How The National Review Sold Its Soul to Google
And Why Jonah Goldberg and David French Got Thrown Out
There were rumors in the summer of 2018 that an audiotape was circulating that would send shockwaves through the think tanks of Washington and the conservative intellectual movement in particular. A top Google executive had been recorded telling his fellow employees that Google generously donated to conservative think tanks and magazines to dampen criticism of their anti-conservative bias. In essence, Google was buying off Conservatism Inc. and the GOP establishment to stay silent while Google monitored, harassed, and excluded Trump supporters. If true, the tape sounded like a smoking gun: incontrovertible evidence of the corruption and double-dealing of Conservatism Inc. that would permanently discredit it with Republican voters.
I was told that the tape had been offered as an exclusive to the Wall Street Journal. Months went by, and nothing happened. (There were rumors during that time that Big Tech lobbyists were trying very hard to get the Wall Street Journal to kill the story.) Then I began to get a series of messages from various anonymous sources that the organizations that were guilty of taking Google money to stay silent included: the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Cato Institute, CPAC, the Weekly Standard and the National Review. (A weak article appeared on September 27th by John McKinnon in the Wall Street Journal but it hardly mentioned the tape or its implications.) This was, needless to say, a huge story: was it possible that the entire conservative intellectual movement was being bought off by Big Tech companies?
Finally, I was approached by an insider at one of the think tanks who confirmed the main details. You could say I broke the story (since the Wall Street Journal piece had really buried it) on Twitter on October 30th, by saying:
BREAKING: Source tells me that NeverTrumper mags took cash from top Internet company to suppress stories of bias against conservatives & Trump supporters. Audio recording of top tech executive explaining strategy has leaked to major newspaper.
My hope was that it would shake the Wall Street Journal out of its lethargy: either publish the contents of the tape or let someone else use it. It would also sow panic among the guilty — who would want to get out ahead of the story in order to spin it. So it was not surprising that one of the first people to attack my story was Jonah Goldberg, one of the chief editors of the National Review. (It's important to note that my tweet had not named his magazine as one of the guilty parties.) Goldberg was dismissive of my reporting on Twitter: "LOL. Love the idea you have sources."
Jonah Goldberg had, once again, given himself up at the first sign of shooting.
On December 10th, Wired magazine ran a big piece describing the leaked Google audio tape and its significance:
The recording also offers candid insight into Google’s efforts to stop or water down two then-pending pieces of legislation, most notably a bill aimed at inhibiting sex trafficking that also removed some protections shielding internet companies from liability for the content on their platforms. “We've worked really hard behind the scenes for the last nine months to try to modify that bill, to slow it down,” said [Google Director of U.S. Policy] Kovacevich.
On December 13th, Allum Bokhari at Breitbart also ran a piece which did not mince words about what Google's money had paid for:
Audio recordings obtained by Wired reveal that Google cooperates with and funds a range of establishment conservatives in D.C. that help it fend off scrutiny and oversight from politicians. The organizations named in Wired’s report are the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and the Cato Institute. [...]
One of the Google-funded think tanks had its pro-Google op-ed published by National Review. Now the story had legs. It was running on multiple outlets, and it was taking off. It also looked like none of the guilty organizations were going to acknowledge the story or issue a public statement about it. They were so high and mighty and corrupt that they were going to stay silent to weather the storm of bad publicity. So on December 14th, I ran another tweet to bait the line:
It looks like conservative mag National Review was taking Google cash too. To suppress conservative speech on social media. Was this something that @NRO donors & contributors knew was taking place? Let's ask @JonahNRO @DavidAFrench & others today.
Do I even need to tell you who swallowed the hook and started screaming? On December 18th, Goldberg did another piece attacking me and the Google story. This article was called "Emerald Robinson’s Stupid Lies" and it opened with the usual "kill the messenger" non-denials:
One of the problems with the political moment we’re in is that there are powerful incentives for people to be stupid and dishonest. The ingredients of this imperfect storm include: a populist climate where nearly all institutions are distrusted, appeals to feelings of persecution will be richly rewarded, political principle for many people is measured by blind loyalty to (or hatred for) a particular personality, stirring controversy is valued regardless of whether there is sufficient evidence to support an allegation or clickbaity innuendo, and conspiracy is counted as courage. All of this leads to a kind of socially constructed garbage heap that will either attract flies, vermin, and other scavengers, or turn people into them.
This was the story of Milo before his self-immolation. This is the story of Infowars and Gateway Pundit. And it is the story of the failed-actress-turned-faux journalist Emerald Robinson.
Now, there are only two possibilities here: Either Robinson is an idiot or she thinks her fans are.
The sum total of her “evidence” that NR took Google cash to suppress conservative views comes from a Breitbart story about a Wired story. Here’s the gist: Google gave money to CEI, where Iain Murray works. Iain wrote a piece for us in which he disagreed with a New York Times writer who thinks the government should break up big tech firms, including Google. And . . . that’s it.
