NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly six years after monitoring the content of conservative media outlets for his website and newsletter The Righting, Howard Polskin hasn’t lost his ability to surprise.
Case in point: When Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential bid, many of his longtime allies let the media fly with fury and insults. Two impeachments, two years of election denials and a U.S. Capitol riot didn’t have the impact of a disappointing showing by Republicans in the midterm elections.
“I didn’t expect the level of vitriol, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
Trump’s inauguration in 2017 started Polskin on his journey. A former New York reporter and publicist for CNN and JK Rowling, Polskin was puzzled as to why his fellow Americans elected Trump and sought an explanation.
He began studying outlets popular with conservatives and sending links to left-wing friends who wouldn’t think to click on the Washington Free Beacon, Epoch Times, PJ Media or Chicks on the Right.
“We didn’t start it as a business,” he said. “I started it for myself.”
It has grown into a newsletter with nearly 10,000 subscribers and a website. Polskin, with a former Newsweek editor and freelance writers, does original reporting on the people behind the shops and covers trends such as targeting transgender rights and how powerfully black women are vilified. He produced a 130-entry “AZ Guide to Right-Wing Media.”
The Righting also tracks which sites are gaining and losing popularity in an industry completely dominated by FoxNews.com.
Polskin is eager for more people outside of the conservative media to read what he compiles. He got a big boost when California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in September that he reads The Righting every morning.
Newsom told Politico that it gave him “a different appreciation and a different understanding of the relentlessness of the right.”
People who aren’t fans don’t appreciate the breadth of the conservative media ecosystem and how it has spread beyond radio and websites into podcasting, publications and YouTube channels, Polskin said. The left is getting nowhere.
He hasn’t changed sides, but Polskin admits his work has pushed him more toward the political center. He came to appreciate the talents of certain writers, such as Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter, a lawyer and former stand-up comedian, and Ray Cardello, a blogger from New Hampshire.
“Before The Righting, I never went to these sites and it opened my mind to a different way of thinking,” he said. “While I may not agree with it all the time, I understand the underlying philosophy.”
He worries that the sites are succeeding in painting Democrats as having fringe views and making them unpalatable to many Americans.
Scroll through some of the headlines Polskin has collected, and you’ll find conventional conservative wisdom mixed with some bordering on the bizarre: “Awakening Is Acid-Dissolving Christianity,” “Unvaccinated Women Avoid Single Vaccinated Men,” “Climate Extremism Makes Americans. Mentally Ill” and “DeSantis Shows Alpha-Dog Energy in Diminished Biden Meeting”.
Pre-election newsletters run the gamut: “Bet the house on a GOP landslide,” “Even the dignitaries realize the midterms will be a bloodbath,” “All signs point to a landslide ground for freedom” and “Fetterman is toast. “
“I might make fun of something, but I’m careful with it,” Polskin said. “I don’t want to get into a war with anyone. It would be time-consuming and distracting.”
For now, Polskin said The Righting is “a brand looking for a business.” A Ford Foundation grant he received in May is providing most of the funding, and Polskin is exploring ways to get readers to donate. It has no advertising. Polskin is not opposed to this, although he has rejected a request for an ad from a gun manufacturer.
“I like Howard quite a bit,” said Cardello, whose “Conservative View from New Hampshire” blog is often quoted in The Righting. “I know where he’s coming from, but you can still have a civil conversation with him.”
That hasn’t always been the case with friends and even relatives since Cardello started putting his opinions online. He said he appreciates the exposure Polskin has given his writing to people from all walks of life.
“Otherwise, you’re just singing to the choir,” he said. “I put my work out there and if the only people who read it are conservatives … what have I really accomplished?”
But Cardello said he hasn’t gotten much feedback from people through The Righting. Two editors at prominent sites frequently cited by Polskin did not return calls for comment.
Polskin said he sees real anger in the conservative media about the midterm election results and the need to blame someone. Trump was the most obvious choice.
He’s interested in whether the break with Trump is permanent — and it’s far from unanimous. In a sign of softening, WND wrote that “Trump has promised to make America great again — and he’s probably the only person who can do it.”
And there’s always the tried and true target, as a Gateway Pundit headline illustrated: “Dems Steal Midterms as Communism Comes to America.”