In two weeks, Doubleday will ship copies of The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine, a book about Republican corruption and the Jack Abramoff scandal. Doubleday editor-at-large Adam Bellow came up with the idea shortly after the Presidential election in 2004. After selling his boss—William Thomas, the editor in chief of Doubleday/Broadway—on the concept, he needed to find someone to write it. So he did what any media-savvy individual in search of fresh, right-leaning blood would do: He telephoned The Weekly Standard’s editor, Bill Kristol.
Mr. Kristol suggested one of his own reporters, Matthew Continetti, 25, for the gig. “I won’t say [the book] was my idea, but I might have urged [Matthew] to follow this subject,” said Mr. Kristol. “Maybe it was me or someone else who said, ‘Maybe there’s a book there.’”
Mr. Bellow, who in the past has edited such conservative writers as Dinesh D’Souza and Wendy Shalit, helped his lucky new scribe hammer out a proposal, which Mr. Kristol and others reviewed. In early 2005, author and editor signed a deal for a relatively modest advance in the mid-five figures. A robust publicity tour has been planned, including appearances on many cable-TV news programs, but Mr. Continetti was forbidden by his publisher from speaking to the press until after his book goes on sale on April 18.
His editor, however, was happy to discuss the book. “I had a sentiment that things were not going to go so well in the second term, for either Bush as a President or for the Congressional Republicans,” said Mr. Bellow over a seafood lunch on March 30. He said The K Street Gang became more focused on Mr. Abramoff after the indictments began, but the book was originally intended to cover the scandals about payments for favorable press too. “I was really eager to blow the cover off that whole thing,” Mr. Bellow said, “and I wanted it to be us that did it. I didn’t want to read that in The Nation. Heh, heh.”
Before Mr. Continetti found himself completing his first book, he was treading a path through a system that connects such ideologically aligned dots as Mr. Bellow, Mr. Kristol and himself. And his now-exemplary résumé—magazine-staff position, nonfiction contract, TV appearances—provides a glimpse into the way that the conservative media machine enlists its young foot soldiers and transforms them into wonder-boy pundits.
Mr. Continetti graduated in 2003 from Columbia University, where he wrote for the campus’ mainstream newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. He was awarded a 2002 summer internship at the National Review through the Collegiate Network, a division of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute that was founded by Irving Kristol and William Simon Sr. in 1979, which directs money into American colleges to fight what it characterizes as liberal bias on campuses. The Collegiate Network has an operating budget of approximately $1 million and gives $3,000 grants to right-wing college newspapers across the country (around $200,000 in total.) The organization just launched an online wire service in conjunction with the National Review, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator and The American Conservative, which allows students to download articles from the magazines for use in their campus papers, and vice versa.
The network also funds yearlong fellowships, of which Mr. Continetti was a recipient upon graduation. He spent his year at The Weekly Standard as a fellow under Fred Barnes and received a stipend of approximately $28,000 from the network; when it was over, the magazine hired him full time.
And now there’s the book deal. Mr. Bellow said that he was taught a “whole generational theory of publishing” by his mentor at the Free Press, Erwin Glikes, who had hired him based on a recommendation from Irving Kristol (who was an acquaintance of his father, Saul Bellow). The theory consisted of finding the best of the younger generation and giving them book contracts.
“And for some reason, there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of bright young people,” Mr. Bellow said. “I don’t know where they come from, but they show up in your office. And they have ideas that never occurred to you.”
THERE’S A PERCEPTION IN SOME CIRCLES that the right is much better at reaching out to young people and drawing them into the fold: A progressive-minded college student is lucky to find a job licking envelopes for Greenpeace, but a conservative one might be given his own talk show.
“I think that over the last two generations, the right has just been really well organized,” said Mark Gerson, the C.E.O. of the Gerson Lehrman Group, who signed a book contract with Mr. Bellow for In the Classroom: Dispatches from an Inner-City School that Works in 1995, when he was 23. “The conservatives really do a terrific job in cultivating young conservatives—I mean, 18- and 19-year-olds.”
Mr. Gerson recalled that when he was working on his senior thesis in college (which became a book called The Neoconservative Vision: From the Cold War to the Culture Wars), he wrote to William Kristol and asked to interview him for the project. Mr. Kristol agreed, and it led to a summer working at The Weekly Standard.
