Action, Advocacy, and Conservative Watch

Staying informed, and voting are probably the most important actions you can take. Events have moved many of us to want to take some additional action, or to respond to the frequently unchalleged presentation of conservative viewpoints in the media. Below are links and descriptions of some organizations that can help leverage individual responses into collective action, followed by some suggestions for countering right-wing media spin.

Join Together

American Civil Liberties Union
"Defending the Bill of Rights"
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
"... a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom."
Center for Public Integrity
Produces original investigative journalism about significant public issues to make institutional power more transparent and accountable.
Credo Action
A Working Assets publication. Provides background information on current issues, and facilitates contacting elected representatives. Working Assets, offers phone service and credit cards that funnel a percentage of your monthly charges to a number of progressive causes.
Democratic National Committee
Dissatisfied with party leadership? Want a coherent response to the right wing of the Republican party? Tell the DNC! Your donations are needed, too. Information about state issues and events can also be found on the site.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
"Working to protect our fundamental rights regardless of technology; to educate the press, policymakers and the general public about civil liberties issues related to technology; and to act as a defender of those liberties." The EFF Action Center provides alerts on technology and civil liberties issues, and facilitates communication with your elected representatives.
An online grassroots movement, "working to bring ordinary people back into politics.... When there is a disconnect between broad public opinion and legislative action, MoveOn builds electronic advocacy groups." Founded and initially supported by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, has grown to an international community of more than 2,000,000.
Pro-Choice America
Far from a narrow focus on abortion, NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) views reproductive rights in the context of the right to privacy, which it regards as " essential to American freedom as our right to think, vote, worship, work and marry."
National Organization for Women
NOW advocates for reproductive rights, affirmative action, constitutional equality, inclusive definitions of family, and peace.
Organization for progressive activism. Merged in 2007 with TrueMajority, founded by Ben Cohen (of ice cream fame). Promotes social justice, environmental protection, global cooperation, etc.

Counter Right-Wing Spin

Despite its protests about "liberal press," the conservative establishment has mobilized to influence how political issues are presented in US media, and to convey the impression that right-wing positions enjoy more popular support than is in fact the case. Here are some tactics to watch out for, and suggestions for how to respond. See also below for notes on effective advocacy, and a list of conservative organizations with media connections.

Media Watch

What to watch for What's happening and why it's important What you can do
Online polls Most organizations using online polls are careful to point out that they are unscientific. One key reason they are unscientific is that participants are "self selecting," meaning that the poll is only measuring the responses of people motivated to take it. Nonetheless, referring to the results of an online poll, particularly in a broadcast news program, can give the impression of representing popular opinion. Conservatives regularly target online polls so that the results reflect their point of view. If you come across an online political poll, particularly if it's promoted in broadcast media, take it. Some polls allow you to vote more than once. If there's time, let your friends know.
Audience feedback opportunities As with online polls, requests for audience feedback (like email or phone comments about broadcast news or commentary) are an opportunity to influence public perception. And again, conservatives are organized to respond to such opportunities, especially on their favorite issues. Your response can help shape public perception that there are a variety of views on a given issue, and encourage those who share your opinion. The organization requesting feedback will take note of your comment even if it is not aired. In composing your response it's ok to make it known that you feel strongly, but avoid ranting or personal attack. See notes on effective advocacy, below.
Parallel pundits Sometimes news programs will present two pundits or spokespeople, as if they represent opposing points of view, when in reality they are ideologically aligned. Often when this happens, each spokesperson will be identified with a different think tank or lobbying group, with the groups having an underlying conservative orientation, but different emphases. See below for a list of conservative organizations that supply spokespeople and commentators to the media. Call, email or write the news organization to let them know that you are not taken in by the charade. Demand that an authentic opposing point of view be represented. Most news organizations do not want to be seen as presenting biased coverage of issues.
Rhetorical terrorism In "debates" during news and commentary broadcasts, or programs with a discussion group format, conservative spokespeople sometimes disregard customary rules of decorum and debate, refusing to let an opponent articulate their point of view, interrupting, using ridicule, etc. These tactics can have two effects: first, they prevent the progressive, populist, or liberal sound bites from making their way onto the airwaves and into the public consciousness; second, they can put the spokesperson who opposes the conservative point of view on the defensive. Call, email or write the news organization to insist that the moderators enforce decorum and allow both points of view to be heard. You may also consider contacting the victim of rhetorical terrorism to offer support, and encourage him or her to resist attempts to stifle the message.

