Billboards, Tabloids, and Bootleg Porn: or How the Southern Strategy Became the Rural Strategy

As Russiagate limps on into the summer of 2020, CNN, the ire of Donald Trump, is about to celebrate its 40th birthday on June 1st. What Russiagate wants to be is Watergate, the 1972 investigation into Nixon that revealed a botched burglary, a massive cover up, and knocked Nixon and the Republican party off the presidential perch until 1980. While Russiagate has proved rather empty in comparison, if one were to compare the rises of Donald Trump and Richard Nixon instead of their falls, there are some striking similarities in the events which lead up to their ascent. They don’t have a whole lot to do with Russia, but with civil rights and its discontents.

The Southern Strat

In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed with broad approval in Congress across a partisan divide that didn’t look much like the one we have today, but was well on its way toward it. Segregationist Southern Democrats, frustrated over Truman era reforms, started leaving the Democratic party and forming their own factions. Eventually they realized starting their own party was futile. It was much easier to join the enemy.

A Billboard Heir

In 1963, following his father’s suicide, Robert Edward Turner III or “Ted” was heir to a million dollar Billboard business in Macon, Georgia when he was just 24-years-old. As the new CEO Ted made the company even more successful, but his interests soon turned to radio and TV broadcast. By the time the 60s were coming to a close, Ted acquired a UHF frequency television station in Atlanta that became his focus. He grew the station’s viewership over the next ten years, mainly showing reruns of popular shows like I Love Lucy, and Gilligan’s Island. Throughout the 60s and 70s cable television services had proliferated throughout the country, mostly carrying network-television broadcasts and local stations where possible with much higher fidelity than over the air. By the mid 70s, Turner’s station WTCG was reaching nearly half-a-million households through antenna and cable systems across Southern states.

A Tabloid Magnate

Rupert Murdoch, a naturalized American since 1985, got his start by inheriting his father’s newspaper business, News Limited, which ran a tabloid newspaper in Adelaide, Australia(the fifth largest city in Australia at the time.) The paper, simply called The News, was what was left of his father, Sir Keith Murdoch’s, dwindling media empire by the time of his death in 1952. Over the next 20 years, Murdoch grew his father’s paper empire across Australia eventually founding The Australian the nation’s first national daily newspaper. In 1972 News Limited bought three major newspapers in Australia including The Daily Telegraph. Rupert used them collectively to help swing the 1972 election of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam of Australia’s progressive Labor Party.

A Smut Peddler

David D. Smith got his start in the 70s partnering in a company called Cine Processors that made and sold bootleg copies of pornography. In 2017 he was owner and CEO of the largest local television station network in the country, Sinclair Broadcasting Group.

The Rural Strat

By comparison, the Rural Strategy isn’t a major party defection and switching of alliances in the same way the Southern Strategy was. Its simply a continuation of the party’s long-time strategy of appealing to rural, Christian, ideological values, and the legacy of 100 years of Black Migration to urban areas throughout the US and the self-segregation of white flight to suburbs and small towns, a split that has yet to be reconciled. (They aren’t too happy with gay marriage either.)

Happy Birthday CNN

June 1st, 2020 we find ourselves in the midst of a worldwide pandemic where cable news as well as local TV news ratings are skyrocketing (for Fox New, their best ever) as people are under stay-at-home orders in many cities. A contentious and tactically unprecedented presidential election looms. Whats the worst thing that could happen?

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