Steven Allen: The Tea Party’s Editor in Chief
As the Tea Party surged in popularity and helped Republicans to a record victory in Congress last fall, Steven Allen surveyed the movement and worried about its long-term viability. Could the excitement last beyond a single election cycle? He looked back on previous protest movements. The abolitionists had William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Chicago Defender was an important clearinghouse for news about civil rights. What the Tea Party needed was its own periodical, he concluded.
And Thursday, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, that periodical, a monthly magazine called the Tea Party Review, is being unveiled, and Allen has grand ambitions for it.
“Without their own publications, those movements weren’t taken seriously,” he tells The Daily Beast. “What we’re trying to do is serve the Tea Party movement in the same way that National Review did for the conservative movement and that the Chicago Defender did for the civil rights movement.”
But Allen and his small staff, augmented by a stable of contributors who are offering their own two cents for free for the time being, face a more elaborate task than those of the publications they seek to emulate. While abolition and equal rights are clear goals, the Tea Party isn’t so neatly defined, with widely differing opinions about whether the movement should stick to fiscal conservatism or also involve itself in social causes or foreign policy—and disagreements about how to achieve fiscal conservatism, too.
Allen says the Tea Party Review won’t take a stand in those disagreements but will navigate those choppy waters by welcoming all opinions. “We are ecumenical,” he says. “The approach follows the old saying: ‘Some of my friends are on one side; some are on the other. I stand with my friends.’” Instead, he envisions the magazine providing news Tea Partiers can use—profiles on 2012 presidential contenders, for example, laying out their positions in detail. Even though he describes himself as an advocacy journalist, Allen says he’s not entitled to his own set of facts; he even hopes to cover the Democratic National Convention and says he’d do it evenhandedly.
“I’m writing for a woman who has a real-estate office or a hair salon who has been upset by the idea that our children won’t have the same kind of freedom and opportunity that we had.”
The magazine’s grassroots development director, Texas Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson, adds, “This isn’t something we want to do to control the movement. This is to try to keep it decentralized.”
But the Tea Party Review enters a crowded and growing field of right-wing media properties, ranging from established titles like National Review and The Weekly Standard to more recent entrants like Newsmax and World Net Daily. Its editor says it will cut a path by appealing to newcomers. “I’m very familiar with the conservative media, but most people in the Tea Party movement are new to politics,” he says. “I say that I’m writing for a woman who has a real-estate office or a hair salon who has been upset by the idea that our children won’t have the same kind of freedom and opportunity that we had. This person gets activated, wants to learn about politics, how can they be active.”
Allen isn’t one of those newcomers. His biography trumpets 37 years of experience in journalism, but as he explains at a mile-a-minute pace, he’s dabbled in a variety of fields, working variously as an FM radio news director, newspaper reporter, law student, senatorial press secretary, think tank employee, political ghostwriter, cartoonist, and doctoral student in biodefense (“I heard I’m one of only three people with a law degree and a doctorate in biodefense,” he says); he also worked with the conservative strategist Richard Viguerie for years.
It’s from his work with Viguerie that Allen derives his claim to be perhaps the original Tea Partier. “I wrote a 60,000-word manifesto called the Populist Conservative Platform in the 1980s, in which I predicted such as crazy things as that the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse,” he says. “There’s an article I helped write with [Viguerie] in November 1983 called ‘America’s Ruling Class Has Got to Go.’ As far as we can tell, that was the first piece that put through Tea Party themes.”
The many connections Allen made during those itinerant years came in handy when he started putting together the magazine. To fill it, he contacted writers and conservative activists he knew to contribute work. The magazine is slated to run around 64 pages on average, and will include treatises on subjects like media criticism of the Tea Party, the role of women in politics, and profiles of notable figures like Thomas Paine, Booker T. Washington, and Alexis de Tocqueville. The profiles will focus on relevant themes, like Tocqueville’s discussion of religion as central to American society.
A religious bent might be expected, as the magazine is being published by Higher Standard Publishers, a Christian press that also has published a commemorative volume for the Tea Party Express. A call to publisher William Owens was not immediately returned, but the magazine plans to make money from $34.95 annual subscriptions it’s peddling at CPAC, ad sales, and affiliate deals, in which local Tea Party groups will sell the magazine in return for a commission.
When the magazine’s launch was announced on Tuesday, it was met with a mixture of derision and perplexity by both the mainstream media and the blogosphere. Allen says he was hurt, but he wasn’t surprised. “We’re trying to serve a group of people who have been largely disenfranchised, who are ridiculed and left out of the political process,” he says, and the immediate reaction emphasized that. Allen sees the Tea Party Review as the best way to change that, but he’s got his work cut out for him.
David Graham is a reporter for Newsweek covering politics, national affairs, and business. His writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The National in Abu Dhabi.