a tremendous sensation.
And then I thought, wow, this is tremendous. And over the next two years or so, I started following the internet. And in about 1997, I started putting my own articles on my own website and would link to my newspaper in Pittsburgh I was writing for at the time. And I was noticing, this is really interesting; I would go on a radio show, for instance, in various cities, out in Midland, Texas, or in Chicago, and people would be commenting. I would be covering something like the questionable death of Ron Brown, or the Clinton’s latest Whitewater scandal. And I would get calls and people would be questioning me about my articles, they had read them like somebody would read TheNew York Times.
And so there was now this tremendous interplay between the media organizations and now the citizens who were not just hearing about it on radio, but they were now hearing about it on radio, which brought citizen awareness to a new level. They almost felt that they were participating in the story or in the spread of the story. And I just thought this was the most fantastic thing. And I thought wow, if Matt Drudge is doing this as a single operation, others could do this. But Drudge promotes stories; he doesn’t really do investigative stuff, so my idea was to start a news organization that systematically investigated the left.
And so, I started forming the idea of how to put together a news organization and then the Lewinski scandal broke. In fact, on the very day it broke, a group of investors were meeting at the Four Seasons in Washington. And I said, this is enormous, look at what this guy Drudge has done. And we could start doing things as important as this or more important. And we should organize it. So within about a couple months of that scandal breaking, by September of 1998, NewsMax was formed and was officially launched.
And I like to say the rest is history, but I think we’re still making history. And I saw some of the ways that we covered stories was a little different than Drudge and a lot different than the mainstream media. We had to recognize certain facts and certain limitations. And as you start to develop your own little media organization for your groups, always realize that you can’t be a New York Times in the sense of having their resources. You can’t be a CNN or even a Fox News. What you try to do is focus on things you think are important, and that your audience thinks is important and they will follow the story like it’s an unfolding drama.
One of the first stories that broke in 2000 was the Elian Gonzalez story. And it was even controversial among some conservatives. Some conservatives felt he should have been returned to Cuba but NewsMax took a very clear position on the Elian case; Elian should stay with his family here in the United States out of respect for his mother who died on the high seas, and because he would be better off here. To return him would be to return him to an enslaved nation in the custody of Castro. And we came out very, very strongly in favor of keeping Elian in a free country and that story, I think, gained us a lot of notoriety across the country and people who cared about this issue followed us.
We were one of the few media organizations who thought this issue was important. Some conservatives, talk show hosts and others, didn’t even think it was important. And we were also fortunate to be close to Miami, so we were down there frequently covering the event in little Havana.
And I remember that on the day the Swat Team came and assaulted the home of Elian’s Uncle Lazaro, I was there. Mike Reagan, President Reagan’s son had called and said, "I’m coming to Miami to go on a cruise, I want to meet Elian, I’m going to give him my father’s gold cuff links that he gave me." And we’re located in West Palm, about an hour and a half from little Havana, so we drove there and spent the night at a nearby hotel. Mike wanted to do it early in the morning.
And so anyway for a variety of reasons, I was up at like 5:30 AM in the morning and I turned on the TV and they announced the raid just as it was taking place. And I was just about five minutes from the house. So we immediately went to the scene and there was still tear gas in the air, and Donato, the fisherman who rescued Elian, was there. And we raced over there, I got on my cell phone and got one of my editors up, and we started covering it on NewsMax and giving on-the-scene reports on what was happening.
And in a way, we lost that case. We lost it because they won. Janet Reno won. She sent the child back to Castro. And there’s a lawsuit, by the way, still pending, I think they just went to trial. The way these people were treated was really alarming. I saw people that were really severely harmed by the gas and I saw people who were beaten by the shock troops who arrived to clear the area.
So, it was an important story in a lot of ways for NewsMax, but it was also an important story for the country. A number of liberal media people, such as Tom Brokaw, said that Elian won the election for George Bush. Because, as you know, in that very tight election in Florida, the Cuban Americans came out in incredible numbers for Bush, even higher than they did in the previous election.
Again, here’s where the new media can play a role and tell the other side of the story and also play a role in keeping the controversy alive because a lot of times the media refused to cover stories important to conservatives or those that embarrass liberals. And so this is another way that we can play a role.
And then I saw how we played a role in the 2000 election recount crisis. Again, we were in the land of the pregnant chads right there in Palm Beach County. And we reported that before elections closed that night that there were reports of election fraud in Broward County, in Miami Dade, and in Palm Beach. It was pretty obvious there’s was some evidence of an effort to steal that election early.