Effective Advocacy

  • The ACLU points out that elected officials know that some actions are easier to take than others. Sending an email is easier than writing a letter by hand. Writing a letter is easier than visiting them in person. The more time an action takes, the more attention an elected representative is likely to pay.
  • When writing an elected representative:
    • Limit your letter to one page
    • Identify yourself as a constituent
    • Identify your issue. If you're targeting specific legislation try to identify it by bill number. ( provides information about congressional legislation, including the text of bills under consideration.)
    • Make no more than three of your strongest points
    • Personalize the issue. Describe how you and your family are affected.
    • Personalize your relationship to the representative. Did you vote or campaign for her or him?
    • Be courteous but firm. Your representative may not know more about the issue than you do.
  • Letters to the editor or to a broadcast new program reach a large audience and can help create the impression of widespread support for your point of view. Most of the guidelines for writing to your representative apply here, as well. Brevity and focus on one topic are even more important. Try to refer to a specific article or program segment. When writing to a newspaper, include your contact information.
  • Susan Bales of the FrameWorks Institute, a nonprofit group that helps progressive groups communicate better, says that "If the facts don't fit the frame, it's the facts that are rejected, not the frame." The "frame" refers to the context in which the facts are presented. The average person is more likely to be convinced by a human interest story that illustrates the effect of a policy, than by statistics and intellectual arguments.
  • Labels and slogans are important. Newt Gingrich instituted a "pizza fund" on Capitol Hill: any Republican who said "estate tax" instead of "death tax" had to put money in the pizza fund. Today all Republicans say "death tax." Bill Clinton always said "gun safety" instead of "gun control." It's hard to object to "safety." When you're communicating, be aware that the terms you use to frame issues will trigger associations in your audience that may influence them as much as facts or logic.

Conservative Organizations

Below are listed some conservative think tanks, and organizations that work with them to promote conservative opinion in the media.