“College newspapers received funding; there was the Madison Center. I had an internship at the Heritage Foundation in 1992,” Mr. Gerson said. “It was just much more institutionalized. I don’t know why [the left] didn’t do the same thing. It wouldn’t have been that hard to copy.”
David Brock, who renounced his role as a Republican media star in the late 1990’s and is now the president of Media Matters for America, said that he got a job out of college at The Washington Times, and a fellowship through the Heritage Foundation to fund the writing of a book. John Podhoretz, who was then his newspaper editor, sent him to two conservative literary agents, Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu of Writers Representatives (who are also Mr. Continetti’s agents). It led to the publication of The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story, a takedown of Ms. Hill that became a best-seller.
“It seems as if, regardless of the quality of the book, there’s an infinite amount of conservative radio available to promote them,” Mr. Brock said. “That just isn’t in place on the liberal side. And you can walk right onto Fox with your conservative book, and that doesn’t exist either. Everything the conservatives have built is related to one another; they’re all parts of one machine.”
The New York Times columnist David Brooks said that he’d caught the attention of William F. Buckley Jr. when he was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. However, Mr. Brooks added, he’d always thought that Charles Peters, the founding editor of the liberal Washington Monthly, “was the god of this. If you look around—Michael Kinsley, James Bennett,” he said, listing Washington Monthly alumni.
Mr. Brooks finds his own younglings, including his former assistant Reihan Salam (who now works as a producer for the Chris Matthews show and is also working on a book for Mr. Bellow with The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat), by “calling around.” When asked if his assistants had to be conservative-minded, Mr. Brooks said no, but “I guess I’d prefer them not to hate me.”
Similarly, Andrew Sullivan listed Marty Peretz at The New Republic as a nurturer of liberal talent. Mr. Sullivan has encouraged several younger writers himself, including Mr. Salam, Mr. Douthat and Julian Sanchez from Reason, by giving them jobs helping out on his blog.
“I’ve found that young minds are often sharpest and more fearless,” Mr. Sullivan said by e-mail. “They have yet to become afraid of social pressure and write more freely.”
SOMETIMES, HANDING TO MUCH RESPONSIBILITY to someone inexperienced can backfire. The Washington Post learned this when it discovered that Ben Domenech, the 24-year-old “social conservative” they’d appointed to write a blog called Red America on The Post’s Web site, had been accused of plagiarizing articles in his past life.
At a journalism conference at N.Y.U. on March 25, James Brady, the executive editor of Washingtonpost.com said, “We did a fairly extensive background check, or so we thought.” He said that most of the bloggers on the Web site are Post reporters, but that none of them were writing to the “social conservative” part of the political spectrum, which led them to hire Mr. Domenech based on his own blog, Redstate.org.
When asked whether the standards were somehow different for hiring a conservative writer from those for non-conservative bloggers or columnists, Mr. Brady said: “The short version is that we played with fire and we got burned. We wanted someone that we knew would be provocative. When you’re looking for somebody to be especially provocative, you’re already starting right on the edge.”
They had eight or 10 people of varying ages on their short list, he said, and they checked references and had them write sample posts for a couple of weeks before choosing. “We were expecting him to fire up a lot of people,” Mr. Brady continued, “and in the two days he was writing, that’s what he was doing. People were going bananas on the site.”
(Mr. Domenech said by e-mail, “As for mentoring from fellow conservatives, I had none, at least nothing significant, until I was about 21—and even then it was only learning by example. The last instance of plagiarism I was accused of was when I was 19, so you can draw some conclusion from that if you like.”)
But Mr. Kristol, who’s teaching at Harvard this semester, didn’t seem ready to acknowledge that conservatives have a more robust system for molding conservative boys into men. Even so, he did admit that he sometimes goes out of his way to help people.
“I do it because there’s a real risk when you get older, and you become slightly well-known and established, that you could just talk to yourself and your friends and end up in a closed circle and become intellectually stale,” said Mr. Kristol. “[Young people] often rebel and challenge their elders. Now I think it’s important, since there is more of a conservative establishment, to resist the temptation to behave like an establishment.”
Mr. Kristol added: “It’s encouraging to find bright young people, and even more encouraging to find bright young people who mostly agree with you.”