The Left keeps saying it was stolen but the real story was how the media skewed the election results by predicting the outcome early in the Panhandle part of the state, an action that cost us thousands of votes. They were warned not to do it since doing so would depress the vote among Panhandle voters who were mostly Republicans. But the media didn’t care.
Studies show that the GOP lost anywhere between 10 and 40,000 votes for Bush because all the networks called the state of Florida for Gore early. So, it was a clever trick that they pulled. But I think, again, NewsMax was out there pointing out this story and rallying the troops and serving as an information source for outlets such as Fox News, and talk radio shows.
We have found that we’re sort of the prime feeder for a lot of talk radio stories. The way the media works as a food chain for the liberal establishment is by first getting a story into print, then it’s picked up by the TV networks and by liberal radio, and then the liberal advocacy groups jump in and start calling for policy changes in our legislative bodies. And so it’s this cycle that takes place but conservatives really didn’t have that kind of system but now with the internet, we do.
And so if you follow NewsMax, what you’ll see is that we cover a story continually, and keep reporting on it. Oftentimes Drudge will break a story and we will follow suit. I’ve had people come to me with stories wanting NewsMax to break it first and I say well try Drudge first. I say this because Drudge creates all this excitement and interest in a story, and then we come along and do the hard work and report on it over a long period of time.
NewsMax played a key role in exposing The Reagans, the CBS documentary in which the Reagans were going to be smeared. It came out that Barbara Streisand was funding the film and her husband was going to play Ronald Reagan in this movie. We came out and said that we understood that it was going to be a smear job. When they first announced, they were planning on running it during the election year in a clear effort to influence the elections so we know it would be important for us to start covering it.
So we started a marketing campaign to expose the smear effort with this film in the summer of 2003. When the film came out late in the fall of 2003 and The New YorkTimes actually got a hold of the transcript, it was clear the film was just an out and out hatchet job on both the Reagans, but in particularly upon Mrs. Reagan. And Reagan was being blamed for everything, including causing AIDS. It was a ridiculous film. We sort of led the charge and initiated a campaign to let the FCC know. We also did a campaign to let Viacom know of the displeasure of our readers. I think this was the first time that anyone can remember in our history that a docudrama had actually been pulled from the major network. It ended up appearing on Showtime where very few people saw it. So, along with many other groups, we played a role in exposing this propaganda film that the mainstream media was trying to pass off as a serious biographical film.
It is clear that the power of the media is enormous and the power and its ability to activate people is something we all need to understand. In the run up to the 2004 elections, I don’t think there has been any internet site that’s been more supportive of President Bush than NewsMax has.
NewsMax has a magazine with over 400,000 monthly readers and we did a cover story called "The Media War Against Bush". After speaking to experts, we calculated the value of the in-kind contributions the liberal media gave Kerry by virtue of reporting news that amounted to Kerry campaign ads. And it came out to over $2 billion dollars. So Bush had to fight against not only with the $500 million dollars that Kerry had raised, but also the millions raised by the 537 committees and all the in-kind media he received.
On the conservative side, you have Rush and just a few others but you can almost name the sources that were coming out to defend the president. They were small in number compared to the liberal media sources.
Dick Morris makes a good point in one of his books. He says you know, "It’s a misconception that you need a lot of money to win in political elections if you have a stronger message and a better message, and a message that’s in tune with the people, and that they understand." Truth is actually more powerful than the lies. So, for a lie you have to spend a lot of money to get people to keep repeating it so they’ll become brainwashed. But if you have a good message and the truth to back it up, you can overcome it. He said that this election was really an example of how the bloggers and others who use the internet can have tremendous impact. Everybody that had an e-mail list, for instance, can go out and effect the media. If you have an e-mail list of 100 friends who you send jokes to and then you send them articles, for example, about the Swift Boat veterans, you are influencing people and everybody starts to discuss it, particularly in the Christian community.
I see Colin Hanna is here with Let Freedom Ring, one of the leading groups that got the word out on the marriage amendment and traditional values in a lot of the key states. And that type of thing had a dramatic effect, and it can’t be underestimated what you folks do on the micro level. And it beat out the liberal media.
The liberal media, however, is still very dominant. Many people believe that with all of the profusion of media we actually have more freedom and more diversity of opinion. Not true. It’s actually, I believe, the opposite effect. And here’s how it works.