You see, dear reader, it's not that the editors of the magazine got caught taking dirty money to hurt their fellow conservatives, it's the crazy people who report this stuff! This opening amounted to almost a blanket denial that the National Review had actually taken any Google money at all. Realizing at some point that this was, in fact, not true, Goldberg slipped into the second to last paragraph the following confession:
I learned that Google gave some money to the National Review Institute for the Buckley Prize dinner only because I asked about it this week (something Robinson could have learned were she an actual reporter of some kind, rather than a MAGA infomercial hostess). But that just proves my point: No one is telling anyone what to write or not write. This is a joke.
So to sum up Jonah's defense: "first, it's absurd to think that any money changed hands, but yes money did change hands, but nobody could possible think that such money influenced what we wrote!" The problem for Jonah Goldberg was that, actually, I did have an insider at his magazine who confirmed that National Review editors declined to publish anti-Google articles. I sent Jonah a note telling him that "the problem for you is that I do have evidence." I added that my source would be happy to come forward and publicly identify himself if Goldberg or anyone else at the National Review wanted to continue denying the story.
Guess how many people from the National Review contacted me to do so? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
So I had basically caught the editors of the National Review in bald-faced lies about taking money from Big Tech companies like Google to remain silent while those same Big Tech companies censored and de-platformed other conservatives. This was, of course, an unconscionable betrayal for The Flagship Conservative Magazine to commit against its own readers — but they did it anyway. Meanwhile, I was hearing from sources close to the National Review Board that the loss of donors and subscribers was so serious that drastic action would need to be taken. (The magazine had lost about half of its subscriber base in less than two years.) The board was also adamant that Jonah Goldberg and David French were the main culprits behind the astonishing collapse of the magazine's influence, and that they needed to go. Everybody wanted them off the masthead in order to survive.
A month later, Hayes and Goldberg announced the launch of their nameless magazine with no investors by sending out tweets on their personal accounts that people could get "more info" by emailing them at HayesGoldberg2019@gmail.com. A few weeks later, they were soliciting strangers to give them $1,500 a year to get a newsletter.
In February 2019, Axios ran a story about "a new conservative media company" (that didn't even have a name!) with the news that Jonah Goldberg would be "leaving the National Review in the coming months" to join forces with the recently fired Stephen Hayes. Axios added that Goldberg and Hayes were "seeking investors." It also contained the curious reminder that he would remain at some offshoot called the National Review Institute. In other words, the National Review was happy to pay Goldberg from its sister organization for the privilege of not publishing him anymore at the National Review!
You just can't quantify that kind of popularity.
Goldberg was very touchy about the idea that he had been removed from the magazine. He wanted people to know that it was his idea to leave the National Review to fax out a newsletter from his basement (with no name and no money) along with Stephen Hayes. The Drag Queen Story Hour enthusiast David French even tweeted: "There's news. There's fake news. Then there's the absolute premium-grade BS I'm reading on MAGA Twitter and elsewhere claiming that Jonah Goldberg was pushed out of National Review. Completely, totally false."
What made this so funny was that David French was himself removed from the magazine a few months later! Where did he go? Well, he went to work for Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes and their little newsletter of course. The three of them were now free to plummet into new depths of unpopularity together. The most intellectually bankrupt and vitriolic of the Never Trumpers had finally been thrown into the dustbin of history.
Did the editors of the National Review learn anything from this debacle? Of course not. The feckless Rich Lowry recently handed the magazine over to the world’s only living Evan McMullin voter Ramesh Ponnuru — who was absolutely nobody’s choice to steer the magazine back to popularity. (If anything, Ramesh Ponnuru represents an even greater slide into snide effeminacy than Lowry, and few thought that was possible.) Defeat seems to be the brand for these boys. In any culture war, Rich Lowry and the gang have always been the first to stand athwart history, crying: "We surrender first!” They’ve been so weak and defeatist during the Trump years that a year's subscription to the magazine could be marketed as an estrogen supplement.
Meanwhile the funding of the magazine now relies even more heavily on Big Tech money: the back page of the June 1, 2021 issue was a full-page Facebook ad. Inside the same issue, in case you missed the point, there was a two-page ad from Google. The National Review didn’t bother trying to win back its old subscribers by becoming more conservative. Instead, it flipped them a giant middle finger. This final insult might lead us to think the unthinkable about the soy boys who sank Buckley’s flagship. The same feeble metrosexuals who attacked the Covington Catholic boys, and printed pro-Jeffrey Epstein articles, and tried to discredit Carter Page, and pushed the Russia Hoax might not actually be conservatives after all. Their role does not seem to be halting the Left. Their role seems to be: pretending to be conservative in order to persuade actual conservatives to lose gracefully to the Left.
Conservatives must finally recognize something that’s very depressing and very important: the conservative intellectual movement in America didn’t just fail. It aided and abetted the Left for money. The Left bought off the Right’s leading conservative intellectuals. And its think tanks. And its “flagship” magazines. This is not hyperbole or conjecture. I’ve got the receipts. Until conservatives understand the depth and breadth of that betrayal, they won’t have any chance of rebuilding that movement out of the ashes any time soon.