Why We Are Quitting RedState

January 31, 2019
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(Illustration by Hannah Yoest)

For more than a decade, RedState was a solid voice in the world of online conservative commentary. Unfortunately, the allure of Trumpism has left the once great site a shell of its former self.

In 2015, before the Republican tide shifted to a near-complete acceptance of a politically inexperienced reality star playboy as the post-Obama savior, RedState stayed the course. While still the editor, Erick Erickson disinvited Donald Trump from the annual RedState Gathering following comments he made about Megyn Kelly. It was a message of defiance in the face of growing complacency among readers and GOP leadership alike. It did not come without cost. Tens of thousands of people canceled their subscriptions to the RedState Morning Briefing, the site’s daily newsletter.

As a result, though we started at RedState at different times, we were both proud to write at the publication, whether we entered under the leadership and guidance of Erick Erickson, Leon Wolf, or Caleb Howe. We found it admirable and a point of pride that RedState had held on to its principles while allowing its writers freedom, rather than going all in supporting or opposing Trump.

Unfortunately, though we continue to appreciate the hard work of our writing colleagues and hold great respect for most of them, we are no longer proud to write under the banner of RedState, or its parent group, Townhall Media, which is an affiliate of the Salem Media Group.

In April 2018, Salem management determined there had been enough front-page criticism of Trump and decided to take action. A number of long-time writers and editors, who happened to be unapologetic Trump critics, were dismissed from the site without warning. Among those let go was Managing Editor Caleb Howe, who was fired while traveling to a Salem work event. Management locked out access to the CMS, leaving writers unable to log in and wondering what was wrong. It wasn’t until hours later that Townhall VP & General Manager Jonathan Garthwaite sent emails informing those writers that contracts had been terminated.

In an attempt to save face, management insisted the decision was financial and not ideological, as a handful of Trump-critical writers remained. However, those with longer tenures, higher public profiles and biggest traffic draws were all let go. The financial excuse holds little water considering those let go were revenue-drivers.

The message was clear: Tread lightly when it comes to criticizing Trump.

Before that purge, RedState had a healthy mix of stories that were critical of Trump and supportive of him. Afterward, despite holding on to some Trump critics, the tenor of the site shifted. The leftover Trump critics wrote fewer entries and the hostility toward those who still did was palpable.

We learned personally that writers who dare to examine President Trump or the MAGA mentality are purposely suppressed in private or even publicly criticized. In one case, one of us (Kimberly) wrote a piece that was critical of Trump supporters’ attempts to dismiss bomb threats as a liberal hoax. It was published but any references to it on Twitter or Facebook were deleted and done so repeatedly without explanation. Only after speaking up did she learn the piece wouldn’t get shared on social media, and instructions came down from Salem management to stop discussing the incident with colleagues.

Though we continued on in the hopes the atmosphere might change, that approach is now untenable.

A cursory glance at the front page of RedState reveals the transformation that Salem wanted is now complete. There is no local editorial control. Decisions are made behind the scenes at Townhall and subject to its review.

The writing was on the wall for some time. Purging Trump critics at RedState wasn’t the only time Salem revealed it cared more about loyalty to Trump than about ideology. CNN reported that in 2016, Salem told its talk radio hosts to treat then-candidate Donald Trump more positively. According to emails obtained by CNN, chief executive officer Edward Atsinger had emailed Salem radio hosts Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved at senior vice president Phil Boyce’s suggestion to provide them with “a very well-stated case for supporting the GOP nominee because we have to beat Hillary.” Meanwhile, according to CNN, general manager Terry Fahy told co-hosts Elisha Krauss and Ben Shapiro via email in July 2016 that their show had “not been in the spirit of ‘supporting the GOP nominee’” —although Krauss told CNNMoney that the month of July 2016 “was the highest ratings we had.” Krauss was ultimately fired in January 2017.

Shortly after the Republican convention in 2016, Medved’s afternoon show was moved in at least one market to a less desirable time, and in November 2018 Salem announced that hardcore Trump supporter Sebastian Gorka would take Medved’s time slot this year.

Of course, it’s hard not to note the irony that Salem Media, a company that targets “audiences interested in Christian and family-themed content and conservative values,” threw its full support behind Donald Trump, a thrice-married lying philanderer who utilized bankruptcy laws and debt to con tenants and contractors out of their money. Salem now promotes anyone who is pro-Trump, even if those people gleefully flout Christian principles. For example, Salem radio host Eric Metaxas recently hosted far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who, as the Bulwark’s Andrew Egger recently chronicled, saw his star fall after he seemingly praised relationships between young teens and older men. As Egger notes, this came after joking he most dislikes Planned Parenthood because aborting black babies prevents him from having sex with them in 20 years, after declaring, “behind every racist joke is a scientific fact,” or after he stated that women who report unwanted sexual molestation should “get over it” because “it’s not that big a deal.”

We can no longer support Salem, and we feel that remaining at RedState gives the impression we do. Furthermore, we no longer feel as though we can adequately counteract Salem’s pro-Trump stance.

We take no pleasure in writing this as we still like and respect many of our former colleagues.

We both have our own points of criticism regarding mainstream media outlets, and we, therefore, believe a healthy conservative media is not only beneficial but necessary. Unfortunately for RedState, the focus on clicks above all else, the fight over loyalty rather than ideology, and the refusal to accept any legitimate criticism of Trump is a stain on a once proud conservative publication.

We are conservatives. We believe in limited government, the free market, the Constitution, and protecting the rights of the unborn. We have therefore supported the Republican Party and believed in the Republican Party for years. But a healthy Republican Party cannot exist without a healthy conservative media; likewise, a toxic, poisonous conservative media is like a parasite for the conservative movement— and, make no mistake, it will eventually kill it.

We publish this with the hope that it serves to push the Republican Party and conservative media back to the ones we respected, admired, and believed in.

Kimberly Ross, RedState senior contributor
Andrea Ruth, RedState contributing editor

Kimberly Ross and Andrea Ruth

Kimberly Ross is a former RedState senior contributor and Andrea Ruth is a former RedState contributing editor.