American Enterprise Institute
One of the premier conservative think tanks, AEI is "dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of freedom—limited government, private enterprise, vital cultural and political institutions, and a strong foreign policy and national defense." Its scholars and fellows include Newt Gingrich, Bush economic adviser R. Glenn Hubbard, Jeane Kirkpatrick, UN ambassador during the Reagan administration, Richard Perle, recently resigned chair of the Defense Policy Board, Michael Ledeen, Oliver North's liaison to Israel during the Iran-Contra affair, ex-CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht who served as the Defense Department's liaison to the Iraqi National Congress, et al.
Americans for Tax Reform
Lobbying organization that brings together advocates of a number of right-wing causes, linked by a common interest in reducing government. Supports a single rate, flat tax, and is supported by Microsoft, Pfizer, AOL Time Warner, R.J. Reynolds and the liquor industry. Serves as a national clearinghouse for approximately 800 state and county groups. ATR President Grover Norquist is a regular contributor to the American Spectator, from whose offices the "Arkansas Project" to smear the Clintons was coordinated.
Benador Associates
A public relations firm whose clients were a "who's who" of the conservative establishment. Founder and CEO Eleana Benador has been associated with anti-Arab Middle East policy groups. She was also photographed at a gathering at the home of a Philadelphia realtor active in Middle East politics, in the company of Senator Joseph Lieberman and former crown prince of Iran, Reza Pahlavi.
Cato Institute
Self-styled "market liberals" this group, funded by the tobacco, oil, investment, pharmaceutical, corporate media, and other industries regulated by the government, is a key player in the Bush administration assault on Social Security, and operates The Cato Institute web site implies that the group is libertarian, although critics note that true libertarians represent a tinu minority of the institute's members. It's primary purpose seems to be to supply academic-sounding propaganda and soundbites for proponents of politically conservative initiatives.
The Center for Security Policy
Claims to "promote world peace through American strength." Staff includes several former members of the Reagan administration.
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Claims to adovcate free-enterprise and limited government, but primarily lobbies against environmental protection. The CEI web site asserts "market institutions more effectively allow for the realization of environmental values than political agencies and bureaucracies." Recent position papers argued that the Kyoto Protocol will harm reef ecology, and warned that the discounts at which governments purchase flu vaccine could cause a pandemic.
Created from the merger of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a deregulation advocacy group funded largely by energy and agri-business, and right-wing think tank Empower America. Free-market fanatic and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is Chairman. The group is behind much of the "astroturf" (i.e. false grassroots) "tea party" conservative movement that has gained media attention from opposing anything in the Obama agenda. The group was also active in promoting centerfold model Scott Brown in his victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election to replace deceased Senator Edward Kennedy.
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
Founded by a group of billionaires, including Leonard Abramson, Michael Steinhardt, and Edgar Bronfman, primarily to mount a public relations effort in defense of the brutal Israeli response to the Palestinian intifada in 2001. Changed its name from "Emet" after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Names associated with FDD include neoconservatives William Kristol, Richard Perle, and Newt Gingrich, but also traditional conservatives like Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer. FDD President Clifford May is a former Communications Director for the Republican National Committee.
Heritage Foundation
Formed to "to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense." Receives substantial financial support from trustee Richard M. Scaife, the publishing billionaire who funded Paula Jones's lawyers through the ultra-conservative Rutherford Institute. The foundation's "experts" include former attorney general Edwin Meese, who was identified in the Walsh report on the Iran-Contra affair as having led the coverup of arms sales.
Hudson Institute
Mission statement says cryptically that it aspires "to be America’s premier source of applied research on enduring policy challenges." Founded by former RAND corporation analyst Herman Kahn, who, it has been suggested, was the model for Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Kahn's 1960 book On Thermonuclear War was called "a moral tract on mass murder; how to plan it, how to commit it, how to get away with it, how to justify it," by Scientific American. Scholars include anti-tort crusader Michael Horowitz, and Max Singer who wrote an article for the New York Sun in April 2002, proposing US occupation of Saudi Oil fields. Trustee Emeriti include Alexander Haig, Dan Quayle, and Pierre du Pont IV.
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
The JINSA web site boasts that it is the only "think tank [that] puts the US-Israel strategic relationship first." Opposes negotiation with Palestinians. Advisory board members include Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Michael Ledeen. Several people likely to figure in the US administration of postwar Iraq are associated with JINSA.
Manhattan Institute
Seeks "to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility." Manhattan Institute is home to Myron Magnet whose The Dream and the Nightmare, the Sixties Legacy to the Underclass is one of Karl Rove's favorite books. In it Magnet seems to argue that liberals are responsible for poverty because anti-poverty programs foster a victim mentality among beneficiaries. Magnet apparently thinks AEI fellow Charles Murray, who Molly Ivins calls a "pseudo-scientific racist," is a brilliant scholar. (Murray's The Bell Curve argued in 1995 that the 15-point average difference in IQ measurements between the white European population of the United States and the African-American population was attributable to genetic factors).
Progress and Freedom Foundation
Founded by Newt Gingrich, PFF lobbied against government regulation, primarily for the telecommunications and technology industries. The policy statements on its web site seem to indicate a focus on commercializing digital technologies, such as the Internet. Supporters included Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Disney, Time Warner, etc. Marvin Olasky, a welfare opponent who converted from Judaism to right-wing Christianity, and is one of the fathers of "compassionate conservative" rhetoric, was a PFF fellow.
Progress for America
Founded in 2001 by Tony Feather, political director for Bush-Cheney 2000, as a way to circumvent the (then anticipated)constraints on campaign financing contained in the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill, which passed in 2002. One of the many organizations labeled "astroturf" because they seek to appear to be grassroots efforts, but are actually carefully coordinated by political operatives. The group's chief legal counsel is Benjamin Ginsberg, who was outside counsel to the Bush re-election campaign and the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Executive Director Chris Civita was formerly issue-advocacy director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. PFA's primary activities to date have been producing advertisements and media campaigns to support the Bush agenda.
Project for a New American Century
Closely allied with AEI, with which it shared office space. "[D]edicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for global leadership." Chaired by key Republican operative William Kristol, the PNAC statement of principles was signed by several current members of the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, I. Lewis Libby, and Zalmay Khalizad. Staff included ex-CIA agent and AEI fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht.
Washington Legal Foundation
Claims to adovcate for freedom and justice, but apparently is primarily concerned with limiting the ability of consumers and members of the public to take legal action against corporations. This is euphemistically described as protecting "
... employees, consumers, pensioners and investors from stock losses caused by abusive litigation." Recent legal actions WLF participated in include arguing to have auditing firm Arthur Andersen's obstruction of justice conviction in the Enron matter overturned, and opposing a class action anti-discrimination suit brought by female employees of Walmart.