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Jews becoming commonplace in conservative ‘new media’

By Benyamin Korn, JTA

July 5, 2011 | 10:30 am

Many reviews already have appeared of “The Undefeated,” the soon-to-be-released documentary about Sarah Palin’s tenure in Alaska.Yet none of them—even in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post or The Washington Post—mentions that nearly all of the film’s many pro-Palin media talking heads are Jews.

The dominant meme that Jews as a group are uncomfortable with Palin or her views seems less than convincing after viewing prominent Members of the Tribe defend her politics and record in elected office. Internet news mogul Andrew Breitbart, nationally syndicated radio talk show host Mark Levin and L.A.’s radio phenom Tammy Bruce, a gay Jewish Palinista with a Tammy’s Army of followers, all deliver full-throated tributes to one of America’s most conservative political figures.

Following a recent Manhattan screening of the director’s cut of “The Undefeated,” I mentioned this to filmmaker Stephen Bannon. He replied that he had not taken note of their Jewishness in choosing to include them. That in itself is significant: Jews have become so commonplace in the conservative new media that the fact of their Jewish identity fails to garner much notice.

One reason may be that Jews tend to be “early adopters” of innovations and were present at the birth of the conservative new media.

Start with Maryland-born muckraker Matt Drudge, the granddaddy of the conservative new media. Since his website’s launch in the mid-1990s, the Drudge Report has retained its place at the top of the new media right and now averages an astounding 30 million “hits” daily, or close to a billion a month. It has a huge influence in setting the agenda for national talk radio and for the conservative commentariat in general.

But Drudge’s influence doesn’t stop there. A Washington Post editor recently conceded that 10 percent to15 percent of his newspaper’s daily online traffic is driven by links from Drudge.

Soon after, conservative voices began emerging within explicitly Jewish new media precincts themselves, notably the pioneering Jewish World Review, started in the mid-1990s by Binyamin Jolkovsky, and IsraelNationalNews.com, an organ of the settlement movement, which had also operated a pirate radio network.

Significant relative newcomers include bloggers such as Ted Belman of IsraPundit, Dan Greenfield of SultanKnish and Ruth King of Ruthfully Yours, along with sites such as Israel Matzav, YidWithLid, Yeshiva World News and the Yiddish-titled but English-language Vos Iz Neias? (What’s New?).

Since the emergence of conservative talk radio in the 1980s, Jews again are playing a prominent role. Besides Levin and Bruce, and the top-rated Michael Savage, two of the national talk hosts on the Salem Radio affiliate where I broadcast—Dennis Prager and Michael Medved—are Jewish, and both serve on the board of the GOP-oriented Jewish Policy Council, along with a third Salem host, Bill Bennett, who “happens to be a Catholic.”

The nation’s largest talk station, New York’s WABC—home base for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin—now features highly rated Sunday programs with investigative journalist Aaron Klein, who once edited the Yeshiva University Commentator and now reports from Tel Aviv, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (politically centrist, but with an Orthodox point of view) who got his start as a Lubavitch emissary, founding the immensely popular L’Chaim Society at Oxford University.

Recent years also have witnessed the emergence of a whole class of crusading Internet journalist-activists, many of them Jews, such as Klein, who is also senior correspondent for the mega-site WorldNetDaily, anti-Islamist activist Pamela Geller (AtlasShrugs.com) and repentant “Radical Son” David Horowitz (FrontPageMag.com).

Probably the most high profile of these crusaders today is Breitbart, a leading publisher of conservative websites such as BigGovernment.com (focusing on national politics), BigPeace.com (foreign policy), BigHollywood.com (the film industry) and BigJournalism.com (the Fourth Estate). It was Breitbart who pursued the Anthony Weiner affair and caused the corruption-tainted voter and housing activist group ACORN to lose billions in federal funding.

Industry insiders say Breitbart is now looking to launch a site that would be devoted to Middle East coverage named—what else?—BigJerusalem.com.

Another important development is the shift of Jewish “old media” conservatives to new media platforms. William Kristol is now better known as a Fox Television commentator than in his role as founding editor of The Weekly Standard. Charles Krauthammer also reaches a far larger audience at Fox than even as a syndicated columnist based at The Washington Post. Jennifer Rubin, formerly of Commentary, now reaches a much larger readership with her Right Turn blog at The Washington Post, and Jonathan Tobin, executive editor of Commentary, has transitioned to being full-time editor of its web log, Contentions.

In Israel, Jerusalem Post deputy editor and columnist Caroline Glick last year launched Latma TV, already a highly popular political satire site, whose send-up of the Gaza flotilla radicals—“We Con the World”—had 3 million “hits” in one week during last year’s crisis.

Certainly there is another reason why Jews, per se, have attracted so little notice in the conservative new media: the change in American conservatism itself. Ethnically diverse and intellectually formidable, today’s conservatism is reliably pro-Israel, comfortably Judeo-Christian and for the most part promotes a nuanced social conservatism.

In a movement that is credible and hospitable to American Jews, and from which the ethno-centrism of yore is largely absent, Jewish journalists will flourish.

Benyamin Korn, formerly executive editor of the Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune, hosts Jewish Independent Talk Radio in Philadelphia and blogs at JewsForSarah.com.)

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