Loesch’s celebrity turns her journalism professor into a cynic

Publisher’s Note: An earlier version of this story posted online did not contain contain final edits. This version is the same as the one printed in the GJR magazine distributed to subscribers.

When the Missouri Legislature failed to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax cut bill, St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter Kevin McDermott knew where to find the far right’s reaction.

Dana Loesch.

“FIFTEEN WORTHLESS REPUBLICANS!” Loesch screamed into the Twittersphere shortly after 15 Missouri House Republicans refused to join the override attempt. Loesch’s quote appeared high in McDermott’s story.

“Most political writers in the state have to pay attention to what she’s saying not because she’s a font of wisdom,” McDermott explained. “As a conservative barometer, she represents a certain part of the right-wing spectrum.”

St. Louis Tea Party founder Dana Loesch, 35, is a St. Louis radio broadcaster. She’s never sought public office nor covered a political campaign as a journalist. But she developed a following as a popular local Internet blogger. Now in the world of strong opinion, where facts get lost amid all the shouting, Loesch’s in-your-face conservative persona has received an outsized share of notoriety.

“People of Dana’s ilk are a part of what radio is today,” said Frank Absher, executive director of the St. Louis Media History Foundation. “She’s wise to take advantage of the fact that her shtick is what’s going on now.”

Absher pointed out that, in the 1930s, millions listened spellbound to Father Charles Coughlin, a radio broadcaster who supported Hitler’s policies while railing against Jewish bankers.

“Everybody was listening to the guy rant on with vile anti-Semitic comments,” Absher said. “But people listened to him, and radio stations carried him.”

For Loesch (pronounced “Lesh”), matching a right-wing agenda to a compelling on-the-air presence contributed to her emergence. Television networks, for fear of being labeled as a part of the “liberal media conspiracy,” added a place for her at the roundtable of Sunday morning news talk shows.

Her views on the national debt, presidential politics and foreign policy were shared with millions of viewers along with the likes of George Will, Donna Brazile and Jon Karl. She debated constitutional law with Eliot Spitzer.

Loesch, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, has come a long way from her days as a part-time blogger for the Post-Dispatch. Loesch graduated from Fox High School in Jefferson County and attended St. Louis Community College at Meramec before transferring to Webster University to study journalism, according to a profile in the St. Louis Riverfront Times.

Don Corrigan, a professor of journalism at Webster’s School of Communications, remembers her as Dana Eaton (her maiden name) who transferred in with a group of Meramec students.

“She didn’t have the same fire in the belly as the others, and I was amazed when she started popping up on all these websites and news shows and sounding so strident,” Corrigan said. “To me, she was a small, shy girl trying to get through. She didn’t stand out at all, compared to the others who were excited by journalism.”

Eaton was a student in Corrigan’s print journalism class. Watching her now, he doubts she has the intellectual grounding to really be steeped in conservative philosophy.

“I suspect she’s developed this persona and she knows how to use the talking points, but she’s not the kind who has read the books that make you the classic intellectual conservative who speaks to issues from some kind of depth,” Corrigan said.

Dana Eaton dropped out of Webster after meeting Chris Loesch, her husband-to-be. She disclosed some of her own personal background while guest hosting the Glenn Beck program.

“I was a broke, unwed student from a single-parent household when I became pregnant with my first child,” she said.

Loesch has had money troubles. St. Louis County Court records show she was sued in 2002 by a New Hampshire corporation for failing to pay a credit-card bill. When she did not appear in court, a default judgment was issued, ordering payment of $2,008 in principal, interest and fees.

Jefferson County Circuit Court records show the Missouri Department of Revenue filed a case against Christopher and Dana Loesch in January 2011, seeking $2,009 in back taxes. A tax lien was filed, and in June of this year the amount was repaid.

Loesch came to public attention during political protests, and from posting a blog titled “Mamalogues,” a weekly fixture on the Post-Dispatch website. Her candid and clever writing discussed the travails of a housewife raising two children.

Then, luck and timing advanced her career. She co-founded the St. Louis Tea Party just as television networks searched for a conservative voice.

“There weren’t a ton of Tea Party people who did well on TV, and she did,” said Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a site dedicated to correcting conservative misinformation in the media. “If you go back to 2009, they desperately had to have that Tea Party voice, and she benefited from that.”

Loesch’s beauty, poise and gleaming white teeth met the standards for a medium in which appearance matters as much as substance.