It used to be the average person would get his news from reading a major newspaper and watching one of the three major networks at night; maybe they listened to the radio and that was about it. But today, we seem to be overwhelmed with news, there’s a lot more news channels, most of them liberal except for Fox. I wouldn’t even say Fox is conservative but rather they’re fair and balanced because they do have a lot of liberals on that show and they do give opposing views. But even the news channels tend to be liberal.
And then you have the nightly news programs like "Sixty Minutes" – there are six news magazine shows now -- and talk show programs during the day that infiltrate news through cultural discussions; shows like Oprah, Jerry Springer, etc. You then have the Internet. Most of the major Internet sites are liberal. Even the Drudge Report. There was actually a study done on Drudge and they said that he actually skews slightly to the left in his reporting. He will, like Fox, put on conservative things, but the study ranked him highly for his reporting on a lot of liberal subjects as well.
And you go through most of the websites, Slate, Salon, CNN, and New YorkTimes. I was on the radio show with Allan Combs the other day, and I told him I read liberal websites regularly. And he was sort of startled and says, "Chris Ruddy, you actually read liberal websites?" I told him of course I did because I wanted to see what the other side is thinking. He asked me to give an example and I said the New York Times and CNN. There’s a couple of others that are more openly liberal with Salon being the most openly left of the websites. And all of these organizations get a lot of traffic.
So my point is that we’re being overwhelmed with information and news and this has made it more difficult for conservatives to be heard and for people to find our information.
Think about books as a media. If you go to a bookstore before the election, you would be assaulted by all the negative books about George Bush, and then you go to the cash register, and they have this calendar, The Wit and Unwisdom of George Bush, and they’re selling it at every Barnes and Noble store in the country; and they’ve sold something like 300,000 copies. It’s a total monopoly that the left has on these bookstores because we couldn’t get, for example, such stores to carry our deck of Hillary cards.
So, it’s a frustrating thing; we really haven’t won the media battle, but we’ve made a very significant beachhead and I think NewsMax has played a key role. We’re only about five and a half years old and according to ratings, our website gets close to two million unique visitors a month. So we’re in the top 25 to 30 news websites if you count the major ones. Now CNN and NBC get tens of millions of hits, and Fox is getting like four million hits. In terms of web traffic, we’re the leading conservative website. Rush Limbaugh, Town Hall, National Review, usually get about a million unique visitors and under. Then we have our magazine which has about 125,000 paid subscribers and a readership of over 450,000 each month. And then our e-mail list has close to a million names on it.
Even though we are all being overwhelmed with spam, email is an important generator of information and gets people to your website and keeps people informed. If there’s anything you can do to influence people on a micro level – such us sending info to an email list - even if it’s 100 people; send them things regularly that’s clearly explained and you will see that even you will have a little power and influence over public opinion. And it’s all these micro actions that are transforming the major media.
What’s the future for us? I think the future is bright in that our effort to counter the liberal dominance of the media continues to grow. We’re also looking at creating some new forms of media. And I think that in the next few years you’re going to see some major developments take place. There’s a very wealthy fellow who has just started launching free daily newspapers. He has one in San Francisco called The San FranciscoExaminer. I was just out there; it’s a great paper, very lively and thick and full of ads. And I was told that it has a very high circulation in the city of San Francisco. I mean talk about liberal ground zero, it has a higher circulation than does the San FranciscoChronicle because it’s free. And they are launching another paper in Washington D.C. in the next couple of weeks. And they’ve registered to have names in about 200 cities across the country. So within 2 or 3 years, if this works well, you could have the whole new media. Again, remember how the media food chain works in the establishment. First they put things in print in the newspapers, and then they get them on your local news, the nightly news, etc. We may soon have one of the largest newspaper outlets in the country being owned by a good conservative.
I’ll end with a little story in honor of President Reagan. Michael Reagan writes for NewsMax. He told me that he once chatted with his father and he asked him how he decided to approve the Grenada operation, because the taking back of Grenada was one of the most important decisions he had to make. And I am sure it wasn’t easy because it was first time he had committed men to die in combat. And President Reagan looked at him and said, "No Mike, it took me about 30 seconds to make the decision." Mike was surprised and said, "Dad, 30 seconds to make that decision? And he said, "Mike, I just asked myself a simple question. What would John Wayne do in a situation like this?"
So, when you’re out to make the big decisions, the big decisions affecting America, the men can ask what would John Wayne do and the women can ask what would Margaret Thatcher do?. And then go out and change the world!