How the National Review sold its soul to Google
09/09/2021 // News Editors // Views

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.

(Article republished from

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.

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