Pontificating on all things political and social, she makes no claim to being fair and balanced. She entertains people while feeding their anger. Sometimes her supercharged rhetoric has caused problems.

When approving of Marines urinating on Taliban fighters’ bodies in Afghanistan, Loesch said, “I’d drop trou and do it, too.” CNN commentator Piers Morgan has banned her from his show for a remark she made following the beheading of a British soldier.

Still, Loesch gets invited to public speaking engagements. Guns and abortion are favorite topics. She explained the Constitution at a Tea Party rally in Wisconsin, talked up the Second Amendment to Colorado gun activists and advised conservative Republican women in South Carolina.

Boehlert believes Loesch has two public personalities. The one on “ABC This Week” is that of a thoughtful representative of the right. The other is her name-calling social media character.

“She really does occupy the sophomore, junior-high level in debates, with some really nasty personal smears and using Twitter for name-calling,” Boehlert said.

Loesch has contributed to our deep political divide. In their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, how the American constitutional system collided with the new politics of extremism,” Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein wrote about the business model of extremism that pits the far right against the far left.

“CNN has settled on having regular showdowns pitting a bedrock liberal against a bedrock conservative,” the authors wrote. “For viewers, there is reinforcement that the only dialogue in the country is between polarized left and right, and that the alternative is cynical public relations with no convictions at all.”

Loesch is part of that dialogue.

She has a number of detractors and supporters. The blog “Dana Busted” tracks her mistakes and refers to her as “a serial liar.” Wonkette, the left-leaning online magazine, has called her “a sniveling rage sack.” The Libertarian Republican, a website devoted to the most conservative elements of the GOP, says she is “America’s sexiest right-winger.”

Loesch’s career got a boost in October 2010, when Andrew Breitbart, a conservative publisher, hired her to be a contributing editor to his news aggregation site Breitbart.com. She also supplied copy to BigJournalism.com.

Boehlert, the author of “Bloggers on the Bus: how the Internet changed politics and the press,” said Loesch’s writing approach was an adaption of right-wing radio, “with name-calling and factual errors, and knowing that your listeners are never going to call and seek corrections.”

Last June, Loesch wrote a piece for a right-wing blog, RedState, which erroneously claimed the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing the rights of same-sex couples was a big loss for Democrats. Loesch wrote that Democrats had pushed for passage of the federal anti-gay-marriage law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which the high court struck down.

McDermott called her on the mistake in his own online posting, pointing out she was getting “creative in outlining” the history of the law. What Loesch had written was the “opposite of true,” McDermott said.

But accuracy, objectivity, inquiry and verification are not to be found in Loesch’s toolbox. She is not a journalist and does not claim to be. In a lawsuit Loesch filed last year against Breitbart.com, she called herself a “writer, speaker and commentator whose profile has risen nationwide.”

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in St. Louis, she claimed to be in “indentured servitude in limbo.” She had attempted to break her contract, and the suit said Breitbart.com had refused to release her while, at the same time, it refused to publish her work. By that time, Breitbart had passed away. The suit was later settled.

With the loss of the Breitbart.com platform, some think Loesch’s career has hit a flat spot. But she still has a perch at “The Dana Show,” a three-hour afternoon talkfest on KFTK-FM in St. Louis, and occasional television appearances. Her place seems secure on conservative radio.

Absher, who worked for five different radio stations in the St. Louis market before he retired, said a good general manager puts people on the air who attract listeners. Why are the airwaves filled with so many conservative commentators? Absher’s theory is that “liberals won’t embrace extreme radio, while conservatives will go to where people are saying what they want to hear. We seek out those things which don’t challenge us too much.”

Loesch’s former journalism professor has been affected by all the attention Loesch has received.

“I had good journalists and writers who struggled to find jobs,” Corrigan said. “They were hard-working students who were enthused and studied hard. Now they work for Podunk weeklies for $20,000 to $30,000 a year.

“All the stuff she says on TV shows she’s shallow, but in a way the criticism here is for our media, because they actually propped up somebody like that as a legitimate spokesperson. I give her credit for being adept at pushing the right buttons to get where she is. There is no credit to be given to our form of television today, or for the people who have given us this made-up persona. It’s made me very cynical about the media world that we live in.”

(Gateway Journalism Review publisher William Freivogel contributed information for this story.)

Terry Ganey is the St. Louis editor of Gateway Journalism Review. He has more than 40 years’ experience as an investigative reporter and political correspondent, and he has worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.