A couple of times in the past I've written about what I call the conservative circle of scam, the way so many people on the right are so adept at fleecing each other. Here's a piece about high-priced consultants milking the Koch brothers for everything they can get, and here's one about my favorite story, the way that, in 2012, Dick Morris played ordinary people who wanted to see Barack Obama driven from office (he solicited donations to a super PAC for that purpose, laundered the money just a bit, and apparently kept most of it for himself without ever spending any of it on defeating Obama). The essence of the circle of scam is that everybody gets rich at some stage of the game, with the exception of the rank-and-file conservatives who fuel it all with their votes, their eyeballs, and their money.
Today there are two new media stories showing that the circle of scam is humming along nicely. The first comes from Michael Calderone at Huffington Post, who reports on an interesting relationship between Sean Hannity and the Tea Party Patriots. Here's how it works: TPP is a sponsor of Hannity's radio show. Then Hannity appears in TPP's fundraising appeals, and some of the money generated inevitably goes back to Hannity's radio show. Then Hannity goes on his Fox News show and talks about the terrific work the Tea Party Patriots are doing. Everybody wins!
The details of Hannity's contract with his syndicate have never been made public, so I have no idea if he shares in the show's advertising revenue. But even if he doesn't, he benefits from keeping that revenue high. Last year he moved from Cumulus, where he reportedly made $20 million a year, to Premiere Radio Networks, which, one would presume, pays him something similar.
The second story comes from Kenneth Vogel and Mackenzie Weinger of Politico, who report that it isn't just Hannity. A bunch of conservative media figures are in on the action, none gaining more than Glenn Beck, who has been paid an astounding $6 million by the Tea Party group FreedomWorks in recent years to promote its efforts. As Dick Armey, who was ousted as FreedomWorks chief in a recent coup, says, this kind of arrangement "compromises the integrity of the pundit-guru, as it were, and it's an undignified expenditure of the part of the outfit that's mining the attention." Well put, Dick. One does need one's pundit-gurus to have integrity. But even if they don't, they've still got authority, and that's what the organizations are paying for: the hosts' ability to tell their audiences: "This is where you should send your money." And send it they do.
What's most interesting is that all of this expenditure is fueling an occasionally vicious internecine battle within the conservative movement. Sure, all these hosts spend much of their time bashing Barack Obama. But they've been successfully enlisted on one side of the war between the Republican establishment and the ultra-conservative Tea Party, a war that still rages even if the Tea Party is having somewhat less success ousting incumbent Republicans than it did in 2010 or 2012. Instead of conservative media being a force for unity, one that educates the base on what they should be angry about and where to focus their energy, they're fomenting division and strife within the conservative coalition.
Would the likes of Hannity and Beck be doing so anyway even if they weren't getting paid? Maybe, maybe not. But it's certainly something to see. Remember when the right was a smoothly functioning, terrifyingly unified monolith of opinion and action? I wonder if they'll ever get that back.